Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category
I’ve got to admit that the debate about whether we should have an elected mayor in Birmingham has left me completely cold. I can’t really motivate myself to have an opinion one way or the other. I’d say that this isn’t a symptom of apathy, I’ve worked in the very bowels of our local government and have an unhealthy interest in governance.
With the referendum in only a few short weeks I’ve decided this is something that I probably need to have an opinion on. You never know, it might ignite public interest and it would be handy to be able to argue one way or the other convincingly.
There seems to be a fairly vociferous campaigns on both sides and I’ve been trying to see if they have any compelling arguments either way. The Yes to a Birmingham Mayor campaign looks fairly slick and purports to have at least some grass roots support. I’m not completely sure how widespread this really is, I don’t meet many people who are that bothered by the efficacy of the Leader/Cabinet model of government.
We do need to remember that when the Birmingham Mail tried get a petition together to trigger a referendum they met a steely disinterest.
Looking at the Yes campaign they make some interesting points which I will go through laboriously :-
1 ) You can directly elect your leader and if they fail, you can get rid of them at the next election.
That seems fair enough, the current system means the council leader is selected by the ruling party. It’s not the most accountable system.
2 ) You will know who your mayor is and the rest of the world will too.
There is nothing to stop the leader of the council being visible. Having the title of mayor does not excuse poor communications. I’m not sure why the rest of the world is relevant, if people in Birmingham understood slightly more about who was in charge then that would be a start.
3 ) Birmingham is struggling and a leader with a genuine mandate can drive positive change.
I don’t buy this. I think change is achieved through consensus and I’d say that the current system, where Councillors select their leader means that they have more of an interest in achieving change. If you consider Birmingham to be struggling then this is a symptom of the policy environment rather than the system that brings it to us.
4 ) You’ll be able to see how decisions are made and who makes them.
The current system is pretty transparent and I can’t see there being much of a change if we have a mayor. In fact all the systems will remain the same.
5) A mayor can make sure decisions are made closer to you and your community.
I would completely dispute this. At the moment local Councillors take local issues and feed them up to their leadership, if you have a Councillor who is in the ruling party then they might have some influence. With a mayor the intelligence from communities will be disconnected from the policy process. If decisions by a mayor reflect local views then this would happen despite the system rather than because of it.
6 ) A whole layer of unaccountable government bureaucracy can be removed by combining the Leader of the council and the Chief Executive.
There is nothing to stop us combining the role of leader of the council and chief executive now. It would be a spectacularly stupid thing to do but we could do it. The local authority can influence the spending of around £3 billion, the day to day management of this should not be left with someone who wins a popularity contest.
7 ) The mayor can celebrate our successes and bring people together to solve problems by being a recognisable leader.
Again there is nothing implicit in the mayoral system that means we can’t already do this with better communication.
8 ) A directly elected mayor can help Birmingham fulfil it’s potential. Nearly every major city in the world has a directly elected mayor. Birmingham deserves one too.
Is this even true? I mean the bit about every other City in the world having one? It seems quite a claim. As for Birmingham deserving one, well they do say that people deserve the Government they vote for.
Comparing this with the No campaign becomes a bit more problematic. First off the web site looks like it was made twenty years ago. The aesthetic shouldn’t undermine the central point but the reality is it doesn’t present an image you can engage with. This is emphasised by the No campaigns ability to get into an argument with itself on the front page.
After offering to supply speakers for events it has a little debate with itself on what the optimum number of speakers should be. Glancing at the bottom of the page you will notice that this has been put together by MP John Hemming, the written word is not his natural medium (or seemingly web design).
There is a handy list of reasons for a no vote so let’s go through those as well (I haven’t linked to the individual points as they use frames, yes frames in the 21st Century) :-
1 ) One person cannot listen to a million
This is a fair point and is a good rebuttal made to the yes claim that decisions will be closer to communities. This point does drift off into nonsensical rubbish about how a mayor would hold an advice surgery, as nobody with any sense expects them to do this we’ll just ignore it.
2 ) It will cost more in hard times
Any way you look at it, it will cost more money. If it delivers better governance then it could be a price worth paying.
3 ) It is not within the British tradition
Er, what the hell has that got to do with anything? If the current system doesn’t work then change it.
4 ) It leads to corruption
This is a bold claim. There have been corrupt mayors but I don’t think Birmingham can really claim any sort of anti-corruption moral high ground with the existing system.
