Posts Tagged ‘Disease’

Ancient Christian Apologist Tertullian on Human Damage to the Environment

July 15, 2017

Some of the most vocal opponents of environmentalism and climate change in the US are politically Conservative Christians. They object to it, not just on the grounds that they believe it to be wrong scientifically, but also because they are highly suspicious of it on political and religious grounds. It is argued that the Green movement is really a pagan movement, or else a way of sneaking Socialism in through the back door through stressing the need for legislation and the regulation of industry to protect the environment. It’s also denounced as a form of Nazism, because the Nazis were also eager to protect the German environment.

It’s true that Green politics has strongly influenced some contemporary neo-Pagan religious movements, particularly Wicca, whose deities consist of an Earth mother and horned god. However, the scientific evidence on which the Green movement is based is separate and independent from any one particular religious or political group. And modern Green politics began with books such as Silent Spring in the 1960s and the Club of Rome, a gathering of concerned scientists, in the early ’70s, and not with Hitler and the Nazis.

Furthermore, writers and philosophers long before the Nazis were also acutely concerned with the threat of overpopulation and the damage humans were doing to the environment. One of them was the early Christian apologist, Tertullian, who wrote

‘Most convincing as evidence of populousness, we have become a burden to the Earth. The fruits of nature hardly suffice to sustain us, and there is a general pressure of scarcity giving rise to complaints. Need we be astonished that plague and famine, warfare and earthquake, come to be regarded as remedies, serving to prune the superfluity of population?’

This quotation was dug up by Adrian Berry, a fellow of the Interplanetary Society, Royal Astronomical Society and Royal Geographical Society. Berry is very much a man of the right, who used to write for the Torygraph. He used it to argue that people have always had exaggerated fears about the threat to society. Or alternatively, they could also be extremely complacent, such as the 2nd century AD Roman writer Pliny. Pliny wrote of the enduring splendor of the Roman Empire just before it began to collapse. Jonathan Margolis also cites in his chapter on predictions of environmental catastrophe, ‘Global Warning’, in his A Brief History of Tomorrow: The Future, Past and Present (London: Bloomsbury 2000) 89, where he also discusses the possibility that predictions of environmental collapse may be wrong.

At the moment, the majority of the world’s scientists are convinced that climate change and environmental damage caused by humanity are real, and a genuine threat to the planet, its flora and fauna, and ultimately humanity itself. Furthermore, archaeologists become increasingly aware how global changes to the environment have caused civilizations to collapse. The early Viking colonies in Greenland were destroyed in the 14th century, when the environment in the northern hemisphere became colder, making it impossible to practice European-style agriculture so far north.

Similarly, the highly developed Pueblo Indian cultures in the Chaco canyon in what is now the southwestern US collapsed and were abandoned when the climate became hostile in the 13th century. The cultures existed in an arid region of the US, using extensive irrigation canals to water their crops. The area suffered an intense drought, and unable to support themselves, the inhabitants moved away.

As for ancient Rome, one of the causes for the barbarian invasions may well have been climate change. The environment became colder from the 3rd century onwards. Central Asian tribes, such as the Huns, moved west, crossing the steppes into Europe and moving south to attack China. This displaced other tribes, such as Goths, who were settled around the Black Sea. The sea levels began to rise, so that the Frisians and other Germanic tribes settled in what is now the Netherlands, were forced to abandon low-lying farms and villages on the coasts. This may have been one of the causes of the Anglo-Saxon migrations to Britain.

In the Greek-speaking eastern Roman Empire, towns shrank, while in the west there was a movement away from the cities, partly through economic grounds. Historians have argued whether the Roman population was decimated by disease. Certainly in Rome itself, located amidst swampland, malaria was endemic, and the sheer size of the population meant that it was periodically subject to outbreaks of other diseases. And the city depended on a steady influx of new immigrants to replenish its population. And there was a constant threat of starvation. The free Roman masses depended on shipments of grain from Egypt and north Africa, and one of the elected officials in the city was responsible for securing the grain supply. Amongst the graffiti found scrawled on walls in Pompeii are election slogans urging men to vote for a particular candidate because ‘he gets good bread’.

Tertullian may well have been absolutely right about the dangers of overpopulation. And regardless of whether he was or wasn’t, the fact that he, one of the great defenders of Christian faith and doctrine in the Roman Empire, was prepared to accept and argue that overpopulation and environmental damage were a danger, shows that there is nothing inherently anti-Christian in the Green movement. This was shown a few weeks ago when the current pope, Pope Francis, criticized Trump’s government for ignoring science and failing to tackle climate change. There’s an irony here in a religious figure attacking the elected leader of a supposedly secular state for having an anti-scientific attitude. And it remains true that there is nothing fundamentally contrary to Christianity about Green politics regardless of the support for Green politics amongst peoples of other religions or none.

Soft-Spoken Aristo Thug Jacob Rees-Mogg Joins Boris as Latest Tory Celebrity

July 9, 2017

On Friday, Mike also put up a piece commenting on how Jacob Rees-Mogg, the son of William Rees-Mogg, the former Times and Independent journalist, has developed a cult following. Apparently he has his own fan group, dubbed Moggmentum in imitation of Corbyn’s greater and far better supporter’s group. Mike also supports his comments with a couple of Tweets from fans, who rave about how he has ‘class’, is better than ‘left-liberal misfits who would ruin the country’, and how ‘England needs him’.

As Mike then goes on to show, Jacob Rees-Mogg is the kind of right-wing politico Britain really doesn’t need. He is, of course, Eton-educated, and as his voting record shows, he believes in punishing the poor simply for being poor, while also demanding that Tory Toffs like himself get generous state handouts to retain their position of power.

In a long list of the policies favoured by the man dubbed ‘the minister for the 18th century’, Mike shows that

He generally votes against laws to extend equality and human rights.
Consistently votes for cuts to welfare spending.
Consistently votes against gay rights.
General votes against laws to tackle climate change.
Consistently supports the extension of the surveillance state.
Consistently voted against raising support payments for the long term ill or disabled.
Consistently votes against government spending to create jobs for young people, who have been unemployed for some time.
Nearly always votes for restricting the right of EU nationals to remain in Britain.
He was also nearly always in favour of reducing access to legal aid.
He was also a solid supporter of tuition fees, the bedroom tax and against raising unemployment benefit in line with rising prices.

As Simon Renshaw says in his Tweet, which Mike has also posted in his article, Rees-Mogg is not amusing. He is cruel, deplorable and dangerous. And another Tweeter, Paul, also commented

Sperminator Rees-Mogg would not govern for the people, he would rule for his class with a selective dose of his religion thrown in.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/07/mogg-mentum-the-tories-are-losing-their-grip-on-reality/

This last comment is extremely accurate. Rees-Mogg began his career as a politician by campaigning for the Tories in a depressed fishing area in Fife in Scotland. When asked what he would be campaigning on, Rees-Mogg declared that he would be trying to convince the locals that the country would be best served by retaining an unelected, hereditary House of Lords. Somehow, I’m not surprised he didn’t succeed on this occasion. The Scots aristocracy, led by the Duke of Buccleuch, had a greater degree of political power north of the border than their counterparts further south, until the guid Duke and his ilk were stripped of them by the Labour government in 1975. And obviously, the unkempt masses weren’t keen to bring them back. Given the spectacle of this strange, gangling figure stalking about the streets and vennels and addressing the locals in a cut-class, pukka Etonian accent, I suppose it was almost inevitable that the SNP would suddenly receive a massive boost in support. Heaven knows how he’d have got in Govan or the rougher parts of Glesgae toon.

