Sunday, July 31, 2011

Health Inequality And NHS Funding

Labour claims that a small change in the way Primary Care Trusts are allocated funds is designed to transfer money from "Labour" to "Conservative" areas of the country.

Labour point to a report by Public Health Manchester. Unsurprisingly, Manchester comes out as a victim of this evil Tory conspiracy. Of course, their conclusions are totally unbiased and deserving of the weight Labour have given them. But even if you believe that, and the figures are true, is this method of allocating cash to areas of the country really that sensible?

The change being suggested is to reduce the amount of additional money allocated to areas of considered to suffer from "health depravation". On first look that sounds sensible. They'll have more issues so need more money. This money is intended to be spent in more preventative activities such as encouraging healthier lifestyles and sexual health etc. Again, that sounds like a sensible thing to spend money on in places with such issues. But there is something fundamentally wrong with that approach.

One sign that something is wrong is that the money is always targeted at the same areas. Year in year out. In other words, the money is not buying preventative services that are making any significant difference. No doubt there are the odd examples of success here and there, but no overall relative upward trend in general health in these communities is discernible.

There is no doubt that there is a serious problem with health inequality in Britain. It ends up costing the tax payer more and more as the issues go unaddressed. So there certainly is a case for spending money on it. But what is the best way of allocating funds?

We can easily turn Labour's claims round and point out that they originally ran a system that benefitted Labour areas at the expense of Tory ones. But this shouldn't be a party political issue. Instead we should think about the best way to fund activity that will improve health across the nation.

I would argue that funding for preventative health initiatives should be linked to outcomes. Where one initiative produces success it should be given funds to expand its activities to other areas etc. And it shouldn't matter if the initiative is state run, charity of private. The most successful provider should attract the most investment. But the current system just rewards failure. As long as an area keeps its "deprived" status its PCT can rely on some more money. The money fails to improve anything so they need more next year and such is the story of NHS spending over the decades.

The original idea behind setting up the NHS was a (typically deluded central planner's) view that it would cost less and less as the health of the nation improved. Instead we've spent more and more of our national income on it and have barely kept up with our international competitors in terms of overall national health. In some cases outcomes are woefully behind.

The NHS reforms go some way to at least lay the foundations for more effective funding of health care in Britain. But they have been watered down too much and much more is needed to transform the attitudes of NHS staff and users so that they are less resistant to change.

But a good first step would be to show real progress in addressing health inequalities by rewarding success in this area rather than failure and ignoring politicians who want "their" people funded more than the "other's".

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Murdoch Leaves Select Committee As Seen By The Guardian

The Guardian continues its fair and balanced coverage of Hackgate with this picture of Rupert Murdoch leaving the enquiry with James Murdoch and other News Corp Execs behind him...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hackgate The Movie

This is already going viral. Very funny...

Guilt By Press Association?

Is this another blow for Cameron? Jeremy Clarkson, who was at a party attended by the evil James Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks and the Camerons (yes, even the fragrant SamCam is involved in this tawdry affair), reveals all that happened in today's Sunday Times...
We began with a cocktail made from crushed socialists and after we’d discussed how the trade union movement could be smashed and how News Corp should be allowed to take control of the BBC, Rupert Murdoch joined us on a live video feed from his private volcano, stroking a white cat.

Later, I remember vividly, a policeman knocked at the door and Rebekah gave him a wad of cash. Cameron tapped the side of his nose knowingly and went back to his main course — a delicious roast fox.
Sadly, well sadly for any Guardian readers out there, this wasn't the case. It turns out conversation was fairly mundane, including discussion of such things as sausage rolls and the environment (James Murdoch taking issue with Jeremy Clarkson, apparently).

Of course, the very idea that Cameron was friendly enough with the News Corp execs to attend a party with them (and the even more reviled Clarkson and his neighbours) is enough to send the left into spasms of conspiracy fits. It won't be explanation enough to point out that most of them live close to each other and are friends. But, there's certainly a question to be asked about Cameron's judgement in maintaining friendships with people who have clouds hanging over them. But I judge someone by their actions. And, had Vince Cable not compromised himself in an attempt to impress two young ladies (sent by the evil Telegraph to "illegally*" expose what an egotistical coalition malcontent he was), Cameron was all set to allow the Murdoch hating octogenarian (I don't mean in age but in number of times he's predicted recessions in the past 10 years) to make the final decision on the BSkyB takeover by News Corp.  Surely that would be the last thing the "puppet master" Murdoch would have "allowed".

