Category Archives: Politics

Has the Daily Mail Jumped the Shark?

The TV show Happy Days in many people’s view went in to a terminal decline when The Fonze jumped over a shark whilst water-skiing. Watching the show always involved suspending disbelief to quite a large extent as the Fonze is clearly a ridiculous character but the point when he jumped over a shark was the point at which the writers went too far. Was it hubris or over-confidence or simply desperation that led the writers to take their audience for granted? Either way it was a watershed moment. I wonder whether the Mail has similarly over-reached itself – not with its attack on Ed Miliband via his father so much, but by their attempted defence.

fonzie_jumps_the_shark

In many ways the attack on Ralph Miliband was typical of the Daily Mail – it is typical of their Modus Operandi: prejudicial, ill-conceived and misrepresentive of the subject. This response by Miliband Senior’s biographer is very telling.

The sole basis for this assertion was a diary entry at the age of 16 in autumn 1940, where Ralph Miliband wrote that “the Englishman is a rabid nationalist” and, “when you hear the English talk of this war you sometimes almost want them to lose it to show how things are.” Such sentiments might sound shocking, but they need to be put into their real context.

A few months earlier Miliband had arrived in Britain with his father, having walked from Brussels to Ostend, where they took the last boat leaving for Britain. While working hard to improve his English, he was also spending much of his time wandering through the streets of London trying to make sense of his new environment. He was in a constant state of anxiety about the fate of his sister and mother, who had remained in Nazi occupied Belgium as stateless Jews.

Because he believed that the earlier appeasement of Hitler was largely responsible for the situation, he was occasionally exasperated by the atmosphere of complacency and superiority amongst the British upper classes, and this no doubt provoked his intemperate diary outburst.

There is nothing new in any of this: The Mail has done this to many others. What is unusual is that Daily Mail could not deny Ed Miliband a response.

 

The petulance that accompanied the printing of Ed Miliband very measured article was impressive to behold.

Ed Miliband:

Britain has always benefited from a free Press. Those freedoms should be treasured. They are vital for our democracy. Journalists need to hold politicians like me to account — none of us should be given an easy ride — and I look forward to a robust 19 months between now and the General Election.

<snip>

The Daily Mail sometimes claims it stands for the best of British values of decency. But something has really gone wrong when it attacks the family of a politician — any politician — in this way. It would be true of an attack on the father of David Cameron, Nick Clegg, or mine.

There was a time when politicians stayed silent if this kind of thing happened, in the hope that it wouldn’t happen again. And fear that if they spoke out, it would make things worse.

I will not do that. The stakes are too high for our country for politics to be conducted in this way. We owe it to Britain to have a debate which reflects the values of how we want the country run.

The Daily Mail Comment

Red Ed’s in a strop with the Mail. Doubtless, he’s miffed that his conference was overshadowed by the revelations of his former friend, the spin doctor Damian McBride, serialised in this paper, which exposed the poisonous heart of the Labour Party.

Nor did he see the funny side when we ridiculed the yucky, lovey-dovey photographs of him and his wife, behaving like a pair of hormonal teenagers in need of a private room.

But what has made him vent his spleen — indeed, he has stamped his feet and demanded a right of reply — is a Mail article by Geoffrey Levy on Saturday about the Labour leader’s late father, Ralph, under the arresting headline ‘The Man Who Hated Britain’.

They seem to want us to believe it was an act of great magnanimity for them to publish the response rather the act of cowardice and calculation it really was. They know how much worse it would be if it was published elsewhere under the headline What the Mail refused to print. The choice of the grave photo shows the standard dehumanising attitude of the DM to those they oppose – although to be fair to them they have at-least acknowledged that this was in poor taste. Note the choice of language – responding to a deeply personal attack on his father, Ed is characterised as behaving childishly, whilst the Mail repeat the words ‘evil’ in reference to Ralph Miliband’s views.

If the professional ethos of journalism is to speak the truth to power then the Mail is undoubtably the very antithesis of a journalistic organisation. The reaction to this particular example though is interesting. The hardcore Mailites remain loyal but their wider credibility as a newspaper has been compromised. I – and many others – have long seen through them but the Mail has always maintained this pretence of seriousness. It is interesting, and not a little ironic, to see this pretence stripped away by their own bloody-mindedness. While Stephen Glover whines about the leftist conspiracy and alleged hypocrisy, the country at-large seems to take a different view. I find myself wondering if they have perhaps over-reached themselves this time?

