Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"the wrong signal"

According to Margaret Beckett having an inquiry into the Government's decision to invade Iraq will send 'the wrong signal'.

What a pathetic argument from a pathetic Government.

The signal it would send is that our Parliament realises that mistakes were made and that they want to find out how and why.

To me this is a pretty good message to send to our troops who know full well that they were sent for the worng reasons and are probably quite keen to see their political masters held to account.

And given our Government's stated aim of helping to establish a stable democracy in Iraq, what better way to help do so than demonstrate how accountability works in a mature democracy?

If that is the best argument the Government can come up with they deserve to be taken to pieces.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Are Labour playing party politics with hospital closures?

The London Times had a story the other day about how the Government's hospital closure programme (only 24 hours to save the NHS etc...) is targeting hospitals in Tory or Lib Dem held seats.

I'm not convinced that there is a conspiracy in the way The Times suggests, most Community Hospitals tend to be in rural areas which tend to have Tory or Lib Dem MPs.

The bigger issue for me is whether the policy of closing or cutting community hospitals, and reducing the services available at district hospitals, is actually what people want.

I am sure this policy makes sense to NHS management - it much be easier to manage a smaller number of large units and enable economies of scale in equipment etc.

I can understand that many doctors will argue that it is better clinically because it enable a higher level of specialisation in centres of excellence.

What the policy misses out on though is the voice of the public.

Because while the above arguments may be strong ones, it may also be the case that a large proportion of the public actual put a greater value on local access to health services.

Yes the John Radcliffe in Oxford may have better facilities in its Maternity wards for that small minority of mothers who have serious problems during labour. BUT the vast majority may prefer to give birth in a local maternity unit in Wallingford (where my younger two were born) or Wantage, in a small, friendly unit with staff they can get to know.

Yes the John Radcliffe might be needed for the major operation or to deal with a serious illness, but once the elderly patient is recovering from that treatment they may well want to be looked after in Abingdon where they live, and where their elderly friends can visit them without having to get two buses to the JR.

Or maybe the majority will disagree.

The point is that the voice of the patients and public should be heard in this debate. It should be up to local people in each area (Oxfordshire in my case) to decide what it is they value when it comes to health care.

Labour were elected to 'save the NHS'.

Nine years on we are facing the loss of local community hospitals, the loss of services at district general hospitals and, in Oxfordshire's case, hundreds of job losses.

It's a shame Labour don't seem to believe that the public should have a voice.

The thin end of the veil

I have refrained from commenting on the 'debate' about whether Muslim women should wear the veil or not as a) many others have done and b) I have genuinely mixed feelings on the issue.

Having now heard from Phil Woolarse and honest Tony on the issue my initial reaction that Straw's comments had a rather insidious whiff about them has been confirmed.

There is a genuine issue about whether the wearing of the full veil is helpful or appropriate, but of much greater concern is the tone of Blair and his various Minister's comments about the Muslim community.

Woolarse's comments are simply despicable. He must have known better than to comment in such a way while a tribunal is ongoing. It is quite unacceptable that a Minister should intervene in this way.

What I find distasteful about Blair's comments is the suggestion that it is the responsibility of the Muslim or other minority communities to strike the right balance in terms of their integration into 'our' society, whilst failing to mention the responsibility those of us in the majority community have to help integration and to be tolerant of differences.

I object to the idea that ordinary Muslims should be harangued about dealing with extremists in their midst as if they ought to have some magic solution to the problem. It was wrong when all Irish people were treated with suspicion when the IRA were active and it is equally wrong to label all Muslims in the same way.

And now University staff are apparently being asked to keep a particular eye on Muslim students in case there are signs of them being radicalised. That's really going to encourage young Muslim students to feel fully integrated into University life, isn't it.

The obvious results of all of this are that more Muslims will feel that they are being discriminated against by the Government and their reaction is likely to be that they will highlight their 'separateness' even more, sympathy for the extremists is likely to grow rather than lessen, and those inclined to go round pulling veils of Muslim women's faces or other racist activity will feel encouraged.

One final point, if a Muslim woman came to my surgery wearing a veil I would consider it extremely rude to ask her to remove it.

Special Relationship my a**e

I continue to be astounded by our Government's failure to secure the release of British residents still being held at Guantanamo Bay.

Large numbers of people, including some brits, have already been released. Most were incarcerated for years and ultimately let go with no charges being made against them or, as far as I can tell, any actual evidence that they ever did anything wrong.

If Iran or Syria were to kidnap hundreds of people of other nationalities, lock them up without charge, restrict their access to lawyers, torture them and propose to try them outside their normal legal system the US and UK governments would be expressing outrage and probably send in the armed forces.

But because it is the US doing it the best honest Tony can come up with is to describe the torture camp as an anomaly.

