Northernheckler's Blog

A Yorkshireman's adventures in the big Smoke

Base, common & popular

Tony Blair & Margaret Thatcher - Royal London ...

Blair & Thatcher visit the wax works - Image by Alanna@VanIsle via Flickr

There have been a flurry of rumours on Twitter and on the internet more generally that former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has died, or is about to.

All so far have proved to be false, but have already shown that there are many – particularly within the Labour fold, that will almost literally dance for joy when she finally does pop her clogs.

I’ve despised her for many years. I won’t be dancing on her grave though – displays of joy at the demise of other human beings only serve to upset people further, and such displays will only weaken the public opinion of Labour.

Many on the left see Margaret Thatcher as possibly the most despised figure in politics in recent memory. She’s certainly the one I despise the most.

We should beware of deluding ourselves though. The real reason why so many people dislike her, is actually because so many more people thought that she was the best thing since sliced bread.

It’s also common place amongst certain Labour supporters to decry Tony Blair as some kind of demon as well.

Perhaps some people think he is. Most do not.

You’ll often hear people say that “Everybody hates Manchester United”

Why ? It’s because they’ve been the most consistently well supported, and most successful club of recent years. It’s because they’re so popular with so many, that they are so unpopular with a few. (And I’m certainly no Manchester United supporter)

The most popular, and the most significant post-war  Prime Ministers have without a doubt been Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.

Whether you like them or not, it is an inescapable truth that there are many millions who did – and probably still do.

So I’m just saying !

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May 9, 2011 Posted by | blogs, idle banter, politics, twitter | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Politics & the blogosphere – is it still about interaction ?

Richard Cobden

One of Steve Baker's heroes Richard Cobden - famous for having a pub in Camden named after him - and outside which one of the Gallagher brothers was photographed on Google Earth

It took a good while for me, and I guess many more people, to understand the power of the so called Web 2.0 phenomenon – which basically revolves around the notion that the internet is not a a broadcast medium – it is a medium which thrives and develops on the interactions of its users.

The potential of this idea for changing the way we think, and relate to each other is perhaps most apparent in the political ‘blogosphere’ and it’s attending social media platforms – such as for instance Facebook & Twitter.

I’ve found it a revelation that it’s possible to connect with politicians – who once seemed remote and unassailable – but are now ready to respond to questions, visit your blog, and publish and perhaps reply to your comments on their own sites. It can also lead to “real life” activity – In the past two years I’ve joined the Labour Party, visited Downing Street, met cabinet ministers, and conversed face to face with Members of Parliament. Without the interaction of the on-line communities none of this would ever have happened (a cautionary tale for some I guess !)

Some of this comes at a price though. Personally I’ve taken a decision not to pursue a mass readership for this blog – it ticks over nicely and has had 10,000 or so visitors – but if I were to receive that many every day – as some quite modest blogs do, I’d have great difficulty fitting in the management of comments, and the writing of posts with any kind of a real-life lifestyle. Imagine then how it must be for a Member of Parliament – the interest must be phenomal, and so also must be the risk of publishing something that will be picked up by the main-stream media, and used to make political mileage against you.

Certainly there are well publicised faux pas arising from Twitter – whether they be about skateboarding elderly ex-prime ministers, ill considered jibes against opponents, or hasty comments regarding ballot counts.

I’d suggest thought that although the greater scrutiny which the new media brings is difficult to negotiate, it is nevertheless a worthwhile activity for politicians – as it not only shows them to be open to communication with the electorate, but also to be confident in their convictions – and unafraid of speaking their minds.

Which is why I’m concerned that a number of politicians seem to be shutting down the channels of communication. It’s been well publicised for instance that Nadine Dorries MP has closed down her Twitter account (on which she was famous for blocking anyone who tried to respond to her), and has opened a new blog on which she opines freely – sometimes about individuals  – but leaves no method of replying. Comments are switched off, and the email address on the page, results in a message  (so I’m told – I’ve never tried it myself) which explains that Nadine may take several weeks to respond, and that she only replies to constituents. (Can anyone confirm this ?).

But I’m not going to dwell on Nadine Dorries – Although I do find her a little quirky I think her offensiveness has been highly exaggerated – Suffice to say that I feel it’s sad that she’s choosing not to interact with the rest of us mere mortals – in favour of  turning her on-line presence into a one way channel.