I for one, truly hope so.

 

AFZ

You do realise that anyone can apply?

In the United Kingdown people have free will and the right to pursue whatever career they wish. Not everyone will have an equal chance of getting the job that they want because people will be limited to different extents by inherent ability, social class and means and of course the education that is made available to them. If you are following the growing demonisation of the Public Sector you would think that to be in the employ of the state you have to win some kind of lottery or you inherit your position through some kind of birthright.

The truth is that there are many reasons why people prefer to work in the private sector. I’d like to receive an honest answer from those working in the Private Sector about whether they fancy some of the key positions available in the public sector.

Hands up who would like to be a Police Officer? And I don’t mean, hands up who would like the right to retire at 50 on a decent pension (length of service dependant or course) because surely we would all hold our hands up to that. I mean, who really, deep down, would like to perform the role of a Police Officer? The long shift patterns, dealing with the very worst aspects of society, the social stigma that goes with the role and the fact that to attain any kind of position in the Police you must do your time on the beat.

Then you ask yourself: are you adequately qualified to perform the role? Are you fit enough, can you pass the physical aspects of the application process and then can you pass the lengthy role-play sessions and interviews. Do you have a degree, have you any experience – most likely gained whilst as an un-paid (or at the very best low-paid) and essentiallly powerless Community Support Officer – and can you deal, in a non-judgemental way, with people from every possible background?

Getting into the Police is not easy, but neither is it a random lottery in which people are selected irrespective of personal qualities. It is an application process and anyone can apply. You just might not want to.

Hands up who fancies being a teacher? And no, I don’t mean who fancies the summer off, a pension at 60/65 and short working days. I mean, who fancies spending most of their working life in the glare of 30 school kids, who they have to get to a certain level each year irrespective of the quality of kids that turn up. Who fancies spending much of their time at home marking, planning and worrying about constant observations, grading and inspections?

It is the easiest thing in the world to suggest that the Public Sector is one big gravy train full of incompetents living the high life just waiting to retire on a huge pension. But it isn’t true, at all. The average Public Sector pension is just £4,000 a year, for example. As for the suggestion that every position is filled by simpletons who couldn’t survive in the Private Sector, then why don’t the whingers apply? If working in the Public Sector is such an easy ride, why isn’t every single post advertised deluged with millions of applicants all desperate for their slice of the easy pie?

Could it be that not everyone wants to spend 4 years training to become a teacher. Not everyone wants to go back to college to complete an Access to Nursing course (1 or 2 years, unfunded) only to face huge competition for a very limited amount of Nursing degree places (which is a further 3 years if they do get a place) – a large number of Access to Nursing students will simply not be accepted onto a university course.

You will never become rich working in the public sector. You can in certain job roles become very comfortably well-off (Headteachers, deputy heads, senior police, senior civil servants etc) but these are a tiny tip at the top of an pyramid in which the vast majority of public sector workers occupy the lower base. Teachers, nurses, fireman, admin VAT advisors, tax workers, call centre workers and everyone else working in the public sector knows that their earnings will always be clearly finite and relevant to the role they perform, which in turn is governed by their qualifications.

I don’t think it is unfair to expect to live in a country in which teachers, nurses, fireman, police officers, social workers (and who wants the grief that they get for working in often impossible situations?) etc should not have to worry about being poor, either during their working life or in retirement.

And, if you still think it’s easy, then why don’t you get a job in the Public Sector? No one is stopping you, it is not an exclusive club (although it is becoming harder to get into thanks to media-driven government cuts), anyone can apply. You just have to be qualified, experienced and prepared to put up with all the flak that most of the jobs entail.

A deafening No

I haven’t had a lot of time to post lately and the topics I have been tempted to write about require a bit more thought than I can really manage at the moment. Still, I can manage a few seconds to point out that the Daily Mail editorial (or ‘comment’ as it is referred to by the Mail) was again telling Nick Clegg that he had received a ‘deafening No’ from the public with regards to electoral reform. I guess I just wanted to point out – as someone did here in the comments recently – that the Mail’s beloved Tories are not exactly in any position to talk about what constitutes a deafening majority. In the 2010 election the UK public had just experienced a massive economic crash and the then Labour government was led by someone who was supposedly about as unpopular as it is possible to be, yet the Conservatives could still only gain 36.1% of the vote – just 7.1% more than Labour.

63.9% of voters said no to the Conservatives.