As it happens, there's very little evidence that the values and opinions of the right-wing press (News International owned or not) have had much, if any, influence on Cameron's government, much to the dismay of many of its Conservative supporters.

But guilt by association is the name of the game for Cameron's opponents currently. Let's hope the general public see through the flimsy attempts to link the phone hacking scandal to Cameron personally and they judge the proponents of these self-serving arguments harshly while demanding they look more closely at what really matters - press ethics, police corruption and oh, yes, the small matters of massive government debt, an unreformed NHS, education, etc etc...

* It's not illegal to use subterfuge to gain information if it's in the public interest. However, this particular rule looks like it may have had its day. And how pleased many dodgy MPs, judges, medical charlatans etc will be about that.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Minor Mistakes and Little White Lies

So, the News International flagellation continues unabated. There's no sign that their competitors or politicians want to focus on other media organisations that we know have been at least equally guilty of using dubious information gathering methods, so it's not going to move on any time soon. But I note that the anti-News International lobby have a new bit of spin.

It's a cunning line, based on the reported words of Rupert Murdoch in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week. Murdoch, referring to News Corp's handling of the crisis since it broke, said they'd handled it well with only and few "minor mistakes". I've now seen this has been reinterpreted by some (BBC reporters and Labour politicians, including John Prescott, so far) as meaning the accusations against the News of the World (such as the accessing of Milly Downler's voicemails) were minor mistakes. Clever. There will be many that may disagree that News Corp have handled the crisis well with only a few minor mistakes, but no one would agree that the accusations regarding the accessing of innocent private individuals' voicemails, including victims of crime, are minor mistakes. Indeed, it's a line that, had he actually said it, would add to the public outrage and focus it more sharply on Rupert Murdoch himself. Which is, of course, their agenda.

After Gordon Brown's dodgy claims regarding The Sun this week we can see that the, mostly politically motivated, anti-News International campaign is resorting to lies and smears to progress it's agenda. It may seem like natural justice for the press, and I wouldn't be too bothered, if it wasn't for the fact that all this energy is being focused on one organisation, mostly because it upset a political party when it turned it's back on them. The worry is the wider problem in the press generally won't be addressed. What we need is the same tenacious focus on The Mirror, People, Mail etc. No one seriously suggests they've not been using similar methods as the News of the World. It will be interesting to see if Labour MPs maintain the same level of passion and indignation and the BBC continue wall to wall news coverage, when the story moves on to the non-News International papers and, God forbid, Labour papers like the Mirror and People.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Hoist By His Own Petard?

Now we've had the politicians express their, rather hypocritical, disgust at the behaviour of News International, perhaps we can move on to the real, broader issue of press ethics generally? The Mirror, Mail, People, in fact almost all of them, have been involved in questionable activities.

If anything good can come of this epiphenominal imbroglio it will be a shift in the taste of tabloid readers, away from the salacious tittle-tattle that they now know is gathered using illicit and morally dubious methods.

A rather amusing and ironic consequence of such a change in demand would be less work for the likes of Max Clifford, one of the most vocal celebrity phone hack victims.

What a shame that would be.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Gordon's Claims

Tonight Gordon Brown claims he has stood up against the evils of News International. He's made various claims against The Sun and The Sunday Times and, obediently, the broadcast media has been reporting it as fact all day long. Unfortunately, for once, the case the papers have quickly put forward in defence, is looking credible and calling into question Brown's version of the truth.

