Monday, August 31, 2009

Political Compass

I have considered for a long time that the differences between different sets of political views cannot be adequately expressed by a simple one-dimensional line from left to right.

For a start, nearly everyone recognises that the far left and far right come back round and meet round the back. Communism and Fascism have for more in common with each other than either has with mainstream democratic politics even on the "same side" of the political spectrum. And present day BNP activists are astonishingly similar in many ways to the Militant Tendancy activists I recall having to deal with in my student days.


A more sophisticated way to look at different views is to consider two dimensions: one way of doing this is for "Left to right" to be defined by what degree of economic liberty you support - with more economic freedom on the right - while "Up and Down" is represented by your degree of social liberalism (usually shown with authoritarians on the top and social libertarians on the bottom.)

Two good websites which discuss this subject are Political Compass and Political Spectrum both of which discuss the placing of major political figures and include tests to check one's own.

Here is how "Political Compass" chart world leaders:




My current score on the Political Compass test is -

Economic Left/Right: +4.62
(where -10 is extreme left and +10 extreme right)

Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -2.82
(where +10 is extreme authoritarian and -10 extreme social liberal)




This makes me a centre-right moderate social liberal, and as such, surprisingly rare for a modern politician in being in the quadrant of the political map which supports both economic and social liberty. You'll note that there is nobody in this quadrant in the international list. On a UK chart I would probably be sharing the quadrant with David Davis, Peter Lilley, and possibly some of the "Orange Book" Lib/Dems. (I come out in the same quadrant, though much closer to the centre point, on the "Political Spectrum" test.)

If you compare the two graphs you will also see that I come out as both far more liberal, and apparently marginally to the left, of Gordon Brown. But considering the present Prime Minister's propensity for supporting ghastly authoritarian measures, and clobbering the poor, (see previous post "Whom the Gods would destroy") for a Tory candidate to be more liberal and left wing than the present Prime Minister is less surprising than one might think!

Summary of August Polls

Most politicians will tell you that "the only poll which counts is the one on election day" - which, in one sense, is of course true - and will pretend that they don't pay too much attention to polls.

It is certainly the case that, no matter how good the polls are, no party can afford to get complacent, and no matter how bad they are, there is no point in giving up.

However, polling methodologies have improved immensely since they called the 1992 election badly wrong (which is why comparisons of the huge leads which most pollsters gave Tony Blair in the mid 90's with the more modest but still healthy leads DC has now are misleading).

David Cameron has warned Conservatives not to take victory at the next election for granted until and unless we actually win, and he is absolutely right about that.

There is, however, a reason that I keep making the argument that the Conservaties have a chance of winning Copeland. Many people locally, knowing that they have had Labour MPs continuously for seventy years, assume that this is guaranteed to continue. It isn't. With boundary changes and the current national swing, the Copeland seat is currently too close to call, which means that there is everything to play for.

Copeland Labour party obviously realise this, which is why they are resorting to desperate smear tactics such as accusing the Conservatives of being anti-nuclear (24% of the local working population here are employed in the civil nuclear industry and many more have jobs dependent on it) and opposing investment in the local NHS. Neither of these allegations are true.

Political Betting reports this morning the latest YouGov poll in the Telegraph, which is yet another August poll putting the Conservatives in the range 41% to 43%, Labour in the range 24% to 26% and the Lib/Dems in the range 17% to 19%.

Details are:

YouGov - CON 42: LAB 26: LD 18

MORI - CON 43: LAB 26: LD 17

ICM - CON 41: LAB 25: LD 19

ComRes - CON 41: LAB 24: LD 18


Nick Sparrow, boss of ICM, wrote to Mike Smithson who runs PB.com a week or so ago, responding to recent comments on that blog suggesting that August polling is somehow unreliable. He makes a strong case that this isn’t correct by looking at his polls in the August ahead of the past three general elections and what actually happened.

Nick notes that comparing Guardian ICM polls for the August before a general election with the result you get:-

August 1996 poll suggested that Labour were ahead by 12%.
The result - Labour won by 13%

August 2000 poll suggested that Labour were ahead by 10%
The result - Labour won by 9%

August 2004 poll suggested that Labour were ahead by 3%
The result - Labour won by 3%

August 2009 poll suggests that the Tories are ahead by 16%

Well, we'll see soon enough what happens. As I say, everything to play for.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Whom the Gods would destroy ...

The old saying, "Whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad." appears to apply ever more strongly to Gordon Brown's Labour government.

You'd think anyone sane would have learned their lesson from the 10p tax fiasco when they increased the burden on the poorest working families and individuals. But apparently political sanity is in short supply within the present government. So here they are again, hitting the poor and clobbering the people who thought a socialist government would stick up for them. One can see why Tony Benn, when asked on "Any Questions" the other day what he thought of Sir Winston Churchill, said that Winnie was probably more left wing than New Labour.

This time it's housing benefit.

Once apon a time, Housing Benefit took the form of the government paying the rent for some of these in desperate need.

There was an obvious problem with this: it gives the landlord a huge incentive to increase rents, to the disadvantage of two groups of people, some of whom are little if any better off than those on housing benefit. The first people to lose out if Housing Benefit pushes up the level of rates are, obviously, the taxpayers who are paying to support it. But a second group who also used to get hurt by higher rents were those people in rented accomodation who were just above the ceiling level for Housing benefit and had to pay the extra rents without getting the support.