A few years ago, Private Eye did a little feature on him as part of their series on the new boys and girls, who had entered parliament after that year’s election. Not only does Rees-Mogg expect people to defer to him because of his class, he also expects close family members to protect him personally in uncomfortable situations. By which I mean that once, at Glyndebourne, he got his nanny and his wife to hold a book over his head to protect him from the sun.

The aristocracy are also known for inflicting stupid names on their children. Rees-Mogg is no exception. Along with the normal names he has given his new-born son, Dominic and Christopher, he also inflicted ‘Sextus’ and ‘Dominic’ on the poor little mite. ‘Sextus’ is Latin for ‘Sixth’, and the little chap is his sixth sprog.

So why would anyone become a fan of this weird creature? I think part of it’s because he is so strange, as well as being personally very polite. He has a diffident, gentlemanly manner while at the same time he stands out as something of a character. He’s similar to Boris Johnson in this respect, who’s built his career on a very carefully crafted persona of being a good-natured chump, while he’s anything but in real life. Quietly spoken with a slightly diffident manner, it makes Rees-Mogg look for more harmless and reasonable than he actually is. But as his voting record shows, his political views are those of a typical vengeful Tory thug with all their class hatred and contempt for working people.

Rees-Mogg is a particular presence in my part of the world, because he’s the MP for North-East Somerset, which is just south of my bit of Bristol. I’m not surprised he got in down there. This is the same part of rural Somerset, where the Waldegrave family have their seat. There’s even a pub called ‘The Waldegrave Arms’ in Green Ore, one of the villages there on the Waldegrave estate. This is a part of Britain, where they still feel people should be tugging their forelocks in deference to the lord of the manor.

As for his supporters, from what I’ve heard personally, they’re deeply reactionary, true-blue members of the upper middle class, who really do want to drag us all back to the 19th century, when the upper classes were in power and the proles knew there place – in hovels, suffering from malnutrition and cholera.

There’s some speculation that the Tories are looking to put him into No. 10 at one point. Mike states that he’s not likely to go away, and we shall all do our best to make sure he doesn’t get in. If he does, you can bet that all the poverty, despair, joblessness and starvation the Tories have inflicted on the working class, disabled and poor in this country really will reach truly 19th century levels.

Richard Seymour on the Dubious Electability of the Blairites

April 20, 2017

I’ve put up a few pieces about Richard Seymour’s criticisms of the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and his refutation of them in his book Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics. While I don’t agree with the book’s overall view – that Labour has never been a Socialist party, and has always compromised and taken over establishment economic policies – he does make some excellent points refuting some of the smears directed at the Labour leader – that he and his supporters are misogynists and anti-Semitic. In discussing the ‘Project Fear’ campaign against Corbyn, he also attacks the oft-repeated claim of the Blairite ‘moderates’ that they are far more likely to win an election than Corbyn. Seymour writes

The problem for the ‘moderates’ is this: they aren’t actually anywhere near as good at winning elections as they like to think.

Even in their reputed ‘golden age’, beginning in the bright summer of 1997, New labour was the beneficiary of timing and fortune far more than of the strategic genius of Mandelson and company. The Tories had already decisively lost the support of a stratum of ‘secular’ voters who tend to vote with their wallets. Any general election held after the 1992 ERM crisis would have been Labour’s to lose. (admittedly, that is no surety that they would not have lost it; Mandelson’s savvy did not prevent the loss of the 1992 election.) New Labour’s first term in office, between 1997 and 2001, saw their electoral coalition shrink by 3 million voters, largely from the poorest parts of the country. Were it not for the ongoing crisis wracking the Conservative Party, and the oddities of Britain’s electoral system – two factors over which electoral gurus and spinners have little control – such a haemorrhaging of support could have been fatal; leaving Blair another one-term Labour Prime Minister.

Blair’s third general election victory in 2005 was obtained with just over a third of the popular vote, and a total number of votes (9.5 million) similar to the achieved by Ed Miliband (9.35 million) in the disastrous 2015 election, in which Labour finally lost the majority of Scotland. What was the bid difference between a record third election victory and crushing defeat? The revival of the Conservative vote. The Tories had undergone a detox operation, with a youthful, glabrous-cheeked leader doing his best Blair interpretation. The deranged Right had largely decamped to UKIP. A period in coalition government with the Liberals had persuaded middle-ground voters that the Tories were no longer dominated by rancorous flag-wavers and pound-savers. (one might add, since it has become a psephological commonplace, that the credit crunch was ‘Labour’s ERM crisis’, but this is only partially true: Labour decisively lost this argument in retrospect, and it was by no means inevitable that they should have done so.

What about today? Whatever they think of Corbyn’s electoral chances, the Blairites’ own electoral prospects are not necessarily better. Polls taken of the prospective Labour candidates before the leadership election found that of all the candidates, Corbyn was the favourite. The ‘moderates’, lacking an appealing message, were also about as charismatic as lavatory soap dispensers. Labour’s poll ratings under Corbyn are poor, but hardly worse than before despite the ongoing media feeding frenzy. There is no reason to believe that any of his lacklustre rivals would be doing any better than Corbyn presently is.

Why might this be, and why have the pundits been so easily impressed by the claims of Labour’s right-wing? Thinking through the electoral arithmetic on the Blairites’ own terms, it was never obvious that the electoral bloc comprising people who think the same way they do is even close to 25 per cent. The reason this hasn’t been a problem in the past is that elections in Britain’s first-past-the-post system are usually decided by a few hundred thousand ‘median’ voters based in marginal constituencies. As long as Labour could take the votes of the Left for granted, they could focus on serenading the ‘aspirational’ voters of Nueaton. Even the erosion of ‘heartland’ votes didn’t register, so long as this erosion was happening to mountainous, seemingly unassailable majorities.

What happens, however, when left-leaning electors defect in sufficient numbers and sufficient geographic concentration to pose serious questions about Labour’s medium-term survival? What happens when it is no longer just the odd Labour seat going to George Galloway or Caroline Lucas in sudden unpredictable surges, but the whole of Scotland being lost in a single bloodbath? What happens when votes for left-of-centre rivals surge (the SNP vote trebling, the Green vote quadrupling), millions of potential voters still stay at home, and all of this takes place while the Conservatives reconstitute themselves as a viable centre-right governing party? This is one of the reasons why Corbynism has emerged in the first place: in that circumstance, Blairite triangulation turn out to be as useful as a paper umbrella, only any good until it starts raining.
(Pp. 51-3).