Gordo "standing up" to the evil Rupert Murdoch

The claims about what The Sunday Times got up to can be easily defended by the fact that pursuit of the story was entirely in the public interest. Much more damaging, if true, are the claims that The Sun illegally accessed Brown's son, Fraser's, medical records and published the story against the parent's wishes. Here's some of the, interesting, points being made in The Sun and Times tomorrow...
  • 5 years ago, The Sun reported that the Browns new baby had cystic fibrosis. The story was highlighted by The Guardian as "the best of today's papers" and they wrote two articles of their own on the subject.
  • No complaints were received from the Browns at the time
  • The Sun has a signed affidavit from the man that supplied them with the story, contradicting Brown's claims that they got the information illegally via accessing his son's medical records (a claim originating from The Guardian a competitor of News International's Times and Sunday Times)
  • The man was a father of another baby born with the same condition as the Browns' baby. He is quoted as saying "[I] had no access to the medical records of the [Brown's]child at any time" and that he felt vindicated in contacting The Sun because "we felt we could have made something positive out of the tragedy and...the truth would have come out eventually anyway... the fact they are so high profile could have made a difference". 
  • The Sun claims they had the consent of the Browns to publish, once they felt they were ready to go public. And they complied with a request to allow other papers to publish the story at the same time. 
  • The hospital where Fraser was born confirms that there has been no previous suggestion that medical records were compromised. 
  • Subsequently, after publication in 2006, Gordon Brown showed no sign of upset of desire to cool relations with News International...
    • Rupert Murdoch and Gordon Brown continued to enjoy a good relationship with regular visits from Murdoch when he was in London, cementing the view that Brown was Murdoch's "favourite politician" at the time. 
    • Brown rewarded the man that broke the story about Fraser's condition with the first exclusive newspaper interview after he became Prime Minister
    • Amongst many other social get togethers, Rebekah Brooks (the Editor of The Sun) was invited to Downing Street for a "World's most successful women" lunch and a sleep over (with Murdoch's wife and daughter) for sleepover at Chequers
    • Gordon Brown attended the wedding party for Rebekah Wade and Charlie Brooks.
  • `The close relationship ended abruptly in September 2009 when Brown heard about The Sun's intention to stop supporting Labour. Andrew Neil reports that Gordon Brown threatened to "destroy" Murdoch in a telephone call to him after learning he was deserting Labour's sinking ship. 
Well, there's little doubt that, following the demise of the News of the World, many in Labour's ranks and in the non-Murdoch media, can scent blood. I'm sure Brown would love to bring Murdoch down. I hope there's more to his Sun claims than we can see tonight. Otherwise, his use of his son's condition to attempt to increase the pressure on an organisation he hates for turning away from him, will be a new low, even for the man who employed Damian McBride

    Monday, July 11, 2011

    They're All At It!

    When the serious allegations regarding the News of the World phone hacking scandal emerged last week it was clear that this "scandal" had finally produced some real substance. Previously, the faux outrage being exhibited by left leaning papers, politicians and celebs was transparently in their own self-interest. Bitter at News International for turning their back on Labour after so long, their hatred had undermined the case that was being made against the press, mainly because they sought to focus on the one organisation. But now we hear the extent of the use of phone hacking went beyond those in public life to include innocent private individuals, even victims of crime. The worst accusation involves PI Glen Mulcaire, apparently in the pay of The News of The World, listening into voice mail messages of Milly Dowler when she was still missing. This is an appalling revelation and all the outrage and indignation was well justified.

    News International has moved decisively and ruthlessly to cut out the cancer in its midst by closing down the title in the frame for this disgusting behaviour. It seems massively unfair to the many staff and journalists, not to mention millions of readers, who have not done anything wrong. But such was the damage to the paper's brand and the potential for that damage to seep into other News International titles that Murdoch clearly felt the action was necessary. However, more and more revelations are emerging that could yet threaten his other titles. Ironically, it is this threat that would do more damage to media plurality that any BSkyB takeover would.
    What is sickening is seeing Ed Miliband attempts to be seen, all of a sudden, as a leader of the campaign against The News of the World and now News International. This is a man who employs a News International ex-journalist as a press secretary who was, just a day before the story broke, following his advice to lay off the topic. Miliband even undertook a complete about turn over night by saying the BSkyB/News International deal was not affected by the revelations one day, and then calling for the deal to be reassessed the next, when he had to appear in Prime Minister's question time... on the telly.