5 ) It takes attention off important issues and concentrates on personalities
I suppose the mayor possibly being a more visible presence could be considered to be a focus on personality but I can’t see that this could be represented as a bad thing. You only have to look at the City Council sponsored Forward magazine, and their fascination with current leader Mike Whitby, to realise that we have this already.
6 ) Birmingham’s villages will be ignored with concentration on the City Centre
I haven’t seen a more succint summary of what has been wrong with Birmingham’s governance for the last 20 years. The Bullring and the new Library are shiny testaments to how much Birmingham’s “villages” are currently considered. So no change there then.
7 ) The mayor is likely to spend a lot of time travelling outside Birmingham and less time in Birmingham
This is probably the most amusing claim. So where is Mike Whitby this week? The Carribean? India? Dubai? China? The man’s not short of frequent flyer points.
8 ) The pro campaign cannot explain how it will improve things
I have some sympathy with this. The yes campaign doesn’t make a very compelling argument but simply stating this doesn’t take the debate any further. It actually comes across as a bit childish.
9 ) People normally vote against it and Stoke got rid of one
This is just strange. The argument for not having one is that a number of other referendums have said no in other cities. The whole point of this process is we get a referendum so we can decide. If we don’t want one we don’t have to have one.
10 ) Birmingham’s successes in the past came without a directly elected Mayor
Well this is true. Equally Birmingham’s failures have come without one as well. Reading the text associated with this claim is just confusing. It seems to be alluding to an article that it claims was written in 1890 yet alludes to the 1940s. A remarkably prescient bit of writing.
The no campaign does have some good points, it just makes them in a really ham fisted way.
I was referred to this article written by Cllr James Hutchings that makes a much more coherent case for not having a mayor. It covers many of the same points but is better written and less patronising. I’ve always been a fan of Cllr Hutchings.
The problem with all of this is, although the no campaign hasn’t made a good argument, they don’t have to. We know how it works now, we need to be persuaded that the system in the future will work better. I can’t see that the yes campaign has come anywhere near doing that.
There are a few things that aren’t addressed by either group. In reality will the new system be any different? Ostensibly, no.
To campaign successfully across a city the size of Birmingham you need infrastructure, you need people putting leaflets through doors, you need money to make leaflets. An independant would need to buy this in or generate a lot of good will really quickly. I don’t believe that examples such as Hartlepool and Middlesborough are relevant to us, both are much smaller in area and both had candidates that had their profile raised through other media. (there is an excellent assessment of why I’m wrong here)
Would a mayor aligned from one party be that different to the current situation? I don’t think so.
After all this I’m not sure I’m any closer to having an opinion. Hopefully the campaign will galvanise some sort of proper arguments one way or the other, though they better hurry up.
Posted in Birmingham, Politics | Comments (1)
November 28th, 2011
As we move towards industrial action, on the 30th November I have a feeling that there will be a sudden increase in rather distorted media coverage.One of the key things that irritates me is some of the language that is used around the principle reason for the dispute. The dispute is fundamentally about pensions and the desire of the Government to see people in the public sector work longer, pay more and receive less.
Interestingly the reasons cited for this need to change is the fact that changing demographics mean that pensions are/will shortly be unaffordable. This is odd as the received wisdom on pension reform comes from John Hutton’s pension report. His report is fairly clear that the burden of pensions is falling rather than increasing.
There is a certain logic to this. We are at the point where the post war generation are picking up their pensions, this will be followed by generations where birth rates were on the decline. This is coupled with a massive reduction in public sector employment. Taking the NHS as an example there has been a 50,000 reduction in staff over two years meaning nearly 5% of the work force has gone off the books. Add to that local authorities and the police you see a substantial reduction in the burden.
What is hidden in the Government story of pensions is the principle that it is unfair that public sector employees get pension terms that are not comparable with private sector employees. Note that it is apparently fair to change the terms and conditions of a previously agreed contract but not fair to have favourable terms to group of people you have no control over.
This is where the language begins to annoy me. You often hear terms such as “gold plated pension” and “generous pension schemes”. These terms imply that a pension is somehow a gift that is granted through the largess of the state.
This isn’t true. A pension is nothing more than an element of your pay. Some pay you receive up front as taxable income, whilst some pay comes in the form of employers pension contributions that is deferred until retirement.
We need to get away from the thinking that pensions are some sort of magic gift from the tax payer.
