Category Archives: Melanie Phillips

A sad day for palliative care

Three weeks ago I wrote about my dismay at the Daily Mail’s attack on the Liverpool Care Pathway. This week Baroness Neuberger’s team has published its report: “More Care, Less Pathway.” Amongst its recommendations is this:

The name ‘Liverpool Care Pathway’ should be abandoned, and within the area of end of life care, the term
‘pathway’ should be avoided. An ‘end of life care plan’ should be sufficient for both professionals and lay
people.
Unsurprisingly the Mail is gloating over its victory:
  • Ministers order Liverpool Care Pathway to be ditched within a year,
  • Review by Baroness Neuberger reveals how end-of-life treatment was used as an excuse for appalling levels of care
  • Families were not told their loved ones were on the ‘pathway’ to death

The Mail has been leading a campaign against it…

I stand by every word I wrote three weeks ago. I am quite disappointed by how much the report has pandered to the Mail. If you read the comments sections of my last post, you will see many of the commentators are strongly opposed to the LCP. Whilst I think many of the comments are misguided, and just plain wrong I have not moderated any of them. (Unlike the Mail website which always blocks all of my comments posted as ‘alienfromzog’). I want to take this opportunity to respond to the comments, to the report and to the Mail. My main frustration is that when you read what people think caring for the dying should involve, it’s often words like “Caring,” “TLC” or “Individual” are used. Similarly many relatives say they want good communication. What is so frustrating is that this is precisely what the LCP is. What it’s for. If you don’t believe me , read this: Marie Curie Example LCP documentation.
It took years to recover from the damage done to the vaccine program by the Mail’s irresponsible reporting – and we’re still not there yet. This is why the Mail is so malevolent. And yes, I do blame the Mail in part for the children who have died of measles. Years of hardwork, research, evidence and education – all undone by Melanie Phillips and her malicious publication. And who suffers? The most vulnerable in society. There have been various articles and blogs written to defend the LCP. In all of them that I’ve read, they begin with an acknowledgement that the LCP used inappropriately has led to many of the problems reported in the press. I have not done that and this is deliberate. I am not pretending that bad practice does not occur. It does – in all areas of healthcare and all healthcare systems. I will always condemn bad practice but the idea that not using the LCP pathway properly means there’s a problem with the LCP is ridiculous. Moreover, by beginning with such acknowledgements I believe that all these articles and also the Neurberger report has conceded too much ground – allowing the LCP critics to claim victory.
Perfectly preventable problems of communication between clinicians, relatives and carers
appear to account for a substantial part of the recent controversy and unhappiness
surrounding the LCP.
I care about quality of care. Abolishing the LCP will make the Daily Mail happy. It will make the government look like they’re doing something and will almost certainly lead to less-good care. Almost without exception, the critics have said “Care of the dying should be….” and what follows that, as I said above, is in the LCP. So, in order to improve care we plan to abolish a tool that works when used properly rather than addressing the issues that lead to it not being used properly. This is insane. But then, that’s what government by tabloid press always is. My great fear is that scrapping the LCP will mean a return to ad-hoc, ‘hit and miss’ palliative care. This is a major backward step.
I do want to address a couple of specific points as well; firstly the LCP is not euthanasia by the back door. Secondly the payments for use of the LCP to hospitals have been presented as money for killing off patients and this is a gross misrepresentation.
I am against euthanasia. I think giving doctors the power the kill is a grave error – even when people are suffering horribly. Good palliative care is the very opposite of euthanasia. My professional experience – and this is especially true in children – is that we over-treat to the nth degree. We are not good in the profession in acknowledging that we cannot cure and fix everything. Most of us in medicine are ‘fixers’ by nature. A lot of what we do in medicine is nasty and invasive. I have no problem with doing nasty and invasive things to people who will benefit from them. I have major issues with doing nasty and invasive things to people when it will not help. This is about not having another round of chemotherapy when we know it won’t help. This is about not force-feeding people with artificial nutrition as their body shuts down. This is about not doing endless – and increasingly difficult  – blood tests just so we can chart the dying process. Integrating care pathways for dying patients mean we provide comfort and care for people in their last hours and days. This is vital.
The way the NHS funding works is quite complicated. Since the early 1990’s there has been a so-called purchaser-provider split and hospitals then get paid for providing specific treatments. One of the parts of this is so-called ‘quality-care indicators’  (or whatever they’re called this week). Essentially a portion of the money paid by primary care trusts / GP consortia is dependent on meeting the quality indicators. One such indicator was the use of the LCP in dying patients – x% was the threshold for payment. This actually makes a lot of sense; Let us assume that the LCP provides an excellent framework for caring for dying patients. Secondly, all patients who die in hospital are categorised as ‘expected’ or ‘unexpected.’ Death is often not a surprise – i.e. medical staff know that a patient is in the last phase of illness. The internal audit process simply reviewed what percentage of the ‘expected’ deaths were on the LCP when they died – i.e. had the medical team stopped doing invasive procedures on someone or were they still trying to cure? Nothing is absolute and some patients will die unexpectedly. Some people will have a theoretically reversible condition and it is right to keep on treating and yet we still fail – but the evidence is clear, in the majority of cases, we know someone is dying and the focus of care should change. A simple audit of whether the LCP is used of not is a good marker of this. The use of money to drive things is an inevitable consequence of how the modern NHS is structured – a perhaps cynical view that NHS trusts will only do things for financial incentives. On a more practical level, the trusts used this money to pay for specialist palliative care teams to support the use of the LCP and help the other clinical teams use it effectively. The abolition of such payments is a sensible political move but will probably also result in trusts not focusing on palliative care.
Speaking as the son of someone who died in an excellent hospice; speaking as a doctor who has worked on the wards where integrated care plans for dying patients have been used – and as someone familiar with LCP specifically I say this:

This is a very sad day for the healthcare in the UK. There is not a problem with the LCP – there is only a problem with poor practice – rarely. The number of patients who have received excellent care far outweighs the few who haven’t. Not that those don’t matter, they really do but I am sure that the bad practice was worse before we had integrated care for dying patients and will probably be worse again. What’s most annoying is when you read the comments sections or listen to radio phone-ins people talk about what they want end-of-life care to look like and it is precisely what is in the LCP. It is worrying to me that the Daily Mail wrote a couple of sensational and misleading articles and forced this change of policy. Deeply worrying. I know that a small group of people in the late 90s worked very hard to put together the research and develop the LCP. I suspect they are very demoralised. I know a lot of people work in palliative medicine and I expect they are depressed and despondent. All because a lying, evil rag – not even fit to be fish ‘n’ chip wrapping – calls itself a newspaper and constant prints streams of lies and sensation. A sad day.

Dr alienfromzog BSc(Hons) MBChB MRCS(Ed) DCH

Liverpool Care Pathway – The Daily Mail vs Care for the Dying

An inevitable philosophical question:

I’ve been occasionally contributing to Angrymob for a few years now. Kevin (aka Uponnothing) very kindly gave me a login. I write because I care about the truth. I write because I believe that the lies and agenda of the Mail are pervasive and damaging. I write because I hope to share my thoughts with enough people to help change the story – to help people realise what the media in general and the Mail in particular are doing. To provide the facts – as best I can – so that people who know the Mail is lying have the ammunition to respond.

I have no idea really if I’m achieving anything.

But the question that I’ve pondered for sometime now – especially when I read stories like this one – is what is going on within the Mail? I wonder if they believe what they write? I wonder if they just want an agenda to push? And I wonder what level of research they do before holding a particular position?

Either way, what they publish is demonstrably false and often deeply poisonous. This is why I have written about vaccines so much. The recent events in Wales with measles have shown the real-world effects of the Mail’s agenda. And this is moreover true is so many areas – immigration, race relations, the Welfare State, the NHS, our attitudes to poverty…etc. etc.

So, whilst I continue to ponder that question, which I admit does intrigue me greatly, I will try to continue to respond when I have the time. For the most part I write about healthcare issues as this is what I know about.

On the subject of poverty I invite you to read this from my personal blog. (I make no apology for the theology).

 

The Liverpool Care Pathway

I think I should begin with a confession; I am not a big fan of the LCP. I will explain that comment in a moment but first I need to alter it slightly. My feelings have changed and I have become very keen to defend it because the attack by the Mail seeks to (well maybe not, see above, will- ) damage the way we care for the dying in this country. If you want to read about the pathway itself and to understand what it is and how it works, here is a good place to start.

Simply put, the LCP was designed to consolidate best practise in the care of dying patients. In the UK we have a hospice movement to be proud of. Most people, however don’t die in hospices – most people die in hospitals. Historically (by which I mean the last 30 years) and culturally, hospitals are not conditioned to best care in the process of dying. Hospitals are places for curing. Modern medicine particularly is built on the notion of curing everything. Trust me, doctors know this to be a lie. Most of us have had enough humbling experiences with meeting death to know that we can’t cure everything and that the old saw about medicine being the art of delaying the inevitable is not without its truth. However, and this is a vital and massive ‘however’ – we are in the business of healthcare. Providing curative treatment when possible and appropriate and dignity, compassion and comfort when not.

Recognising that a patient is dying is notoriously difficult but experienced nursing and medical staff will tell you that we often know that it’s time to stop. I graduated in a time when these kind of approaches were widely accepted and beginning to be more formalised. It is about the fact that most people die relatively slowly – by which I mean hours to days  and not the seconds to minutes we see in TV and movies. Given that putting everyone in a hospice is not practicable, I think most of us will agree that providing the best kind of end-of-life care in hospital is a priority.

The principals are this: When a patient is near to death; stop unnecessary and invasive interventions (like blood tests) and treat symptoms effectively. This usually means three things; analgesia, treating anxiety and treating secretions.

The Liverpool Care Pathway codifies these in a way designed to ensure that best possible care is provided. Feeding may be stopped as in the last few days as artificial feeding does more harm than good.

So why do I not like the LCP? Well, this is not really my area of medicine and as I’ve moved into my specialty of paediatric surgery, I haven’t done any adult work for over three years now. But I was a junior doctor on the wards – and anyone who has done that job will have dozens of stories of how the LCP is a really effective way of CARING for dying patients. My objection is the same as that of a professor of palliative care I know, the LCP is a little cumbersome and involves too much paperwork and it got a lot of national attention and funding  – potentially at the expense of other areas. But is does work. Really well.

The LCP is very very good at what it does. The LCP – or something like it – is exactly what I would want for me, for anyone I love – or for any human being near to death.

 

The Daily Mail’s latest Witchhunt.

Back in November, I picked up on Melanie Phillips evil comment piece on the LCP and its effects. I do not use the word ‘evil’ lightly but something so completely dishonest that increases distress and anxiety for people who are watching loved-ones die I think is evil. If someone wants to provide me a better word, please do. Again I don’t know if Phillips is being dishonest of just not bothering to research properly – but I suspect dishonesty as she has never effectively engaged with the debate or criticism – where it has been repeatedly demonstrated where she is wrong.