Another blog site I’ve viewed a reasonable amount over the past couple of years belongs to one Steve Baker – the Member of Parliament for Wycombe. I find his blog interesting because Steve’s not like most other Tories. Most Tories in my opinion base their political beliefs on very little other than a desire to get ahead, there are no principles in their politics. Steve Baker on the other hand has principles to spare – he’s evangelic about many aspects of politics – he waxes lyrical about the “Austrian School” of economics, and his beloved Cobden Centre. He’s clearly an independent thinker as his somewhat unorthodox statement on Hunting with Hounds shows Hunting with hounds | Steve Baker MP – ( and remember he’s representing a constituency in the heart of Fox Hunting country ).  So he’s very principled – I just tend to disagree vehemently with almost all of the principles he holds.

Give him his due though he’s responded to my comments, and engaged – and of course I haven’t been particularly complimentary – but he gives as good as he gets, and I even bought a book on his recommendation after reading this article – Clear thinking | Steve Baker MP ( Book available from Amazon here : Bad Thoughts: A Guide to Clear Thinking: Amazon.co.uk: Jamie Whyte: Books – I can also recommend it).

I don’t read his blog often but I do keep coming back to it periodically – but when I tried to leave a comment recently it appeared that the site had forgotten my password. After a bit of messing on with reminders and stuff I realised it had also forgotten my user name and email address. No problem – register again – except that “User registration is currently not allowed”. With a bit more scouting around it would appear that all of my previous comments (there aren’t that many actually) – and Steve’s replies to them, have been removed – in fact I couldn’t find any comments at all.

Of course Steve is still on twitter @sjbaker but if you read the contact information on his web-site :Contact me | Steve Baker MP it’s clear that  he will not answer any comments

“Follow me on Twitter (please note that I do not reply on Twitter)”

In fact there’s very little way of contacting him directly other than by post – and the form on the website is for users with a Wycombe post code only.

Of course he has – like every other MP, or for that matter every other member of the public – every right not to respond, and not to interact.

Wouldn’t it be so much better if they all did though ? Wouldn’t give them all so much more credibility – even if they used staff members to give them a hand ?

The posts on Steve’s blog I’ve looked at over the last couple of days have been his “quotes of the day”, and I found a particular irony in this one :

“Peace will come to earth when the people have more to do with each other and governments less” (attributed to Richard Cobden).

Quite ! Being a member of parliament doesn’t stop you being one of the people Steve – in fact I’d say it magnifies the fact that you are exactly that.

So if you do read this – please leave a comment and let us know if you’re going to interact with us again, and whether you’ll encourage other politicians to do the same ?

Stop Press – :

I’ve just discovered that the aforementioned Nadine Dorries MP has re-launched her Twitter account, which can be found here @Nadine_MP – so a special follow friday #ff for her.  I’m following her – I hope she doesn’t block me !

UPDATE ( 2.00 PM Saturday 16th October)

Steve Baker MP has read this blog, and responded via direct message on Twitter to inform me that there is a technical issue with his website which is preventing people leaving comments, which he is looking into. He tells me that the only problem he has is lack of time and that he prioritises his constituents. Which is a reasonable enough response – Thank you Steve. He’s also clearly reading his Twitter messages – and despite what his blog says he does reply. Keep interacting Steve !

What we need now is a comment from Nadine Dorries ! – Are you out there Nadine ?

UPDATE ( 3.00 – Saturday 16th October )

Following the response above Steve Baker has posted on his blog to clarify his comments policy and explain how his recent purging of spam registrations has caused a few problems, I’ve since commented on his blog and have received a response Comments and contact – constituents first | Steve Baker MP

Never let it be said that Northernheckler doesn’t give credit where it’s due, and nor do I restrict my praise to non-Tories. Thank you Steve Baker – the blogosphere doesn’t get much more interactive than that, it’s much appreciated. Now if you could have a word with Nadine … !

October 15, 2010 Posted by | blogs, politics, twitter | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why I’ve voted David Miliband for Labour Leader

David Miliband for Labour Leader

David Miliband giving the Keir Hardie Lecture

There are many factors that influence voters in any election. A party leadership election is a particularly interesting one in that respect.