So the system was reformed to make Housing Benefit a specific allowance, which those on HB are paid and from which they pay their rent. Landlords no longer had such an easy opportunity to raise the rent, and those HB claimants who found somewhere cheaper to live could, quite legally, pocket the difference. Some people did so - the figure quoted on the BBC for the amount concerned is up to £15 per week which is not really going to let anyone lead a life of luxury.

But then some bean-counter in Whitehall decided that this was an abuse and proposed that we go back to the government paying the rent in order to take this money away from people. The result if this happened would be that some of the poorest people in Britain would lose some of their income a month before a general election.

Frank Field MP reckons that the House of Commons will not stand for this, and I hope and expect that he is right. But the mere fact that it was considered demonstrates that the government is really losing the plot - and keeps trying to kick the very people they were supposed to have been elected to help.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Full text of DC's health speech

I've already referred to David Cameron's speech on Health last week. But I think it was important enough to be worth posting the full text of the speech. Here it is.


In America today, there is a real debate going on about healthcare. But here in Britain, the recent political exchanges over the NHS have neither been real, nor a debate.

Not real, because they have focused on a question that is now settled: the Conservative Party's commitment to the NHS.

And not a debate, because the back and forth of the past week or so seems to have been more about political point-scoring than a serious discussion of an extremely serious subject:

How, in a world of rapidly rising healthcare cost and demand...

...should we deliver the rising standards of healthcare people expect in the 21st-century within a taxpayer-funded, free-at-the-point-of-use system, in which treatment is provided to all on the basis of need not ability to pay?

That is the question I will try and answer today, but first I just want to say a word about the values of the NHS, and the Conservative Party's belief in them.

VALUES
I know perfectly well that some of the changes we have made in this Party over the past few years have not been easy for the Party to accept.

But there is one change we've made where frankly, it has felt like pushing on an open door - and that is making crystal clear our wholehearted commitment to the NHS.

Conservatives rely on the NHS, work in the NHS, volunteer to help the NHS...this Party wants to improve the NHS for everyone.

Why?

It's not to do with ideology, or philosophy, or any abstract political theory.

It is the simple, practical, common sense, human understanding of a fantastic and precious fact of British life:

That the moment you're injured or fall ill...

...the moment something happens to someone you love...

...you know that whoever you are, wherever you're from, whatever's wrong, however much you've got in the bank...

...there's a place you can go where people will look after you and do their best to make things right again.

That's why we're committed to the NHS, and to the principle of a healthcare system that is free at the point of use, based on need and not the ability to pay.

But that's just the starting point.

The real debate we should be having in this country is how we improve the NHS, given the enormous pressures we face.

The debt crisis means we need a new approach to public spending, to make sure we get more for less.

But in the NHS, even that won't do.

The pressures on healthcare spending - from an ageing population, from medical advances, and from rising expectations - are simply too great.

RISING DEMAND
The biggest pressure is of course our ageing population.

The fastest growing age group in Britain today is those aged 80 years and over.

For the first time ever there are more pensioners in this country than there are children under 16.

As people live longer they're more likely to live for more of their life with at least one long-term condition like Diabetes, Parkinson's disease or Alzheimer's.

It's estimated that by 2025 over six million older people will be suffering from a debilitating long-term illness.

The number of people with dementia will have increased to around one million; with osteoporosis to over four million; with hearing loss to around ten million.

These are increases of up to fifty per cent from today.

And paradoxically, while we're living longer we're also becoming less healthy in many ways.

Obesity, drug and alcohol abuse and sexual health problems are all on the rise, putting massive pressure on NHS resources...

...with alcohol misuse costing the NHS £2.7 billion a year and obesity estimated to cost it a staggering £4 billion a year.

As well as these pressures there are still big infectious diseases to fight - and not just the sporadic scares like swine flu.

Tuberculosis is an ever-growing pressure on our health service.

We used to think TB was a disease of the 19th century, not a threat to the twenty-first...

...but the number of cases has increased by 25 per cent since the turn of the millennium.

HIV is the fastest-growing serious health problem in the UK, with an estimated 80,000 people living with it.

And perhaps the most shocking rise in modern disease has been Hepatitis C - since 1997 the number of cases reported each year has almost trebled.

While the latest official figures show that 60,000 people in England have been infected, the Department of Health estimates that the real figure is more like 200,000.

But the Hepatitis C Trust believes that you can double that number - with nearer 400,000 people in England being infected.

MEDICAL ADVANCE
But while the number of patients is rising, so too is the range of treatment.

Today, medical advances, driven by the hi-tech revolution, are increasing at an exponential rate.

Genetics, nanotechnology and robotics are being integrated into the work of the NHS.

Da vinci robots, costing millions, are routinely used for pelvic surgery.

Those at risk of inherited disease may be referred for genetic diagnosis by their GP, at a cost of £5,000 a time.

Patients undergoing operations might have stents - tubes like internal medical scaffolding - put into their airways and blood vessels, with a hand-made stent for the aortic arch costing £60,000 alone.

And these are just the technologies already in operation.

Right now scientists are working on artificial limbs that are controlled by thought alone.

Breathalyzers that can diagnose disease with one puff.

Microscopic robots that can be injected into veins to perform minor procedures from the inside.

Of course, timely interventions with effective new drugs and technologies have the potential to deliver cost savings.

But overall, the cost implication of all this growth - both in the supply of and the demand for healthcare - is clear.