And so we come to this week’s piece. The British Medical Association has been discussing the LCP and the public’s perceptions leading to this Daily Mail headline:

‘Don’t call it the Liverpool Care Pathway': Doctors admit it sounds like a one-way ticket to the grave

  • Leading doctors have admitted that there are problems with the controversial end of life care regime
  • Involves withholding food and water from the dying patient and is meant to help them die with dignity
  • Doctors admitted some patients have been left on it for weeks without having their case reviewed
As always, the culpability lies with the medical profession and not with the Daily Mail for printing misleading articles… The implications that doctors are killing patients or that they don’t care or that somehow this is a NHS initiative to save money are ———– well, I don’t know, I’ve run out of adjectives… (insulting, misleading, offensive, damaging, dangerous, horrific, indefensible, typical for the Mail, wrong, cynical, plain dishonest) – take your pick!
Well, actually I think all of those and then some more:  The implications that doctors are killing patients or that they don’t care or that somehow this is a NHS initiative to save money are insultmisleadinglyoffensivelydamaginglydangeroushorrificlyindefensiblelytypical-for-the-Mail-wronglycynicallyplain-dishonestetc!
As always the comments section provides a worrying perspective, but this is my favourite:
comment
No my dear-UKIP Supporter the reason they don’t have this ‘uncomfortable controversy’ in the States, is I suspect, because they are blessed enough not to have the Daily Mail.
AFZ

Something Positive About The Daily Mail

Now, bear with me!

On Facebook there is an identity referred to as “The Medical Registrar” this is a small number of doctors who post pithy and interesting comments about medicine. Sharp humour is the usual modus operandi. Along with the occasional rant.

A couple of weeks ago they posted on the drivel that Melanie Phillips constructed to assault the Liverpool Care Pathway. If you’re not familiar with the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP), it has been around for a few years now and is a consolidation of best practice in patients who are dying. This is important because whilst we have an unbelievably excellent hospice service in this country, most people who die in the UK, die in hospital. In part because there are not enough hospice beds. In part because it is not always possible to transfer people in a timely manner.

If you want to read Melanie Phillips’ nonsense you can find it here. Subtle as always.

However, this post by the Medical Registrar last week made me smile a lot:

I do think that ‘publicity seeking hack’ is spot on, as indeed is ‘fish and chip wrapper.’

Now, I really like fish and chips, so I have to admit that The Daily Mail makes very good wrapping and to be honest, I can think of no better use for it.

AFZ

Here lies Winterval: 1998-2011?

So, after a lot of resistance – distorted, truth-bending resistance – the Daily Mail have published a correction after Melanie Phillips claimed that:

Christmas has been renamed in various places ‘Winterval’.

Tabloid Watch has charted the great effort the complainant – regular Tabloid Watch reader James – went to in order for the Daily Mail to admit to the simple truth that Winterval was simply a tabloid fiction. As usual the Mail took a month to respond to the complaint – remember the PCC’s slogan is ‘Free, fast, fair’ and that Daily mail editor Paul Dacre keeps defending the PCC as effective – and when they did they argued that:

The nit-picking suggestion that the term “Christmas” refers only to Christmas Day cannot be supported by anyone with a modicum of common sense. And Phillips did not say the term was intended to replace Christmas Day.

Much wrangling later they finally issued in print and online the following apology:

We stated in an article on 26 September that Christmas has been renamed in various places Winterval. Winterval was the collective name for a season of public events, both religious and secular, which took place in Birmingham in 1997 and 1998. We are happy to make clear that Winterval did not rename or replace Christmas.

Amazingly – in what appears to be a first – the Daily Mail website has also added the same clarification to the bottom of the original article as well. The Daily Mail is to be commended for this – they have done the right thing.

There are a few remaining questions:

  1. Will Melanie Phillips acknowledge the correction in her next column with any sort of apology?
  2. Will Melanie Phillips apologise to me for responding to my polite email pointing her in the direction of my essay on the Winterval myth by claiming that my message was ‘as arrogant and ignorant as it is offensive’?
  3. Will she also admit that her claim that my blog post about her was ‘highly defamatory and contains false allegations for which you would stand to pay me significant damages in a libel action’ was complete rubbish – given that her own newspaper has now had to issue a correction on her behalf?
  4. Will Winterval still be repeated by politicians / journalists and so forth in the same way that it always has done following various previous debunkings?

I will always be tempted to refer back to my initial point on the Winterval myth: the most depressing thing about it isn’t neccesarily its longevity, but the fact that the original story was so clearly completely untrue and contained clear statements from the council that demonstrated this. It should never have been born, let alone be fed until it was big enough for politicians and far right groups alike to befriend.

Anyway, if you’re in the spirit for more on this please feel free to read my piece on Comment is Free. Or, you could settle down and read my lengthy essay on the matter.

Melanie Phillips and libel

Melanie Phillips’ second email to me is really quite interesting for such a short piece of writing.

She claims that my blog post is:

highly defamatory and contains false allegations for which you would stand to pay me significant damages in a libel action.

OK, fair enough, so immediately it leads you to think: she is going to sue. However, she doesn’t because:

you have shown gross abuse of trust in publishing on your blog private correspondence from me without my permission.