Why ? Well I feel it’s because a party leader really has two very different jobs – one is to “lead” the party, to steer it in a particular direction, to get the various different forces within the party to pull together so that the resultant force is in the direction which the leader, and the party as a whole want to go.

The second job however is to get the party into government. This means appealing not just to members, or regular voters of a party, but also to those who may not support the party. For an opposition party this is particularly important – without the support of a few more people who voted otherwise at the last election, the party will stay in opposition.

So in considering who to vote for I’ve tried to ask myself : Can I see this person as a leader of the Labour Party, and secondly : Can I see this person as Prime Minister ?

This is what I came up with :

First of all I think the field of candidates is a remarkably strong one – if I have a disappointment it is that there are no more female candidates – I think it’s high time Labour had a woman as leader. If they don’t choose to run though, then that’s their choice. I think Harriet Harman has done remarkably well standing in, in the interim however. I’d have been pleased to have seen Yvette Cooper running as well.

Which leads me nicely to Diane Abbott – I like Diane – she has personality to spare, a strongly evident sense of humour, and is not afraid to be outspoken. I could just about see her as Labour leader – I couldn’t see her as Prime Minister though – the massed ranks of the Tory media would have her for Breakfast, Dinner & Tea (or should that be Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner)  – and I think she’s be a very vulnerable target for those wishing to make the Labour Party look foolish. Which is a shame – I still think she has a great deal to offer as a politician.

With Andy Burnham the trouble I’ve had is that I’ve almost had to look him up on Wikipedia to find out much about him. I’ve received less information about him during the campaign than any of the others, and it’s been frankly very low-key – I’d find it difficult to identify a picture of him. An invisible leader will not win any elections, so although I’ve no reason to doubt his ability as a politician, neither do I have much positive evidence either, My guess is that the wider non-Labour electorate would say “Andy who ?” – so sorry Andy, you don’t get my vote either.

Which leaves my top three – the two Miliband brothers and Ed Balls.

I could certainly see any of these three as a Labour leader. I could certainly see any one of them ultimately as a Prime Minister. Whatever the eventual result of the leadership election, I won’t have any worries about belonging to a party led by any of these three – they are able politicians, conducting strong campaigns, and I feel that they all have the potential to bring the public around to supporting the Labour party.

So how do I choose my 1, 2, 3 ?

Well my first instinct was to go for Ed Balls. Ed is someone who has responded to letters from a local MP regarding concerns I’d raised regarding my school, on two separate occasions, with sensible and timely advice. He has read my blog on a number of occasions, and has exchanged e-mails and twitter messages. I’ve met him at the House of Commons, and found him to be very impressive. On a personal level then, this makes him a good choice for me – I’ve not met either of the Milibands, and had no interaction with them up to now.

So it was looking like Ed Balls for 1st choice to me – but how did I choose between the other two ?

It quickly became apparent that the Miliband brothers were the two front-runners in this race. Obvious too, that commentators and some supporters were trying to cast David in the role of the “New Labour” candidate, carrying the torch of the Tony Blair legacy, while Ed supposedly represented a return to “core” Labour values – to win back the votes of disillusioned left-wing voters, who had deserted the party after the commencement of the Iraq war.

For myself, I can’t really believe that any of the candidates will be definable primarily along those lines – I really don’t think that there are massive differences in approach, between these three – but that this Right side / Left side argument which is flying through the online community, is trying to stir this up in order to tribalise the leadership contest.

I blogged on this here some days ago Can we stop fighting amongst ourselves please ? « Northernheckler’s Blog

At the time it was tempting me away from the Miliband brothers who seemed to be the axis of the sudden burst of in-fighting – which led me more towards Ed Balls.

The next day I had a campaign e-mail from the David Miliband campaign : David Miliband Campaign e-mail

I liked what I read. It was almost as if he’d read my blog. Or at least was expressing exactly the same sentiments as I was.

Over the next couple of days, Tony Blair appeared increasingly on the news in relation to his new book. I lost count of the number of negative comments about him – these from supposed Labour supporters – comparing him with Margaret Thatcher, calling him a war criminal, saying he was the worst leader Labour had ever had. Many of them as well linking him directly to David Miliband.

Well actually I rather liked Tony Blair. Rather respected him too – he took principled, if controversial decisions about Iraq, which had huge popular support, as well as a substantial parliamentary majority. He achieved a lasting peace in Northern Ireland, and led Labour to an unprecedented three terms in office.