The fairness argument is essentially saying that public sector workers need to have their wages reduced. It doesn’t matter if you mean just the taxable element or the pension contribution, both are essentially wages.
The extrapolation of this is that nurses, teachers, social workers and care assistants are paid too much. If you are arguing for public sector contribution to pensions to be reduced this is what you are advocating. That is an entirely reasonable position to take if you believe it, but do not couch it in terms of pension reform.
This is basically the politics of envy.
We should also remember that reducing pensions has a consequence.
Pension funds are a massive source of investment for the private sector. Leaving aside the point that many funds were unduly affected by the lack of banking regulation, we need what they have left to invest in growth. Reducing the capacity for funds to do this seems naive at best.
We also have the issues we are storing up for the future. Giving pensioners enough money to live on reduces the chance that they will become a burden to health and social care in their old age. This is why improving private sector pensions is a much more pressing concern than reducing public sector pensions.
If we support people in the private sector to have investment in their future, then when it comes to means tested social care benefits more people will be supporting themselves. This is basic maths.
Posted in Media, Politics | Comments (3)
I decided to write about rioting.
This has been an odd thing to get round to writing. I’ve been thinking about it for days but everytime I’ve gone to start typing I’ve read something that eloquently sums up my views far better than I can myself.
A case in point being Russell Brand’s excellent thing in the Guardian.
First off I don’t think I have any particular insight into why our society apparently began to unravel this week. I don’t have any solutions and can’t pretend to really have any understanding of the people involved. My life is fairly comfortable and is as removed in social terms, if not geography, as it is possible to be.
I think the thing that really prompted me to and get my thoughts together on this was the reaction of Michael Gove on the radio, on Wednesday morning. I can’t remember the exact words as I was having a shower at the time but in short he said we shouldn’t seek to understand recent events as they were purely a manifestation of good vs evil. I added the word manifestation as this is what he really meant, he said something else that didn’t work as well.
I thought about that for quite a while.
It’s obviously idiocy of the highest order but there was something that resonated with me. As with much of the coalition Government narrative, it is a complex event boiled down to a simple explanation. The reductionism of this is so effective that the words essentially have no meaning. This is dismissing events as though it was little more than a Batman comic.
It operates on the same simplistic level that appears to have convinced the mainstream media that macro economic policy works in the same way as a credit card.
This has been coupled with the constant refrain from the Government, that to seek answers is to justify criminality. This is the attitude of someone trying to hide something. The rules of cause and effect don’t have a moral component. I believe that boiling water turns it into steam, this doesn’t mean I’m justifying it .
What I think I can safely say is that many thousands of people did not spontaneously, and suddenly, all reach the same conclusion, that wanton criminality was the way forward. This inclination had to be latent and needed to be triggered.
The causes of all of this are likely to be complex, though not ignoring that personal choice is probably the overarching factor. I don’t think we can ignore the role of politics within this, and I don’t mean this is something caused by the Conservatives alone. All parties have a similar responsibility for the change in moral norms that has clearly happened over generations.
We are living in an age where it is most likely that young people will not achieve levels of prosperity that their parents have. This isn’t an issue of poverty be it absolute or relative, it is an issue of hope and aspiration. I don’t mean that civil disturbance is influenced by settling for a smaller telly than your Mum and Dad. I mean that we are living through a time where the entire tempo of our lives is a regression on what has gone before. It is only moral boundaries that stop us seizing at quick and easy routes to comfortable living. Be that a moral objection to auditioning for X Factor or an implicit understanding that we shouldn’t rob banks.
This makes it all the more important that we ensure that everyone has got something invested in our society, something that they don’t want to lose. Without that we have no real form of censure.
The world wide recession has clearly impacted every strata of our society but this has been coupled with an ideological experiment to remove the state from our lives. This isn’t as simplistic as the reduction of budgets, it is also the message that is given to us by the Government that we must take responsibility for our lives back from the state.
This message is couched in the economically bankrupt imperative of deficit reduction but the reality is an ideological reduction of the state.
I imagine that this message was intended to develop the flawed concept of the Big Society as we all embraced our personal responsibility. The reality is that we see that many young people have recognised that it is their responsibility to generate their own wealth and simply decided to take it.
If you consider this article in the Telegraph you can see why such a reaction has come about. Any young person shaping their values in our society can see from the example of our political, media and financial classes that illegality is a technical barrier. If this notion isn’t redressed through family then I’m not exactly sure where people get their lead from.
Of course that doesn’t justify the decisions that young people have taken.