Spending on the NHS cannot stand still, because standing still would be taking a step backwards.

That is why we have pledged real-terms increases in NHS spending...

That is a pledge Labour have not made - a fact which, to put it mildly, takes the wind out of their point-scoring sails.

NEED FOR REFORM
But even so, we have to recognise something.

Given the huge pressures faced by the NHS over the coming decades, that increase in spending alone is not enough.

The gap between what we will have to do and what we can afford to do presents an urgent need for reform.

We need reform on both sides of the cost equation.

We have to make the supply of healthcare more efficient...

... and we must also do something about the increase in demand for healthcare.

The first set of reforms is all about choice, competition, and a focus on outcomes not targets...

...while the second is about public health.

But I believe we in this Party have shown that we now have the credentials to achieve both.

LABOUR AND REFORM
Now I know that reform has become a dirty word in the NHS.

That is a real shame, because as in education, after a number of wasted years, the Labour Government started moving in the right direction.

So I think it would be quite wrong for me to stand here and pledge that we will undo everything Labour have done and start afresh.

Where Labour are going in the right direction, I want us to go further and faster.

But where they've got things wrong, we will call a halt and try to undo their mistakes.

So let me first make clear what our reforms won't look like.

We will not persist with the top-down re-structures and reorganisations that have dominated the last decade in the NHS.

They have caused terrible disruption, demoralisation and waste, and the people who work in the NHS have just had enough of it.

We believe we can make a big improvement in NHS performance - both in terms of quality and efficiency - within the structures that already exist.

First, by extending the competition and patient choice that Labour have started - not least by equipping patients with the information they need to inform their choice and exercise more control over their healthcare.
.
And second, by focusing on real health outcomes rather than political process targets.

COMPETITION
The argument for more competition in the NHS seemed to have been won a long time ago.

Blairites like Alan Milburn were evangelists for market mechanisms to drive up standards and drive down costs.

But the implementation of competition within the NHS has been damagingly unclear and inconsistent.

The NHS and independent sector hospitals were never competing on equal terms.

When extra capacity was needed, private providers were waved in - but then pushed out again later on.

Such an unpredictable approach is never going to build the long-term variety of provision - or bring forward the investment - we need.

Only a stable, transparent and pro-competitive framework will attract the independent sector to invest in and expand the capacity of the NHS.

That means clear payment and commissioning structures - a clarity that's been sorely lacking from the Government.

The proposals we have set out will give the NHS the clear legislative framework it needs to create a stable environment.

By reducing political risk, we will open up the opportunity for any willing provider to supply care to NHS patients...

...accepting commercial risk, at NHS prices or less and at the right quality standards.

That means appropriate weight should be given in contracts to quality as well as value for money.

And it means a proper partnership with the independent sector and voluntary sector...

...not a push-over like the Government's experience, where block contracts are awarded to independent sector treatment centres at greater expense than the equivalent cost in the NHS.

The charity Whizz Kidz is a good example of how a genuine partnership approach can work.

They collaborated with the PCT in Tower Hamlets to identify local children and young people who were on the waiting list for wheelchairs.

The PCT then offered them a property to use as a base.

Within two years every child in Tower Hamlets who needed a wheelchair had one.

This shows that bringing in different organisations isn't just about competition, it can spark collaboration, too.

CHOICE
Greater competition is vital to make a reality of the next crucial step in NHS reform: more choice.

Labour have rightly moved down this road.

Their speeches show that they understand the public's demand for greater control over the healthcare they receive.

But their actions reveal a party that finds it hard to let go of the levers of state control...

...with patients in the NHS, after twelve years of Labour government...

...still experiencing far too much of the old-fashioned, 'get-what-you're given and be grateful-for-it' treatment.

By contrast, we in the Conservative Party are unambiguously clear that giving people greater control over their lives is a good thing.

We want to give people more power to choose their child's school, to hold politicians to account, to start their own business, to generate their own energy - more power over every aspect of life.

That should apply to healthcare too.

Of course we're not expecting people to choose complicated operations from some medical menu.

But we can create a more user-friendly NHS, where patients have a choice over the doctor they see, and the hospital they're treated in.

They'll be able to check their own health records online in the same way they would their bank accounts, and decide which doctor sees those records.

In all these choices they'll be guided by a GP they have a real relationship with - because it will be a GP they have chosen, rather than one they're stuck with.

Labour undermined the GP relationship with their catastrophic negotiation of the GP contract, which took the responsibility for organising out-of-hours care away from GPs.

We're going to restore the link that was lost by giving GPs the responsibility to manage the entire relationship that a patient has with the NHS.

So either they provide the care that person needs, or they commission it from another provider - or along with the patient they decide on a combination of the two.

With this power GPs will control the budgets for the care of each of their patients.

Instead of far-off bureaucracies soaking up funding, local doctors will be able to ensure that money follows the patient, and is spent on frontline care.

And the human benefits are clear too.

The family doctor service ensures that - even though through the course of your treatment you may see many specialists...

...there is always one person in charge that you know by name and trust completely.

With their help people will be empowered and informed to make the right choices about their treatment.

This will make a big difference to the way people feel about healthcare.

OUTCOMES, NOT TARGETS
Of course the thing that matters most to people when they become injured or ill is what will happen to them...

...whether their pain will be relieved, whether they'll be able to live a normal life - in some cases whether they will live or die.

Outcomes.

That is what patients focus on, and that's what the NHS should focus on.