But I’m not a Blairite. Or a Brownite – I’m a left of centre Labour member and voter. Blair and Brown are gone. New Labour isn’t new anymore. Old Labour is similarly in the past.

I re-read David Miliband’s email. It seemed to sum up everything I was thinking.

And so I voted :

1. David Miliband

2. Ed Balls

3. Ed Miliband

I didn’t indicate a 4th and 5th choice – as I don’t think the other two candidates are Prime Ministerial material,

So a close run thing which has in the end been decided by my negative interpretation of Labour supporters slagging off other candidates and tribalising different factions within the party, and ultimately I’ve been tipped over the edge by a single e-mail. So I’d like to say “Sorry Ed !” to my 2 and 3 selections.

If you find my reasoning quirky or illogical, you could well be right – but that’s how I came to my decision.

I look forward to reading other bloggers’ accounts of how they made up their minds

September 7, 2010 Posted by | blogs, Election 2010, politics | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Slightly Silly pictures of William Hague

In the last two days I’ve had a lot of traffic on my blog – well it’s all relative I know, but far more than usual.

Is this because I’ve upped my game and started writing eloquent and incisive prose ?  or because I’ve hit some important political nail right on the head ?

No it’s because last February I posted some silly (ish) pictures of William Hague (who’s almost exactly the same age as me and has bugged the life out of me ever since I was a schoolboy – cringing as he wowed the Conservative Party conference). On reflection it was a little childish of me – but I didn’t say anything untoward about him. I just let the pictures speak for themselves.

Now William Hague is in the news because of ill-informed gossip on political blogs. So what does every one do ? They Google “William Hague” in Google Images, and head off to my blog.

Meanwhile virtually no one has read my last two blogs.

So to cut out the hard work, instead of writing a new post, I thought I’d republish the pictures – and generate a bit more traffic.

While I’m at it I’d just like to say that I think William Hague has been treated appallingly over this episode, and I believe that he has nothing to reproach himself for. That is all. Enjoy the pictures. And come back and read my more thought provoking articles at some point in the future

William Hague at Prime Ministers Question Time

William Hague once claimed to have drunk 14 pints in a session

William Hague once claimed to have drunk 14 pints in a session

William Hague at Prime Ministers Question Time
Former Tory Leader William Hague

Former Tory Leader William Hague

William Hague wearing his trademark flat cap

William Hague wearing his trademark flat cap

William Hague at the Tory Conference with Aunty Maggie in 1977

William Hague at the Tory Conference with Aunty Maggie in 1977

September 3, 2010 Posted by | blogs, idle banter, news, politics | , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Can we stop fighting amongst ourselves please ?

UPDATE : The morning after writing this, I get David Milliband’s latest leadership email https://www.taomail.co.uk/labour-emails/web/100586/2168/2168/4/157/138869/6c9f25fffc902659faad22345e2dc0f1/ which I have to say covers a lot of the same ground as my post. He’ll be in my top two – still pondering about Ed Balls though

A bit of a rant this but I need to get it off my chest : –

Back in the days between Margaret Thatcher being elected in 1979, and Tony Blair being elected in 1997, politics wasn’t a great deal of fun for anyone who wasn’t a Tory.

The Tories to me lacked all conviction. No ideology, no guiding principles, other than make as much money as you can, protect your own people and to hell with all the rest.

They did however have a strong grasp of tactics and PR, and as unpopular as they were with me and many like me – that’s how popular they were with those who did vote for them. For every one of us that thought Maggie Thatcher was the wicked witch of the west, there were a band wagon load of Tories who thought that the Sun shone out of her proverbial.

If Labour were the main party of opposition they did a poor job of showing it. What we were treated to was a party that seemed intent on tearing itself apart – and more or less did. With the likes of Degsy Hatton and Militant, with the Campaign for Social Democracy led by Shirley Williams and the Gang of Four – which of course led to the breakaway SDP – condemning Labour (and any non-Conservatives) to years in opposition wilderness. There wasn’t much need for the Tories to rip apart Labour – the Labour party did it for them, in-fighting & factionalism were the order of the day

Wind the clock forward a few years and we find the Labour Party about to elect a new leader during it’s first year in opposition, after 13 years in power.