How is that a good reason not to sue me? Surely this is a further offence that she is clearly annoyed by and would make her more likely to sue me, not less? Anyway, the real crux of the matter is that she felt my blog post concerning her article on Rory Weal contained:

gross misrepresentations, selective reporting and twisted distortions

Because my blog post most certainly does not misrepresent what she said, it certainly isn’t selective in a misleading way (i.e. I only selected her words regarding Rory Weal, but they were most definitely not taken out of context and were quoted in full) and there are no twisted distortions. The reason why I am not guilty of these things is because you just don’t have to do any of these things to make Melanie Phillips look a fool, in fact most of the time you can get that reaction by just quoting her entire column in full or simply linking to it.

My post on Rory Weal was simple, Melanie decided to attack Rory Weal on the premise that Rory Weal’s family had lived off the state – which even she acknowledged was based on an unfounded assumption – she uses an ‘(if true)’ interjection immediately before starting her attack:

what that means (if true) is that his entire life has been spent as a kind of state serf, that he and his family are wholly lacking in independence, that their entire subsistence has been funded by the state. [emphasis is mine]

You do not need ‘gross misrepresentations, selective reporting and twisted distortions’ to demonstrate that Melanie Phillips was guilty of attacking a 16-year-old boy on an assumption that was completely wrong. Rory Weal actually had a very priviledged up-bringing, which Melanie Phillips would have known if instead of writing ‘(if true)’ before starting her rant she actually did even the most basic research.

So, given that Melanie refused to inform me (even though she says she could: ‘There are many things I could say to point out…’) of quite how I was guilty of ‘gross misrepresentations, selective reporting and twisted distortions’ am I now entitled to sue her for libel, given that she would have to then prove that her accusations about my writing were correct?

The trouble with libel law in the UK is that it is requires the person who is accused of libel to prove that they did not in fact write anything libellious. The burden of proof lies with the person being sued and you can never be certain which way the judge will turn in often complex matters where truth itself can be a matter of controversy. Many people have therefore argued that the libel laws in the UK hamper free speech, because people are afraid to challenge powerful organisations for fear of being sued – even if the truth is fundamentally on their side, it doesn’t mean expensive lawyers can’t alter that when it comes to court, or that the truth can’t be deleted or censored by the very threat of legal action.

Indeed I am reminded of some sage words on a famous, fairly recent libel case:

Simon Singh, a science writer, is being sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association for describing some of its treatments as ‘bogus’.

And Peter Wilmshurst, a consultant cardiologist, is being sued by a U.S. company, NMT Medical, after he questioned the effectiveness of a new heart implant device…

after raising such matters, serious scientists are being hounded to retract their claims.

Yet science depends upon scientists making such critical observations. Trying to gag them surely amounts to an abuse of the libel law and threatens the very integrity of science itself.

The idea that libel can be used like this to stifle discussion of the possible dangers of medical treatments will strike many as utterly intolerable.

The reason it is happening is that, unlike equivalent laws in other countries against defamation, English libel law is the most draconian in the world.

It doesn’t just hurt the open discussion of scientists either, but anyone who wishes to engage in free debate or exchange of new ideas:

The law of libel has long been the bane of journalists’ lives. But now it has become something altogether more sinister and frightening.

Rather than a form of legal redress for unjustly sullying someone’s reputation, it is increasingly being used by wealthy individuals or organisations as a weapon to stifle politically or commercially unwelcome views.

It is easy for a powerful organisation – the Daily Mail for example – to crush dissent by sending out letters threatening libel action, knowing full well that they will get an immediate retraction most of the time from people who could not afford to fight, let alone lose a libel case. In particular – as I found out – in the UK websites are very vulnerable given that the host is deemed to be the publisher of content so they can therefore be easily threatened and have no interest in defending customers against powerful organisations and will just simply take down a website to be on the safe side.

As the sage person writes:

Because of the difficulty of proving what may be unprovable, those who express such views are intimidated by the prospect of losing such a case – and then having to pay astronomical legal costs to multinationals or wealthy individuals who can afford to keep racking up the final bill.

So scientists, academics, authors, journalists and others are effectively censoring themselves for fear of becoming trapped in a ruinous libel suit – or are being forced to back down and apologise for statements they still believe to be true.

Quite. You’ve probably already guessed the punchline: this sage writer was, of course, Melanie Phillips writing back in 2009 – ‘Death of free speech: Is Britain becoming the censorship capital of the world?‘.

I do live with a certain fear of being sued, not because I set out to libel or defame people, but because people can threaten to sue me to get me to remove / censor my content and even though I endeavour to always write truthfully and to be as accurate as any part-time, tired, limited-time evening writer can be: anyone can make mistakes. However, in this country you don’t even need to be mistaken, you can write what you and many others might consider to be an absolute truth, but truth is a fluid notion that changes from person to person, and perhaps judge to judge so you can still be threatened with libel and have to remove the content to be on the safe side. Would anyone in my position risk everything to fight for a few words that they hold to be true?

As before, I put my words on here to be challenged, argued over, corrected or dismissed. I stand by what I hold to be true, I amend – openly – anything that happens to be wrong. I link to my sources and I quote fairly from the columnists I write about. I do not know if Melanie Phillips will ever read this, but if she does I would really appreciate her pointing out exactly where I was guilty of being ‘defamatory’, what ‘false allegations’ I had made and what parts of my writing were ‘gross misrepresentations, selective reporting and twisted distortions’.

I will happily strike them through and I will issue a grovelling apology if she can demonstrate my guilt.