It does leave us with a problem, how do we stop this happening again? We can maintain a massive police presence for a few more days but then we run out of money. At some point we will need to reduce this and I’m not convinced that we have managed to change the minds of many of the people that decided that Sunday was a good time to set everything on fire.
Yeah, I don’t have an answer to that.
We need long term solutions and a fair bit of that will only come through setting examples. That will mean getting rid of politicians that we know are corrupt. Regulating the media and regulating the financial sector. Anything less will only fuel an erroneous perception of injustice.
It is fine for the Government to experiment with removing the state from our lives, in the hope that the private sector will fill the void. As with any experiment we need to be prepared for what happens if we get results we don’t expect. In this case criminality has filled the gap left by a shrinking state and lethargic private sector.
We have seen some efforts to fill this gap by society itself. We’ve seen vigilante mobs on the streets and we’ve seen spontaneous civic cleaning. Whilst I understand that, in some forms both of these are needed to make us feel good about ourselves they divert attention away from what really helps us out in the short term. The last few days have seen Council workers out first thing in the morning doing the real cleaning before any fo us get up. Throughout the night we have seen the Justice Service, that has been decimated by the Government trying to send an immediate message out to communities.
We need to recognise that we can experiment all we like but when it goes wrong we need at least a semblance of a safety net, in the form of the state, to pick up the pieces.
Posted in Media, Politics | Comments (4)
Birmingham has many things to be proud of but its ability to manage the most basic publicity is not one of them. It absolutely confounds me that when creating the plan to outsource IT jobs to India, someone didn’t think about the publicity implications. From a PR point of view it ticks just about every hysterical box that you can imagine.
Since this managed to get itself plastered all over the papers, I’ve been trying to figure out how a Council could be so publicly inept. Birmingham’s problems with managing the current financial climate are well documented but is the publicity garnered from the savings on 100 jobs really worth it? I do believe that savings should be made if we guarantee that money gets redirected towards the most vulnerable people. If sending some services off to India means we can spend more on people with disabilities then I think I’d grudgingly say, that’s something we should consider.
Unfortunately the economic reality in Birmingham is not that simplistic.
In 2006 Birmingham decided to take all of the IT infrastructure out of Council control and create a new organisation called Service Birmingham in partnership with Capita. The theory being that partnership with the private sector would bring “efficiency” to the public sector. A contract was created and Service Birmingham is paid annually to provide IT services. The profits that are generated from the operation of this contract are split between Capita and Birmingham City Council (I don’t know what the split is).
As with any private sector company the principle driver is to generate profits for shareholders. The only way to generate profits is to drive down costs whilst maintaining the same income; outsourcing drives down costs.
So this raises an interesting question, if Service Birmingham are lowering their costs by outsourcing jobs to India then are they equally reducing their claim on the contract with Birmingham City Council? I have no idea what the answer to that question is but I’d be very surprised that if, as a result of this process, there is any change in the terms and conditions of the contract we have with Service Birmingham.
This also raises the issue of the relationship of this quasi private entity and their political masters. The majority of the press coverage of this has labelled it as a Tory Council sending jobs to India. It would be quite a naive political organisation that wouldn’t consider the minuscule benefits of outsourcing 100 jobs to India against the nationwide bad publicity. If you consider that the budget of Birmingham City Council is around £1 billion is it worth it? No, especially if you consider the paper thin majority the ruling coalition is sitting on.
The only conclusion I can draw from this is that it was a decision taken completely out of the political process and with little consideration of the people apparently in charge of the City. The only people likely to benefit from this are Capita shareholders and, apart from the people who have lost their jobs, the people most likely to suffer are Tory Councillors.
This really is a cautionary tale, beware the beast you create.
Posted in Birmingham, Politics | Comments (0)
The Right Honorable John Hemming is nothing if not selfless. The less charitable might have seen his decision to expose Ryan Giggs to the harsh glare of publicity as a desperate attempt at self promotion. The story in the Birmingham Post indicates that his motives were entirely altruistic. His actions might have prevented more than 75,000 people being sent to prison. I do wonder what would happen to our prison system if it were entirely made up of people that had outed Ryan Giggs on Twitter. I don’t think overall prison literacy levels would go up, but there would be many more pictures of cats.
John is no stranger to publicity, the story about the kitten goes without saying, his disastrous interventions in the family court are well documented and his partial success in visiting space might make you think of him as a comedy politician. Now we can see that his jokey persona actually hides a deep concern for the welfare of Giles Coren.