And what do we find. We have arguments about whether to go back to Old Labour, whether to revive New Labour, whether each leadership candidate is Brownite or Blairite, or in favour of a Core Vote Strategy. We have countless pundits slagging former Prime Minister Tony Blair off, we have supporters of Tony Blair slagging Gordon Brown off. Throw in a few nasty comments from Peter Mandelson – and the predictable backlash  – and it all starts to add up to an 80’s style Labour Hara-Kiri fest.

Can we all get a bit of perspective on this please ?

New Labour – it was new for the 1997 election – well over a decade ago – it’s not new anymore. Whether you love or hate New Labour – it’s time to move on

Tony Blair isn’t the leader anymore – neither is Gordon Brown. They both did good things, they both did things that weren’t so good – Get over them ! They are quite literally – history  !

I will say this though – Labour has to be the party which represents all people. Not just the poor, not just the workers, not just the under privileged. Everyone. If not, then every time someone is helped out of poverty or disadvantage, then they’ll have no choice but to abandon the party.

For me the broad church nature of the Labour Party should enable us to ensure that we can be the party that works for all people, not just some, and that we can secure votes from all sections of the public in future.

So whoever you vote for in the Leadership ballot, please remember what it says on the back of your membership card : “by the strength of our common endeavours we achieve more than we achieve alone”

For me that means fighting the Tories, and not each other.

September 1, 2010 Posted by | blogs, news, politics, twitter | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sporting Rivalry & Racist Comments

I got into a slightly heated Twitter exchange this afternoon after responding to @conorpope’s tweet to @BevaniteEllie’s statement that she was visiting Burnley. It simply said – “You’re in Burnley ? I hope you’ve had your jabs.”

I took some offence at this – although from the very first I know full well that @Conorpope is no racist – I’ve followed him on Twitter for some time, and guessed that the likelihood was that this comment was in connection with some rivalry between Burnley and some other local town – quite possibly Blackburn, or Bolton. (and it later transpired that this was indeed a comment relating to Blackburn Rovers rivalry with Burnley)

It bothered me though that a town in Lancashire – well known for it’s Asian population, was inadvertently being compared to a country, where one would be likely to need injections before travelling to. Perhaps Pakistan or India

Was I over reacting ? – maybe – but it wasn’t by accident –

I’d just like to relate a couple of anecdotes to give you a clue as to why it bothered me – both relate to me personally, and to sporting rivalry in the North of England – so are roughly analogous to this situation :

The first is about my memories of supporting Bradford Northern Rugby League team (now Bradford Bulls)  throughout the 70’s and early 80’s – Our biggest rivals were Leeds, now the Rhinos.

There was a popular “joke” amongst Leeds fans. This was that Bradford was “over run” by Asian immigrants, to the extent that it was really a foreign country, and that all or most of it’s inhabitants were Asian.

Similarly there was a “joke” amongst Northern supporters that Leeds was actually a Jewish enclave within the UK, and that all Leeds supporters were Jewish

At the games between the two teams the two sets of fans would amuse themselves by hurling racial abuse at each other despite the fact that almost all of the supporters for both teams, were white, vaguely Christian, working class people.

Many’s the time when I’ve walked through a crowd of Leeds RL supporters, wearing my Northern scarf whilst they shouted things like “You black Bastard !”   or “Acky Acky Acky – I can smell a Paki !” (I’m white and English)

I’ve also been in the middle of crowds chanting “Four by, Four by, Four by two, Four by two, Four by two” at passing Leeds supporters (four by two = Rhyming Slang for “Jew”)  and shouted out “hilarious” comments about them having had the ends of their penises cut off.

If anyone was going shopping to Bradford in those days, a typical response might be “Hope you’ve got your passport !”

Less commonly you’d be told to be careful in Leeds if you went to the toilet – “they’ll have you circumcised as soon as look at you !”

It was all done in friendly banter, good humoured, and actually some of it was genuinely very funny.

Make no mistake though, it was very very racist. I’m very glad it stopped as well.

But before you start accusing me of getting on my high horse – I can assure you that I was an active part of that mob yelling anti-semitic chants – my voice was as loud as anyone’s, and I didn’t need much encouragement. Nor did I see it at odds with my activity with groups like Rock Against Racism or the Anti-Nazi League

Looking back though I’m embarrassed about my behaviour then – it was childish, it was racist, and I’d prefer not to have done it. I hope I didn’t cause offence to anyone (although I WAS deliberately trying to offend Leeds supporters).

