Saturday, May 27, 2006

Prescott Memorial Acronym competition

The competition is still open for anyone who wants to send me a humorous "real meaning" for any of the acronyms, initials and alphabet soup sent out by John Prescott while he had a department to run. Final close of entries will be midnight on Thrusday 1st June.

The prize will be a copy of "The Little Red Book of New Labour Sleaze." However, I gather that copies of this strongly recommended book are selling fast and there are only 500 left from the original print run, so the winner may have to wait for the book's second print run. And if you were thinking of buying a copy of the first printing of this book, sure to become a collector's item, you had better hurry. Copies are available on Amazon at

The Little Red Book of New Labour Sleaze

Mind you, the rate the Labour government is going, there will have to be a second edition within a few weeks which will be twice as long. Just to take one example of disgraceful conduct since the book went to print. To have a copy of the Hutton report, an inquiry into the suicide of a public servant, signed by the Prime Minister's spouse and auctioned to raise money for a political party's funds must be one of the worst acts of bad taste I have ever heard of.

It is not clear whether this and any other copies of the Hutton report which were auctioned had been purchased from HMSO for £60 or was a copy provided to a member of the Labour government in their official capacity. In the latter case, selling it for Labour party funds was a further misuse of something paid for by the taxpayer.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Two stories which came out concerning the NHS in the past few days – a woman suffering from cancer who has been refused a potentially life-saving drug costing £5,000, and an NHS Trust which asked its staff to do an audit of how many gifts such as boxes of chocolates they have received. For many people these two stories will have summed up what is wrong with the NHS.

The NHS will never be an easy organisation to run. On a recent visit to my in-laws I read an account in an Irish newspaper of the controversy surrounding the man who is trying to sort out the health service in Ireland. He was quoted as repeating a comment made by Enoch Powell, then Health minister, that everyone in the NHS said how dreadful it was until the moment he proposed radical reform, at which point everyone suddenly said the existing system was excellent.

Over the past 25 years both Conservative and Labour governments have increased spending on the NHS, both in cash terms and in real terms after allowing for inflation. (The last government to impose savage cuts on the NHS was the Callaghan Labour government in 1978-9.) So where does the money go ?

As medical technology and practice improves, more and more new treatments are available, but at a price. Life expectancy has continued to improve under both Conservative and Labour governments, as new treatments ensure that people who would once have died are able to live longer, which is an excellent thing, but at considerable ongoing cost, which is one reason that pressure on NHS resources is an inevitable fact of life. I do not believe that there is any remotely attainable level of funding for our health service which could deliver all the things we would ideally like the NHS to do.

But the fact that a shortage of NHS resources, like the poor, is something we will have always with us, makes it all the more important to use those resources effectively. At this week’s Prime Minister’s Question Time, in between all the party political knockabout, a number of MPs asked about their local community hospitals. This is a reminder to us in Cumbria that the threats to our local hospitals are part of a national picture in which 80 valued local hospitals are under threat.

Over the past few years there has been an increase in the number of doctors and nurses, which is welcome, although many of the people affected by some 6,000 NHS redundancies announced so far this year are nurses. But the increase in the number of administrative staff taken on is much larger than the number of doctors and nurses. Even as 6,000 NHS jobs go this year, a thousand more management jobs in the NHS have been created. This set of priorities has to be reversed. The NHS will always need some people in management positions. Just as the vast majority of doctors and nurses and hard-working, competent, and caring people, I know that there are NHS managers to whom the same applies. And perhaps the present massively complex system of 400 targets cannot be run without large numbers of bureaucrats. All the more reason to change that system. Any trust which asks its nurses to conduct a “chocolate audit” obviously employs managers who do not have enough to do. It is time for a radical rebalancing away from administration and towards front-line patient care.

No, Deputy Prime Minister

John Prescott had a torrid time at the dispatch box last week. Needless to say the line which got the most attention was the attempt at support from a Labour backbencher - I won't call her a toady for fear of inviting a class action from toads - who asked if he would still be "hands on".