I’m a bit agnostic about the recent media feeding frenzy around injunctions. Obviously not so agnostic that I just ignored it all, no, I’ve made it all the way upstairs to write this. I think that if Ryan Giggs asked for an injunction and a court decided that, according to the law, he is entitled to one then fair enough. If we have a legal function, that is sanctioned by Parliament, then we shouldn’t just ignore it. The issue around the Trafigura case seemed a little different as a company dumping toxic waste is of a whole different scale to Giggs playing away from home (I do mean having an affair there rather than the conventional application). I realise that the principle is pretty well exactly the same but there is an underlying level of hypocrisy in most things I write.
I am puzzled by one contradiction in the Post story; John Hemming told the Post that he made his Parliamentary revelation in order to protect the innocent. He added that he doesn’t think other people should make such public pronouncements but should leave it to MPs. This either implies that he can do this due to Parliamentary privilege or that he has another more secret MP power. The rush of mainstream news sources to report Giggs’ name, after Hemming said it in Parliament, indicates that most people seem to believe that it was still subject to an injunction.
John goes on to say that he wasn’t actually covered by Parliamentary privilege as the terms of the injunction had been so damaged by widespread usage that he couldn’t have been prosecuted. I’m not sure you can have it both ways, you’ve either made a constitutionally shakey swipe at the establishment or a very successful bit of grandstanding.
As said before, John’s grasp of legal matters isn’t great, if I can quote Mr Justice Wall :-
‘My judgment is that his self-imposed role as a critic of the family justice system is gravely damaged…. Speaking for myself I will not be persuaded to take seriously any criticism made by him in the future unless it is corroborated by reliable, independent evidence.’
The important thing about this is that the courts are performing the will of Parliament through the law that has been handed down to them. If people are concerned about injunctions being used unfairly, or even to repress free speech, then we need MPs to pass laws to stop this happening. An MP simply flouting the law is basically a waste of time that could be used more productively to change the law.
There have been deep constitutional implications of John’s actions. You can still get an injunction to protect your privacy, if you can persuade a court it meets the basic legal rules as exist in our constitution. The difference now is that it is only enforceable if John Hemming MP agrees with it. Charitably John has reduced the economic burden of this change in the law as he doesn’t need to know any detail of the case, no, he will base his decision to expose you in public based on……… nobody knows what the criteria are.
Exciting isn’t it?
Posted in Media, Politics | Comments (0)
I, like most people, gave a little patriotic cheer when Eric Pickles announced that the pointlessly bureaucratic rules on flag flying are going to be relaxed. Pickles has always been a man that is willing to confront the issues that others shy away from.
I think the benefits of doing this are manifestly obvious. We all accept that flying flags is a fantastic catalyst for community cohesion; there’s something about flags flapping away that brings a community together. As he rightly points out “misplaced political correctness” can prevent the unification that comes from flying national and local flags.
Though we all know this is true I’m pleased that Pickles must have at last found an objective evidence base to prove this is true. After all, it is unlikely that a Government that has put such store in the lack public funds would waste valuable time and effort on something like this without clear evidence.
I think I’d always known that there must be some Kafkaesque bureaucracy surrounding the flying of flags, though as I don’t have a flag pole it isn’t something that I’ve ever been confronted with. Fortunately the press release from Communities and Local Government highlight the ridiculous hoops these jobsworths make us jump through.
Apparently you do not need permission to fly the flag of:-
- any country in the world
- the European Union
- the United Nations
- the Commonwealth
- any County
- the patron saint associated with a County
There are a number of flags that can be flown with deemed consent, these are:-
- An organisations own flag
- An advertisement for an event in the building
When you look at both the lists above you do begin to wonder which community it is that is being disadvantaged by the current rules. Clearly communities can quite happily already fly national and local flags without seeking permission so what is this all about?
The only people I can think of that currently need to ask permission to fly flags are pirates. Pirates are frequently maligned in the press and it is good to see Pickles doing his best to redress this. Worth every penny.
Posted in Politics | Comments (5)
If you’ve answered no to both of those questions then I think I can safely say that you don’t work in a health related sector and you don’t have a long term health condition. Ok, that’s a generalisation but it’s probably a reasonable one.