Rugby League wasn’t my main sport though – football was, and I’ve been a lifelong supporter of Huddersfield Town. Our key rivals are Leeds  United. There were often racist chants in the early 70’s – I’m happy to say that I didn’t get drawn in to them – the racism was far more overt than the teasing at the rugby matches.

One of the worst went like this : (to tune of Oh when the Saints)

“The Bradford End. Is always full.

The Bradford End is always full

FULL OF WHAT ?

Full of wogs full of niggers, full of pakis !

The Bradford End is always full”

Nasty eh ? I never sang it, but lots did. It would have been a brave man that told them not to. I wasn’t that brave.

Many of those who sang it (and some of them were black) justified it on the grounds that it was making fun of Bradford, that everyone knew that most City fans were white, and it was obviously a joke. It wasn’t racist. Anyone who objected needed to get a sense of humour (Where have I heard that today ?)

But I didn’t resort to chanting it. What I did do though, like many Huddersfield supporters, was fall into another habit : That of never referring to rivals Leeds United by name. In writing it would be either L**ds or L666ds.

In spoken words it would simply be “Yids”

Why ? Well the derivation is the same as that at the rugby league games in Bradford. Leeds has a significant Jewish population, and several Jewish businessman have been involved with the club. Notably Manny Cussins.

The rest of it was just spite really. Spite and racism – not that any of us had anything against Jews – it was just a nasty name which could just as easily apply to Leeds supporters.

Several years later, long after I had thankfully grown out of all this obnoxious racist rubbish (for which I feel some guilt, but mainly acute embarrassment) I became a contributor to various on-line supporters forums for Huddersfield Town.

Now these email lists and discussion groups have evolved a code of ethics. Top of the list is this : NO RACIST COMMENTS !

And usually there are none. However it became apparent that several younger fans were still using the word “Yids” to refer to Leeds. They were quickly taken to task, and threatened with expulsion by the other members, and by list owners

Most of them were bewildered – they had no idea that “Yid” was an abusive word for Jew. They simply thought that “Yids” was a deliberate mispronunciation of “Leeds”, and whilst they had no intention of offending Jews, they had every intention of offending Leeds (which is of course within the code of conduct).

This felt uncomfortable to me. I’d never intended to offend people of any race – but I realised over the years that I’d said some really quite unacceptable things, and stood by and done nothing while others showed totally nasty racist behaviour.

As a result I’ve grown into someone who has a sharp eye for comments that could be construed as racist. Some might say I’m hypersensitive – I prefer to think that I have a highly tuned awareness. If I spot racist remarks, in whatever arena, I tend to speak up and say that I don’t like it. That’s not to say that I am particularly judgemental of the people who make the comments – very few of them are intentionally racist – and as I’ve related I’ve been as guilty as anyone of doing this in the past. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter though – I really think that it does.

So all those people who want me to stop being hypersensitive, to get a sense of humour and so on. Well I’m sorry I won’t be changing.

I have incidentally had discussions via Direct Messages with @conorpope since this afternoon, which show that he’s definitely not a racist, and that he does understand my position – it’s not a problem for either of us – despite some people who seem to be rather hoping that it was.

Sorry to disappoint.

@conorpope contributes to the excellent Political Scrap Book blog by the way – which today carries a blog on a far more interesting “race row” “Bring back slavery” row returns to haunt Conservative Future candidate Craig Cox | Political Scrapbook

August 23, 2010 Posted by | blogs, idle banter, politics, twitter | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Cameron : We’re even worse than Bulgaria !

Regular readers of my blog might have spotted a vaguely familiar statement from David Cameron in last night’s Leaders Debate on ITV television.

In my post Things that bug me – Part 2 on April 2nd, I moaned about the misleading reporting in the Daily Mail England’s poor cancer detection and bad diet mean Slovenian women live longer of the Government report ‘Health Profile of England 2009’ DoH Health Profile of England

I complained amongst other thing’s of the Mail’s tendency to pick an Eastern European country at random for us to be “worse than” – in what appeared to be an attempt to capitalise on racism against Eastern Europeans for sensational effect.

