Archive for January, 2011

NHS: Cumbrian case study shows Labour, not the Tories, are the reformers.

28/01/2011, 01:00:32 PM

By Jonathan Todd

Labour’s compassion built the NHS under Attlee and Labour’s investment saved the NHS under Blair and Brown. But it is Labour reform that has kept Cumbria’s community hospitals open and achieved better health outcomes in so doing. These successes are now threatened by Tory incompetence.

Gerry Robinson, the management guru who once tried to “fix the NHS”, bemoaned the lack of piloting contained in Andrew Lansley’s NHS plan on the Today programme last year. The presenter (Evan Davis, as I recall) then misdirected him towards Cumbria. While Cumbria may have much GP commissioning, it has benefitted from Labour reform, not opened a window on Lansley’s future.

The Financial Times reports that Cumbria offers “a glimpse into what the … government’s healthcare revolution could look like”. It may be that Lansley’s spinners have been whispering in the ears of Davis and the Financial Times, but Cumbria isn’t the first domino to fall in Lansley’s revolution. It is benefitting from a flowering of reform championed by Lord Darzi and patiently cultivated by NHS workers. Evolution would have meant more such reform, not a “grenade tossed into the PCTs”. (more…)

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Opposition is the world of the opportunist – lessons from the new shadow cabinet league table

28/01/2011, 07:00:43 AM

by Atul Hatwal

“I’m a proven campaigner” is a phrase that cropped up repeatedly on campaign literature during the shadow cabinet election. Everyone had a track record. But in what?

Opposition requires a very different set of skills to government. It’s not enough to be committed and pound the streets canvassing, important though that is. And being able to sift through a red box quickly isn’t particularly useful either.

Opposition is about holding the government to account.

Yesterday’s Uncut shadow cabinet “work effort” league table helps show who is working hard at building a record in opposition and who is not. The table isn’t meant to be the final word on performance, but it does shine a light on who is putting in the hours.

It also lays bare some common truths about how to oppose. They are exemplified at the top of the league, but also used skilfully by some of the shadow secretaries of state in the less high profile departments. (more…)

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Friday News Review

28/01/2011, 06:59:48 AM

More questions raised over Lansley’s health reforms

Andrew Lansley has said the UK’s outcomes when it comes to health issues such as heart attack and cancer are among the poorest in Europe, despite similar spending. But John Appleby, chief economist at the King’s Fund think-tank, has now challenged these claims and called for a cautious interpretation of the evidence. While UK heart attack rates in 2006 were twice those in France, the UK will actually have lower rates by 2012 if trends continue, he wrote in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). “Comparing just one year – and with a country with the lowest death rate for myocardial infarction (heart attack) in Europe – reveals only part of the story,” he said. “Not only has the UK had the largest fall in death rates from myocardial infarction between 1980 and 2006 of any European country, if trends over the past 30 years continue, it will have a lower death rate than France as soon as 2012.” – PA

Meanwhile David Cameron has claimed that family doctors’ frustrations with the current healthcare system in England are the driving force behind the controversial Health and Social Care Bill, which will lead to the scrapping of Primary Care Trusts and the establishment of new GP-led “consortia” that can purchase care from state-run hospitals or private providers. Speaking at a Downing Street reception for GPs running pilot schemes on Wednesday night, the Prime Minister said: “So many of you are telling me about your frustration with the current system, that you want to do more and become more involved. That is what is behind all this.” However the doctors’ powerful trade union, the British Medical Association, is stepping up its opposition to the reforms and will hold an emergency meeting of its council in March to discuss them. – the Telegraph (more…)

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Great leader, or nearly man?

27/01/2011, 05:00:10 PM

by Rob Marchant

He has always been seen as a heavyweight and a bruiser. He has experience of the treasury at the highest level and was well-respected there. He is ferociously intelligent, one of the brightest of all his Oxford contemporaries, who, famously, does not suffer fools gladly. And, despite failing in his bid to be elected leader, there is no doubting his importance as Labour’s de facto number two, at a time of great turmoil for both the party and the economy; a politician seen as a ballast of rigour against the madder and less thought-out ideas of some of his colleagues on the left.