In the AV referendum 67.9% of people rejected the Alternative vote, just 4% more than had rejected the Tory party in the general election. Considering the Mail considers Clegg to have suffered a ‘resounding defeat in the AV referendum’ can we also assume they realise that David Cameron also suffered a resounding defeat in the general election?

The Mail might try to argue that the two things are very different: the AV referendum was a straight yes or no whereas the general election had numerous different parties to vote for and therefore it would be harder for any one party to pick up a clear majority. This is a perfectly valid argument. However, this also happens to be an argument that leads directly to the thought that perhaps the voting system needs to be rather more complex than FPTP to deal with this problem. All the current system allows us to conclude is that the Conservatives suffered a resounding no.

We get the governance we deserve

The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.
Winston Churchill

So, an overwhelming no to even modest political reform. Money, power and fear have once again convinced people to vote against their own self-interest. I wonder in history lessons in the distant future school children will sit in wonder at how there grand parents could have been so subservient and easily scared by political propaganda.

The AV referendum was a chance to go into the polling box and instead of putting a cross next to one candidate, you could instead rank them in order of preference – making those in charge perfectly aware of not just who you wanted to win, but also the regard in which you held the other candidates.

Yet around 70% of voters decided that this was something they didn’t want.

I just find that unbelievable. I just cannot fathom why anyone would not want AV over FPTP (I’ll ignore valid arguments about AV being a miserable compromise because it was the best we were ever going to be offered and already No campaigners are already crowing about how they knew all along the masses didn’t want political reform – I think it highly unlikely we’ll ever get the chance to vote for any kind of reform again). People went out in their millions and actively said: ‘Don’t give me the chance to rank candidates! I don’t want that!’.

What makes it worse is that if I genuinely felt that people had considered the cold facts of AV and FPTP and preferred the FPTP system then I could accept that. But I just really don’t believe that they did. Instead they just picked up their newspapers, read the AV leaflets, got scared and voted no without even engaging their brains. It’s the same when any political debate begins and the masses just repeat the media narratives and we’re all soon lost in a cycle of pointless, endless arguments about immigration that never come close to addressing the facts of the matter.

It’s depressing. Very, very depressing.

What really annoys me is that people always seem angry about the government which just switches between the Conservatives and Labour every few years – each party voted out as being the worst government ever… before being re-elected a few years later because the other party is now the worst government ever – we seemingly forget the evils of the party that they in turn had replaced. FPTP has given us this system that everyone seems dissatisfied with, yet here we are as a populace voting in droves to keep this same two-party system that we’ll no doubt keep bitching about.

I would invite anyone to justify why they voted against AV, why they would not want the opportunity to rank preferences on a ballot paper rather than just getting one option. I will never understand the mentality of the no voters, just as they will probably never understand the consequences of their actions.

In Bury today after three recounts, Labour and Conservative posted the same number of votes in the Ransbottom ward. The two candidates then drew straws, with the Labour candidate drawing the longest one to gain an extra vote and win the seat – giving them a majority on the council. In actual fact they drew cable ties.

We have a system so staggeringly simple that the winners can be decided – quite literally – at random using the length of a cable tie. And over 10 million people were so happy with this system they went out and voted for it.

No wonder the world is such a messed-up place.

Complexity

After having exchanged a few words with Tom Harris MP on Twitter today regarding the increased complexity of AV I was trying to convey in no more than 140 characters the utter stupidity that underlies the argument that AV is too complex for the average voter or that complexity is in itself a negative quality.

Let’s try and put complexity into context.

People can walk somewhere if they want to. Walking (for most people) is a very simple, un-complex undertaking. People are unlikely to break down or encounter anything during a walk that they cannot deal with.

People can also take make the journey more complex by cycling, which introduces more possible difficulties (punctures, chain falling off and so forth) but also improves several elements of the journey (reduced journey time, reduced impact on crucial joints such as the knee and so forth).

People can take complexity to whole new levels by driving the journey instead, or taking any form of public transport. This level of complexity carries the great risk that the journey might not be completed because of a mechanical failure that cannot be rectified by the individual: for it is unlikely that they understand the complexity of an modern combustion engine or how to fix a train.

This does not stop people driving or taking public transport, as end users they very rarely need to know how such things work, what they do know is that mechanics exist to fix any problems that might arise.