However, what was truly amazing was his attempt to claim that he was doing more than Michael Heseltine, the last Conservative holder of the post.

Heaven knows Lord Heseltine has his faults, but the idea that Prescott would look good by comparing himself to Hezza was possibly the most ill-judged comparison since Dan Quayle made the mistake of comparing himself to John F Kennedy in his debate against Lloyd Bentsen. I wish that the rules of debate in the Commons could have permitted one of those present who could make such a claim to respond with

"I know Michael Heseltine, I worked with Michael Heseltine; Michael Heseltine is a friend of mine. John Prescott, you're no Michael Heseltine.

And as for the claim that Prescott is working harder - all recent holders of the job of Deputy Prime minister until now have either had a department to run, an area of government for which they were responsible, or a real job such as Leader of the House of Commons. In Michael Heseltine's case he was responsible for public service reform within the cabinet office.

Earlier today I looked up the transcript of a BBC interview with Hezza just after his appointment, and the sort of question which John Humphries asked referred to colleagues who were jealous that he was being given too much power - there was a suggestion that Hezza might go "rampaging through Whitehall". If anyone used those words about Prescott I do not think they would be suggesting that he had too much influence on government policy.

The Da Vinci Code and Ruth Kelly

A recent humorous item in “The Times” newspaper on “Ten reasons not to see 'The Da Vinci Code'" included a reference to the difficulty of imagining Ruth Kelly as part of a sinister and evil organisation.

The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction, and there are plenty of things in the book and the film that I find impossible to take seriously. However, imagining a minister in the present Labour government as part of a sinister and evil organisation is not one of them.

For the benefit of anyone who has spent the past few months in a monastery, the new local government minister Ruth Kelly is a member of the religious group Opus Dei, which is presented in the film as a sinister conspiracy which will stop at nothing including murder to achieve its ends, such as preventing the exposure of supposed 2000 year old secrets concerning an imaginary marriage between Jesus and Mary of Magdalen.

However, perhaps “The Times” has a point in that ministers in the present government certainly are not competent enough to organise a conspiracy which could keep a secret for 2,000 years. At the moment they don’t seem able to agree a position about the performance of the Home Office which holds water for two months.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Little Red Book of New Labour Sleaze

Now out - a compilation of articles detailing a hundred instances of corrupt, anti-democratic, or inappropriate behaviour by Labour politicians. This was written by internet bloggers, organised by the founder of Politico's bookshop, Iain Dale, with "Guido Fawkes" one of the best of the iconoclastic internet commentators on current British politics.

I must "declare an interest" in this book (that expression is the code which councillors and MPs are supposed to use when admitting to not being impartial about something), as I wrote one of the articles myself. Nonetheless I strongly recommend it. If there is anyone left in Britain who believes that Tony Blair has kept his promise that his government would be "whiter than white" then The Little Red Book is a good antidote.

An advert can be seen on the internet at

The Little Red Book of New Labour Sleaze

(URL is

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


I should probably start this entry by making clear that the pro-nuclear views expressed in it are my own and not necessarily those of the Conservative party. My own position could hardly be a secret – nobody who had any doubts about the safety of nuclear reprocessing would have moved his family three hundred miles to within a few miles of Sellafield in order to fight the Copeland constituency and nobody with reservations about civil nuclear power would have made substantial personal sacrifices in the attempt to become MP for a community where about 17,000 jobs depend directly or indirectly on the nuclear industry.

David Cameron has announced a review into the party’s policy on energy policy which I believe to be a genuine exercise in the sense that he has not predetermined the outcome. Because I also believe that the argument for a balanced energy policy in which civil nuclear power plays a role is overwhelming, I have every hope that those of us who support nuclear power will be able to persuade the Conservative party to include nuclear as part of its energy strategy.