It sounds blindingly obvious but it's something the Government seems to have lost sight of.

The imposition of political targets has skewed the focus of the NHS away from what really matters and on to the minutiae of its processes and procedures.

The consequences of this approach range from the harmless to the downright appalling.

Three quarters of nurses say patients are regularly admitted to the wrong wards, just in order to meet a target.

The Healthcare Commission has linked the pressure to meet targets with a rise in hospital infections.

Ambulances in hospital car parks are regularly used as 'waiting rooms', putting them out of action, purely so A&E patients don't enter a ward and start the clock running on the four-hour maximum wait target.

Tragically, a 16-year-old cancer patient died after waiting over an hour for an ambulance to transfer him.

Three ambulances could have reached him but they were tied up waiting to hand over patients to A&E.

Health targets have, in many cases, made people more unwell instead of making them better.

And their impact has been significant.

By endlessly specifying how the NHS should respond to every situation, the Government has assaulted the professional responsibility and sense of vocation of everyone who works in our health service.

How can that be good for quality, or efficiency, or patient care?

So the third component of our reform plan - and the area where instead of building on the changes Labour have made, we want to go in the opposite direction...

...will be to replace Labour's process targets with actual health outcome measures.

Conservatives understand that there is no one-size-fits-all model that can be drawn up in Whitehall.

This is true in health as it is in other areas.

A Whitehall plan wouldn't fit the patient causing trouble on the ward...

...or the pensioner who needs company more than they need medicine...

...or the child in A&E who's covered in strange bruises.

The target and the rulebook can't help you with these things.

The millions of human dramas that pour through the doors of the NHS need different responses, on-the-spot decisions, professional initiative, judgment, discretion.

CONSERVATIVE ACCOUNTABILITY
But replacing targets with outcome measures doesn't mean 'caving in' to the professionals and removing accountability, as some have argued.

We don't have some naïve view that you can put taxpayers' money into the health service and just hope for the best.

Our reform plan will improve accountability, not diminish it...

...by replacing bureaucratic accountability with democratic accountability.

Instead of being obsessed with processes, we will be obsessed with results: the health outcomes that really matter to people.

What are my chances of living independently if I have a stroke?

How long will my Dad survive if he gets cancer?

What are my chances of surviving from heart disease?

That's what patients care about and that's what the NHS should focus on.

So the end of top-down targets and the introduction of transparency - the collection and publication of health outcome information - will give people the power to hold the professionals to account.

The power of competition - the opening up of the NHS to new providers - will bring innovation and investment.

And the power of choice - the ability for people to control what service they get - will lead to better quality care.

These reforms will create a more user-friendly and efficient NHS that both meets patient expectations and restores professional responsibility.

PUBLIC HEALTH
These three reforms - more competition, more choice, a focus on outcomes - are all about making the supply of healthcare better and more efficient.

But we also need to work on the other side of the cost equation.

We need to do all we can to reduce the demand for healthcare - and that means a much more effective approach to public health.

On almost every public health indicator, Britain has gone backwards in recent years.

Obesity - up, alcohol abuse - up, drug abuse - up, sexually transmitted infections - up.

None of this is inevitable.

Other, comparable countries don't have our health problems.

We are the most obese nation in Europe.

Our teenage pregnancy rate is the highest in Western Europe - more than double the Western European average.

Now our plans to reduce political interference in the day to day running of the NHS will enable us to change the Department for Health into the Department for Public
Health...

...with separate public health funding to focus on prevention of illness rather than cure.

That way, money for long-term change won't be siphoned off by short-term demands.

It'll be used wherever there is a need for spending on public health, across government departments, at national or local level.

That might mean working with the Department for Children, Schools and Families on getting more kids into after-school sport...

...or giving money to a local authority to deal with damp housing that is a direct threat to people's health.

With a ring-fenced budget to treat the causes of poor health we can start to defy that depressing trajectory of illness that this Government have resigned us to.

But I don't for one moment believe that this will be enough.

I think that one important explanation for Labour's frankly disastrous record on public health is their philosophical attachment to state control.

When it comes to public health today, you can't just reach for the levers of legislation.

That might have worked for the Clean Air Act of 1956 - but we can't bring in an "Elimination of Alcohol Abuse Act 2009."

Bureaucratic methods are increasingly ineffective today...

...because the public health problems of today are increasingly the consequence of perfectly legal personal decisions, made in private spaces.

People choosing to binge on junk food; sit on the internet instead of going out for a run; drink till they pass out.

I stuck my neck out on this before when I said that instead of blaming external factors for everything, it's time we recognised that there is a moral choice...

...that personal responsibility cannot be shirked.

I've also spoken about how difficult it can be to make responsible choices within a highly seductive commercial environment.

The truth is that many big businesses are making huge profits on the back of poor health choices.

So the party that can make sense of this problem is not the party that instinctively reaches for the bureaucratic solution...

...but the party which understands - and is committed to promoting - both personal responsibility and corporate responsibility...

...the party of social responsibility, not state control - and in Britain today, that is the Conservative Party.

CONCLUSION
I don't want to be unfair in my criticisms of Labour.

They have the best intentions, and they have done some good with the NHS.

But they and their reforms have come to the end of the line.

Our health service is crying out for the next stage of change.

I believe we have shown that we are the ones to bring about that change, and that we have earned the right to call ourselves the party of the NHS today.

We believe in the NHS.

We understand the pressures it faces.