Complexity is all around us, we embrace it because complexity is so intimately linked with progress and understanding.
It is very simple to think that the world is at the centre of the universe and that everything revolves around us. It is very complex to realise that we are one planet amongst almost infinite numbers that happens to revolve around the Sun in an ever-expanding universe. We don’t reject change simply because it is more complex. Otherwise we should throw away just about every single bit of technology in the world.

This is, of course, assuming that AV is actually complex – and if it is more complex than FPTP, who has to deal with that complexity?

From the point of view of the voter AV could not be simpler. You just rank the candidates in order of preference. You can vote for the person you really want to, rather than voting for a lesser candidate simply because you fear voting for your real choice would be a wasted vote. Tactical voting under AV is done with second or third preferences, i.e. I’d really like Mr A, but failing that I would rather have Mr D or Mr H (so rank them 2nd and 3rd) than the horrible Mr X.

That is not difficult and perhaps people can leave the polling station knowing that they actually voted for their first preference for once, rather than voting for someone merely to stop another more despised candidate. Wouldn’t that be a nice feeling? To know that you can actually voted for your real choice without feeling that you have just ‘wasted’ your vote?

Of course, this means that when the votes are counted if there is no clear winner the weakest candidate has to be eliminated and then second preferences are added to see if that can establish and so forth until one candidate has a majority of over 50%. Sure, this is more complex than first past the post, but it’s hardly the same as building a car and we are all happy to be the end user of those, so why not be the end user of the AV voting system?

Any complexity with AV is the problem of the government, not the voter. Perhaps we should also vote no to sewers as well because they’re complex and expensive and we’d all be much better off taking the simple option of emptying buckets of shit out of our windows like the good old days. Not that AV is expensive, that’s just another scare tactic employed by the old guard who are scared because a more democratic system does not help a very undemocratic elite.

The final point, the really important point I’d like to think, is that we are having a referendum on the way in which we elect MPs and consequently the governments that make the decisions that impact on us every day of our lives. Elections only take place every 5 years, the way in which that government is elected matters. This means I don’t want a simple system to determine this, I want a complex system that better reflects the actual will of those bothering to vote (and as for those complaining that AV will reduce voter turnout, how much lower do they think it can get?).

Think back to the days when computers were horrible great big boxes that didn’t do a great deal and what they did do they did very slowly. We’d look back and describe them as crude, in the same way that we would describe most ancient tools that were a product of physical limitation. Here we have a voting system that is not a product of physical limitation, but rather a philosophical limitation. We could if we wanted have AV or AV plus or full PR, in the same way that we could vote entirely online and get almost instant results. We don’t because the rich and powerful individuals that almost entirely make up our political class rely on an outdated system to cling to a two-party system that with FPTP forces the majority of voters to compromise at the ballot box, or worse still not vote at all.

You have a country divided between safe Labour seats and safe Conservative seats with any other party or individual merely trying to get their deposit back. You could lead a party with the support of a million voters and still not end up with a single seat in parliament.

The same is also true with AV, it is a miserable compromise. But this is not an argument against voting for AV, rather it is a damning indictment of the current government – if AV is a miserable compromise then why did you not offer us full PR – if you keep saying that is superior? Probably because PR would take away the very notion of a safe seat and the Conservatives – who only represent the interest of a small elite, would finally have that reflected in the number of seats they won. Likewise, the Labour party – who seemed to have abandoned the working classes in policy, but can still be guaranteed a huge amount of seats in working class areas – might actually have to start being the Labour party again; instead of the Conservatives with a different colour tie.

AV plus or true PR would be much better, but it turns out our ‘elected’ leaders actually despise democracy. ‘What about extremist parties, under PR they would get MPs elected’ they cry, such an argument seems almost directly against proper democracy. If the BNP or EDL (if they became a political party) or any other extremists gained seats it would not reflect poorly on democracy, merely on the level of debate that takes place on real issues of importance in this country. The EDL exists because our media constantly creates and feeds the narratives that sustain them – as do politicians when they blame the foreigner for all the ills that are a direct result of their policies.

If we elect a series of racist loons, we need more education, not less democracy.

Perhaps true PR might lead to a properly regulated press, a House of Commons that doesn’t descend into the infantile groaning and roaring of over-privileged, public-schooled pals mistaking running a country with messing around in their old common rooms and above all a political class that engages in real issues rather than petty political posturing and point-scoring. Maybe, just maybe, politicians would have to honestly answer the occasional question, rather than aloofly ignoring questions put to them as if we have no right to know what they are really up to.