Contrary to the assertions of the anti-nuclear ultras, this is not in any way incompatible with support for much greater use of a wider range of renewable energy, much more support for energy saving, and more effective action to prevent carbon emissions from given industrial processes and sources of energy reaching the atmosphere. Neither is nuclear energy necessarily uneconomic, especially as compared to other forms of power generation which do not involve ongoing carbon release such as wind power. Any fair tax and regulatory economic system designed to reduce carbon emissions, such as the Conservative party’s recent proposals on the environment, is likely to improve the economic position of the nuclear industry.

Tony Blair’s statements in the past 48 hours finally make clear who was being conned during the last election, when it was obvious that Labour was facing both ways on nuclear power. Communities like West Cumbria where the local economy is utterly dependent on the nuclear industry were subject to “nudge-nudge-wink-wink” hints that if Labour won there would be new nuclear build, while at the same time the public statements of Labour ministers reassured the anti-nuclear lobby that no decisions had been taken and the government still had serious concerns about nuclear power.

The minister who expressed the strongest reservations about nuclear power was of course Elliott Morley. The fact that he has now been sacked, and yesterday denounced Tony Blair’s energy review as a fix, suggests that he was personally sincere in the views he expressed and believed that his statements as a minister represented government policy. Yet another person finds out the hard way that you should never, ever trust Tony Blair.

I am relieved that it appears to be the community I live in who were told the truth last year, in the sense that someone was obviously being deceived and set up for a stab in the back, and I would prefer it were the anti-nuclear campaigners rather than my friends and neighbours. However, you don’t have to agree with a word Elliott
Morley says to regard his treatment by the Prime Minister as extremely shabby.

I should add that any decision to allow new nuclear build does not bring with it any guarantees about where the new facilities will be. It is almost inevitable that any new plants will have to be built where the local community wants them, which effectively means on or adjacent to existing nuclear sites. However, we in West Cumbria cannot take for granted that we will win one of the new facilities and need to campaign hard to ensure that we do.

The one certainty about the future of energy policy is that there will be a series of gigantic rows, of which nuclear will not be the only one, and many of the arguments will be cross-party. There are divisions within as well as between the major political parties and among environmentalists. But at least the debate has started and, for the moment, support for a balanced energy policy appears to be gaining ground.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


At a meeting of councillors last weekend, someone accidentally referred to the UK government department responsible for local councils by its former title of “ODPM.” It was pointed out that as this department had been taken away from John Prescott, it was no longer the “Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.”

“OK” asked a colleague, “what’s it called now?”

While trying to answer this question I came across a suggestion from one wag that, following the appointment of Ruth Kelly, this department should still have the acronym ODPM but this would now refer to “Opus Dei Promoted Minister”

To mark the long overdue end of John Prescott’s disastrous tenure as minister for local government, I am offering a small prize for the best suggestion for the real meaning of any huge number of acronyms introduced by the OPDM during the Prescott era emailed to me at

by the end of May.

This may sound like a joke, but the serious aspect is that during his term of office John Prescott and his civil servants imposed a massive bureaucratic burden on local government. I have suggested alternative meanings below for seven sets of initials covering just one aspect of local government with which I am personally familiar, namely planning.

Every one of the sets of the initials listed below is used in recent legislation to refer to a new document, or replacement of an existing document, imposing an extra workload on the planning department of your local council. The need to meet these requirements has forced almost all councils to take on more planners, who have to be paid from your taxes. So next time you wonder why you are forking out so much more council tax but can’t get anyone in your local planning department to pay an equivalent amount of extra time for your concerns, it’s probably because they are busy preparing one of these new documents required by central government.

I would not for an instant suggest that everything in the planning system is or was perfect, but neither do I believe that replacing one major document called the district plan with half a dozen documents called the Local Development Framework will deliver enough benefits to offset the gigantic cost to local taxpayers – e.g. you - of preparing the new documents.

So here some examples of Prescott Planning Acronyms and suggested alternative meanings. The “Official” interpretations of these initials are given at the end.