Raise your glasses to 93 year-old Denis Healey, the most celebrated Labour-leader-who-never-was of my lifetime. John Rentoul’s coverage of Healey’s recent Mile End group speech added a couple of insights, but the essentials of the story are well established.

Of course, there are as many differences as similarities between Healey and Ed Balls. Unlike Balls, he was not an academic economist, but a double-first classicist who, despite his on-the-job training, learned his brief well and actually made it to be chancellor. (more…)

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As Ken steps back from Press TV, is there an organised Tory smear campaign against him?

27/01/2011, 02:00:32 PM

by Ian Stewart

Ken Livingstone has terminated his association with Press TV, the Iranian government sponsored TV channel. It was a difficult gig for him to defend and it is not surprising his enemies made much of it. Evidence is mounting, though, of an organised online smear campaign run by supporters of Mayor Johnson. One which goes far beyond the legitimate concerns about Press TV.

On 21 January, Conservative libertarian blogger, Peter Reynolds, posted that Conservative bloggers and supporters of Boris Johnson online were being encouraged to highlight Ken Livingstone’s continued employment by Press TV. Bloggers have apparently been encouraged to link Livingstone’s name with terms such as “holocaust denial”, “anti-women” and “anti-semitic”. Reynolds claims that he knows for certain that pressure has been brought to bear in this direction, in an attempt at cyber-smearing with guilt by association.

This is not a new tactic. But it is a disturbing development in the politics of London. By playing this card, Johnson is obviously hoping to firm up the “Jewish vote” in the capital, much in the same way that Respect tried to exploit the “Islamic vote” in East London. The trend is incredibly disturbing, as the last thing we need here is an escalation of US-style sectarian politics. (more…)

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New league table of shadow cabinet “work rate”

27/01/2011, 11:00:52 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Uncut analysis shows Alexander, Healey, Balls and Murphy lead way in holding government to account

Douglas Alexander, John Healey, Ed Balls and Jim Murphy are the shadow cabinet’s leading campaigners in and out of Parliament, according to a new analysis of the “work rate” of Ed Miliband’s top team.


At the top of the table, Douglas Alexander has conducted a forensic examination of Iain Duncan Smith’s department for work and pensions, putting down 89 written Parliamentary questions that have helped provide the material for 26 press releases. (more…)

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The rhyme and reason for early intervention

27/01/2011, 07:00:55 AM

by Peter Watt

We need to intervene much earlier in a child’s life if we are to reverse the impact of poor parenting. This is the key message set out in Graham Allen MP’s recent report Early intervention: the next steps. It finds that:

“babies are born with 25 per cent of their brains developed, and there is then a rapid period of development so that by the age of 3 their brains are 80 per cent developed. In that period, neglect, the wrong type of parenting and other adverse experiences can have a profound effect on how children are emotionally ‘wired’. This will deeply influence their future responses to events and their ability to empathise with other people”.

And the report makes clear the consequences of poor parenting:

  • A child’s development score at just 22 months can serve as an accurate predictor of educational outcomes at 26 years.
  • Some 54 per cent of the incidence of depression in women and 58 per cent of suicide attempts by women have been attributed to adverse childhood experiences, according to a study in the US.
  • An authoritative study of boys assessed by nurses at age 3 as being ‘at risk’ found that they had two and a half times as many criminal convictions as the group deemed not to be at risk at age 21. Moreover, in the at-risk group, 55 per cent of the convictions were for violent offences, compared to 18 per cent for those who were deemed not to be at risk.