    The danger is that the politically motivated johnny-come-lately opposition politicians and original protagonists in this saga will, in their attempts to maintain focus on Andy Coulson because of his 4 year stint in the employ of David Cameron and News International generally, distract attention from the broader issue of how the press conducts itself. So desperate are they to implicate Cameron in the scandal and destroy Murdoch's company, they may deny this country a real opportunity to reset the values and moral compass of our tabloid media, or at least deny them easy access to ill-gotten information without a true public interest justification. By public interest I don't mean "interesting to the public", of course!

    It is this last point that I think everyone who used to buy the News of the World or any other tabloid such as the Mirror, Sun, Mail... should ponder. What motivated these journalists to go to such lengths to get info on people? It was the fight of readership. You get what you deserve in the real world, not necessarily what is good for you. We have the press and politicians we deserve. The truth is salacious stories about celebrities (or anyone who finds themselves in the public eye) sold newspapers. The News of the World was the top selling Sunday newspaper for a reason. It did sex and scandal better than its rivals. And we lapped it up. Despite what the anti-Cameron/News International brigade want you to believe, the NotW's competitors are just as deeply immersed in the mire of dark arts in the search for a juicy story. As the What Price Privacy Now report found, there exists a market in confidential personal data, often provided by private investigators (like Glen Mulcaire), grubbing around in bins, blagging confidential information, accessing personal voice mail messages and exploiting contacts with the police etc, to get information on anyone they think the tabloids would be interested in. And if you thought it was only the News International titles making use of these dodgy services, think on...
    So, it's great that we have a public enquiry into the activities of the press. I hope it exposes their practices which, for decades, have been hardly questioned because of the assumption that anything was justifiable in the name of a free press; the myth that such practices were ultimately in the public interest. In reality they were mostly pandering to the salacious interests of the public and didn't care who they hurt or destroyed along the way. It wasn't just the News of the World, or the Sun or the Mail (the papers most of those on the left want attention focused on). It was all papers, including left leaning ones like the Mirror, the Observer and the People. Yes, the Observer. It's not even limited to tabloids! The whole industry needs to be looked at. Party politics has no place in these deliberations. It is shameful that there are those that wish to make it about Cameron or the "right wing press". I think Miliband and others will come out of this looking very shabby indeed.

    But once the enquiries report and we understand the full picture, lets not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The MPs expenses scandal required the receipt of stolen goods to be overlooked as the story was clearly in the public's interest. Phone hacking is similarly perfectly justifiable if it is in the search for information that could lead to similarly important story being broken. The public needs to understand how journalists get their information and be reassured that, should they use illegal methods without a real public interest case, they will be prosecuted and their paper will bear a heavy cost for overstepping the mark. For that to happen we need to:
    • Have a clearer definition of "public interest" - this isn't as easy as it sounds. A real public debate is required to sort the answer out. But the real penalties that will make Newspaper's think twice before using intrusive measures to dig up information.
    • That there isn't a corrupting relationship between the police and media that could be exempting journalists from their legal responsibilities (hence Cameron's second enquiry into the police's role in this scandal)
    • Politicians that are not frightened to hold media organisation to account. Something all party leaders have only now, belatedly and only after all media proprietors are running scared, started to do.
    • A newspaper buying public that doesn't reward papers that publish the most base, sensationalist and scandalous stories. This final requirement will be the hardest to achieve. Impossible in fact, unless the nation changes its tastes all of a sudden!

    The Inconsistency Of Being Ed

    When you next hear Ed Miliband call for the News Corp/BSkyB deal to be halted due to the phone hacking scandal, bear in mind the details of a memo he circulated to the shadow cabinet via Tom Baldwin, Miliband’s media chief and ex-News International journo:

    “Any frontbench spokespeople should use the following line when questioned on phone hacking, BSkyB bid and phone tapping ... these issues should not be linked. One is a competition issue, the other an allegation of criminal activity.”
    Hypocrisy would be his middle name, if Inconsistency wasn't already.