This is a good analysis, and it’s what Mike over at Vox Political, Guy Debord’s cat and others have been saying for a long time: the Blairites actually lost voters by chasing the Tory vote in marginal constituencies. Corbyn has actually won them back to the party. And the electoral success of the Greens and the SNP was based on them presenting themselves as a genuinely left-wing alternative to a Labour party that was determined to turn itself into Conservatives Mark 2. There is one thing which I differ with this article on: the metaphor with lavatory soap dispensers. I think the soap dispensers are actually more charismatic than the Blairites. They perform a useful service for personal hygiene, helping to prevent the spread of disease. This is very different from Blair and his coterie, who have succeeded in doing the precise opposite in Britain and the rest of the world. Thanks to Blair’s pursuit of Thatcherite policies, the way was open for the return of malnutrition and the diseases linked to poverty under the Tories. And by joining Bush in his wars in the Middle East, they have murdered millions, from the violence of the war itself and vicious sectarian and ethnic conflicts that came afterwards, the destruction of these nations’ economies, and malnutrition and disease as sanitation and health services collapsed.

The Blairites’ claim that they are more electable than Corbyn are self-promoting lies. They aren’t, and the policies they pursue are, like the Tories they took them from, actively dangerous.

Sandi Toksvig’s Public Schoolgirl Feminism and Support for Theresa May and Hillary Clinton

October 15, 2016

Sandi Toksvig, the comedienne, author, and host of Radio 4’s News Quiz in this week’s Radio Times. She is, apparently, due to take over from Stephen Fry as the host on QI. She and her partner also took time off the other year to launch the Women’s Equality party, and this is one of the topics covered in the interview. She particularly discusses her support for Hillary Clinton and, on this side of the Atlantic, Theresa May.

I have had very mixed feelings about Toksvig for a very long time. I’m not taking issue with her feminism – far from it. Women aren’t given the same status and opportunities as men, and there is widespread agreement that this is an issue that demands to be tackled. Moreover, while she is a lesbian feminist, she’s not the stereotypical misandrist. She makes it very clear in her general demeanour that she doesn’t hate men. She has a son, whom it is very clear she dearly loves, and indeed, she also talks about how her party has the support of many ‘wonderful men’.

On the other hand, I gave up listening to the News Quiz years ago for the same reason I stopped watching Stephen Fry on QI: I got heartily sick of the more or less constant sneering about religion every single week. And it is her endorsement of the above two politicians that I take issue with now.

Toksvig states that she believes that Theresa May is the right person for the job of Prime Minister. She claims that she was not responsible for the current economic crisis the country is in. She makes the point that the men, who were responsible all stabbed each other in the back, and then swam off as quickly as their blood loss would allow. it’s a lurid metaphor, but accurate for the way Boris, Gove and Cameron all betrayed each other over Brexit. She then goes on to state how she is not one of those people, who are immediately opposed to something because it’s Tory. Then she went on to talk about her support for Hillary Clinton.

Perhaps this shows my own narrow political views and prejudice, but it’s at this point that I gave up. Whatever their other merits, Theresa May and Hillary Clinton aren’t the right people for the job. Theresa May is a Tory, and she shares all the Thatcherite, neoliberal, corporatist views and policies of his male predecessors. This involves further cuts and privatisation, the dismantlement of the welfare state and the privatisation of the NHS. These are hurting, and in many cases killing, the poorest, most vulnerable sections of our society.

Ditto for Hillary Clinton. With Bill, she has also participated and backed government cuts on what little America has of welfare support. The anti-drug laws she introduced were devised by the right with the specific intention of targeting and incarcerating Blacks. She has also shown herself every bit as bloodthirsty and hawkish as her male colleagues, backing the Iraq invasion, and deliberately re-defining the coup in Honduras so that Obama’s regime could continue giving military aid to the military dictatorship running the country. This is a Fascist regime, that is imprisoning and murdering leftists, trade unionists and indigenous activists. She has also publicly endorsed and cosied up to Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s foreign policy advisor, who’s responsible for a whole raft of coups and genocides from South America to Asia. Among other horrors, Nixon and Kissinger backed General Pinochet’s Fascist coup in Chile, gave the nod and armaments to Pakistan’s massacre of about 3 million people or so in Bangladesh during their war of independence, and was responsible for the mass bombing of Vietnam and Cambodia in the Vietnam War. While Kissinger certainly didn’t back the Khmer Rouge, his bombing of Cambodia created the condition that thrust Pol Pot and his murderers to power. And there are others. Many, many others. Kissinger has been publicly told what he is – a war criminal – at demonstrations and protests by people like the young women from Code Pink, who disrupted a Democratic rally at which he was speaking. But this is the man Shrillary has publicly endorsed, who appears at her rallies to show his support for her, and with whom she and her husband have stayed.

Trump, of course, is certainly no better than Hillary. He’s a lecherous, sleazy, racist buffoon, who could easily bring America to the brink of a nuclear war. Clinton, by contrast, is a clever, calculating businesswoman, with a long record of public service. She is also a murderous butcher, outright Neocon, and could well bring to the point of nuclear war.

These are not the right people for the job. The right man for the job in the Democrat party was Bernie Sanders, who wanted to expand America’s welfare network and give the country the single-payer healthcare system over half of its people want, and which Hillary Clinton and her corporate backers vehemently oppose. He was stabbed in the back by a corrupt political establishment in the Democrat party led by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, just as Jeremy Corbyn was stabbed in the back, and is stabbed in the back, by a corrupt Blairite clique in the Labour party.

With Bernie gone, the best woman to run the country is Green Party leader Dr. Jill Stein. Not only is she an environmental activist, while both Trump and Clinton either deny climate change and environmental damage outright, or minimise the legislation against it on behalf of their corporate backers, but she’s also very involved in women’s and children’s health issues. She has also made it very clear that she backs a single-payer healthcare system, because America needs it. And like Bernie Sanders, she’s also shown an interest and solidarity with America’s indigenous peoples. Sanders would turn up on reservations to talk to First Nation communities about how their conditions could be improved, and the issues that matter to them. He did so when no, or very few other politicians did so. A few weeks ago, Jill Stein turned up to give her backing to the Sioux peoples in their campaign against the Dakota Pipeline, which threatens to destroy the water quality and the ecology of part of their tribal lands.

The fact that Toksvig backs these two shows the flaws and dangers in her brand of feminism. She wants women in power, and while that’s a noble aspiration in itself, it’s here coupled with an attitude that wants them in power, regardless of their personal suitability for the task. It’s a case of ‘my gender, right or wrong’.

On the other hand, there is also the possibility that the very qualities which make Theresa May and Shrillary Clinton absolutely repugnant candidates to anyone else with a sense of decency, are precisely those that appeal to Toksvig. Toksvig is an ex-public schoolgirl from a very elevated background. Privately educated, she’s the daughter of the Danish ambassador. Thus, despite some of the left-wing noises she made on the News Quiz with Jeremy Hardy and Francis Wheen, she’s very establishment. And from this is appears that she holds the very middle-class views the establishment wants everyone to hold: accept the wonders of privatisation, despite the fact that privatised services are rubbish and don’t work. Accept the privatisation of the health service and destruction of the welfare state, which will leave you faced with grinding poverty and a real danger of starvation, as well as sick, and receiving expensive, substandard treatment for your ailments. But the one per cent who run the big businesses want their tax cuts, and while it’s terrible for you, it’s what they want. And they make the rules, and are the only people that count. The rest of us don’t.