The US Government appear to want rid of the British residents. They have offered to send them back in return for a promise that they will be kept under 24 hour surveillance.

Our Government apparently believes that this would be too expensive, or illegal, or something.

Personally I would have thought that the opportunity to win the release of 10 people against whom there is quite obviously no evidence (or else the US would want to try them) might be just a tad more important than the cost of surveillance.

Or even that a PM with any balls at all would agree the US Government's terms and then allow the courts to rule the surveillance illegal on their return.

On this issue, as on so many others, Tony Blair has shown himself to be a spineless lackey of George Bush. They have a Special Relationship alright, but not one that is in the interests of Britain.

Where's the evidence?

I see that gentle John and honest Tony have been berating the opposition parties for their opposition to Labour's authoritarian proposals on terror suspects.

The point they still haven't answered is why, if there is hard evidence that the individuals concerened have been involved in terrorist activity, they haven't been charged with any offence?

Either there is evidence that these people are terrorists, in which case they should be charged, or there is no evidence, in which case they should be free.

If it is the case that sufficient evidence does exist for their freedom to be restricted, gentle John and honest Tony should be explaining to us why they are not pushing for them to be prosecuted.

Pulling up the ladder

Neil Woollcott has written about the opportunity to go to University he was given by the grants system and the wider opportunity this has given him in life.

Like him I was lucky to benefit from the grants system. From memory I received about 75% of the full grant with my parents topping up the rest.

I was the first person in my family to go to University, and only able to do so because of the grants system and the change in attitudes that happened as a result of the expansion of the Universities post-war.

Both my parents were intelligent enough to have gone, as was my Grandad, but the option simply wasn't open to them.

The result of this expansion, and the change of attitude that went with it, was that University became something that anyone could aspire to, and, if they could get the grades, could afford to go to. Previously it had been the preserve of the upper and upper middle classes.

The knock on effect (along with other social reforms) has been a successful British economy which has expanded steadily since the war, and the creation of a generally wealthier and better educated society.

Indeed the Government's own figures suggest that graduates, on average, earn significantly more than average during their subsequent careers, and, as a consequence, pay far more extra income tax than their education cost.

It is therefore shameful, stupid and unfair that the Labour Government, having promised not to, has embarked on a programme of massively increasing student debt to fund further expansion, rather than seeing it as a public investment in the country's future.

It is shameful because the majority of the Labour MPs who walked into the lobbies in support of the policy would not have had the opportunities they have had in life had it not been for the opportunities afforded to them by a free university education.

It is stupid because it will skew the University intake against those who are put off by debt rather than being based on merit. It will also have massive knock on effects due to ever rising graduate debt, bankruptcies and the rest.

It is unfair because those people who end up earning less, perhaps because they become a teacher or social worker, will end up paying more in actual terms and significantly more as a proportion of their income.

If the policy is not changed very soon Britain will be paying the price for this short-termism for decades to come.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

In at number one

Regular readers will remember my recent comments about the Daily Mail's attack on the popular heavy rock genre 'EMO'.

I was delighted to hear that popular beat combo My Chemical Romance had entered the chart at number one today.

In case you missed it (and not for those of you who remember when songs had nice tunes and proper words etc. etc.) here it is again:



So that's round one to the EMO kids then ;-)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Comprehensive failure

If any more evidence were needed the Government's own new watchdog has come along to show that the Blair/Brown Government has comprehensively failed to run the NHS well.

As NHS trusts up and down the country cut services, sack staff, close beds and shut hospitals this latest report shows that 200 NHS trusts are failing to run themselves properly.

The report also highlights, by implication, the failure of Labour's approach to running services via top down targets.

At a time of record spending on the NHS - which the vast majority of people support, it is an utter disgrace that they have managed to waste so much money, mismanage the service and demoralise the staff.

They won the election in 1997 on the basis that there were 'only 24 hours to save the NHS'. Would they have won many of those votes if people had known the mess they were going to make of our treasured NHS?

The Bat is Back

Yes that human mountain of a rock singer Meatloaf is back with Bat Out of Hell III - The Monster is Loose.

The original Bat Out of Hell was one of the first albums I bought and was a great favourite of my mates as a teenager. Arriving at the height of punk it was derided by the music press at the time but it went on to sell 30 million copies worldwide (3rd biggest selling album ever - fact fans) and stayed on the UK album chart for most of a decade.

It graced the front of the recent 'Guilty Pleasures' edition of Q magazine, although why anyone should feel the slightest guilt at owning such a fantastic record is beyond me. Jim Steinman's song-writing is simply epic, the musicianship top notch (most of the musicians were from Springsteen's E-Street Band) and the production (by Todd Rundgren) is perfect.