If, however, Melanie simply threw down the libel card because she couldn’t actually point out anything of the sort then she is indeed a far worse person than I had ever imagined – and a far bigger hypocrite.

And that really is saying something, given my extremely low opinion of her in the first place.

Publishing emails…

I have had some criticism on Twitter and in the comments on site – not to mention from Melanie Phillips herself – for publishing contents of the emails that she sent to me. I can understand the criticism, and it is something I have never done before and I doubt I will ever need to do again. I do receive a lot of email correspondence through this site and I do treat it all in absolute confidence as anyone who has contacted me will know (hence why this has never been an issue in the years I have published this blog). The emails from Melanie Phillips I published today and yesterday will not change that.

I initiated contact with Melanie Phillips not really expecting any response – other journalists I have contacted regarding my Winterval essay haven’t even acknowledged me – so I think I was a little surprised to hear back from her so quickly. Her response was aggressive, condescending and contained only fallacious or irrelevant arguments and clearly demonstrated she had no intention of reading any of the essay to verify whether she had indeed mislead her readers.

I had started politely, but given Melanie’s past history of bile-filled attacks on all manner of subjects and her dishonest, underhand and disdainful attack on a 16-year-old boy yesterday I felt publishing her email was in the public interest. I say this because Melanie – whilst you may say that she is a columnist – can still be labelled a journalist and as such she is an example of the kind of writer that is happily accepted and handsomely paid during these heady times of press ‘self-regulation’. Her attitude towards a member of the public who had politely pointed out that she was guilty – I didn’t even say intentionally – of misleading her readers over the Winterval claim she made just demonstrated how utterly untouchable journalists / columnists believe themselves to be.

I published her words because I wanted to demonstrate why occasionally this blog descends into unhelpful, despairing swearing aimed at a certain journalist or columnist; it is the frustration of knowing that irrespective of fact, evidence or truth the people I write about will never engage with me or any other media blogger, no matter how extensively you may have researched a given topic or how clear the error is. Winterval is a myth. It is as simple as that.  It was coined in one city (Birmingham), for two years (1997 and 1998) and yet Melanie Phillips claimed that:

Christmas has been renamed in various places ‘Winterval’

That is factually incorrect in every possible way:

  1. Christmas was never ‘renamed’ Winterval, Christmas in Birmingham in 1997/8 was Christmas as usual (see poster and you’ll see that Winterval is the small logo, bottom right, not replacing the much bigger ‘Christmas in Birmingham’)
  2. This non-renaming only took place in one city: Birmingham.

It cannot be any clearer that Melanie Phillips has mislead her readers by making a factually incorrect claim, and worse than that, she is repeating (indeed embellishing by making it ‘various places’ rather than just ‘Birmingham council’) a claim that has been debunked numerous times before and should never have been repeated again given that any Google search quickly reveals the truth.

All it needed from Melanie was an admission – one tiny admission in a career full of misleading or factually incorrect claims (she how she lost a libel case along with The Spectator after refusing to back down over untrue claims she made – rather than apologise she just repeated them) that she had got it wrong. However, she didn’t, she just responded in the same way as she always does, writing as if the truth inhabits a completely different realm to that occupied by Phllips. Even when provided with clear, irrefutable evidence that she was wrong, she couldn’t even admit it, let alone apologise to her readers or make any attempt to correct them.

That’s not abiding by the common etiquette that should come naturally to any writer, any writer irrespective of salary, audience or purpose. It is certainly entirely against the spirit of press self-regulation and the personal journalistic responsibility and basic integrity that should go hand-in-hand with such a system. This is why I – hypocritically if you like – also shunned any etiquette and printed her response. She has no rules when it comes to publishing words, so why should I? Let’s not pretend taking the higher ground is going to achieve anything when she can’t even admit to the tiniest of mistakes – and none of the Mail writers seem to care one bit about facts or truth.

It’s not as if the Press Complaints Commission are an option either.

So, I was left with an email from Melanie, and I took the opportunity to publish it, to hopefully destroy any fleeting belief that Melanie Phillips has any journalistic standards whatsoever, or even the vaguest interest in not misleading her readers.

So, sorry Melanie, for publishing your emails – but please clearly understand this: you were not damned by me, but by your own words.

Melanie Phillips on Winterval

About half an hour ago I sent Melanie Phillips an email regarding her repetition of the famous ‘Winterval’ myth on which I happen to think myself quite the expert – having traced the myth back to its origins in 1997 and written extensively on its development over the years since. Amusingly Melanie Phillips has been kind enough to get back to me already, and here is what she wrote:

Interesting that you think all those people, including Bishops of the Church of England who were so upset by Winterval, failed to understand what you alone apparently understood. In fact, it is plain that you have zero understanding of why this term caused such offence to so many people. Birmingham council’s protestations that Christmas remained at the heart of the Winterval celebrations were disingenuous and missed the point. ‘Christmas’ is a term that does not merely refer to Christmas Day but to the period around it. There was no need for the term Winterval at all — except as a way of not referring to the Christmas season, but instead to provide a neutral term which would enable other faith celebrations around that time to assume equal prominence. That was the objection which was clearly stated at the time by the Bishops and others: Winterval buried ‘Christmas’ and replaced it in the public mind. Your message is therefore as arrogant and ignorant as it is offensive.