And so Toksvig is quite happy to back May and Shrillary, as they’re rich, establishment girls like herself, and they want to clear the way for further rich and establishment women in power. While at the same time keeping women from the lower and lower middle classes down, along with the rest of their class. And I’m sure that all the women in the countries America has invaded in the past few years, like Iraq, and those of the countries in the next war she starts will be terribly consoled when the bombs are raining down on them , and killing their daughters and sons, husbands, mothers and fathers, that the glass ceiling has been breached and there’s now a woman in the Oval Office. And all with the support of Sandi Toksvig and other media figures at the Beeb.

Because regardless of gender, it’s all about what the establishment wants.

Lib Dems Aim at Winning Blairites from Labour

September 21, 2016

Also in the I newspaper today, right opposite the report about the three pro-Corbyn councillors, who have been suspended from the local party in Bristol, was the news that the Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made a bid to win over right-wing Labour voters in his speech at their party conference.

The article states

Tim Farron cast himself as the heir to Tony Blair yesterday as he delivered a direct appeal to disillusioned Labour voters to switch allegiance to the Liberal Democrats.

Only his party can prevent a 25-year-long Conservative “stranglehold over government”, he insisted in his keynote speech to the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton.

Mr Farron coupled praise for many of Tony Blair’s achievements in office with a stinging attack on Jeremy Corbyn for viewing winning general elections as a “bourgeois distraction”…

Targeting the centrist Labour supporters, the Lib Dem leader said he believed Mr Blair made many serious mistakes, but admired him for achievements such as investing in schools and hospitals and introducing the national minimum wage.

“I respect him for believing that the point of being in politics is to get stuff done, and you can only get stuff done if you win. Otherwise, you’re letting your opponent get stuff done instead, ” Mr Farron said.

Farron and his supporters are keen to promote the idea that the party is undergoing a revival after losing all but eight seats in the elections last year. The same article quotes him as saying that by next year, his party will be the only thing standing between another Tory election victory.

But Farron has already confirmed my negative opinion of his party, and my decision that I won’t vote for them. Tony Blair and his supporters aren’t centrists. By the standards of the 1980s, they’re actually extreme right-wing Tories. I don’t mean they’re extreme right in that they’re racist, misogynist or hate gays. They’re not. But they are extremely right-wing in that they took over Margaret Thatcher’s neoliberal policy of privatising everything she could, including parts of the NHS. Blair took this over and massively expanded it. Alan Milburn wanted to reduce the health service to a logo on services provided by the private sector. See NHS-SOS by Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis. As for investing in hospitals, this is a moot point that needs qualification. Blair did invest in hospitals under the PFI initiative, a policy set up by that prancing snob Peter Lilley deliberately to open up the NHS to private investment. Under the PFI, the hospitals built are smaller than those constructed using conventional financing methods, and are actually much more expensive. These costs are met by closing and amalgamating other hospitals. Farron might consider these as mistakes, but they are an integral part of the system. Blair was responsible for closing down local hospitals in order to create a part-privatised system that was more wasteful than the previous, wholly state-owned, state-funded NHS. But it got him plaudits from the Right as the true anointed heir of Thatcher, barrels of money given to him and his continuity group, Progress, from donors in the private medical industry.

Much the same could be said of his education policy. This essentially consisted of the Simpering Scrounger taking over Norman Baker’s policy of city colleges outside the Local Education Authorities, which even the Tories ditched as a useless dud. Just as he did with Anderson Consulting, who had also been ditched by the Tories, Blair picked them up and adopted the policy as his own. The only difference is that he tried to make the wretched scheme look better by calling them ‘city academies’ and then just ‘academies’. Like the PFI hospitals, they’re massively more expensive than ordinary schools. They can cost something like £24-35 million, far more than the funding given to LEAs for all the schools they have to run. And like the PFI hospitals, it’s another part-privatisation where the taxpayer effectively picks up the bill. They’re given over to the management of second-rate entrepreneurs, often with extreme dodgy ideas on what counts as proper education. Poor, and children with exceptional needs, like the less academic, or disruptive pupils, are not taken, or expelled at an alarming rate in order to keep the wealthy, intellectually able kids the schools needs to show they’re improving standards. But they don’t. They’re actually little better than state schools. Where they have improved standards, it’s simply due to the vastly larger funding they’ve been given. These would have also improved standards in state schools, if they had been so fortunate as been given them. See Francis Beckett’s The Great City Academy Fraud.

The only person, who’s shown a genuine commitment to restoring standards and the integrity of our schools and health service, after these have been decimated by nearly four decades of Tory and New Labour misrule, is Jeremy Corbyn. By aiming to win the Blairites over to his party, Farron has shown that he effectively supports all the policies Blair and the Tories have done ever since Maggie. The rise of mass starvation in our society, and the incalculable poverty, disease and despair that will result if the Tories’ privatisation of the NHS goes ahead, show that these are policies are country cannot afford. Like the Tories, the Lib Dems should not be given any power in forthcoming elections.

Secular Talk on Poor Americans Now Using Pet Antibiotics

September 7, 2016

This is a story from another side of the Pond, but it’s relevant because it shows the kind of horrific medical system that the Blairites and the Tories are introducing over here through the destruction of the NHS. In this piece from the atheist/ secularist news channel, Secular Talk, Kyle Kulinski comments on a story in Raw Story from a report from a respected medical journal, The Journal of Antibiotics. A survey was done of 400 people in Houston, Texas, asking them how they obtained their antibiotics. These were people, who needed the drug, not those who did not. Kulinski is very clear to dispel this possible misunderstanding, as the overprescription of antibiotics is a separate issue. It’s responsible for the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria, which is a serious threat to health around the world.

This is about people, who genuinely need the drug. It investigated how people obtained it, when they could no longer afford it. About a quarter had saved up supplies of the drug. Another 12 per cent talked about getting it from friends or relatives. And 4 per cent took pet antibiotics. As Kulinski points out, animals metabolise drugs in a different way. This shows how desperate the poor are in America when they can’t afford healthcare.

Kulinski describes this disgusting state of affairs in justifiably strong language. He points out how its shows the twisted attitude of the country’s political elite, who have been bought by the corporations. Many Americans can’t afford medicines. The country’s infrastructure is falling apart. In some places there isn’t any clean water. But the country has spent $7 trillion on the Iraq War. It’ll be paying it off until 2053. $80 billion has spent bailing out the banks. $4 billion or so was given by the government to the oil company, ExxonMobil, to help with their research and development, despite the fact that this is one of the richest companies in America. He makes the point that America can afford to spend all this money on pork barrel projects for companies, and making wars on ‘Brown people’ who have never invaded us. But somehow it can’t afford to spend money on healthcare, despite the fact that singlepayer is actually cheaper than the insurance system already in place.

Nearly all of these criticisms can be directed at our parliament, and our politicos in New Labour and the Tories. Blair was all too eager to invade Iraq as George Dubya’s poodle. We’re sending our sons and daughters to fight and die in a country that never attacked us, despite all the spin and lies about how Hussein was in league with Bin Laden, and ready to launch weapons of mass destruction at 45 minutes notice. And Blair and the Tories are selling off our healthcare system, so it won’t be long before we have people in this country saving antibiotics, or using stuff that’s been prescribed for their dogs and cats. We’ve already seen 4.7 million of us forced into food poverty. That’s people, who don’t have enough to eat, or don’t know when or where their next meal’s coming from. But we have more than enough money to support the Iraq War, and for Cameron, May and Bomber Benn to talk about attacking Syria. We’ve more than enough money to spend on Trident, a weapon system we don’t need, which will set us back trillions. And despite the spin, the majority of jobs it’ll create are in America. And apparently we’ve got enough money to go threatening to start a war with Russia, despite the fact that Putin isn’t a threat, and the people being genuinely persecuted in Ukraine is the ethnic Russian minority.