Title track Bat Out of Hell is simply one of the most epic rock tracks ever, Paradise by the Dashboard Light a hilarious take on teenage lust while Heaven Can Wait and Two Out of Three Aint Bad are beautiful love songs (or in the case of the latter a non-love song).



And even more importantly there was no better record for jumping around and miming to at teenage parties.

Meat and Steinman had a falling out after Bat Out of Hell with Meatloaf going on to do a series of albums while Jim Steinman recorded what was intended as the follow up as a solo album 'Bad For Good'. (He's not a bad singer but not a patch on the Meaty one!). The album also featured many of the same musicians as Bat Out of Hell.

16 years later Meatloaf recorded Bat Out of Hell II - Back Into Hell. This featured several tracks from Steinman's Bad for Good album - with full on Meat effect - and also spawned a massive international hit with I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That) with it's Beauty and the Beast video. A bit of a slacker unit wise - it only clocked up a mere 15 million sales.



Well now - 13 years further on - the Loaf is back with the third album in the trilogy. Using up the remaining decent tracks on Bad for Good and also songs by Nikki Sixx (Motley Crue) and John 5 (Marylin Manson) and produced by the rocktastic Desmond Child - it even features Queen's Brian May on guitar.

He is doing a one off show at the Royal Albert Hall which sadly sold out in seconds.

Will it sell as much as Bats I & II? Probably not.

Will it be derided by the NME and other trendy music journalists? Almost certainly.

But will it ROCK?

Of course!

18 Doughty Street

I watched most of this evening's output from the new internet politics show 18 Doughty Street.

This is the brainchild of top Tory bloggers Iain Dale and Tim Montgomerie and friends and is, in their words, an attempt to cover politics for adults.

With that aim in mind I thought it was very good and it made sitting here artworking Focus leaflets that bit more enjoyable.

I hope they can maintain a reasonably objective approach and they certainly seem to be inviting a fair range of guests on.

Hope it works.

The Doctor sings even more

A while ago I posted a link to a site which has Tom Baker - the greatest Doctor Who of all time - singing various well known songs.

I see that more have been added to the site including an excellent House of the Rising Sun, and interesting Baggy Trousers and a doesn't quite work as well Bo Rap.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

h-tunes

My other listening pleasure at the moment arrives via the innovative h-tunes website.

h - or Steve Hogarth - is the lead singer of Marillion and has spent a chunk of this year out on the road doing a solo tour.

I saw him play at the Bush Hall in London earlier in the year and on Sunday at Riffs Bar in Swindon as part of the Oxjam festival.

He plays solo, with only his piano to accompany him, and played sets which combined a number of his own songs, some Marillion songs and quite a few covers. He has a unique take on the songs and the simplicity of the concerts really highlighted what a great voice he has.

He also did a lot of talking - telling parts of his life story and how this fed into his songwriting. At the London gig he recounted a great story about watching the ITV Wrestling on World of Sport with his Gran. He also read from his various tour diaries.

The covers included songs such as Wichita Lineman, Presley's in The Ghetto, The Waterboys' Whole of the Moon, Kate Bush's Cloudbusting, Leonard Cohen's Famous Blue Raincoat, Bowie's life on Mars and various Beatles classics.

Anyhow, this is the clever bit... He recorded most of the gigs on his solo tour and has set up this nifty website where you can download them. And it only costs a mere 11 euros per concert. You can even catch a glimpse for nowt here.

I, Davros

I'm currently listening to the first part of the new I, Davros mini series from Big Finish who produce Doctor Who audio adventures and much more besides.

This series tells the back story of Davros - the creator of the mighty Daleks - and is a sort of prequel to my favourite Who story of all time - Genesis of the Daleks. (That's the one where Tom Baker's Doctor has to decide whether it is morally right for him to kill off the Daleks at birth)

Terry Molloy makesa fantastic return as Davros and on the basis of this first part it is going to be an excellent series.

Big Finish's other Who releases this month are an interesting duo of stories about the Cybermen, picking up the storyline of the recent TV episodes, which were themselves based on a previous Big Finish story.

The Reaping features Colin Baker's doctor (consistenetly better in these audio adventures than he ever was on TV) with Peri. It fills in some of the backstory of how the Doctor met Peri and the impact this subsequently had on her family. This theme, along with the Cybermen storyline, continues in The Gathering. This time the fifth doctor, played by Peter Davison, meets up with long lost companion Tegan (remember her, the gobbie aussie air hostess?).

In true Doctor Who style this means the fifth doctor has to deal with the aftermath caused by the intervention of his later self. Confused - you will be.

As with the emphasis on Rose and Sarah Jane in the recent TV series, these stories are very much about the impact the Doctor has on his companions. Both stories are good, and nicely done. A good starting point for any Doctor Who fan who hasn't yet tried Big Finish.