The problem with health, and health related matters, is that, generally, people don’t give a toss unless they’re paid to, or they have no choice. People care about the NHS but they care about it is a structure rather than the concepts that underlie it. Most of the activism around health, by the healthy population, purely relates to the opening and closure of hospitals. That’s fair enough, the visible structures are by their very nature visible.
Of the two categories I am firmly in the former. My knee has started hurting a bit recently but overall I care about conceptual health because I’m paid to.
The lack of a wider understanding of the impact of health is a shame. The health of a nation is relatively easy to measure and is a very good proxy for the wider conditions people live in. We can understand a lot about a population from how long they live.
Unfortunately it isn’t a subject that instantly grabs people. There aren’t many laughs in health inequalities. A constant diet of dead babies, fags and chips has a habit of putting people off.
Part of this event involved a talk by Sir Michael Marmot
. Yes, I know, Sir Michael Marmot.
I know who he is because I’m paid to know. All you need to know is that within the context of Public Health he is somewhat like 50 Cent
. Never has a worse analogy been committed.
My problem with Michael Marmot is his name. I seem to fluctuate between thinking his surname is either marmoset
. It’s neither.
A few years ago he produced a report on Health Inequalities called the Strategic Review of Health Inequalities in England post 2010. Also known as the Marmot Review
I instinctively think this should be a systematic test of whether marmosets like Marmite or not. I reckon they probably don’t.
There is a rich heritage of writing reports on social inequity, health inequalities and the determinants of health. Sir Douglas Black did it in 1980 with the ominously titled Black Report
. The Government didn’t like it and it got swept away.
Our current Government seem to be going with the Marmot Review, which is no bad thing.
Through the wonders of the Internet Sir Michael Marmot’s talk got captured for the world to see. This is where I finally get round to the point.
You should watch this video. I know I’m asking you to watch a half hour video of a man in a suit talking about death. The difference is that this is fairly entertaining, it will certainly give you an insight into how health impacts on the wider population. There is at least one laugh in there and he does get very angry (though only for a second).
Putting Local Communities at the Heart of Public Health – Professor Sir Michael Marmot from Solihull NHS Care Trust on Vimeo.
One of the things I can’t quite work out is why I instinctively fixate on marmosets. After all, the marmot
is an animal in its own right. I think they also wouldn’t like Marmite.
Posted in Misc, Politics | Comments (1)
To Clap or not to Clap
February 6th, 2011
I started writing this for Eye on Moseley
but after planning it in my mind (yes, there is some planning, it isn’t just a stream of consciousness) I realised it isn’t really relevant to Moseley as such.
Both Councillors represent the Respect
party which was born from the Stop the War Coalition
. As such you might not be surprised to hear that they didn’t burst into spontaneous applause. Since this happened I’ve been trying to figure out what I would have done in the same situation. I’m deeply sceptical of the colonialist military adventures that Tony Blair sent us on but I like to think I can separate the individual from the policy.
I’m also quite aware, from the War Logs made available through Wikileaks
, that heinous acts have been perpetrated in our names in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Though it would appear that the George Cross is only given for more altruistic bravery. I only found that out when I just looked it up.
In the case of Birmingham it was a man called Lance Corporal Matthew Croucher
who carried out an act of supreme bravery in throwing himself onto a hand grenade and consequently saving the lives of those round him. Based on what I’ve read it sounds like he is a man that deserves both a standing ovation and a medal. The thing with this is that I can say this because I’ve got the benefit of hindsight and Google. I’ve had the time to put this into context and make my decision.
Both Councillors involved were given no prior notification of his arrival and, I assume, no in depth outline of either his career or the specifics that lead to his act of outstanding bravery.
It is reasonable that both Councillors would be extremely circumspect in what they publically support. The reality of life in Birmingham is that we have communities in Birmingham that are absolutely entwined in the war in Pakistan/Afghanistan. People who live here have relatives that have been victims of both sides of the conflict. As such, their elected representatives need to be excessively cautious in what they say and do, however well intentioned it might be.
The wider issue in this is how we have come to the point where a mob can dictate our reaction in any given situation. A persons decision to not clap is surely one of the freedoms that we purport to be protecting in our attempt to impose a model of western democracy on Afghanistan.
To add a little more context to this story we should realise that the chief cheerleader in this debacle is Cllr Martin Mullaney. As Cabinet Member for Leisure and Culture you might expect a degree of responsibility in comments launched into the public arena. The following quote dispels that myth.
“I can only assume that if one of the failed 21/7 London suicide bombers had been in the council chamber, Cllr Yaqoob would have been demanding the council applaud the failed suicide bomber for their past heroic actions.”
