Archive for August, 2011
Easy access to the best available health care is important to we old codgers of the allotments. But our concerns at what Andrew Lansley is proposing to do to the NHS extends far beyond the needs of an ageing group, we all fear that, whatever he says, the underlying intention of his ‘reforms’ is a two tier service in which the rich fair well and everyone else suffers. For some time now most of us have been regular visitors to the ’38 Degrees’ website where the protest organisation has attracted almost one million signatures in support of its petition demanding changes to the proposals. In this ’38 Degrees’ has had backing from the British Medical Association.
A few weeks ago an appeal for funding for a legal study of the plans raised sufficient cash for ’38 Degrees’ to engage two top legal experts to examine the small print of the bill which goes befiore parliament shortly. Yesterday their findings were published and one can only conclude that it is as well we didn’t rely on the apparent safeguards provided by Nick Clegg who, under pressure from the Lib Dem conference, had promised to stop any potentially damaging aspects of Lansley’s bill. It seems that the promise was as reliable as the one Clegg gave on tuition fees!
The two barristers, Stephen Cragg QC and Rebecca Haynes QC, make clear that the bill could pave the way for a shift towards a USA-style health care system where private companies profit at the expense of patient care. They particularly stress the implications of Lansley’s plan to remove his duty to provide our healthcare. A new ‘hands-off clause’ removes the government’s power to oversee local commissioning consortia and to guarantee the same level of service wherever we live. The outcome, warn the Barristers, will be huge increases in ‘postcode lotteries’ and less ways for citizens to hold the government to account.
Even more worrying is their verdict on the clauses concerning competition. The NHS will be subject to UK and EU competition law, and the reach of procurement will extend across all NHS Commissioners. Private health care providers will be entitled to take NHS commissiong groups to court if they don’t win contracts. Scarce public money will be tied up in legal wrangles instead of hospital beds. The door will be open for the private (largely American) healthcare companies to challenge for every NHS service. They will only need to win the volume treatments to render every hospital insolvent.
The third point made by the Barristers is that every UK hospital will be free to increase the number of private beds to whatever level they wish. They will be encouraged to liaise with the private sector with a view to maximising profit. And the more private beds, the fewer public ones and the longer the waiting times to occupy them.
Like the rest of us MPs tend to skip the small print. Like us they have probably been reassured by Cameron and Clegg’s double act of deception. But it is now clear that if they pass this bill the NHS as we know it is finished. Lansley is obsessed with the American model. Yes, he is right to cliam that the private companies there provide excellent and comprehensive treatment, what he doesn’t mention is that for the majority of the population, who cannot afford private insurance or fees, the level of care is appalling.
The NHS has improved immeasurably in recent years. But that is beside the point which is that everyone is entitled to the same level of service and money allocated is not drained off to pay shareholders.
The final death sentence for the NHS now rests in the hands of MPs and hundreds of thousands of emails are winging their way thanks to the facility provided by ’38 Degrees’. If, despite the new legal warnings, they decide to back Cameron, Clegg and Lansley a new dark age will dawn in which your chance of recovery from illness rests entirely on the depth of your pocket or purse!
TEST YOUR GENERAL KNOWLEDGE WITH TODAY’S MIDWEEK QUIZ!
1. Mica Paris and who replaced Trinny & Susannah on “What Not to Wear”? 2. Which famous survey started in 1086? 3. From which musical does the song ”One” come? 4. Ronald Reagan was in which political party? 5. Which Stephen directed the movie “Billy Elliot”? 6. In the Bible, what was the prophet Elijah carried up to heaven in? 7. What nationality was Casanova? 8. What was Al Jolson’s most famous line? 9. If a substance is oleaginous what does it mainly contain? 10. Which General led the junta in the 1982 seizure of the Falklands?
“The whole world has finally gone stark raving mad” muttered Bob as we cleaned out the mad – as in angry – chickens this morning. Albert, back from his Bank Holiday in soaking Blackpool, inevitably agreed and pronounced it doomed in his best Private Fraser voice. But later, having read what they had read, I found myself joining the chorus.
Steve Jones is a highly respected scientist who some time ago warned that life on our planet had but 150 years to survive given the rate of environmental damage being inflicted by its every growing number of human inhabitants. Yesterday he revised his forecast. He now firmly believes that all life will have been ‘blown away’ within 50 years.
