Vir Cantium

I'm right, you know …

Monthly Archives: August 2009

Old Fashioned Ideas

Phew. Back from deepest Devon, having to follow the cricket only on Radio 4 long wave and (gasp!) no internet connection. We got the right result in the end though.

I’m not one to bore people with holiday snaps, so I’ll restrict myself to this pic of “The Tea Station – Food And Drink At It’s Best”.

Former West Bay Station, Dorset

Nice use of a former railway station (West Bay in Dorset), bad use of an apostrophe.

I could also have taken one of a curious road sign in Somerset, but since it was one that said “Police Operate In This Area” I thought I’d better concentrate on driving. Is the idea really so novel that Avon and Somerset constabulary think it’s worth announcing? What do residents of those parts of the county not so covered think about it? Perhaps they’re being patient and hoping it’ll catch on.

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Parish Notice

Blogging will be light/non-existent for a week or so.

What? There’s something more important than the Ashes going on?

Context

Imagine Britain is fighting a military campaign on a foreign continent, part of a wider conflict. We are operating alongside the US and other allies. We are fighting a brutal regime – brutality that is in little doubt except among, perhaps, a minority in this country, who would rather we had kept out of the whole thing.

In this campaign we and our allies have suffered losses approaching 250,000.

“Surely this can’t go on”, you might think. “We should get out of there. What’s it got to do with us anyway?” Liberal commentators might opine: “We know the other lot are nasty pieces of work, but maybe if we left them alone they wouldn’t keep picking on us.”

Well, such a reaction might be understandable, given the partial picture I have painted. What I omitted to say was that, in return for our losses of nearly 250,000, the other side lost 650,000. Granted, it would have been preferable had those 900,000 not had to die, but unfortunately Herr Hitler had other ideas, and was not going to stop picking on us, even if we hadn’t fought (and won) the North African campaign in World War 2. Had a snapshot been taken before El Alamein, when things were looking particularly grim, I’m sure it would have looked far worse.

So today we have a poll which shows that a majority of those questioned think we should get out of Afghanistan. Surprised? We have a constant diet of headlines that readily focus on the growing death toll among our own forces. Of course, we should know about these casualties and pay tribute, but without the context (e.g. the successes that the troops have had against the Taliban) it is unsurprising that the general populace feel that we be better off cutting our losses and running. There are occasional special reports from embedded journalists from the big news outlets, but inevitably it’s the regular headlines that set the scene.

This would therefore seem an appropriate moment to plug again the excellent work of Michael Yon, an independent journalist, from a military background, who has embedded himself with both his compatriot US forces and our own. Michael, as an independent, does not come from an institutionally biased media organisation, nor does his output have to pass through any agenda-driven editorial process. He tells as as he – and his camera – sees it. This is a good piece for starters (though make sure you have some time to spare – it is worth it).

Before We Defend It, Know What “It” Is

I’m not sure where the overhyped#welovethenhs” twitter thing is going to go now, since even the great Obama has said that he doesn’t want a British-style NHS for America.

Anyway, apparently we are all rallying round to defend the NHS. The trouble is, what is the NHS?

In the eyes of many of the public, the institution of the NHS has become synonymous with the principle of “healthcare free at the point of delivery”. The two are not the same. The NHS is merely a tool for delivering that principle, it is not an ideal in itself and, dare I say, it is a particularly old-fashioned and inefficient tool. There are other ways of achieving Beveridge’s ideals, as many other countries have found. Any of the stories of lives “saved by doctors, nurses, drugs the NHS” need not be taken as endorsements of the state running the hospitals in which those patients were treated, or of the monolithic bureaucracy frustrating managing the staff who worked in them.

I’m afraid I’m getting close to mentioning the evil “p” word here. “Private”? No, worse than that, “profit”! Now if you’re one of those people who only uses the word “profit” pejoratively and never without spitting, then you’re going to get wound up here. Of course, I could foresee many hospitals also being run by not-for-profit organisations, but the provision of publicly funded healthcare and profit-making are not incompatible, just as local councils collecting the rubbish have found that profit making companies have produced a better service for less money. Profit isn’t dirty. It provides the incentive to do things better and more efficiently.*

All this being said, David Cameron was right to defend the NHS. Why? Because after 50 years, so many people do regard the NHS and the “free” healthcare principle as synonymous. The scaremongers have done their job well, and are easily a match for some of the more silly claims of the anti-Obama elements in the States. Some talk of the vested interests of the private sector, yet the vested interests (the unions, the bureaucracy) of the public sector still hold sway in this arena. Just as defenders of the BBC licence fee warn of a future utterly devoid of culture, so anyone who dares criticises our present public healthcare delivery system risks standing accused of wanting to leave the poor dying in the gutter, or decrying the dedication of the “doctors’n’nurses”.