SCI ● Strategy to Consult and Ignore - OR -
● Sustained Concrete Inundation

LDF ● Lots of Development Forced

LDS ● Let’s Ditch Sustainability - OR -
● Local Decisions squashed

LDP ● Local Democracy Pilloried

AMR ● Another Massive Report

(some suggested this has a silent P for)

● Additional Mandatory Reams of Paper

( now that Ruth Kelly has taken over the department it could also be)

● Additional Micromanagement by Ruth

DPD ● Directed Prescott Development

SPD ● Surplus Prescott Development

The official meanings of these abbreviations are:

SCI = Statement of Community Involvement.

Mandatory document in which a council must spell out in great detail how it will consult the public and all interested parties on the new planning documents (and on planning applications.)

Unfortunately, the same legislation which requires this extensive programme of consultation also provides that a policy supported overwhelmingly by local people in their response to that consultation can be over-ruled by an unelected inspector appointed by the government even if all the elected councillors vote to support the wishes of their constituents. Hence my alternative, “Strategy to Consult and Ignore”

LDF = Local Development Framework

Collective name for the new-style suite of planning documents which every council with planning powers is expected to prepare.

LDS = Local Development Scheme

Mandatory published document setting out the three year work programme under which a council will produce the documents which make up the Local Development Framework.

LDP = Local Development Plan

Under previous planning law this means the master document summarising the planning policies of a council. At the moment most councils still have LDPs but these will be replaced by Development Plan Documents within the LDF as a result of recent legislation.

AMR = Annual Monitoring Report

One of many mandatory documents which legislation passed by the government requires councils with planning powers to publish.

DPD = Development Plan Document

The documents within the new Local Development Framework which effectively replace and most nearly correspond to the old Local Development Plan or District/Borough Plan. For a typical District or Borough council there will usually be three DPDs: a “Core Strategy”, a “Site Allocations and Proposals” DPD and a set of “Development Control Policies.”

SPD = Supplementary Planning Document

Under the old system, if a council wanted to add something to an existing local plan relating to a specific site or a particular issue, it could issue something called an SPG or “Supplementary Planning Guidance”. An example of an SPG might be a planning brief suggesting what development may be acceptable on a site. Under new laws, councils can no longer issue a new SPG though they can continue to use existing ones. However, under the new legislation a council can instead issue a new “Supplementary Planning Document” or SPD instead. Sound to you like a totally pointless change ? Yes, got it in one.

Friday, May 12, 2006


In my post after Blair’s botched reshuffle I mentioned my mixed feelings that Margaret Beckett, who richly deserved the sack for her inexcusable failure to pay Britain’s farmers the Single Farm Payment cash they were due months ago, had instead been promoted. At least as Foreign secretary she can’t do so much damage to Cumbria’s farms and rural areas.

Incidentally I am pleased to see that the MP for Copeland has recently made sure the local newspapers knew that he was demanding action when a company was late paying its workers. I hope he will be even more vigorous in demanding that his own government pays out promptly the millions of pounds due to farmers, especially small farmers in this constituency.

I learn from the “people” diary in The Times that the new agriculture and rural affairs minister, David Miliband has appointed a new head of the rural payments agency. Apparently, “almost the instant” he arrived in DEFRA, David Miliband gave the job to Tony Cooper.

It’s a small world – Tony Cooper is the father of Yvette Cooper, who until they were both promoted in the reshuffle was Miliband’s number two in his role as minister of state in John Prescott’s former department.

I do not believe either in nepotism, which means appointing cronies or relatives to jobs in preference to better qualified people, or inverted nepotism, which means refusing to appoint the best qualified person because he or she has connections which might make the appointment look like nepotism.

If Cooper can sort out the mess with rural payments and finally give farmers the money they have been owed for months, few people will give a damn whose dad he is. If he doesn’t pay up PDQ, then this appointment will be yet another nail in the coffin of Labour’s rural support.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

So when does John Reid become Prime Minister ?