Melanie

It’s a great answer, essentially stating that I am wrong because I couldn’t possibly have a better understanding than people such as ‘bishops’ and presumably all of the journalists happy to repeat the myth over the years. It’s a wonderful defence: the majority must be right. Although it must be said that such a defence hasn’t proved terribly reliable down the years given that at some point majority correctness (the Mail can feel free to use this) dictated that the earth was flat and the sun revolved around it until a few individuals pointed out that this wasn’t true. Truth is dictated by fact, Melanie, not sheer weight of believers.

No, I just miss the point and Birmingham council’s explanations were ‘disingenuous and [also] missed the point’ – even though such explanations were actually completely transparent (indeed they were baffled, a year after the first successful Winterval period, that anybody could possibly believe that they had done away with Christmas, given that they so clearly and unequivocally hadn’t). The council merely explained (repeatedly) that Winterval was a cynical marketing ploy to extend Christmas beyond the traditional Christmas season. Christmas, in all of its glory, was celebrated in Birmingham as normal which is why in 1997 and beyond not one person complained about it being ‘banned’ or marginalised in any way – as Melanie would know were she humble enough to read my essay which clearly explains this point.

Such a response would be amusing, were it not written by a supposedly ‘professional’ journalist.


In the interests of full disclosure, here is what I originally sent to her website:

Melanie, I noticed in your recent Daily Mail article that you again repeated the ‘Winterval’ myth – that councils have attempted to replace Christmas with ‘Winterval’. This myth has been debunked many times, indeed I have written an extensive essay on the subject which was covered by BBC Radio 4. As it appears you have somehow missed this can I point you in the direction of this essay so you can apologise to your readers for misleading them: http://www.thedisinformed.co.uk/2010/12/12/the-winterval-myth/

And I have now replied to her reply:

If you read the essay I think you’d realise that you are quite mistaken. Again, you really need to start engaging with facts, rather than just reverberating around your own blinkered mind.

Your dishonest attack on Rory Weal was a staggeringly embarrassing exercise in how underhand you have to become to even engage in an argument with a 16-year-old.

I’ve responded to you via my blog [ http://www.butireaditinthepaper.co.uk ], I prefer to keep such conversations public – as any writer should (although I notice you don’t believe that journalism or blogging is a two-way process, probably because it is easier to write your nonsense trapped in your own blissful bubble of ignorance).

I really think you should take a second look at some of the accusations you made about Rory Weal, because, thanks to your laziness (i.e. not bothering to look into his life situation before starting your rant), you got his situation horribly wrong and you look even more foolish than normal.

UPDATE:

Melanie Phillips has responded to me this morning:

Your blog post about me is highly defamatory and contains false allegations for which you would stand to pay me significant damages in a libel action. There are many things I could say to point out the gross misrepresentations, selective reporting and twisted distortions in what you have written. I will not do so, however, because you have shown gross abuse of trust in publishing on your blog private correspondence from me without my permission. Consequently I will have no more to do with you and any further messages from you will be electronically binned unread along with other nuisance mail.

I politely tried to engage with Melanie Phillips over a factual matter and she responded with arrogant abuse. I published her response to me because I thought it was important to demonstrate how Melanie deals with any polite, factual criticism of her writing. If she writes in public, she should stand by it in public, if she emails a reader prepared to engage with her she should not say anything she wouldn’t be happy for others to read. It is that simple as far as I am concerned.

As for her claims that I would have to pay her ‘significant damages in a libel action’ should she wish to pursue it, I invite any lawyers who read this blog to post an honest appraisal of my article on Rory Weal and Melanie Phillips to see if I am indeed guilty of libel or defamation – or indeed ‘false allegations’ or ‘twisted distortions’. Her article is free for anyone to read, as is mine so people can make their own minds up.

Just remember this little email exchange the next time Melanie Phillips complains that the ‘liberal elite’ are guilty of shutting down debate or existing in their own little bubble.

Melanie Phillips’ dishonest attack on Rory Weal

One of the main criticisms of the welfare state I seem to hear about is that it rewards the idle, whilst punishing the hard-working who ultimately have to fund the system through direct and indeed indirect taxation. It is a point made by Ed Miliband in his speech today, in which he wants his new society in general to reward hard work and social responsibility whilst punishing the workshy and feckless. What most people do agree on is that the welfare state is a vital safety net for those that fall on hard times, in particular those that have contributed for years into that system.

Step forward the 16-year-old Rory Weal who gave a speech at the Labour Conference today. The Telegraph reports that:

the son of a company director, [Rory] had enjoyed a privileged upbringing before his parents split up following financial trouble in 2008.

He was a pupil at the independent Colfe’s School in Lee, south east London, but had to leave after his father’s City-based employment agency, Jonathan Weal Associates, went bust…

His family lived in a £500,000 home in Chislehurst, Kent, until it was repossessed and his mother Elaine, 43, an administrator at a cleaning company, separated from 53-year-old Mr Weal.

Rory Weal spoke of this experience today in his speech:

two and a half years ago the home I had lived in since birth was repossessed. We had nothing, no money, no savings. I owe my entire well-being and that of my family’s to the welfare state, that is why I joined the Labour party but that very same welfare state is being ruthlessly ripped apart by a vicious and right-wing Tory-led government.

I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for that system, that safety net.

It is very clear, Rory Weal was living the life of a privileged young man, but he then experienced – along with the rest of his family – what it was like to lose everything, but to be saved by the safety net offered by the welfare state – a system his parents had obviously paid much into over the years. He has now realised the importance of such a system because he realises that any family, no matter how successful one minute, can find themselves at the mercy of what the government has (or indeed hasn’t)  in place for them in tough times. All very reasonable, irrespective of what your personal political view may be.