Perhaps, like me, you have tended to dismiss talk of eventual obliteration in a thousand years, it seems too far ahead to worry about. Even Jones’s 150 years sounded incredibly remote. But 50 years? Ye Gods, that is within the lifetime of our grandchildren!
When A S Byatt, the Booker-winning author, spoke at the Edinburgh international book festival last week she referred to the Jones warning and she believes it. She was speaking at the launch of her new book, a retelling of the Norse Ragnarok myth, in which, after a succession of natural disasters, the world ends. She admitted that the story was impelled by a profound sense of gloom about the environment and indeed about all human endeavours. We are, she said, like those stupid Norse gods and “we are destroying the world”.
She went on to talk about her despair at what we are doing despite the terrible predictions of people like Steve Jones. She said that her greatest nightmare was the fact that we have created in the Pacific “an area of plastic as big as Texas, just stuff, dread, semi-translucent, in the middle of the ocean; and no one knows what to do”. She is, she added, extremely pessimistic about politics and the ecology.
I guess we have a choice here. We can either dismiss the scientific evidence or we can begin to panic and, just maybe, act. This is the age of risk-assessment and the new-age experts tell us to plan for the greatest possible risk. That has to be the Steve Jones prediction but what are we actually doing? In a word, nothing.
I find the whole thing really surreal. If you look around in this country what do you see? People worrying about the football transfer deadline, people excitedly discussing the whereabouts of Gaddafi, people fighting for Olympic tickets, politician lying about nearly everything. The latest subject for the worry-beads is the plan to build over most of the green belt. If Jones’s prediction is right those houses will have a limited life!
In other countries the situation is similar, in fact in the gas-guzzling United States many leading lights are dismissing all scientific evidence. Carry on emitting and fear not they say. In the developing economies they see nations like the USA and the UK carrying on regardless and shrug their shoulders. No one believes enough in the danger and no one does anything of significance. If they did world leaders could presuambly at least ban plastic bags instead of leaving the fate of humanity to the management of Tesco et al.
Being an ostrich by nature I, having typed this, will bury my head and choose to believe that my grandchildren’s grandchildren will inherit a world still full of all its wonders and joys. What else can I, or you, do?
Eat drink and be merry. Given the scientific predictions we might as well ignore the latest warnings about half the population being obese in thirty years time. If Jones is right they will still live the longest life available.
Surely the very least the world leaders should do is accelerate meaningful action. In many ways it is of course good that so many nations are now turning to democracy. But in this matter it is an added curse for democracies seldom do anything unless they are convinced of imminent danger as was the case in World War 2. And even that required a uniquely inspiring and forceful leader.
Sorry to disturb your day. I’m going to forget the whole thing for any other course leads to madness!
We knew that it would be wet and dull today, it is a Bank Holiday and old traditions must be observed. That goes back a long way, almost to the days when my old Gran use to regularly declare that laughter is the best medicine. For many years I have regraded that as simply an old adage but today we learn that she was right. Bob brought to the allotment this morning a copy of the Telegraph which carries a report into the findings of research carried out at the University of Maryland. Yesterday Dr Michael Miller reported to the European Society of Cardiology that tests carried out involving the use of comic and serious film clips revealed that reactions to the funny scenes helped the blood vessels of patients to expand, improving circulation and reducing blood pressure. Conversely, watching war films caused blood vessels to constrict – a symptom of mental stress which, in the long term, can lead to heart disease and strokes.
The good doctor told his audience of scientists that proof positive exists that laughter is “great for the heart”. It is, he said, “consistent and similar to the benefit we might see with aerobic exercise or statin use”.
Now that is welcome news for we allotmenteers since we usually read only bad predictions centered around what we do. We smoke, drink, eat chips and chocolate; you name a harmful activity and we do it. Now we realise that our continued ability to breed chickens at the average age of eighty-something is down to belly laughs. And that is another thing that we do!
The ‘revelation’ confirms what ,I guess, most people already knew, we love to laugh. Suddenly it all clicks and explains why in a recent straw poll, conducted during our allotment brew-up, over 90 per cent of my pals named Boris Johnson as the man they would most like to see in Number Ten. It was not a political verdict, it was reward for the fact that Boris is a complete ass and unwittingly gives us more laughs in a single interview than Cameron or Miliband could provide over a full year.