I see that after Labour’s poor results in the local elections Mr Blair has swung the axe, sacking Charles Clarke, removing John Prescott’s department, and moving many ministers including Jack Straw and Hilary “I need an abacus” Armstrong.

I have mixed feelings about the promotion of Margaret “sheep’s brains” Beckett – she deserved the sack even more than Charles Clarke did, but at least she cannot do as much damage to Cumbria’s farmers as Foreign Secretary as she did while in charge of rural policy. The new secretary of state for the Environment, David Milliband, will take over responsibility for this area.

The dwindling faction of people loyal to Blair say that Milliband is very talented: if he wants to prove it a good start would be to pay our farmers the money they should have had months ago.

Forget his private life – John Prescott was a disaster as a minister. It is of course an outrageous waste of public money to allow the benefits of office - including the car, the salary, and two grace and favour homes - costing the taxpayer paying more than a quarter of a million pounds a year when Blair has finally realised that Prescott is not up to running a department. However, the taxpayer was getting an even worse deal when he did have a department to run and the authority to wreck local government. Let’s hope Ruth Kelly makes a better job of local government than she did of Education, but she can’t possibly be worse than John Prescott.

But what made me laugh is that yet again, John Reid has been put into a job whose previous holder has been moved or sacked following a row, scandal, or serious failure, this time as home secretary. Since Mr Reid appears to be the Labour party’s roving minister for clearing up the mess, and taking over from people who have failed, we have to ask – when does he become Prime Minister ?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Royal College of Midwives Conference

Next week the Royal College of Midwives are meeting in Torquay for their annual conference.

Almost all of us owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the midwives who helped bring us into the world: I have of course no memory of the midwives who assisted at my own birth, but I have very positive memories both of those who assisted at the birth of my own children, and of those midwives I met while serving as a Health Authority member. In both cases I was impressed by their professionalism, knowledge, and common sense.

Obstetricians have the most glamorous role in delivering babies but, after the mother, midwives do most of the work, and the rest of us would do well to listen very carefully to what they have to say. Which makes the recommendations of the RCM conference on all aspects of birth, including pain relief, very important. I shall be watching what the conference says about Epidurals and other forms of pain relief with great interest.

Earlier this year the Education and Research Committee of the Royal College of Midwives recommended that women giving birth in NHS hospitals should be charged for epidurals “unless there is a medical need for them.” The press stated that this recommendation would debated at the forthcoming conference.

No man can fully understand what the women we love have to go through to bring our children into the world. But any man who is not totally devoid of sensitivity and has heard the cries of a woman in labour can grasp that even a straightforward and quick birth with no complications is a very intense experience for the mother, and a bad one is one of the most painful and traumatic things a human being can experience.

There is a range of views about pain relief during childbirth. When my wife was preparing to give birth both she and I were astonished at how hard people at one end of the spectrum try to persuade women not to use pain relief during birth. Some of the more extreme “natural birth” enthusiasts argue against anaesthetics on the grounds that they stop people from having the whole experience of birth. Both then and now this struck me as the kind of argument you would expect from the Marquis de Sade on acid.

However, that is not the basis of the proposals from the Education and Research Committee of the Royal College of Midwives, who were raising genuine medical concerns. They based their argument for a reduction in the number of epidurals on studies which suggest that women who have this particular form of pain relief may spend longer pushing the baby out of the birth canal and are up to 40% more likely to need some other form of intervention. For example they may need a forceps delivery which can bruise the child’s head. So there is an evidence-based argument for encouraging wider use of alternative forms of pain relief.

It is with some trepidation that I disagree with people who know far more about this issue than I do. However, although there is a real concern, charging is absolutely not the way to address it.