You might think.

Then in steps Melanie Phillips to tackle the temerity of this 16-year-old boy for daring to voice his opinion: ‘The Labour mantra of hate finds a new star in 16-year-old Weal’. Leaving aside Melanie’s need to tar anyone with an opposing view as a ‘zealot’ or full of ‘hate’, she goes on to take wildly out of context his words in order to make her case against him.

Let’s just repeat that, a seasoned journalist writing for the Daily Mail (which does have a genuine ‘mantra of hate’) not only feels the need to aggressively shout down a 16-year-old boy, but also has to use completely dishonest tactics to do so. Yet according to Phillips he is the posterboy of the ‘Labour mantra of hate’! Phillips’ writes:

Rory Weal was hailed as a hero for saying something that should have chilled the marrow. For he said:

‘I owe my entire well-being and that of my family to the welfare state.’

In the real world, what that means (if true) is that his entire life has been spent as a kind of state serf, that he and his family are wholly lacking in independence, that their entire subsistence has been funded by the state.

Worse still, it would appear that in the mind of 16 year-old Rory Weal he has never gained any benefit to himself from anything other than the state. [Emphasis is mine]

How can a highly-paid journalist dare to write in brackets ‘if true’ when a quick Google search would show her that it wasn’t true in the slightest and that before needing to turn to the salvation of the state his parents were independent, wealthy and paid an awful lot of money into the system which would eventually save them.

It’s just unbelievable that Melanie Phillips is paid to be so lazy, so underhanded, so utterly wrong on every count. She is one of the elite few national journalists still happy to repeat the ‘Winterval’ myth even though it was debunked years ago and today she demonstrates that even when arguing with kids she’s happy to lie to defend her own warped worldview.

Melanie Phillips continues to remove any shred of context regarding what Rory Weal actually said:

No mention, note, of what he owes to his parents’ own efforts for his well-being.

Indeed, to him they appear to have made no such contribution since he told us that he owes his ‘entire well-being’ to the welfare state.

To Rory Weal, all good things appear to come from the state – and so anyone who dares suggest otherwise is vicious and right-wing. Is that not terrifying?

Words fail me. He owes his ‘entire well-being’ right now because the safety net saved him from destitution when his family lost everything – not because he and his family have spent their entire life suckling from the teet of welfare dependency you insane woman. Rory Weal did not imply that ‘all good things appear to come from the state’, what he implies in his speech is that if it should all go wrong and you find your life suddenly reduced to nothing, who else can possibly help you – and who will help people in future if the welfare state is destroyed?

What is terrifying is that Melanie Phillips isn’t some kind of Brass Eye parody, but an actual human being that genuinely believes these things.

And still she continues:

He also complained that, after his parents divorced,‘ two and-a-half years ago, the home I had lived in since birth was repossessed’.

But two and a half years ago it was of course Labour that was in power.

So Rory Weal was blaming the Tories for a series of actions which were in fact taken by Labour governments! This boy will indeed go far.

MELANIE! For the love of truth! He wasn’t blaming the Tories for repossessing his house, he wasn’t blaming anyone for repossessing his house. Rory simply pointed out that after it was repossessed he and his family were saved by the welfare state and it is this that he is now worried the Tories will destroy.

Someone needs to have a word with Mad Mel. She is supposedly a seasoned professional and here she is smugly and triumphantly finishing an article attacking a 16-year-old boy with a put down that is complete fiction and only serves to highlight how incredibly blinkered and stupid she is. The Daily Mail seems to be abandoning any semblance of editorial standards with this attack. It’s just a pathetic, dishonest, embarrassing mess from start to finish.

Melanie Phillips & Nadine Dorries

The trouble with the abortion debate, claims Melanie Phillips, is that it is being shut down by the ‘Guardian/BBC agenda’ which:

demonstrates once again the power of the campaigns of instantaneous demonisation and denunciation now employed to silence those who uphold a socially conservative position by tarring and feathering them as swivel-eyed bigots.

Melanie Phillips is concerned that ‘it appears that abortion hysteria is beginning to distort British politics’. Wise words indeed. The debate over the merits or otherwise of Nadine Dorries’ abortion proposal shouldn’t be conducted using childish insults, hysterical reactions or the attempted demonisation of either side – such behaviours serve only to detract from the facts of the matter.

Isn’t it a real shame though that Nadine Dorries has had to resort to referring to Dr Evan Harris as ‘Dr Death’ and that Phillips herself in her own column title refers to anyone raising objections to Dorries’ plans as ‘abortion zealots’ who are conducting an ‘venomous campaign’ against her.

Phillips makes her arguments in such simplistic fundementalist terms: ‘surely only a zealot would be complacent about the huge number of abortions’ she writes, whilst asking ‘how can any decent person not want to bring down the huge rate of [abortions]?’. Some of the objections, she suggests, have been ‘spine-chillingly callous’ and provide ‘sobering evidence of the brutalisation of attitudes that abortion virtually on demand has brought in its wake’.

This, remember is Phillips responding to ‘hysteria’ and ‘demonisation’ by providing yet more hysteria and demonisation but merely pointed in the other direction. She continues in the same vain, repeating the same basic argument in ever starker terms:

So if independent counselling would reduce this toll, who could possibly object? Only the pro-abortion zealots, whose visceral hostility to faith-based counselling is based on the fact that this changes some women’s minds.