Perhaps the problem for most people is that we all take ourselves too seriouly these days. Give anyone a uniform, just a yellow jacket will do, and expect an immediate transformation to Captain Mainwaring. Give an order of the British Empire (what empire?) to a locale crone and everyone else starts to curtsey in the chip shop queue. Yes, you don’t need to struggle for subject matter if you prefer laughing to NHS pills. And maybe a new potential is about to loom.
The great Tory dream of elected police chiefs is back on the cards despite the fact that Liberal peers caused its temporary rejection. In true Lib Dem fashion those in the Commons are advertising for candidates so the odds are that the great Cameron dream will become reality. The plan is to hold the first elections on the same day as next May’s local elections.
The potential for slapstick comes from the fact that all the candidates are likely to be local political animals. So Tory constituencies will have a right wing police boss hell bent on hammering council estate youths for so much as looking in the direction of posh areas, whilst Labour constituencies will have a left wing gaffer focussed solely on stopping every Mercedes on the road with an incentive offered to officers who can find a reason to prosecute.
I say this because local councillors, from whom the aspiring brass-hats will emerge, tend to be to the extreme left or right of the national parties. Police canteens will serve either chips and pies or caviar and champagne. The potential for cock-ups and corruption will increase tenfold but the potential for ‘Private Eye’ – the bible of every belly-laugher – will double.
From now on I shall treat the need for daily laughter in the way that hitherto I have treated five veggies. In the unlikely event that by evening someone somewhere hasn’t done something completely daft, I shall play Fawlty Towers and watch Manuel in action!
Tomorrow’s medicine is already guaranteed. Albert has headed off for Blackpool for a relaxing day’s sunbathing. provoking him in th worning should be easy!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S SUNDAY QUIZ; 1. Halle Berry 2. Thanksgiving Day 3. Jemma Redgrave 4. Van Gogh 5. A cob 6. I’m Still Waiting 7. Offspring 8. Genesis 9. Leytonstone 10. A juke box
All of our allotment gang grew up in an age of full employment and it is hard for us to imagine the plight of those now in search of work. In fact I, like most of the others, found it hard to come to terms with being unemployed once I had retired at 65! We may not always love our work or those we work for, but having no employment creates a sense of worthlessness, of being of no value to anyone.
The latest unemployment figures this month showed the dole queue has soared to 2.49 million, and grimmest of all is the statistic showing that the number out of work for more two years is soaring. More than 400,000 are now in that sorry state and the worst hit are young job-seekers aged 18 to 24. The real danger here is the longer a youngster remains unemployed the more remote become his or her chances of ever finding work in a fiercely competitive market.
None of which augers well for social harmony. I have spoken to kids in the Burnley area who have given up on seeking job interviews and the constant rejections that they result in. Some have told me that there is little point to their lives, little to break its constant emptiness. These are difficult times but imaginative training or community projects could provide an anchor, but politicians are too preoccupied with their own skins to be imaginative. Right now the jobless see pictures of the Cameron’s on their fourth holiday of the year and of the tax evasion of the super-rich. They may well read of billionaire Philip Green, the Conservative Party Adviser, who has taken up residency in Monaco to avoid paying UK tax. They may well read a hundred articles, all of which demonstrate that we live in a two-tier society and they are in tier two.
The Insitute for Public Policy Research predicts that the sitaution is about to get a good deal worse and its chief economist Tony Dolphin warns that the longer people are out of work, the more they lose motivation and confidence. He has produced a plan aimed at a guarantee of a mininum-wage job to anyone unemployed for more than a year in exchange for a range of undertakings. But who in government will listen, who cares?
The central problem really is that there is no one capable of inspiring young people, of convincing them that anything is possible however hopeless things seem. Name just one politician of any party with whom young people identify. Short list isn’t it. Jobless youths are hardly likley to draw motivation for Old Etonians living on another planet and whose only achievement is to tell enough porkies to win votes.
Yet outside of politics there are such people. Yesterday I watched the final day of the Friends Life t20 competition at Edgbaston. Unfancied Leicestershire beat Lancashire in the semi-final and went on to beat highly fancied Somerset in the final. They didn’t have the skills of the teams they vanquished, they didn’t have the highly paid stars. But they did have Paul Nixon, a 40 year-old who never accepts defeat, who battles on when the game is seemingly lost, who inspires everyone around him into believing that anything is possible. As it proved to be.