And we have a plan to make the changes it needs.

So we are the party of the NHS today because we not only back the values of the NHS, we have a vision for the future of the NHS.

We are the only party committed to the resources the NHS needs, and we're the only party with a plan for the reform the NHS needs.

This is the real debate we should be having in this country...

...and I believe that the Conservative commitment to the NHS, combined with Conservative reform of the NHS...

...can give us the best of both worlds: the fairness of a National Health Service that is unique to our country...

...combined with the quality and personal service that people are used to in other countries.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Total politics blog awards

This blog was listed in the 2009 total politics blog awards, not in the candidates section but in the councillor's section. (Since I am a local councillor in the constituency, and that role is relevant to perhaps a quarter of the posts on this blog, that's fair enough.) They list slightly over a hundred councillor blogs and I came in at 25.

I have put the total politics top blogs banner on my links panel and linked it through to the list on the Total Politics website.

UPDATE

This blog has also climbed back into the "Top 100 Conservative Blogs"

Friday, August 21, 2009

Ensuring the NHS delivers rising standards of healthcare

David Cameron stressed the Conservatives’ “wholehearted commitment” to the NHS in a keynote speech in Bolton, and explained how the NHS can deliver the rising standards of healthcare people expect in the 21st Century.

David said he was committed to “the principle of a healthcare system that is free at the point of use, based on need and not the ability to pay”.

And he stressed that improving the NHS required reform of both sides of the “cost equation”:

“We have to make the supply of healthcare more efficient and we must also do something about the increase in demand for healthcare. The first set of reforms is all about choice, competition, and a focus on outcomes not targets, while the second is all about public health.”

David promised to increase competition by opening up the opportunity for any willing provider to supply care to NHS patients.

And he stressed that by giving patients more choice – over the doctor they see, and the hospital they’re treated in – we can create “a more user-friendly NHS”.

He also said that, under a Conservative Government, there would be a move away from Labour’s process targets and towards health outcome measures:

“The millions of human dramas that pour through the doors of the NHS need different responses, on-the-spot decisions, professional initiative, judgement, discrection.”

David ended by stressing, “We believe in the NHS. We understand the pressures it faces. And we have a plan to make the changes it needs. So we are the party of the NHS today because we not only back the values of the NHS, we have a vision for the future of the NHS.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Forthcoming Road Closure, Inkerman Terrace

From 7th September for about five weeks the A5094 (Inkerman Terrace) in Whitehaven will be closed for repairs.

I cannot criticise the County Council for the fact that they are going to repair the road because it really does need doing. But the implications for traffic in Whitehaven from September to mid-October will be horrendous. This is one of the three key routes into Whitehaven, and the main one from Sellafield.

The traffic chaos on the other routes into and out of town, especially some of the narrow residential roads which may experience rat running, will be bad. There will also be issues for those local streets - and I'd better declare an interest as I live in one - which are usually reached through the secion of road being closed.

The one-way restriction on the Northern part of Foxhouses Road between the A5094 and Ehen Drive junctions will be lifted while the repairs are in process.

The recommended alternative route into Whitehaven from Sellafield is to continue up to the Pelican garage and then turn left down New Road, which of the routes into Whitehaven undoubtedly has the greatest capacity and is probably least likely to jam solid.

The official notice I have received does not mention any proposal to restrict drivers from rat-running through Midgey (e.g. down Park Drive) and I have heard conflicting rumours about whether some emergency measure is under consideration to restrict this. I have not as the ward councillor been notified of any attempt to restrict people from making a 180 degree turn at the Sunny Hill pub and coming down Solway View into Whitehaven town centre. I can see why CCC as Highways authority might want to make such restrictions a last resort but it is possible that for safety reasons they may be forced to do so.

Either of those routes would be extremely unsuitable for large volumes of traffic and unsafe for people driving fast. Both routes contain sections of road where it is usually impossible due to parked vehicles for cars to pass simultaneously in opposite directions.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Gosforth Show

Spent much of the day on the Conservative stall at the Gosforth Show.

Sadly, because the weather was filthy from early morning until into the afternoon, the attendance was not as good as the quality of the event deserved. It was a superbly organised show and it was nice to meet some old friends there.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Cameron and Hawking defend NHS

David Cameron and Professor Stephen Hawking are among those who have defended the NHS from ludicrous and inaccurate criticisms made in America. David Cameron sent an email to supporters saying that he and his family had been grateful for the work of the NHS.

The most ridiculous of the attacks made by US critics of the NHS was the claim in an American newspaper that 'People such as Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the UK, where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.'

Which country do these cretins think Professor Hawking comes from ? (Clue - the St Albans he comes from isn't one of the US ones. This brilliant man, who despite having had Lou Gehrig's disease for 40 years has been responsible for enormous scientific progress, is the most distinguished living old boy of my own former school.)

Professor Hawking himself, while in Washington to receive America's highest civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, hit back at these attacks on the NHS, saying 'I wouldn't be here today if it were not for the NHS. I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment, without which I would not have survived.'

A British woman, Kate Spall, who was quoted in adverts for an American group calling themselves 'Conservatives for Patients' Rights (CPR) opposing the President's health legislation, said that she had been misrepresented and felt duped by these adverts.

She told the Times: "It has been a bit of a nightmare. It was a real test of my naivety. I am a very trusting person and for me it has been a big lesson. I feel I was duped."