The separation of the principles of the NHS and the NHS itself, as well as from the good work of the clinicians, will take a long time to achieve. Until then, we can never move forward to a more sustainable system for delivering decent medical care free at the point of delivery, for until then we will not be able to properly examine or discuss the alternatives.

*As a slight interlude: cue here, I guess, the examples of private cleaning contractors leaving wards dirty. This, goes the orthodox view, is because the contractors skimp on their work to make bigger profits. Yet even an in-house team could make a slapdash effort at their work for all sorts of reasons (laziness, incompetence, lack of resources). What would be the ultimate sanction? The errant workers get the sack (assuming you can make it through the employment tribunal and trade union objections). The private contractor, on the other hand would … be given the sack (OK, “have their contract terminated”). The issue, therefore, is not whether the service is delivered privately or publicly, but the quality of the management.

This Could Get Messy

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Alas, I am having to resign myself to the inevitable truth. I was unaware until now, but I have little choice. I must leave you all …

It seems that, according to the Government’s immigration Britishness Test, I am not British enough to reside in this country. My score of 66% missed the pass mark of 75%.

I shall therefore go back to where I came from.

I warn you, though, it will require some surgery to send the relevant fractions of me back to Scotland, Wales and various parts of England from whence various branches of my family have originated.

Oh, if only I’d been even more of a news junkie than I am already, I would have been able to pass the acid test of what it means to be a true subject of Her Majesty … like “What proportion of the UK population have used illegal drugs at one time or another?” (apparently it’s a third, not a quarter, you dirty foreigner!)

Or knowing the legal minimum that a school must be open for – having never yet served on my council’s Children and Young People’s Policy Development & Scrutiny Committee, my incorrect answer of 170 days condemned me.

Or being aware that women have had the right to divorce their husbands since 1857, not 1901 (a right that Mrs C may now have to exercise, if she married me under the false impression that I was a pureblooded Brit).

So, if you’ll pardon me, I’ll get me coat….

Queen in Charge?

Lord Mandelson has denied that he is effectively “in charge” of the Titanic country while both Gordon and Harriet are on holiday. Which means that he probably is in the driving seat .. but then, what’s new?

All this does raise the interesting question (for anoraks like yours truly, at least) of what the legal “order of succession” is as far as the position of head of government is concerned.

The thing is, though, that it’s surely all rather academic … after all, who appoints the Prime Minister in the first place? In whose name is the government run? Of course, it’s the monarch. I would have thought that after all is said and done, it is the Queen who is ultimately in charge.

What’s that? An unelected person in charge of the nation? Now where have we heard that before….

On Irony and Not Getting It

The day after the news that last year 214,000 people were caught* for the heinous crime of watching TV without a licence, we see that ITV have announced losses of £105m.

I cannot help but note the irony of one network suffering from the effects of the recession, while another feigns shock that so many are refusing to pay their compulsory subscription.

ITV’s £105m loss, after all, pales into insignificance compared to the £3.2bn loss that the BBC makes every year. That is, the amount that the TV licence fee brings in to the corporation every year and without which, we are constantly told by Auntie, it could simply not exist without. If that isn’t a definition of massive losses plugged by public subsidy then I don’t know what is.

Now I don’t condone tax evasion, even of a tax that I oppose, but even though some might just blame the recession (sorry, BBC: “economic downturn”) the BBC is undoubtedly still facing its own expense-gate/fat cat controversies.

Charles Moore, former editor of the formerly Conservative-leaning Telegraph, is refusing to pay his licence fee until something is done about Jonathan Ross’s £6m salary. Charles is wrong, though. The size of Ross’s pay packet has relatively little to do with it – although I’m not a fan, if that is his market rate then so be it. (Though is the BBC distorting the market? Discuss.)

No, Charles is wrong because of conclusion he has drawn from the question of Ross’s salary paid being for by the compulsory licence fee. Moore’s response is to sack Ross, when the real issue is the means by which his salary is funded. If you get rid of Wossy, then who else? The rude and overrated Humprhys? Fine. Veteran broadcaster Terry Wogan? Err, hang on a tick ….

Moore is, I fear, another “critic of the BBC” that is otherwise quite happy with the licence fee as long as it pays for “quality” “public service” broadcasting … which means the sort of stuff that Charles Moore, Boris Johnson and the like enjoy.

Actually, I probably enjoy it too, but I would like the choice of whether to pay for it, and if that is linked to the right to receive that particular channel then so be it (but not if by refusing to pay, I am prevented from watching any other station).

So, as a TV licence abolitionist, I would prefer not to have Charles Moore as a poster boy for the cause. After all – and here comes that awkward question again – if the rest of the BBC (excluding Ross) is so good, why do they need to force us to pay for it?

* BTW, I don’t know why NI should be on the receiving end of the BBC’s stern finger wagging – surely every “region” has its own “worst city for TV licence dodgers”?