Yes, that’s the level of debate we are dealing with.
There is a history there.
Whilst you might laugh at his infantile logic please give some consideration to those of us represented by him. Whilst he can find the time to go on the radio flirting with libel and outlandish accusations he doesn’t seem to be able to find the time to reply to my concern about the imminent closure of the Citizens Advice Bureaux in Birmingham
The crux of this issue seems to be that we have a reached a point where reasoned dissent from a set point of view is not tolerated. Not clapping an individual is seen as a snub to him and consequently a lack of support to all that we have put in harms way.
These helicopters keep people alive through keeping troops off roads and getting medical support to where it is needed. Unfortunately they’ve now been sacrificed, like the troops they would carry, to Dave’s great economic experiment. Though it does add credence to the claim we’re all in it together. We are all quite literally not in helicopters even though some of us need to be.
Closer to home the Council could give consideration to how budget cuts are withdrawing access to mental health
and substance misuse services. Both of these are used disproportionately by returning military personnel. As a direct result of the things that we make them do on our behalf.
I hope we can do everything to avoid the situation that developed in the US where people returning from Vietnam were blamed for the failure of the state. Equally I hope we can get to a point where those who purport to represent us can take the welfare of those that fight wars for us more seriously than just whether or not someone clapped or not.
Posted in Birmingham, Politics | Comments (3)
Command and Control
January 21st, 2011
On the same day the Government released the Bill which will fundamentally change the way that the NHS works, possibly forever.
Since the Government made their plans public in July of last year
I have seen a wide variety of theories on why this is happening. I work in the NHS so this isn’t overly surprising, we all have a theory. They range from the attempt to privatise the NHS through to an ideological experiment to create an untested model of health services.
I don’t really subscribe to the former. The NHS is and has always been reliant on the private sector to deliver services. GPs are independent contractors and whilst we rely on their philanthropic motives, they are not that different from BUPA or any of the other players we imagine will enter the market.
Anyone who watched GPs take the Government to the cleaners in contract negotiations a few years ago will be fully aware of their keen sense of market forces.
There will be a greater involvement of the private sector in providing health care but I think that is more as a result of the Labour initiative of independent treatment centres
rather than proposed legislation.
I do have some sympathy with the ideological experiment theory, but in thinking about history I realised this is far from untested. Michael Gove wants us to learn lessons from history and I think there is a very important one that the NHS needs to consider as it goes into rapid change.
Far from being aligned with a rampant free market the Conservative Bill actually is replication of the Soviet model of collectivisation
. The theory of collectivisation came from Stalin who perceived there was a benefit in taking small free holders and combining them, often by force into larger collectives.
In Primary Care, in the UK, we are taking independent traders, GPs, combining them, through legislation, into larger arms length Government bodies. In some cases against their will but thankfully without the genocide involved in collectivisation.
One of the consequences of collectivisation in the Soviet Union was the removal of the local flexibility to grow food that was needed. In a similar manner the decisions to commission local health services will now be dictated by a central Government body called the NHS Commissioning Board. GPs will be free to implement commissioning any way they want as long as it is consistent with the central dictat.
This move to command and control is further emphasised by the move to remove regional representation of things like the Health Protection Agency and replace them with a monolithic single Public Health Department.
The history of the NHS has always had GPs sitting outside and passing comment on the Government of the day. In many cases this was useful because they could champion the cause of patients over the frivolity of policy. These changes will see GPs, for the first time since the creation of the NHS forced to follow the party line.
I’m intrigued that the Conservatives would seek to implement something modelled on the very worst excesses of Communism but am all the more impressed that they seem to have convinced people it is just the will of the market.
Posted in Politics | Comments (1)
Watching the news last night I realised that I wasn’t completely sure what I thought about tuition fees as a concept, let alone the various proposals that seem to have got people fairly wound up. The majority of the story in relation to this proposal has been, rightly, pulling the Liberal Democrats up on their rank hypocrisy. I hadn’t really seen any of the other political parties proposing to do anything radically different, so didn’t give it much thought.
The Liberal Democrats really should learn that if you are going to renege on a promise then don’t do it on one where you have been filmed making it or where it affects lots of people with both free time and energy.