No organisation should be above constructive criticism, but some of the attacks on the NHS in the USA have been disgraceful, inaccurate, and demonstrate that the people who call themselves Conservatives in the States are not the same as those who call ourselves Conservatives in Britain. The Conservative Party is totally committed to the NHS: an effective National Health Service which is free at the point of delivery is one of the things we wish to conserve.

David Cameron writes:

I've been enjoying the sun and touring my beautiful constituency of Witney today. But it goes without saying that just because I and most other politicians are not in Westminster at the moment, politics isn't somehow put on hold.

People still care about the issues they care about, and thanks to the internet they can voice their concerns whenever they want. Just look at all the support which the NHS has received on Twitter over the last couple of days. It is a reminder - if one were needed - of how proud we in Britain are of the NHS.

Millions of people are grateful for the care they have received from the NHS - including my own family. One of the wonderful things about living in this country is that the moment you're injured or fall ill - no matter who you are, where you are from, or how much money you've got - you know that the NHS will look after you.

That's why we as a Party are so committed not just to the principles behind the NHS, but to doing all we can to improve the way it works in practice. So yes, we will spend more on the NHS, but we will also improve it so that it is more efficient and responsive to patients. People working on the frontline will actually be able get on with the job they signed up for, without getting tied up in a web of targets. And we will put more power in the hands of patients by giving them better information about the care they can expect to receive.

Underlying these reforms, and our whole approach to the NHS, will be one big ambition - that future generations will be even prouder of the NHS than we are today.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Richard Graham RIP: Ken Simpson RIP

Two sad deaths in the Copeland community: two funerals to report.

Richard, the son of Mike Graham, who is a local businessman, former councillor for Bransty and then Hillcrest, and my predecessor as Conservative PPC for Copeland, tragically passed away at the age of seventeen and was buried on Thursday.

Ken Simpson, a long-time stalwart of Copeland Conservatives who most recently stood for election as a county council candidate in the Cleator Moor North and Frizington ward also died a few days ago and his funeral was held at Ennerdale this afternoon.

At the time he was selected Ken was expecting to be able to campaign but his health deteriorated sharply just before the election began. Despite not being able to do any active canvassing he still secured very nearly 500 votes which I think is a tribute to how many people in the community knew and liked him. His funeral today was very well attended, with the church literally full to overflowing and a significant proportion of those who came to pay their respects waiting outside during the service.

Everyone who knew Richard Graham or Ken Simpson speaks highly of them.

Our thoughts and prayers this week are for the souls of Richard and Ken, for Richard's parents Mike and Maggie and Ken's widow Marie, and for the rest of their families.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Whitehaven Festival Weekend

Have just spent part of this morning and afternoon with my family among the crowds attending the excellent festival which is taking place in Whitehaven this weekend.

Where previous Whitehaven festivals have had a maritime or "Marra-time" feel, this one is themed as the Whitehaven food festival. There are large numbers of stalls selling every imaginable kind of food. Celebrity chefs including Ainsley Harriott and Jean-Christophe Novelli, as well as local cumbrian chefs including Nick Martin, Craig Sherrington, and Whitehaven's own Ricky Andalcio have been taking part in a range of book signings and "Celebrity Chef Theatre" events in Lowther Street at Michael Moon's bookstore and St Nicholas's, and at Sugar Tongue in the harbour.

Several tall ships are visiting Whitehaven Harbour including the sailing schooner Kathleen & May and the trading ketch Irene.

There are also jet ski displays at the harbour and a number of air displays and fly pasts, including the big one at 3.45 pm tomorrow (Sunday 9th) when Avro Vulcan XH558 which was the last Vulcan bomber in service with the RAF, will fly over the town.

A follow up to the festival will be the "Here and Now" live concert at Copeland Athletics Stadium a week today (Saturday 15th August) featuring artists including Toyah Willcox, Midge Ure, and Belinda Carlisle.

When the lights go out

There is a superb article in this week's Economist about the problems of energy.

The title is How long till the lights go out? and the article makes a convincing case that, whoever is in government, and even if action to protect power supplies is taken quickly, there is a real danger that Britain will suffer power cuts in the next five years as older power stations have to be decommissioned faster than new power supplies can be built.

Britain needs a genuinely balanced energy policy to maximise our energy security. As the Economist rightly points out, one of the serious pitfalls we could easily fall into is an excessive reliance on gas (and on supplies of gas from Russia, down a pipeline which recent history shows is liable to be disrupted by arguments between Vladimir Putin and his Eastern European neighbours).

We can and should invest in renewables and emerging energy sources, but those enviromental extremists, such as the Green Party, who imagine that we can fill the looming energy gap entirely from such sources are completely disconnected from reality.

There was a letter in the Whitehaven News this week from Jill Perry who signed herself as "Green party candidate for Copeland in the general election." It will be interesting to see how many votes she gets in a constituency where 24% of the working population are employed in the civil nuclear industry, and thousands of other jobs are indirectly dependent on that industry. The most bizarre aspect of the letter was that she claimed the Greens have a "Plan B" to do without nuclear power, but made no mention of what this "Plan B" actually is.

While the Green party are a particularly obvious example of a group of people who are in denial about how serious the energy problems facing the UK are, they are not alone in seriously underestimating the scale of the problem.

For their first eight years in office, Labour ignored this problem. For the past four years they have talked a good game but not done enough, fast enough.

Britian needs action, fast. If next year sees a new Conservative government, I suspect a rapid increase in clean power generation will have to be one of our most urgent priorities.