Paul Nixon could start a fight in an empty telephone box but he cares, he refuses to ever concede defeat. That is the sort of character that could inspire youngsters to start their own self-help enterprises, to create their own jobs if necessary.
The problem is that he and many like him would baulk at the thought of becoming a politician and they hold the power. Until someone finds a way of putting leadership in the hands of real people, real fighters, schemes such as that of Tony Dolphin have no chance of success. People like Nixon would inspire kids to join, people like Cameron or Miliband would not even register.
TRY YOUR HAND AT THE SUNDAY GENERAL KNOWLEDGE QUIZ!
1. Who was the Bond girl in “Die Another Day”? 2. Pumpkin Pie is the traditional dessert on which special American day? 3. Who played Eleanor Bramwell in the TV series of the same name? 4. Who painted “The Starry Night”? 5. Which word can be a swan, a horse, a bread roll and a basket? 6. What was Dianna Ross’s first solo No 1 in the UK? 7. What are progeny? 8. Who had hits with “I Can’t Dance” and “Invisible Touch”?, 9. In which part of East London was David Beckham born? 10. If you heard a John Gabel Entertainer, what would be playing?
We now have a roof over our heads on the allotments. Every member now has a base to stage the annual veggie competition and to gather for the sale of seeds and plants in readiness for the Spring or, in the case of greenhouse owners, for early germination. Just like the allotments featured on last night’s ‘Gardener’s World’, our community is a close knit and, usually, happy one. We particularly welcome newcomers and bombard them with advice. To avoid givng the impression that they have joined a geriatric mad-hatters tea party we hen-keepers confine that to matters agricultural. Were it otherwise we would today have been having a rant about the EU!
Whilst we are all delighted to learn of the fall of Gaddafi there are many amongst us still puzzled at our role in his downfall. Only yesterday the RAF were continuing to bombard his supporters and the loss of civilian life is mounting horrendously. And why only Libya given the situation in Syria? But we are told that Cameron has been brave. Ignoring the question as to how bravery can be achieved sitting behind a desk, we tend to ask just when he is going to show equal bravery in standing up to the EU.
Yesterday featured an outpouring of rage against the National Trust by the minister for planning, Greg Clark. The NT has had the timerity to question his claim that every village in the land must concede the right of developers to build more and more housing estates. Never mind the preservation of rural England, we desperately need millions of extra houses to cope with the rocketing population cries the minister. He misses the point that we also need more roads, hospitals and social services to cope. In truth we are a small overcrowded island near to breaking point. We simply cannot continue to allow millions of eastern Europeans to come here. The EU demand that they must be granted automatic entry will destroy not only our heritage but our infrastructure too!
Meantime, the EU has delivered another massive blow to our 4.8 million small businesses. If the present abysmal economic growth chart is ever to recover they are the people who must deliver. That becomes even less likely given the Agency Workers Directive drawn up in Brussels. This will grant temporary agency employees the same employment rights and conditions as permanent workers, including paid holiday entitlement and maternity leave. Right now the use of agencies is keeping many small employers afloat, this new law will make it impossible for them to resort to temporary staff, it will destroy them.
If the government is serious about developing a strategy for growth, it should tell the European Commission that it is suspending all directives that are harmful to job creation. But it wont because, as ministers warned yesterday, this would see us in trouble with the European Court. So Cameron et al will bend the knee and allow another nail to be hammered into the coffin of enterprise. As this blog reported yesterday, Qunago bosses are being pampered and cared for by the coalition. Our business sector is being left to the mercy of unelected big-wigs sitting in ivory palaces.
We chicken-man are far from unanimous in our scepticism about our prime minister. But we are united in one belief. Bombing Libya is not our highest national priority, resurrecting our economy and preserving our heritage most certainly are. And that means taking back the right to run our own affairs.
Come the next election the people will give little thought to Libya and a great deal of thought to the state of our nation. David Cameron is busy digging Colonel Gaddafi’s grave, in conceding the right to rule to Brussels he is also digging his own!
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR A SPECIAL SUNDAY QUIZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!