AV is slightly more complex than FPTP – but only for the people counting, not the people voting – and like most increasingly complex things: this is a good thing. People don’t race out to buy the latest gadget because it does less than the old one; they buy it because it offers them more. We have voted with our wallets for hundreds of years for increasing complexity, increasing sophistication; for products that do similar things in better ways and for products that have revolutionised our lives.

The majority of humanity loves progress and change, capitalism, for example, is entirely reliant on this fact. It’s about time we put down our wallets for five minutes and instead voted with our ballet paper for increased political sophistication, for a voting system that offers us slightly more for the same exertion. AV is a compromise, it’s not the system that would bring true democracy to the UK, nor will it likely change the party system currently in place.

However, it is progress; it is increasing the sophistication of the way we are allowed to vote. It could be, if we all turn out to vote if given AV for the next election, the first step on the path to real democracy and real change.

Now that is change I do want to believe in.

March 26th old news already

Today’s front pages:

  • Daily Mail: ‘Fury over Bulger killer’s tryst with girl guard’, and a story about Princess Eugenie riding a bicycle.
  • Daily Star: ‘JORDAN: If I revealed what REALLY happened Alex would be destroyed for ever!’, a small piece about Sian O’Callaghan and another about Coleen Rooney.
  • Daily Mirror: ‘Back on the beach: Canoe man reveals how he faked death at scene of the crime’, some drivel about someone leaving Loose Women and a short intro piece on ‘Libya rape girl’.
  • The Sun: ‘Sian cops watched as suspect lit bonfire’, plus short piece on Libya and dancing on ice winner (I think, I can only view a tiny thumbnail of this front page, so I could be wrong).
  • The Independent: ‘Onwards to Triploi’, an advert for an article on ‘The toxic question of where the PM educates his children’ but it also advertises a story on the protests: ‘The protests carried a message the Government must hear’.
  • The Daily Telegraph: ‘Britain is open for business, say top investors'; some drivel about Princes Will and Harry and their stag do, an article on how ‘Anarchists “plan to target royal wedding”‘, some stuff about cancer drugs, Gaddafi and ‘A barbecue August’.
  • The Times: ‘Libya rebels close in on Gaddafi’s strongholds’, lots of other lead articles, too small to make out.
  • The Guardian: ‘Turkey offers to broker Libya ceasefire as rebels advance’, an article on Mansion tax, the Bank on England inflation forecast for 2012 and a small advert for an article on the demonstration – ‘Britain can still state a good demo – pity about the mini-mob who gave the tabloids their headlines’.

I know the demonstration was held on Saturday and that most newspapers covered it on their front pages yesterday, but not everyone buys a Sunday paper and doesn’t the demonstration deserve further prominent coverage? This is the main problem with our current media, all news is old news before we have even had the time to properly digest it. It is replaced, each day with something else to distract us. Except that this isn’t always the case, when it comes to speculation the front pages can be dedicated to the same topic for as long is as needed – the media furore over Joanna Yeates for example dominated front pages with nothing more than lurid, invasive and malicious speculation.

Yet as today demonstrates, when they have the chance to reflect on something important, something solid – a topic that requires careful consideration instead of mindless speculation – they fail, every single time, to provide it.

Switch off, log on

So, the Guardian reports today that the Daily Mail website is ‘most popular newspaper website in the UK, with nearly 18 million readers a month, and is second only to the New York Times worldwide’. This is not really a surprise, just more evidence that a huge amount of people enjoy mindless rubbish. Whenever I see the unique visitor count of the Daily Mail website I am saddened that Bill Hicks is no longer around to spell out just why such banal tripe is evil. His comments on the apathetic, mindless mass of Americans who could be sleepwalked into submission by 24-hour cable TV showing American Gladiators have never been more timely.

At the time when the Coalition government dismantles the welfare state because of a recession caused by stupendously irresponsible and wealthy banks; the majority of people in Britain are more concerned with logging into the Mail website to check out the latest celebrity to gain or lose weight whilst angrily reading about the ‘workshy’. I mean, sure, the banks may have lost hundreds of billions of pounds and inflated house prices so that most people have either been priced out of the market or now own a property worth far less than their mortgage, but the real problem is that couple down the road who don’t work and have too many children. Sure, stopping their benefits will hurt children who have played no part in their circumstance, but hey, I’m an angry Daily Mail reader so it’s fine to punish children so long as I feel that my taxes aren’t being wasted on things outside of my immediate circle.