On attempts to smear the ECR leader

There have been a number of attempts in the press and the blogosphere to smear the new leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists group as an alleged anti-semite. There was a comment along these lines on one of the threads on this blog a couple of weeks ago.

A definitive answer to these smears has been given in the Daily Telegraph by the distinguished journalist Stephen Pollard, who is Editor of the Jewish Chronicle.

(Note - I originally had a link to Stephen Pollard's article at the Telegraph website here, but it appears to have been moved or deleted.)



Pollard's article is entitled “Anti-Semitic mudslinging of the worst kind” and includes this comment:

“There are few things more despicable than anti-Semitism, but here’s one of them: using a false charge of anti-Semitism for political gain. Yet it seems there are few depths to which some will not sink in their desperation to damage David Cameron.”

And:

“there is simply no evidence that Mr Kaminski is an anti-Semite, only a series of politically motivated assertions”

and, on Michal Kaminski's comments about an apology for an atrocity,

“The intention is clear: to accuse Mr Kaminski of sympathising with the murderers. But this is a grotesque distortion. Mr Kaminski’s argument was that apologising for the collective guilt of Poles let the individual murderers off the hook. Far from trying to cover up the massacre, he was using the president’s apology to make a wider point: that the massacre was not committed by “the Poles” against “the Jews”, but was a vile crime committed by specific individuals against their fellow nationals.”


He concludes

I know myself the tactics that such people use. I worked in Brussels for seven years from 2001. Early on, I condemned the banning of the Belgian far-Right party, the Vlaams Blok, which had a number of elected officials. I argued that, repellent as the party was, democracy meant that it had a right to exist and seek election. From then on, almost any view I expressed on Belgian politics was met with the lie that I was a Vlaams Blok supporter.

Far from being an anti-Semite, Mr Kaminski is about as pro-Israeli an MEP as exists ....

Yes, the resurgence of anti-Semitism is a serious and worrying issue – but to use it to further your political ends is mudslinging of the most disgusting kind.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Diagnosing swine flu

Diagnosing Swine Flu

A survey of GPs reported on the ITN website this morning found that 90% of them are concerned that diagnosing swine flu over the phone could lead to other diseases, like meningitis, being missed.

More details on my "support West Cumbria Hospitals" blog (see link at right.)

It's a small sample, but the overwhelming nature of the response is statistically significant and suggests that the fears described by the NHS Blog Doctor (see post "How not to deal with swine flu-or anything else" on the hospitals blog) are shared by many other doctors.

While the levels of suspected wine flu are above what normal NHS capacity can deal with it may be regrettably necessary to keep the current special measures such as internet and telephone diagnosis in place, but this survey reinforces my view that we should return to normal methods of diagnosis as soon as practical when infection rates trend down.

POSTSCRIPT 8 AUGUST - TRAGEDY STRIKES

Sadly it appears that the prediction of the NHS Blog Doctor and others has come true. Sky News reports today that the parents of a toddler who died in a Norfolk hospital on Tuesday believe that she died of meningitis after being misdiagnosed with swine flu.

The report says that two-year-old Georgia Keeling's family say they were twice told their daughter had the H1N1 virus and should stay at home.

Her father Paul Sewell, 21, told Sky News she was misdiagnosed, despite displaying the symptoms of meningitis.

"She was showing the three most basic signs of meningitis - the rash, the temperature and the drowsiness. Plus she was sick the night before," he said.

"I told NHS Direct the symptoms and they said 'sounds like a virus' and to give it 48 hours to see how it goes."

He added: "Then I left for work and that was the last time I saw her."

Tasha Keeling, the toddler's mother, initially contacted her local health centre, who said it could be swine flu. The pandemic flu helpline advised calling NHS Direct as the symptoms did not match, but they advised keeping Georgia at home unless her temperature rose.

Ms Keeling eventually resorted to dialling 999 but claims a paramedic arrived first, diagnosed swine flu for the second time and said an ambulance was not necessary. The family were left with Calpol and Tamiflu and instructed to leave Georgia in bed.

When another ambulance was called later, the toddler was taken to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital where she died.

The hospital suspect Georgia died from meningitis, according to a spokesman. An investigation will be carried out by the ambulance service and NHS Norfolk, although no official complaint has been made.

Digital Switchover problem

Several hundred Copeland residents, including a number of my Bransty ward constituents and other people living in the area served by the Bleach Green transmitter, have been losing their TV signal.

One Bransty resident, who had an engineer at his house for six hours trying to solve the problem, told the Whitehaven News that

"We get the channels, then they keep going off, they come back on and then they are all broken."

It has been suggested that Digital UK were slow to recognise the problem but have now accepted that it does exist and are trying to solve it. There is a suggestion that the signal from a Scottish transmitter at Cambret Hill may be reaching the Whitehaven area, possibly enough to cause the Autotune function on set-top boxes to trying to set to the wrong signal.

Digital UK and others made the mistake of believing their own propaganda about how smoothly the original switchover in Whitehaven went in 2007, and missed the opportunity to learn lessons about the need for greater concentration on technical issues rather than marketing. Let us hope that this time the lessons are learned better.

You can read the full Whitehaven News report here.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Feedback from Copeland Council

Copeland Council met this afternoon at Millom School.

I asked questions about Whitehaven Gold Course and the Keekle Head former opencast mining site: details of my questions and the answers will be covered in more detail in specific posts.

