Showing posts from February, 2006

Good manners in public life

Various comments from council meetings at the opposite end of the country in the past few days have set me to thinking about the importance of civility and good manners in public life. There is always a temptation for someone considering a current problem, to compare it with some real or mythical past age when such problems supposedly did not exist, and conclude either that the younger generation is dreadful or that the country is going to the dogs. I will resist that temptation, because I can remember when I first got involved in politics at the age of 17 I heard some pretty extreme examples of rudeness between politicians, and older councillors lamenting that there was much more hostility between the parties than when they were younger. Come to that, as a small boy I remember hearing my mother tell my father that there were “a lot of babies running the country” after an exchange between Ted Heath and Harold Wilson which concluded with the leader of the opposition saying that “an insu


Giving birth can be both one of the most wonderful and one of the most agonisingly painful experiences any human can have. No man can completely understand what the women we love have to go through to bring our children into the world, but you don’t have to experience it first hand to know that even a straightforward and quick labour with no complications is a shattering experience and a bad one is beyond description. I have always found it amazing that some “natural birth” fanatics try as hard as they do to persuade women not to use pain relief during birth. Where there are genuine medical concerns about particular methods of pain relief I understand it. But people who argue against anaesthetics on the grounds that they stop people from having the whole experience of birth completely horrify me. It is the sort of argument you would expect from the Marquis de Sade on acid. I am strongly opposed to the proposal from Education and Research Committee of the National College of Midwives t

From Two jags to Twenty-Two jags ...

I was most amused to see on the front of the News and Star the other day a quote attributed to the Deputy Prime Minister to the effect that he felt a right twit. Had someone slipped John “Two Jags” Prescott a truth drug ? Had he realised how daft it is to bulldoze thousands of houses in the North while simultaneously forcing councils in the South to build vastly more houses than the local infrastructure can support ? Has he finally realised how daft it is to waste millions of pounds on unelected Regional Assemblies when the only area of the country he offered a chance to say whether they wanted an elected regional assembly voted massively against “more politicians” ? Was he referring to the fact that he as minister for council tax had not paid his own ? Was he referring to the fact that while he is proud of having two jags himself, his department’s policy of restricting the parking places provided with new houses means that anyone else with two cars will have trouble finding a house w


(Or, "Why Cumbria should keep our own police force." At one stage it looked as though the proposal that Cumbria should lose our own police force, as part of a rationalisation into huge regional police forces, would go through without much of a fight. However, all the police authorities have refused to meekly submit proposals for their own abolition by the required deadline. And I am grateful to Simon Jenkins in the Guardian for the most damning quote opposing the regionalisation of police forces in England and Wales. A very prominent politician once described the idea of scrapping the existing 43 police forces and replacing them with larger regional forces as "the most determined and least popular attempt ever made to centralise policing in Britain, to give ministers unprecedented control over the way that the police do their work, and to undermine police independence. It is driven not just by short-term cost-cutting, but by an ideology that resents local freedom, and ha


In December, along with about 150 other people, I attended a meeting organised by the leagues of friends of the community hospitals in Cumbria. The following week about a thousand people marched in Penrith in support of local hospitals. Local residents from Millom, Keswick, Workington, and all over Cumbria joined the demonstration to make the point that our local community hospitals provide a vital public service and should be protected. There is nothing which galvanises a community as much as when their hospital is threatened. I was very impressed by the arguments which I heard at the public meeting, and I do not believe that the case for reducing the role that community hospitals play makes sense. Last year, when reviewing the services provided by the main Acute hospitals at Carlisle and Whitehaven, the local NHS Trusts in West, North, and East Cumbria suggested that a closer relationship could be built between the District General Hospitals and the community hospitals, which might i

When Clever People Do Stupid Things

Yesterday a court quashed the disciplinary action taken by the General Medical Council against Professor Sir Roy Meadow, one of the most distinguished children’s doctors in the country. Professor Meadow had acted as an expert witness in the trials of many women accused of killing their own children: unfortunately his greatt knowledge of medicine and convincing air of authority as a witness was matched by a gross ignorance of the principles of statistics which would have been unacceptable in a Lower VI former studying for Maths A-Level. Professor Meadow convinced first himself, and then the juries, that at least three innocent women who were already suffering the agony of having lost their babies, should be jailed for murdering them. He told the trial of Sally Clark that the chances of her having two children lost to cot deaths through natural causes were one in 73 million, and the trial of Donna Anthony that the chances of her two children having died from natural causes were one in a