The point that Bill Hicks wanted to drive home is that the majority of human beings are so easily distracted by moving images and flashing lights that they spend their lives politically nullified, the American elite don’t need guns or violence to maintain their hegemony, just the ownership of 24-hour cable TV.

It depresses me that the Mail website has so many readers. I know a lot of them are not Mail readers, but people with hearts, brains and souls who stare despairingly into the intellectual and moral abyss, just to remind themselves that we live in a society that has some serious issues. What concerned Hicks’ most was that people were so badly informed about how the rich were screwing them over everyday, and how easily such people could be nullified by a puerile, unthinking TV schedule. As long as people want to buy celebrity magazines or read the Mail website to be titillated and enraged in equal measure the world will never improve. The Mail isn’t entirely to blame, it is serving an audience, an audience that does want to know all about celebrities. An audience that wants to hate immigrants, single mothers and other easy targets because it satisfies a simplistic need to be angry and to know who is to blame. This audience learns its behaviours, and behaviours can be changed. There is hope, but only a thin slither.

Meanwhile, David Cameron can visit China to discuss international ‘trade imbalances’ without anyone asking about whether there are any other forms of trade inbalance that are far more pressing. Cameron argued – along with the US – that an unfair trade balance currently exists. Essentially, people in Britain and the US spend too much money consuming products that are made in China. People in China don’t spend as much, as they generally save a proportion of their income in case of illness because they have to foot the bill for medical care. This means that we buy more stuff from China than we sell to them, they have a big trade surplus, we have a big trade deficit. David Camerson says that this is bad because too much money is flowing from Britain and the US to China, which means less money is available to the UK economy and we become poorer.

This is all well and good, but what about the trade deficit that the population of planet earth has with global corporations? Why not mention this if he really is concerned with the flow of money from one group to another. Is is useful for the UK economy to have several large corporations taking billions of pounds out of circulation? Where did  the billions of pounds of record profits that the banks sucked out of the UK economy from the average earner go? None of this money was left when the crash hit, by then we all realised that the banks had given it all away to already wealthy share holders or wealthy employees who took so much in bonuses that the banks had to be bailed out by governments.

When China generates a trade surplus the British government gets concerned that too much money is taken out of the economy, yet when Tesco announce that they have made many more billions in profit than they managed last year it celebrates because businesses are supposed to grow. Why do they not question where this money is going, or realise that very little is going back into the economy. Capitalism generates wealth, the trouble is that wealth becomes concentrated in the hands of a few who have soo much money they cannot possibly spend it, and if they do spend it, they aren’t interested in the sort of products or services offered by the average guy. This means that the average person has to survive on less, or loses their job because there just isn’t enough money left in the system.

Billionaires have massive trade surpluses. The average person is likely to have a trade deficit. The two are linked, you just never seem to hear about it.

Anyway, forget about the millionaires and billionaires, switch off your brain, log on to the Mail website and look at all the juicy celebrity gossip. Look at this immigrant with a council house and flat screen TV, they are to blame you know, they are taking your money, not us. Have you seen how many workshy scroungers there are? Loads, we tried to give them jobs, but they said no, they’d rather sit at home and let you pay for them. Remember, the poor are at fault, the rich are your superiors. Have you seen Simon Cowell’s house? He’s a fantastic success story don’t you know. Rich people are good. We can all be rich you know. Keep working, keep trying.You can always buy a lottery ticket. Here, have a picture of a horse in the back of a car.

Daily Mail vs NICE

(National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence)

It is becoming clear that the Daily Mail hates NICE. Now for many people that is recommendation enough for the much-maligned body, however I think we do need to look at this in a little more detail. I am not sure why the Mail hates NICE so much except perhaps that NICE gets to decide a lot of national policy in terms of where healthcare funding priorities are. In this article I spent some time explaining how NICE do this but in short they decide what PCTs should fund on the basis of what works and is cost effective. I think this is the reason the  Mail do not like it because they seem to think it is their right to decide where NHS money is spent. Please pause for a moment and reflect on what a horrific prospect that is.

And to some extent it has already happening with the government’s ludicrous idea of setting up a special fund for cancer drugs. A couple of points before I explain my objection to this fund:

1.      I am a doctor – a surgeon in fact and am used to dealing with patients with cancer. I want my patients to have to best possible care.

2.      When I was seventeen my mum died from breast cancer. I know what it is like to watch someone slowly die from cancer.