There were numerous references to the Places Survey. This was a national survey assessing public satisfaction with public services all over the counrty. Provisional results from the 2008 survey have recently come out, and put Copeland as one of the worst councils in the country in terms of customer satisfaction. A Task and Finish group has been set up to look into what the council needs to do to improve performance in the areas criticised by the survey.

Much of the executive report was taken up with concerns expressed by my colleagues in rural parts of the constituency about the refuse collection service, particularly as it affects those who live in roads that the council refuse vehicles will not drive down. This is a huge issue in the rural areas of the borough.

There was a brief report at the end on the measures in place in the borough to deal with the situation if the Swine Flu problem gets worse.

High Points of the meeting:

1) Following on from the recent unfortunate events at the hospital meeting, I made a point of asking the leader of the council a constructive, non-partisan question about the need to continue working together to support the hospital. I was pleased to get an equally constructive reply.

2) The council has finally voted on and passed a very sensible position on various forms of energy including nuclear and wind farms. I wasn't very pleased with the way this was handled but I was pleased with the motion eventually passed. This was extremely similar in meaning to the motion which was proposed by Norman Clarkson months ago but had been batted back and forth for no good reason between the full council and an Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

Low Points of the meeting

3) A recent public meeting at which 70 ordinary local residents expressed concern at the council's rubbish collection policy was described by a member of the Labour executive as a "Tory Ambush" for no better reason than that some Conservative councillors representing other wards had come to hear the discussion.

Some Labour politicians just do not "get it" when the public complain and appear not to realise that when ordinary residents are not happy with a public service it does not necessarily mean that they have been put up to complaining by tory politicians.

4) The recommendation on energy policy which had been endorsed unanimously, twice, by all the members of the Overview and Scrutiny committee (including the Labour councillors on the committee) was changed at the full council meeting, with zero notice for most members of the council and for no convincing reason.

We were told that the wording of the recommendation was being changed: the Leader and deputy leader of the opposition were provided with the new wording by email that morning, too late to get it to most of us before we set off for Millom. One printed copy - one copy - was provided at the start of the debate which was passed along the shadow executive table: the Independent group did not see the motion until I took that copy round to them.

As one of about half a dozen opposition members of the council who got to see the actual wording of the amended motion before the council voted on it, it is my view that the meaning was virtually identical to the form of words sent up by the committee. Which is why I've listed the actual decision as a "high point" above. But it was really bad form not to make a copy available to all members before the vote.

Monday, August 03, 2009

West Cumberland Hospital Meeting

A few weeks ago, the Save Our Services group, a community campaign which includes people of all political parties and none, requested a meeting with the North Cumbria Acute Services Hospital Trust and local consultants and staff representatives to discuss progress on the new hospital and a number of concerns and issues which had been raised by senior and junior staff at West Cumberland Hospital.

The meeting was duly called for Friday 24th July. The same individual who had originally requested the meeting on behalf of Save Our Services, also invited me to attend in my capacity as one of the two Copeland councillors (one from each major party) who are part of the Save Our Services group.

In the event, when I turned up at the meeting to which I had been invited, I ws turned away in front of the press, who were naturally extremely interested to know what on earth had happened.

I have heard from those who were allowed to be present that it was a very constructive and useful meeting. A report is given on my hospitals campaign blog - see link at right.

If I were to write my reactions to being turned away from the meeting it might sound like sour grapes, but you can read what the Whitehaven News thought about it here.

Let's just say that I hope we can go back to working together for local hospitals, because the West Cumberland and indeed our other local health services are too important to be dragged into the worst kind of partisan politics.

Whitehaven Traffic Proposals

I am relieved that the County Council has taken on board, in response to the consultation about traffic flows in the centre of Whitehaven, the view that making the town more pedestrian-friendly has to be done without harming shops, general trading and movement.

Removing all or most traffic from Lowther Street and Strand Stree could have grossly overloaded the section of the current ring road from Irish Street to Duke Stree which under three of the original proposals would have become two-way and had to cope with virtually all traffic movement around the town centre.

But a redesign of some of the streets and junctions could be a good thing - one or two of the junctions in Whitehaven are potentially dangerous.

You can read a report in the Whitehaven News about the latest proposals here.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Doctor's and Firemen's Hours

The European Working Time Directive (EWTD) is applied to the hours worked by junior doctors in the UK from today. Senior doctors are concerned that this may cause serious problems for the NHS. The bad drafting of the legislation as it affects people on call will also be a problem for the fire service. The difficulty is that, in their desire to be seen to address the problems of excessive working hours, European legislators have attempted to impose a simplistic Euopre-wide solution on a complex problem.

It is right to address the issue of working hours but it should be done on the basis of local negotiations including the key staff involved. The view of the BMA and other organisations representing doctors is that there must be a balance between the need to avoid excessive working hours and the need to ensure that junior doctors get a wide range of experience.

Another problem with the EWTD is that it fails to adequately distinguish between the impact of inactive "on call" time and that of time spent actually doing the job.

I would not want to go back to the ridiculously long hours which junior doctors had to work and be on call when I was appointed as a health authority member a little over twenty years ago. At that time some doctors were on call from 9am on Friday to 5pm on Monday every other weekend. That wasn't safe.

But I do not believe that one set of arbitrary rules about working hours which is as rigid as the EWTD can cover the needs both of every business and public service throughout europe and all the people who work in them.