The report, commissioned and welcomed by the government, calls for cross-party acceptance of the benefits of early intervention. It also asks all parties to accept that late intervention is expensive and ineffective. A further report setting out funding options is promised in the summer. (more…)

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Thursday News Review

27/01/2011, 06:55:03 AM

New investigation into phone hacking

I have learned that News International uncovered four emails indicating that the former News of the World news editor Ian Edmondson had full knowledge of the illegal phone hacking activities of the private detective, Glenn Mulcaire. Glenn Mulcaire was jailed in 2007 for his role in trying to intercept voicemail messages left for royal aides. Mr Edmondson had always denied to News International’s bosses that he had any knowledge of hacking. So executives of the UK arm of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation yesterday concluded that they had no option but to sack Mr Edmondson. A source said that Mr Edmondson misled News International when originally asked about all this a few years ago. “He denied all knowledge,” the source said. News International is now expected to go on a hunt for evidence to discover whether other executives from that era are implicated. “This is a new phase for News International in relation to the hacking,” said a businessman close to the media group. “They want to know everything and root out anyone who obtained information improperly. It could get pretty messy.” – Robert Peston, BBC

With its dismissal of Ian Edmondson, News International abandoned the mantra it has chanted for four years: that phone hacking carried out by the News of the World was the work of a “rogue reporter”. That was the line from January 2007, when the paper’s royal editor, Clive Goodman, was jailed for illegally intercepting the royal household’s messages. Andy Coulson, the paper’s editor, agreed to resign while denying any knowledge of illegal activities. He didn’t go straight away – when Goodman was jailed, Coulson simply promised to make a donation to a charity chosen by the royal princes. Four years later, dozens of alleged victims of the hacking – almost all high-profile figures – have lodged legal actions against Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp empire in the High Court. – the Independent (more…)

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Cameron reaches a crossroads

26/01/2011, 03:00:05 PM

by Kevin Meagher

David Cameron was fond of claiming that Gordon Brown “failed to fix the roof when the sun was shining”. Now his chancellor blames the economy’s 0.5% retraction on the snow.

Of course the wintry weather did growth no favours. But George Osborne’s feline political skills eluded him big time yesterday. Did the figures come as a surprise? Caught on the hop? Blaming the elements is reminiscent of the howlers Norman Lamont used to make when he was chancellor. “Je ne regrette rien“, George?
Perhaps he just realised he had nowhere to hide. After all, a government that has removed the roof tiles is to blame for yesterday’s atrocious growth figures.
This deterioration in the economy is theirs and theirs alone. Q2 and Q3 growth was reasonable; evidence of Norman Lamont’s infamous “green shoots” breaking through.

But these have been choked off by the £6 billion worth of cuts the government made last year and the endless sabre-rattling about cuts to come which has squashed consumer confidence.

George Osborne has not made the laws of economics redundant. Poleaxing tentative growth with a slew of tax rises and spending cuts as the economy crawls out of recession was always going to lead to this. Labour was right last May: the Tories cannot be trusted to secure the recovery. (more…)

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What video game characters would our political leaders be?

26/01/2011, 11:30:58 AM

by Ian Silvera

As a gaming enthusiast, I welcomed the news that 16 MPs from across the political divide attended the recent Parliamentary games day. But putting the joystick in their hands is all very well. What would happen were they on the other side of that screen? What video game characters would our political leaders be?

Ed Miliband – Gordon Freeman in Half-Life

Caricatured as a political geek with Machiavellian undertones, the leader of the opposition could be mistaken for the main protaganist in the Half-Life series. A stereotypical “geek” complete with thick-rimmed glasses and a PhD in theoretical physics, Gordon Freeman is a hero in gaming circles. His appeal? Not your typical gun-toting, alien killing, muscle-bound gym monkey, Freeman is a cool, calculated killer who would certainly approve of Mr Miliband’s rise to power. Like his equivalent at the dispatch box, while sometimes quiet and unseen, when Freeman does speak, it is usually notable and damning. With this in mind, like Freeman, it would be dangerous to think of Miliband as a shrinking violent. Personal attacks will not stop this ambitious man’s progress. (more…)

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