These two statements are important because I do not think it right to set up this special fund. The reason NICE did not recommend these drugs is because they do not work very well and they are extremely expensive.  If we had an infinite amount of money then I would have no objection but one thing needs to be clear; by funding cancer drugs we are not funding something else – something that works a whole lot better. The technical term for this is opportunity cost. This is the problem, by doing one thing, we cannot do another, so it’s vital that we do things that work.

So today’s story really caught my eye: Azheimer’s victory for the Mail and comment here

I’m not sure if it’s the gloating or the glaring inaccuracies that annoyed me most.

So let’s summarise the story:

1.      The EVIL NICE wouldn’t allow doctors to prescribe three drugs for Alzheimer’s disease unless people were really ill.

2.      The Daily Mail raised lots of money for a judicial review forcing NICE to make a U-turn.

3.      Fewer than one-in-ten Alzheimer’s patient’s currently receive the drug whilst trials clearly show a benefit if started early

Dementia of whichever form is a very cruel condition, it slowly robs someone’s personality, often leaving relatives grieving for the loss of their loved one long before they’ve died.

I have read the NICE summary report and – even though it’s not my area, I know how to read clinical evidence, it’s part of my job. The main problem with these drugs is that whilst they are relatively cheap they do not work very well. In a small number of people they have significant benefits for a short space of time whilst in many they have no effect whatsoever.

I just want to answer those three points from above.

1.      One of NICE’s roles is to advise on new therapies and treatment’s effectiveness. When NICE recommends a drug/therapy PCTs (Primary Care Trusts, who currently control the NHS money) HAVE to fund it – by law. When NICE state that a therapy is not cost effective then the PCTs have it within their discretion to fund it if they want to. But to do so means not funding something else.

2.      The Judicial review is interesting, here’s what it said;

On 10 August 2007 the judge ruled in favor of NICE on five out of the six grounds bought in court. The judge found that NICE:

  • did appropriately take into account the benefits these drugs bring to carers
  • appropriately reflected the costs of long term care in its calculations
  • did not breach principles of procedural fairness by providing a ‘read only’ version of the economic model
  • was not irrational in concluding that there is no cumulative benefit to patients after 6 months’ treatment with these drugs
  • that NICE’s assessment and consideration of the AD 2000 study was not irrational.

The judge ruled against NICE on one of the six grounds bought in court. She found that NICE did breach its duties under the Disability Discrimination Act and the Race Relations Act by not offering specific advice regarding people with learning disabilities and people for whom English is not their first language in its technology appraisal guidance

3.      The trials clearly show that the benefits of these drugs is quite limited and are seen in a minority of patients.

I am very pleased that NICE has now recommended that these drugs be made available. I hope they bring help to many people. However my confidence in these medicines is not because the Daily Mail said so but because of what the evidence showed. Analysing the evidence is very complex. I am an expert and in the hour or two I had to spare today I was only able to scratch the surface. It takes a lot of time and skill to do this properly.

Reading through the NICE website today, particular the submission from the Royal College of Psychiatry it is possible to conclude that when NICE ruled not to approve these medicines five years ago for mild dementia they got it wrong. I’m not sure, but if they did, that’s not surprising, this is a particularly difficult decision in a field where none of the decisions are easy.

However, that does not mean that the process is wrong, that does not mean that NICE does not do a very difficult job well.

It is becoming clear that the Daily Mail believes it has the right to decide on Healthcare spending priorities and I want everyone to realise how terrifying that prospect is.

AFZ

P.S. Well done to anyone who’s managed to read all this!

Cameron Declares War on Benefits Cheats…

All regular fans of Angry Mob will know that Uponnothing, regular writer, editor and host is away on honeymoon. Which is great news for him and Mrs Uponnothing. The really keen amongst you (yes both of you) will know that I occasionally write articles for Angry Mob which I hope are interesting and informative. With the move to the new site, I was granted my own log-in to the blog so I can post whenever and whatever I want… hehe!

The Prime Minister has made a key speech, picked up by all the papers and the wider media on plans to combat the great evil of benefit fraud: You can read the various angles here: Daily Mail The Express The Telegraph.

You may notice that the figure of £5bn keeps coming up. This is an interesting one as this is the figure for fraud and various errors that lead to over-payment. The actual figure for fraud is only £1.1bn.

But we all know that fraud is rampant – because the press keeps telling us about case after case of fraud; a quick search of the Daily Mail website reveals dozens of such stories.