Oh yes, and as someone who believes in socialism and the trade unions, I have difficulty in understanding why I should be called upon to support a war for a government that includes Nazis and brutally attacks trade unionists. That’s right – the coalition currently ruling the Ukraine includes the Nazis from the Pravy (Right) Sektor. When I say ‘Nazis’, I mean Nazis. The real thing. People who wear the insignia and regalia of the auxiliary SS units and nationalist organisations that collaborated with the invading Nazis during the Great Patriotic War. Unreconstructed anti-Semites, who revere the memory of those responsible for the Holocaust and the pogroms against Jewish Ukrainians. During the ‘democratic’ demonstration that ousted Yanukhovych from power in Maidan Square in Kyiv, a group of these attacked a group of trade unionists, throwing several of them out of the upper floors of one of the buildings into which they’d fled. Red Ken in his 1987 book, Livingstone’s Labour, condemned the way the West had recruited Nazis, including participants in the Holocaust, as part of the global campaign against Communism. And he’s right. We shouldn’t have recruited them and given them sanctuary, and we shouldn’t be supporting a bunch of Nazi collaborators now.

This is what British and American politics has degenerated into. We’re bankrupting ourselves for wars against people, who’ve done us no harm, while denying our own people healthcare, food and clean water. All for corporate profit.

William Beveridge on the Six Great Evils

June 21, 2016

I also found this piece by William Beveridge, the author of the Beveridge Report, which laid the foundation for welfare state and the NHS, in the Penguin Book of Protest, edited by Brian MacArthur. In it Beveridge attacks the six great evils his welfare reforms were intended to combat.

My case is that this is very far from being the best of all possible worlds, but that it might be a very good world, because most of the major evils in it are unnecessary – either wholly so or to the extent to which they exist today. The evils which are wholly unnecessary and should be abolished are Want, Squalor, Idleness enforced by unemployment, and War. The evils which are unnecessary to the extent to which they exist today and which should be reduced drastically are Disease and Ignorance.

The six Giant Evils of Want, Squalor, Disease, Ignorance, Idleness and War as they exist in the modern world, are six needless scandals. The Radical Programme which I propose to you is a war on these six giants. As a Liberal I propose it as a programme for the Liberal Party. Let me take the giants in turn, beginning with the easiest to attack.

Want means not having enough money income to buy the necessaries of life for oneself and one’s family. Want in Britain just before this was utterly unnecessary. The productive power of the community was far more than enough to provide the bare necessaries of life to everyone (that, of course, is something quite different from satisfying the desires of everyone). Want arose because income – purchasing power to buy necessaries – was not properly distributed, between different sections of the people and between different periods in life, between times of earning and not earning, between times of no family responsibilities and large family responsibilities.

Before this war, as is said in the Beveridge Report, ‘want was a needless scandal due to not taking the trouble to prevent it’. After this war, if want persists, it will be ever more of a scandal. it is contrary to reason and experience to suppose that, with all that we have learned in war, we shall be less productive after it than before. And we know also just how to prevent want – by adopting Social Security in full as set out in the Beveridge Report. This means guaranteeing to every citizen through social insurance that, on condition of working while he can and contributing from his earnings, he shall, when he is unable to work through sickness, accident, unemployment or old age, have a subsistence income for himself and his family, an income as of right without means test, and not cut down because he has other means…

Squalor means the conditions under which so many of our people are compelled to live, in houses ill-built, too small, too close together, either too far from work or too far from country air, with the air around them polluted by smoke, impossible to keep clean, with no modern equipment to save the housewife’s toil, wasting the life and energy of the wage-earner in endless crowded travel to and from his job. Squalor is obviously unnecessary, because the housing which leads to squalor is made by man, and that which is made by man can by man prevented.

The time has come for a revolution in housing, but an essential condition of good housing is town and country planning; to stop the endless growth of the great cities; to control the location of industry so that men can live both near their work and near country air; to manage transport in the national interest, so as to bring about the right location of industry.

Only on the basis of town and country planning should we build our houses and they must be built not just shells, but fully equipped with every modern convenience, with water, light, power, model kitchens for clean cooking, refrigerators, mechanical washers for clothes. As is said in the Beveridge Report: ‘In the next thirty years housewives as mothers have vital work to do to ensure the adequate continuance of the British race and of British ideals in the world.’ They must be set free from needless endless toil, so that they may undertake this vital service and rear in health and happiness the larger families that are needed.

A revolution in housing is the greatest contribution that can be made to raising the standard of living throughout this country, for differences of housing represent the greatest differences between various sections of our people today, between the comfortable and the uncomfortable classes.

Disease cannot be abolished completely , but is needless to anything like its present extent. It must be attacked from many sides by measures for prevention and for cure. The housing revolution, of which I have spoken, is perhaps the greatest of all the measures for prevention of disease. It has been estimated that something like 45,000 people die each year because of bad housing conditions. Scotland – your country and my country – used to be a healthier land than England – with a lower death rate – till about fifty years ago. Now it has a higher death rate, because in the past fifty years its health has not improved nearly as much as that of England. The big difference between the two countries lies in housing, which in many ways is worse here. Let us put that right for our country. Next to better housing as a means of preventing disease ranks better feeding. Experience of war has shown how much can be done to maintain and improve health under the most unfavourable conditions by a nutrition policy carried out by the state on the basis of science. It is essential for the future to make good food available for all, at prices within the reach of all, and to encourage, by teaching and by price policy good nutrition instead of mere eating and drinking.

Ignorance cannot be abolished completely, but is needless to anything like its present extent. Lack of opportunity to use abilities is one of the greatest causes of unhappiness. A revolution in education is needed, and the recent Education Act should be turned into the means of such a revolution. Attacking ignorance means not only spending money on schools and teachers and scholars in youth, but providing also immensely greater facilities for adult education. The door of learning should not shut for anyone at eighteen or at any time. Ignorance to its present extent is not only unnecessary, but dangerous. Democracies cannot be well governed except on the basis of understanding.

With these measure for prevention must go also measure for cure, by establishing a national health service which secure to every citizen at all times whatever treatment he needs, at home or in hospital, without a charge at the time of treatment. It should be the right and the duty of every British citizen to be as well as science can make him. This, too, was included in my report more than two years ago. Let Us get on with it.

Unemployment, as we have had it in the past, is needless. The way to abolish unemployment is not to attack it directly by waiting until people are unemployed and then to make work for them, but to plan to use the whole of our manpower in the pursuit of vital common objectives.

The Radical Programme for attacking the five giants of Want, Squalor, Disease, Ignorance and Idleness through unemployment is all one programme. We abolish unemployment in war because we are prepared to spend up to the limit of our manpower in abolishing Hitler. We can equally abolish unemployment in peace by deciding to spend up to the limit of our manpower in abolishing social evils.