As I wrote a few months ago, discouraging epidurals by charging for them would be both unjust and counterproductive. Those who could afford it would pay for anything which they perceived as reducing pain regardless of cost, and this policy might better actually encourage those women with incomes above the poverty level to think of an epidural as a powerful form of pain relief and ask for one. On the other hand, vulnerable women who are affected by poverty might be afraid to ask for pain relief even if they really need it for fear of being charged for an “unnecessary epidural.” Any policy which might result in the poorest members of society going through agonising pain while being afraid of the cost of asking for help would be completely unacceptable.

Whether pain relief is provided and of what kind is not just the responsibility of the mother, it is also a matter for the professional advice and expertise of the midwife and at least two doctors, the anaesthetist and obstetrician. If there are medical issues affecting the form of pain relief to be used it is the professionals’ responsibility to ensure that those issues are properly taken into account. They can, should, and in my experience, do explain to the expectant mother the advantages of the different forms of pain relief available.

Recent surveys by Mother and Baby magazine in 2002 and 2004 found that only 5% of women have a “completely natural” birth with no intervention or pain relief. Of those who responded to both surveys, 23% had a planned or emergency caesarean and 38% of women had an epidural - and neither percentage increased between the 2002 and 2004 surveys. I have seen it suggested elsewhere that the percentage of births with an epidural is about 20%.

If these surveys are correct then a very substantial proportion of mothers do ask for pain relief but go for one of the other options rather than an epidural.

If, and I repeat if, there is convincing evidence that large numbers of women are asking for or being given epidurals without medical need then procedures for advising on and deciding on pain relief should be reviewed. But it would be wholly wrong to put the blame on the mothers or to introduce charging.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Missing the point ...

Amazingly, I heard one comment over the bank holiday weekend from someone who was even more out of touch than Labour ministers ...

This was the lady who rang a BBC phone in programme and complained that the released prisoners were being regarded as a threat to the public because they are foreigners.

No madam, the fact that some of these people are regarded as a serious threat to the public has nothing to do with the fact that they are foreigners. It is because they have either pleaded guilty, or found by a court to have been proven beyond reasonable doubt to be guilty, of serious crimes including murder, rape, drug dealing, and child abuse.

I am every bit as concerned about the threat posed on their release by British nationals who have committed serious offences, either in this country or abroad. Clearly we do not have the option of deporting the former group, and the countries where British criminals have committed offences are fully entitled to deport them back here. But then the authorities need to keep an eye on them.

If the linkages between our various authorities are so bad that they can't put foreign criminals on a plane home even where the courts have specifically recommended it, what is the likelihood that we are any better at monitoring home-grown criminals on their release, let alone those who have been deported here after commiting offences elsewhere ?

If press reports at the weekend are accurate, at least one of those who was released when he should have been considered for deportation, and has subsequently reoffended by shooting someone, is also wanted by police in his native country in connection with a serious crime committed there before he came to Britain.

If anyone doubts that it is possible to believe that many immigrants to this country have a huge amount to offer, that many of them are law-abiding people who want to do a fair day's work for an honest wage, and also to find the government's conduct of immigration policy a complete disaster, you need only to consider this. A fortnight ago we saw NHS doctors from overseas demonstrating because they are afraid that Patricia Hewitt is about to send them home before they've finished their training, and yet Charles Clarke's department is too incompetent to send home convicted criminals.

Mr Clarke was quite willing to outflank even hardline opponents of immigration by sending asylum seekers back to Zimbabwe when every newspaper from the Guardian to the Daily Mail throught that they really were in danger of persecution from Robert Mugabe's regime, and yet he took three weeks to tell Tony Blair that there was a serious problem with arrangements for handling prisoners at the conclusion of their sentences.

We have a government which cracks down on law-biding people who have helped keep the NHS afloat and is not capable of cracking down on convicted murderers.

The best words I can find for Charles Clarke in particular, and increasingly also Hewitt, Blair and the whole pack of them are the words which Oliver Cromwell is supposed to have used in dismissing the Rump parliament and which were addressed again to a failed government in 1940.

"You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Go, in the name of God, Go!"