Let us have a look at some of the facts (all of this data comes from the Department for Work and Pensions Official figures 2008-9, last complete set of data.):

Fraud: £1.1bn (0.8%), Customer error: £1.1bn (0.8%),  Official error: £0.8bn (0.6%)

The percentages are of the total benefits budget. So fraud is less than 1% of total benefits spending.

A couple of other interesting statistics worth noting:

  • under-payment due to errors: £1.2bn (i.e. more than fraud)
  • £10bn. The amount of unclaimed benefit that people are entitled to.
  • since 2001, fraud has been reduced from 2.1% of the benefit budget to 0.8% (halved in cash terms)
  • £15.2bn – the estimated loss to the treasury of Tax Evasion.

What’s my point in all this? I am not saying that benefit fraud is acceptable, it’s clearly not. What I am saying is that this is all part of an on-going narrative that paints anyone on benefits as a drain on society and probably a thief. It is cheap political points scoring at the expense of the vulnerable and that is sick. The print media (especially the Daily Mail) are particularly guilty of this.

AFZ

P.S. A couple of good articles on Liberal Conspiracy about this issue:

An Unfair System: Interesting Consequences?

So, on the face of it things went pretty badly for the Liberal Democrats, who look set to end up with less sets than they had in 2005. However, you then start to look at how many people actually voted for the Liberal Democrats and you start to get pretty angry with the current system. The Conservatives gained 10,615,958 votes and currently have 302 seats. The Liberal Democrats received 6,781,005 votes (over 60% of the Conservative total) and currently have just 57 seats. That means the Conservatives have fewer than twice as many votes, but six times as many seats.

The results for Labour are equally unfair. Labour received 8,535,952 votes, fewer than two million more than the Liberal Democrats, but currently have exactly 200 more seats – nearly four times as many as the Liberal democrats, even though the Liberal Democrats had over 75% as many votes as Labour. The Liberal Democrats made electoral reform one of the central features of their campaign and, fittingly, the election results have more than proven their point that reform is needed.

I made these points on Twitter and someone responded with a ‘problem': ‘ah’, they said, ‘but if you brought in Proportional Representation then UKIP and the BNP would win seats, and that is a bad thing’. I’d disagree in principle: it isn’t necessarily a ‘bad thing’, it is merely democracy in action. We need to realise the reasons why the BNP are gaining support (up 1.2% in this election) and it isn’t – as newspapers would argue – that immigration is ‘uncontrolled’ or that British people are being treated as ‘second-class citizens’.

If we want to stop the BNP gaining seats in an election we shouldn’t block electoral reform, we should actually tackle the reasons why people vote BNP. The reasons are simple: a lack of education, a lack of personal experience of immigrants – meaning that they always remain an abstract concept (the ‘other’, ‘them’, ‘they’), rather than a human being – and most importantly the constant dishonest stories run by the press that are regularly quoted on the BNP website and by BNP voters when they explain why they vote BNP. If we want to stop the BNP gaining voter share we need to tackle an unregulated, racist press that has an agenda of creating hatred towards immigrants.

As I pointed out recently, immigration is an issue that cannot be discussed whilst the current dishonest tabloid narratives remain unchallenged. Research has been conducted that has shown that BNP voter share is less in areas with a high immigrant population, precisely for the ‘access to reality’ reason I have mentioned above. When newspapers blame New Labour’s immigration policy for the rise of the BNP they are lying to cover their own complicity in the rise of the far right in this country.

This does raise an interesting dilemma for the tabloid press. Currently they can offer implied support to the BNP by printing a consistent stream of lies for BNP voters and leaders to feed on without having to overly worry about such lies having an electoral consequence. As we saw last night, most BNP candidates polled quite poorly (although in several areas – such as the almost exclusively white, immigrant-free Blaenau Gwent – they got well over 1,000 votes) and not even party leader Nick Griffin could win a seat. However, if PR was brought in then the tabloid press would be well aware that the current BNP vote could win the party seats. Then when the inevitable recrimination starts after such a result the press wouldn’t be able to avoid their own complicity in creating the very lies that drives people to vote BNP.

Essentially, PR would demonstrate just what a evil influence the tabloid press has over poorly educated or poorly integrated voters. Currently a lot of people understand that the tabloid press is the biggest recruiter for the BNP, but because of our electoral system we can all be content with just a quiet boo when the low polling results are announced for each BNP candidate. I cannot help but think that if BNP votes turned into BNP seats we’d all have to be a lot more vociferous about just who is to blame.