    Friday, July 8, 2011

    Estate Agents Have Some Catching Up To Do

    All but one of the groups that top the public's love to hate league have accommodatingly behaved appallingly over the past few years.
    MPs, investment bankers and now journalists have all disgraced themselves royally and confirmed themselves in the collective public mind as the greedy, grubby shits that they generally are.
    But, one remaining group have not been keeping up in the race to plumb new depths of depravity or avarice, or both... estate agents. They continue to be untrustworthy, annoying prats but really need to get their act together if they are to keep up with those other bastards.
    It'll have to be big to compete and overshadow the others. It wouldn't surprise me if the final News of the World edition on Sunday uncovers something like a massive paedophile ring at Nationwide Estate Agents or Mann & Co or somewhere. Perhaps it could be that these sick, slick haired Trevors are in cahoots with perverted tech-savvy online agents at Rightmove, using their web site as front for their disgusting picture trading. That'd put estate agency back in contention in the race for the abhorrence of the British people.

    Come on estate agents! Sort it out or you'll start looking like saints compared to your abominable peers.

    Sunday, July 3, 2011

    Guido On Hari

    I interviewed Guido Fawkes yesterday on the Johann Hari scandal and the revelation of Dylan Jones, editor of GQ magazine.

    "What's all this about a magazine editor with an angle of Hari", I asked.

    Guido leaned forwards over the table laden with 2 Americanos and a poppy and lemon seed muffin and whispered:

    "Dylan Jones, editor of GQ, is telling people that Johann Hari was dropped from writing for the magazine because he concocted copy that mixed fact and fiction.

    "You don't say.", he added sarcastically before leaning back to take a sip of his coffee and a bite of his muffin.

    He's been supported by some writers, I suggested. Guido smirked and said:

    "Elsewhere more left-wing men of letters are breaking cover and saying openly what they have been muttering over the olive ciabatta in Hampstead and Islington. Martin Bright, who was an Orwell Prize judge this year, has come down hard tempered with mercy. In a tone which echoes Guido’s headmasters before a caning he writes:", as the blogger pulled out a piece of paper with a quote scribbled in barely legible handwriting, he read:

    "Simply put, Johann Hari has let the side down. Several sides in fact. He has let down his fellow journalists, he has let down fellow liberals and he has let down the Orwell Prize… I feel a genuine sympathy for him on a personal level. There is something psychologically peculiar about attributing quotes in the way he did. And now through his arrogance he has drawn his editor and the Orwell Prize into this appalling mess. Johann Hari has disgraced himself. The Orwell Prize must come to its own decision about his prize. I hope his career survives this because he would be a loss to journalism. But if anyone is to believe what he writes in future he has to stop making excuses and simply explain his mystifying behaviour, honestly and openly. That is a piece I would read."

    He put the paper back in his jacket pocket and before I could ask my next question he started up again.

    "Elsewhere the novelist Jeremy Dun demands Hari admit he is a plagiarist and is scathing about Mark Lawson’s defence of Hari in the Guardian, which reads as if Lawson isn’t aware of the fullness of the allegations. Guy Walters in the New Statesmen (where Hari got his first break and had problems with deputy editor Christina Odone over his expenses) identified 42 cut ‘n pastes from Malalai Joya’s own book. Not all were in inverted commas, making them a problem of attribution, much of the text is presented as Hari’s own words.

    "Classic plagiarism", he exclaimed, shaking his head.

    "Is there a technological angle to this?", I asked softly.

    "Worth reading the Telegraph’s Damian Thompson for his take on events. He reckons it was the Kindle wot done For Hari…", Guido responded, stifling a giggle.

    Our time together ended as Mr Fawkes got a phone call that calls him away on urgent business, but that I suspected was prearranged to ensure he could make a polite exit.

    "Oh, one more thing", he said, standing to leave.

    "The blogger who caught this little scene-setting Hari lie in 2009 made Guido laugh, it dates back to the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Conference:

    "Johann Hari Hates Big Macs But Tells Whoppers". In itself a trivial lie to sex up an anti-capitalist piece. These kind of lies are the reason why Polly Toynbee and Laurie Penny et al are so keen to excuse him. Shame on them."

    "Well, quite.", I agreed. We shook hands and he left. I noticed his muffin is only half eaten. Much like Hari's interviews are only half original, I thought to myself while smiling, self satisfied.

    This post may contain quotes from other sources (or one complete source) where they better represent Guido's actual thoughts compared to the actual words used during an interview that actually never happened.