Watching the TV last night I realised that the attention brought to this issue through constant demonstrations and… yes, violence, has made me really think about what tuition fees mean for the first time. I don’t have any kids and my University days are a long way behind me, so far in fact that I went to a Polytechnic. I did have a small student loan and it took me ages to pay it off and caused me no end of credit problems. In the end it was help from my parents that stopped it resulting in debt collectors. Though as I say that was a long time ago and not really relevant to the situation now.
I suppose I should have started this by saying that I in no way support violent scenes blah blah blah don’t throw an egg at a Prince blah blah think about the children.
Actually I don’t agree with any of that. If kids want to go to London and have a ding dong with the police then fair play to them. Both sides are consenting adults (mostly) and I believe both sides get a lot out of it. I am, in many ways, grateful that young people have the motivation to protest about something which I can’t be arsed to do myself. I’m too old, too lazy and too scared of the cold to do anything like that.
Since the coalition have come to power they have defined everything under the imperative to decrease spending and the need to reduce the deficit. Deficit reduction in itself is obviously something that needs to be done but it is a moot point on whether the most expedient way of achieving this is purely reducing spending or also maximising tax revenue.
The question about tuition fees appears to be fundamental to this overarching theme. The story says that money paid to University’s is unsustainable, graduates need to pay us back for their education and don’t worry about them, they earn a fortune anyway.
One of the central pieces of evidence to support the increase of fees to a maximum of £9k pa is the claim that over their lifetime a graduate will earn, on average, £100k more than they would if they did not have a degree.
I find this interesting in that it appears to contradict the need for tuition fees at all. If someone, on average, will earn £100k more than they would without a degree then, on average, they will repay the cost of their education through income tax. We do not incur debt through people going to University, we actually profit. We actually profit substantially.
Our economy clearly needs people to earn these greater amounts in order to maintain tax revenue. It is strange that rather than look for the most appropriate way to maximise this revenue we have tried to find a solution whereby people graduate but we don’t have to pay for it.
In times of decreasing tax revenue the Government can only really fund higher education through borrowing the money itself or making someone else borrow it. It is a simple fact that Government can borrow money much more cheaply than a collection of individuals.
So we have a a situation where we have chosen the least efficient solution for the nominal position of “saying” we have reduced public sector borrowing. We have really only moved the debt burden from wider society to the individual. It should also be noted that the loan to students isn’t really from the Government. It is from the private company/QUANGO the Student Loan Company. A company required to make a profit, albeit minimal. This means that the total cost of borrowing for students as a collective is still greater than the Government just allocating funds to Universities.
All of this is really premised on ideology. There is an all encompassing view in the statutory provision of services that choice must govern all decisions. Thus through students choosing their University and taking their money with them the system will begin responding as a market and become more efficient.
This ignores one fundamental fact about higher education. We already have a long established system of choice that uses the currency of educational achievement to distribute people around the system. This is a far from perfect system but it does work.
Besides the issue of choice there is a ridiculous preoccupation with the idea that we are paying for pointless courses. This is the annual newspaper story about someone getting a surfing degree and now won’t be able to get a job and we have to foot the bill. Ignoring the fact that this is probably, in reality, a qualification in marine engineering that makes someone eminently employable this belief defines media attitude to courses.
I understand that extensive research has demonstrated that tuition fees will not reduce the number of people that go to University. Maybe that is true, it seems counter intuitive to me but if this has been proven then fair enough. I do believe that fees will shape the nature of courses that people now enroll on. Resultant earning capacity will be a much greater influence on choice.
In practical terms this is good because it drives up tax revenue but for wider society this is a very bad thing. We need people that do jobs like physiotherapy, research scientists and even planning officers. All jobs you need to be well qualified for but not very rewarding. Under the coalition plans it might be true that those graduates that earn the least pay the least but if we deter people from entering these essential professions then we lose out.
One of the good things about supporting eduction through central taxation is that we as a society have an investment in it. If someone chooses to become a teacher then we don’t just benefit through the tax they pay, we also benefit through their ability to give society more knowledge.
If we have paid for this then we have some control of the structure of their higher education and the way it is applied. If higher eduction is merely a contractual relationship between the individual and the institution then society loses the capacity to plan for the future.
I think I’ve written considerably more than I intended to on this and probably much more than I should have done. Much of this boils down to my concern that the first act of Government should not be to pass the responsibility of Government to the individual or the state. When I go to work my first act is not to find someone else to do my job for me.
Well I should say thanks to all of those young people that made me really think about something that I thought had nothing to do with me. So, violence does work.
Posted in Politics | Comments (1)