The last and the greatest of the giant evils of the world is War. Unless we can win freedom from war and from fear of war, all else is vain. The way to abolish murder and violence between nations is the same as that by which we abolish murder and violence between individuals, by establishing the rule of law between nations. This is a task beyond the power of any nation but it is within the power of the three great victorious nations of this war – the United States, Soviet Russia and the British Commonwealth. If those three nations wish to abolish war in the future they can do so, by agreeing to accept impartial justice in their own case and to enforce justice in all other cases, but respecting the freedom and independence of small nations and the right of each nation to have its own institutions so long as these do not threaten harm to its neighbours. By doing so, they will accomplish something far more glorious than any victory in war. In the past statesmen have prided themselves in getting ‘Peace with honour’. The formula of the future – the only one that can give us lasting peace – should be ‘Peace with justice’. Honour is national, justice is international. (pp. 173-5).

As you can see, it’s quite dated in its conception of gender roles – men go out to work, while women stay at home and raise the large families the state and society need. And after the Nazis and Fascist groups like them, any talk of national ‘races’ looks extremely sinister, though there isn’t any racist undertones here.

And Beveridge was exactly right about the evils he wanted to combat, and they’re still very much alive now. Nutrition and pricing have all returned with the campaign to improve a tax on sugary foods and drinks, and so combat the obesity epidemic and rising levels of diabetes.

And the other issues have all returned thanks to Maggie Thatcher. She deregulated and privatised public transport, which has led to further inefficiencies on the roads and railways. She and the regimes that have followed her were and are determined to destroy the welfare state, including the health service, which Cameron and Clegg both wanted to privatise.

And the result has been rising levels of poverty. It’s time we scrapped Thatcherism root and branch, and went back to the founding principles of the welfare state. The principles that were put into practice by Labour’s Aneurin Bevan.

TV on Tuesday: Celebs in the Workhouse

May 17, 2015

The past five Tuesday evenings, the Beeb has been showing the series 24 Hours in the Past. This is pretty much a reality TV show with an historical slant. Instead of being thrown into a jungle and then made to survive, or compete against each other to produce the finest cakes or dishes, each week the programme’s cast of celebrities are required to go back to a certain period in history and do some of the nastiest, dirtiest or most unpleasant work from the period. It’s like Tony Robinson’s 2004 Channel 4, The Worst Jobs in History, but with a crew of six as the unfortunate Baldricks forced to labour and grub for their living like the inhabitants of Victorian slums. Or the rookeries of 18th century London. Or whatever.

This week, however, they reach the very nadir of poverty and desperation: the workhouse. The blurb for the programme states that the workhouse was partly intended to reform the corrupt and indolent character of its inmates. It’s therefore a kind of irony that Ann Widdecombe is so bolshie, that she finds herself placed in solitary.

The blurbs for it in the Radio Times state

As the six celebrities stroll up to an impressive redbrick institution for their final Victorian experience, Miquita Oliver reckons it looks like somewhere she’d go for a weekend spa. Hardly. It’s the workhouse, where there are no rewards, only punishments, explains Ruth Goodman. So immediately bolshie Ann Widdecombe is put in solitary confinement.

In order to “reform the moral character of the undeserving poor”, workhouse inmates were degraded,k overworked and mistreated, taking the time travellers almost to breaking point.

Tempers are definitely fraying but to give them credit, nobody shouts “I’m a celebrity … get me out of here”. It’s been a filthy, gruelling history lesson.

And

Hungry and penniless after stirring up a worker’s rebellion in the Victorian-era potteries, there’s only one place left for Ann Widdecombe, Zoe Lucker, Colin Jackson, Alistair McGowan, Tyger Drew-Honey and Miquita Oliver. Clad in rough uniforms and clumsy clogs they enter the harsh world of the workhouse – the 19th century equivalent of the benefits system – where they are immediately stripped of their belongings and indentities. Filthy and exhausted the celebrities must endure relentless graft and grind for their basic necessities. Will they rise to this most daunting challenge and prove they can work their way out of the workhouse and back to the comforts of the 21st century?

As left-wing bloggers like Tom Pride, the Angry Yorkshireman, Johnny Void, Stilloaks, Jayne Linney, Mike from Vox Political and myself have pointed out, the ethos underlying the workhouse – that of ‘less eligibility’ – has returned to 21st century Britain in the form of the various tests, examinations and ‘work related activity’ benefit claimants are forced to go through in order to show that they really are looking for work, if fit, and genuinely deserving of invalidity or sickness support if they cannot. And as the government has made it very plain it wants to cut down on welfare expenditure in order to shrink the state back to its size in the 1930s, conditions are being made as hard as possible so that increasingly few people are considered deserving of state support.

And although not confined within the prison-like environs of the workhouse, its drudgery has been brought back in the form of workfare and the other requirements to perform ‘work-related activity’. This consists in performing unpaid, spurious voluntary work for particular charities, or big businesses like Tesco and so boosting their already bloated profits.

So far, conditions have not become quite so appalling as the Victorian workhouse, but real, grinding poverty, including starvation and rickets has reappeared in Britain, brought about by the Tories’ and Lib Dems’ atavistic desire to return to the very worst of the ‘Victorian values’ lauded by Maggie Thatcher. So far, 45 people have starved to death due to the withdrawal of their benefits, but the true number is probably much, much higher, perhaps 50,000 plus.

And it’s significant that while celebs, including a former Tory MP, are prepared to participate in a programme like this, the Tories have most definitely refused to experience its modern equivalent for themselves. Iain Duncan Smith was invited to try living on the same amount as a job-seeker for a week. He flatly refused, declaring that it was just ‘a publicity stunt’.

Well, what did you expect from ‘RTU’ Smith, the Gentleman Ranker. He’s a wancel (hat tip to Maxwell for this term), whose cowardice in facing his policies’ victims has been more than amply demonstrated over and again. Such as when this mighty warrior, who, according to David Cameron, ‘can crack skulls with his kneecaps’, hid in a laundry basked to hide from demonstrators in Edinburgh. Or when he sneaked out the back of a Job Centre he was opening in Bath to avoid meeting the demonstrators there.

Now I’ve no problem whatsoever with history programmes showing how harsh conditions were the bulk of people in the past, who didn’t belong to small percentage that formed the aristocracy or the middle classes. It gives a more balanced idea of the past in contrast to those programmes, that concentrate more on the lives of the elite. These programmes can give an idealised picture of previous ages, in which social relations were somehow more harmonious, and the lower orders were properly grateful and respectful to paternal employers and aristocratic masters. There’s been a touch of this, for example, in the Beeb’s Sunday night historical drama, Downton Abbey.

For most people, life was not a round of glamorous society balls, or a glorious career in the armed forces abroad, or in parliament at home. Most people did not have the luxury of fine food, wines and spirits, with their wishes attended by legions of dutiful servants.

Rather, the reality for most of the country’s population in the past was hard work, grinding poverty, and the threat of a very early death through disease and malnutrition.

However, there is also a danger with programmes like this in that they can give the impression of continual progress and improvement. There’s always the risk that some will look at the hard conditions of the workhouse and Victorian Britain generally with complacency. Well, that was terrible then, but everything’s somehow much better now. Things have improved greatly since then, and we have nothing to worry about. Indeed, the standard Tory attitude is that conditions have improved too much, to the point where the ‘undeserving poor’ have returned and are living very well from the taxes of ‘hard-working people’ like themselves, and other aristocrats, financiers and bankers.