Melanie decides to keep referring to anyone who objects to Dorries’ plans as ‘pro-abortion zealots’ as if such objections are made by people who enjoy nothing more than killing potential sons and daughters before they ever reach consciousness. It is of course utterly ludicrous to describe anyone as ‘pro-abortion’ just because they happen to raise an objection to what is being proposed – in the same way that it is insidious to describe someone who is pro-choice as being ‘pro-abortion’. I’m not sure I’ve even seen anyone actually campaign for the customary abortion of foetuses – at least outside the comments section of the Mail website on articles relating to benefit claimants.

Phillips rightly concludes that:

What is nice about demonising people in order to shut down debate?

Surely this is what is really nasty.

Except, of course, that this is exactly what Phillips has tried to do with her column (indeed, almost every column she has ever written). Indeed, it describes almost the entire editorial output of the newspaper that employs her.

Melanie Phillips: in her own little world

Melanie Phillips. Mad Mel. Someone who I recall was once memorably described on Twitter as ‘batshit, faeces up the wall insane’. It says something that even in the reality vacuum, outrage baiting world of Daily Mail columnists, Melanie Phillips can still pull out a column so deranged that you have to re-read its title over-and-over whilst punching yourself in the face just to make sure your eyes are not deceiving you. Today she gets stuck into the Phone Hacking scandal with her own unique perspective: ‘If Miliband is such a hero, why won’t he tackle the REAL threat to our way of life – the BBC?’.

Seriously. ‘If Miliband is such a hero, why won’t he tackle the REAL threat to our way of life – the BBC?’.

And why, you might reasonably ask is the BBC a ‘threat to our way of life’ (whatever Phillips’ might mean by ‘our’)? Well, because the BBC:

is a media oligarchy which exercises far more power in Britain than News International…

The BBC’s monopoly over the media is indeed a running scandal. After all, just imagine if News International had been given the legal power to levy a tax on everyone who bought a newspaper in order to fund the Murdoch empire.

So, ignoring the fact that the News of the World has closed down after constant allegations / revelations over phone-hacking, police corruption and political collusion / blind-eye-turning at the highest level we should ignore all of that – and the wider role of News International in creating a culture in which this is all fine – and instead focus on media monopolies as if this is what the story is really about. Even for Melanie Phillips this is stretching credibility beyond breaking point.

She continues:

Indeed, since it is a direct competitor of BSkyB, the disproportion and relish with which the BBC has been reporting the News of the World scandal — allowing it on some current affairs shows to drive out all other news — leaves a very bad taste in the mouth. Moreover, the BBC’s role in all this is even more questionable when you factor in the real reason for Miliband’s double standard.

For his motives surely have precious little to do with any criminal behaviour or monopoly power. No, the real reason is that for the past three decades the Left has been desperate to bring Murdoch down.

For such people, he is a hate figure of diabolical proportions. The venom and hysteria he inspires are truly irrational.

Isn’t it strange to read this version of history about ‘the left’ when I seem to recall Murdoch switching allegiance to Labour when it was clear the Tories were finished in 1997 and Murdoch and Tony Blair having a very cosy relationship. I don’t recall any politician of substance (perhaps because there are so few of them) trying to take down Murdoch or even discuss it. It seems Melanie is just making stuff up to fit her warped world view in which the BBC are the Labour party or more generally ‘the left’ simply because they don’t take the same frothing right-wing editorial line as the Daily Mail or indeed they don’t subscribe to Phillips’ fantasy version of Britain. From what i’ve read – and I could of course be wrong – the real darkness of this scandal is that almost every politician irrespective of party has been either in bed with News International or to fearful to ever question it and that has led to the current situation.

Phillips continues – in an extremely influential right-wing newspaper that holds – in the words of Nick Davies – ‘outstanding political influence':

Murdoch’s real crime in the eyes of the Left-wing intelligentsia is simply that he has stood in the way of their total capture of the culture.

The dominance of Left-wing ideas has been such that even among so-called conservatives, many of them have become accepted as mainstream. And one of the most powerful architects of that shift has been the BBC.

Yes, the Left-wing and their cultural dominance. That cultural dominance so widely-expressed through the Guardian and the Daily Mirror and… well, that’s it. It always amuses me when the overwhelmingly right-wing press claims to be the victim of some kind of left-wing, liberal conspiracy to stop them getting their own way. As far as I can determine the only mass of people capable of stopping right-wing ideas gaining complete dominance is the public. As much as it would pain Phillips to admit, the reality is that (shock horror) her ideas are only supported by a minority of blinkered Daily Mail readers. It isn’t a left-wing liberal elite that is preventing her ideas from spreading, but the fact that her ideas are so utterly repellent and stupid that the public as a whole just ignore her.

She finally does get to the point about why the BBC is the ‘real threat to our way of life':

the BBC’s output rests upon certain articles of faith.

For example, traditional Christians are all fundamentalist bigots; the science of man-made global warming is settled; opponents of mass immigration are racist; Eurosceptics are swivel-eyed fanatics; and all who oppose these opinions and more are Right-wing extremists.

And then to add insult to injury, the BBC forces people to pay for the privilege of being told day in, day out that their own views are stupid or prejudiced.

So, in short, because the BBC has a different opinion to her (even if it is based on science or facts etc) it is a threat to ‘our’ way of life (by which she really means ‘her view of the world’). Wonderful stuff indeed. It really puts the Daily Mail into sharp perspective when you consider it sees fit to pay Melanie Phillips a wage for writing this moronic, self-indulgent drivel.

If you want the full ‘glory’ of the article, you can read it here via istyosty.com.