For others, however, the programme may provide a salutary object lesson in the kind of country ours will be come once again, if the Tories aren’t stopped. One of the commenters on either Tom Pride’s or Johnny Void’s blog dug out a ConDem proposal for something very much like ‘indoor relief’ – as the workhouse system was called – for the disabled in the form of special units to provide training and accommodation to the handicapped.

In actually fact, the workhouses weren’t just a feature of Victorian England. They lasted right up to 1947, when they were made obsolete under the new welfare state.

Now with the Tories trying to destroy state welfare provision completely, and sell off the NHS, there’s a danger that they’ll return. The Tories have already brought back unpaid labour and less eligibility. They just haven’t got round to putting everyone on them in a prison-like environment yet.

In the meantime, it should be very interesting indeed to see how six people from the 21st century fare in the harsh conditions of the 19th. And especially a former Tory MP, like Ann Widdecombe.

Chaos on the Airwaves: Wannabe Fascist Dictator Phones into LBC

March 18, 2015

More from the Fascist trainwreck that is Joshua Bonehill, the would-be great dictator. EDL News has this piece, Joshua Bonehill calls LBC to discuss anal sex and it ends badly , reporting the appearance of Bonehill on a late night show when he phoned into discuss the above topic with the programme’s host, Christo. In the words of Derek Fender’s article

Predictably it did not go well for him. The Yeovil based oddball ranted about gays, jews blacks, cultural marxism, white genocide whilst LBC host, Christo, could barely contain his laughter.

It ended with Christo asking Bonehill if he had a girlfriend which seems to be a very touchy subject. Christo then went on to ask Bonehill to meet him for a cosy dinner date in Old Compton Street which lead to him slamming the phone down.

Amongst other offensive, ludicrous and potentially dangerous comments, Bonehill claimed that AIDS was nature’s way of correcting homosexuality, which was unnatural. And the Jews were responsible for encouraging homosexuality as part of their plan for world domination by destroying the White race.

Cristo raised the obvious point that homosexuality was hardly unnatural, as it was found in nature. That’s a fact that has only really been established scientifically within the last 20 years. I’ve a book on genetics published in the 1990s that states that while pseudo-homosexuality exists in nature, homosexuality proper doesn’t. It was Plato, who first argued that homosexuality was unnatural, and this view has now been completely refuted. Channel 4 even broadcast a programme about it, The Truth About Gay Animals. There was also an article about it a decade or so ago in the Fortean Times.

As for being spread by homosexuality, I was of the impression that the disease first crossed the species barrier from apes and monkeys to humans through people eating infected monkeys. And in Africa one of the ways the disease is spread is through long distance truckers catching the disease through prostitutes, whom they infect in turn, and then their wives and families when they return to them. If there’s a lesson about danger there, it’s probably that there are pockets of disease in Africa into which the human population is increasingly coming in contact. And also the grinding poverty and lack of economic opportunities that forces women onto the streets.

There’s also a problem with sexual ignorance and a number of superstitions that have grown up about the disease. One is that it can be cured through having sex with virgins. This has led to previously uninfected women being exposed to the disease. Some of this is through rape, and there are horrendous reports of young girls being attacked.

Bonehill doesn’t really respond to Christo’s argument, instead getting a bit shirty, and trying to change the subject slightly by moving on to argue that the Jews were deliberately promoting gayness. This is not only bilge, it’s pure projection. I don’t know, but I think the origins of the gay rights movement go back to the end of the 19th century and the beginnings of academic sexology with Havelock Ellis and E. Krafft-Ebing. From the 1930s onwards there were increasingly sensitive literary treatments of it, with Radcliffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, which dealt with lesbianism. Radcliffe Hall came from a very respectable British middle class background. It was also part of the sexual revolution that started in the ’60s with the Kinsey Report, the Stonewall Riots in America, and the formation of Gay Liberation over here. One of those, who campaigned for the legalisation of homosexuality in the 1960s was the musician and cartoonist, Gerhard Hofnung. Hofnung was of foreign extraction – he came originally from Germany. He was, however, Quaker and not Jewish. His reasons for advocating its legalisation was due to his humanitarian concern as part of his Quaker faith. This isn’t to say that there weren’t Jews involved with movement. I’ve no doubt there probably were, along with people from Roman Catholic, Protestant, and purely secular backgrounds. It’s just that it can’t be seriously claimed that the campaign to legalise homosexuality, and demand equal rights for gay people originated solely with the Jews, or is part of some weird secret plot.

And it is a piece of projection. Certain parts of European Fascism were strongly supportive of homosexuality. Ernst Rohm of the SA, the ‘socialist’ section of the Nazi party, was gay and it’s been claimed that so were 3/4 of that organisation’s members.

In Italy, the Futurists advocated as part of their programme of artist and social modernism ‘scorn for women’, and attacked the family and traditional sexual morality. They were in favour of free love, and also advocated homosexuality.

This does not mean that Fascism as a whole supported homosexuality or treated homosexuals with anything other than absolute contempt. In Nazi Germany, gay men were sent to the concentration camps, where they were identified with a pink triangle.

The Nazis did, however, encourage homosexuality amongst Jews as a way of trying to prevent them from having children. It was part of a deliberate policy aimed at their extinction. Bonehill’s statement that the Jews are doing this to prevent Whites from propagating their race is pure projection.

The LBC show is weirdly funny, however, as Christo really can’t believe how bonkers Bonehill actually is. Apart from his guffaws, he asks several times if it is a wind-up. At one point he asks if people really still believe the rubbish Bonehill has been uttering.

The EDL article is at http://edlnews.co.uk/2015/03/01/joshua-bonehill-calls-lbc-to-discuss-anal-sex-and-it-ends-badly/. It’s got a 25 minute recording of Bonehill’s inane spoutings. As an example of pure right-wing drivel, it is utterly hilarious.

Christo is right in that some of Bonehill’s antic are so weird and bizarre that you wonder if he is entirely serious, or just playing a very tasteless and offensive game. If he is serious, then you also wonder about his mental health. According to the SlatFascist site, not so long ago Bonehill was trying to promote himself through some extremely dodgy pseudo-mysticism. He claimed that he was the White messiah prophesied by one Aryanus. This is too close ‘Hairy Anus’ to my mind to be taken at all seriously, quite apart from the fact that Aryanus was obviously someone Bonehill made up.

From 2007: Suppressed Government Report into Failures of PFI

February 1, 2015

One of the first elements in the gradual privatisation of the NHS was the Private Finance Initiative. Under it, private companies were awarded contracts for the construction and maintenance of the hospitals they built partly through private finance. it was a way of keeping the cost of hospital construction and maintenance off the government books. The downside was that the costs, although hidden, were still massive, meaning that the public was saddled with exorbitant costs for many years, indeed decades to come. Furthermore, the financial risks were never spread evenly. If a private consortium ran into trouble and could no longer make a profit from the deal, it was left to the taxpayer to bail them out.

In their issue for the 21st June – 8th July 2007, Private Eye carried this story about a government report that had been suppressed after it severely criticised the Private Finance Initiative for its numerous and disastrously expenses failures.

The Hospital Report They Didn’t Want You To Read
PFI, the Untold Story

A damning report on hospitals built under the private finance initiative, prepared by the National Audit Office (NAO) but never published or show to Parliament, has been obtained by Private Eye under the Freedom of Information Act.

In 2005 the NAO announced that it was looking into the record of PFI hospitals, but a year ago mysteriously cancelled the study – without revealing that it had already written a hugely detailed 90-page report on the subject. The move came just weeks after Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt had announced a review of the £12bn worth of hospital PFI deals then in the pipeline, in the face of mounting evidence that PFI was unaffordable and unworkable with other Labour health reforms. The last thing she needed was a critical report on the record of the PFI hospitals already up and running.

The NAO insists it was not pressured into pulling the report, entitled The Operational Record of the First Wave of PFI Hospitals, though it refuses to disclose any details of its discussions with the Department of Health on the subject. It claims the “evidence collected was too mixed and not sufficiently conclusive to justify a report to parliament”. Really? Eye readers (and MPs) are invited to study the principal findings and judge for themselves.

The ‘Risk’ Factor

In all 17 hospitals whose costs were looked at, PFI was judged to be a few pounds cheaper when compared to how much it would have cost to build or refurbish the hospital under conventional procurement. But at 15 hospitals this was only after a spurious financial “risk factor” had been applied to the public sector alternative. The factor varied from 1 percent to 22 percent of the cost but was always just enough to make PFI look cheaper. The NAO overlooks the obvious fiddling and swallows the alleged “similarity of costs” without question.

Not So Grand Designs

A comparison of design quality found the PFI hospitals overall, slightly worse than non-PFI ones. On five out of six criteria they were below “minimum acceptable standard” and especially pisspoor architecturally. Although the non-PFI ones used for comparison were mostly 20 to 30 years older and much work has been done on improving hospital building standards in the meantime, this seems to have passed the PFI industry by.

Bed-Hopping Mad

Seventy percent of the PFI hospitals had fewer beds than the facilities they replaced, but all save one had higher rates of occupancy. Indeed, in 70 percent of cases the PFI bed occupancy rate was higher than the officially recommended maximum of 85 percent. Above this figure peak admissions are more difficult to handle, men and women can’t always be separated and infection control is compromised.

The cause of the problem, the NAO found, was that “greater efficiency designed to increase patient throughput … has not yet been fully achieved.” In other words, such is the expense of PFI that in order to produce a remotely affordable deal, unrealistic assumptions about needing fewer beds were made (with the help of financial consultants anxious to get the deal through and secure their success fees).

Three of the PFI hospitals have already had to build extra facilities as a result, putting millions more on the cost of their deals every year. Clinicians are understandably miffed: two thirds said that “affordability constraints” had led to “design compromise”, including at University Hospital Durham where floor area had to be reduced, leading to “shortage of space … and a lack of ventilation”.

Feeling the Heat

“One particular problem”, the auditors noted, “is summer overheating”. PFI hospitals fall well below minimum standards. “At one PFI hospital the contract manager had recently recorded temperatures of over 40 degrees C in the wards during the height of summer,” said the auditors. As the whole premise of PFI and the dodgy value for money calculations is the transfer of risk, solving this problem might be thought to be down to the PFI company. But no. When the auditors visited “it had not been agreed who would bear the cost”.

Cleaning Up

Among the most alarming findings was that “the cost of cleaning PFI hospitals is higher than in non-PFI hospitals and the quality of service is lower”. Not exactly surprising, but with clear evidence that poor hygiene standards increase the incidence of MRSA, C. difficile and other deadly super bugs – exactly the sort of finding Hewitt would not have wanted splashed across the papers last year.

The problem isn’t just cost-cutting by the PFI companies and the cleaning firms they employ: the report noted that “only a fifth of ward managers at PFI hospitals … had sufficient powers of direction over cleaners”. And in the bureaucratic nightmare of PFI, doing something about it isn’t easy either because improved standards “are not necessarily reflected in the service specification”, ie contract.

Making improvements is “likely to require the requesting of a service variation”. Great news for lawyers, not so comforting for patients.

Failure? Fine By Us

When things go wrong it’s invariably the hospital, not the PFI company, that suffers. Two thirds of hospital managers felt that they couldn’t impose sufficient financial penalties on the companies to motivate the PFI company to do its job.

And that’s if difficulties are reported in the first place. Many problems go unpunished as busy nurses have better things to do than hang on the phone to a remote help-desk. “They would often therefore either ignore the failure or deal with it themselves,” say the auditors, with the result that only 30 percent of trusts report “most” service failures. Even if they do, the PFI companies determine how much to fine themselves: “The data for calculating deductions is usually generated by the helpdesk and is therefore the responsibility of the PFI contractor.”

When whole areas of PFI hospitals become unavailable most trusts think the payments they can withhold aren’t enough to make the PFI company return the building to use quickly. In one case, a water leak shut an operating theatre for two days at a loss of 33 operations and a cost to the trust of £24,750. The PFI company was docked less than £5,000.

Red Tape, Red Faces

Anyone who thinks the public sector is tied up in red tape should look at what happens when a PFI hospital needs the private company it’s relying on to make any changes.

If it needs a new noticeboard, say, it can’t just ask a handyman to put one up. It has to get a quote for “supply and fit and life cycle maintenance” (£860 for five of them from one PFI company, since you ask). The NAO report leaves a large space for a “flow diagram of the process for making a minor change”. Unsurprisingly clinicians reported infuriating delays. And it’s not cheap: at Norfolk and Norwich 1,600 “minor “works” (putting up a shelf, changing a plug, etc) came in at £1.2m – £750 a throw. For any bigger change, like altering the use of a room, the process is more cumbersome still. And if it costs more than £5,000, the lawyers and even bankers have to be pulled in as their “risk profile” might be affected.

As a trust manager from Durham put it: “It is not a competitive market, the mark-up by the contractor and the [PFI company] increase the costs, and there is not the incentive for them to come up with affordable solutions.

And the Good News Is …

It’s not all bad news. On the odd incidental like “security” PFI hospitals were judged better. And the report repeats the Treasury’s favoured view of PFI: “The first wave of PFI hospitals were very largely delivered to time and budget.”
Yet again, however, this conclusion is based on the cost of the hospitals once the contract was signed, after which it can’t go up. If the prices when the deals were given the go-ahead were considered, a more appropriate comparison, the auditors would have seen increases of between 40 percent and 230 percent as huge price increases emerged during contract negotiations.

Despite the evidence of innumerable surveys, reviews, field visits to hospitals, independently commissioned technical evaluations, questionnaires and focus groups, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds, Parliament, apparently, doesn’t need to know about the bed shortages, substandard buildings, poor cleaning, labyrinthine bureaucracy and extra costs that come with PFI.

Patricia Hewitt’s own review of hospital PFI deals duly concluded that, subject to some trimming here and there, they could go ahead. Nobody was able to point to damning NAO findings that PFI is about as useful in a hospital as a surgeon with the shakes.

Before the last election, Osborne stated that he would end PFI once the Tories got in power. This is one of the promises that the Tory party has broken. Not only has not ended PFI, he actually increased it and authorised more projects. This probably shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, as PFI was originally a Tory idea, put forward by Peter Lilley as a way of opening up the NHS to private enterprise.

It needs to be closed down, and the Tories removed from office before they can privatise anymore of the NHS.