It seems David Cameron must have appreciated it – last night he chose not Slovenia but Bulgaria to compare our “oh so terrible” health care with.

While there would seem to be some evidence from WHO that his statement was in essence correct – that there are more deaths from cancer in Bulgaria per head than in the UK at least according to the Sofia news agency  Bulgaria Pops Up in UK Historic Debate – Sofia News Agency ; the Department of Health’s own published data (ie. the document linked to above)  – which is produced in close consultation with other countries, would appear to suggest otherwise.

Check out the table 3.1 on page 61 – it quite clearly shows that UK & English cancer deaths have a lower incidence than in Bulgaria. That’s not to say that we’re ideal though – David Cameron could have said we were worse than Ireland or Italy – or better than Denmark or Spain. Whichever country he chose to compare us with would have been misleading though – because on page 49 we have a chart that tells us that “there has been a steady decline in the mortality rate [from cancer] between 2000 and 2008. It is evident that the mortality rate has decreased faster for males in recent years than for females”.

So irrespective of whether we are or are not “worse than” Bulgaria, the number of deaths from cancer, has been reducing steadily during the incumbency of the present Labour government.

So Labour’s record is unarguably better than the Conservatives’  in relation to deaths from Cancer.

If I might conjure up a phrase from the recent past : “Don’t you dare lecture us on Cancer Mr Cameron !”

April 16, 2010 Posted by | blogs, Election 2010, politics | , , , , , | 5 Comments

When does politics ever really engage the public ?

As it appears the election will finally be called tomorrow, and the media will be overloading us all with political stories for the next month or so, I’m wondering just how engaged the general public – as opposed to the kind of people like you and me – who write and read political blogs – really ever are about politics.

Clearly some of them always are, and lots of them sometimes are. If politicians could only get their heads around why and when they are, and perhaps just as importantly – why and when they’re not, then we’d have a very different political landscape

One of the recent big events politically on television would appear on the face of it, to have been Channel 4’s “Ask the Chancellors” Televised Debate Ask the Chancellors – 4oD – Channel 4 – featuring real Chancellor Alistair Darling, Shadow Chancellor George Osborne, and for the Lib Dems, the man described as the Hung Chancellor, Vince Cable.

It certainly lit up the world of Twitter, and would appear to have been judged a success in terms of people voting on the C4 website and the trending topics on Social networking sites Ask the Chancellors: a success for Channel 4 – Telegraph Blogs , but did it really capture the public imagination ?

Certainly with estimated viewing figures of just 1.7 Million it would seem that it did not. Compare this with the audience of over 8 Million for B N P leader Nick Griffin on Question Time BBC celebrates record ratings for Nick Griffin on Question Time – Times Online . What was it about that programme, which fired up the public so much more for a late night programme featuring a minority group politician, than for a peak time “Big guns” debate ?

When I went into to work the day after the Question Time with Nick Griffin, the whole place was buzzing with talk about the programme – even those who hadn’t seen it, were talking about it.

After the “chancellors”, not a murmur. This despite the economy being probably the key political issue of the day. So why aren’t people interested ?

For me these are difficult questions to answer. What makes it difficult for me peronally, is that, when all said and done I have to confess to being a bit of a political geek. The fact that you’re reading my blog probably indicates that you are too. People like us, look at politics news, and usually see every nuance of every development, and turn it over in our mind, trying to work out what effect it will have on public opinion – our moods soaring with every stirring speech from our chosen parties, and dropping into the slough of despond with each embarrassing faux pas. It’s not easy for people like us to understand the workings of the minds of people like my Mum, who at 72 reads the Daily Mail every day, but claims she only does the crossword, and never reads the articles.

As a ‘political geek’ I’m someone who is often involved in on-line claim and counter-claim regarding political minutiae, and so I wasn’t entirely surprised a couple of weeks ago to be challenged (via Twitter of course) by  independent candidate for Luton, and well known purveyor of oddly shaped vegetables Esther Rantzen (Esther4Luton) to watch Channel 4’s Dispatches programme regarding allegations concerning Labour politicians involved in unsavoury activity regarding payment from parliamentary lobbyists. Allegations which I was vociferously sceptical of, prior to seeing the programme.

It was an odd time for me as I was unusually not able to indulge my usual passion for all things politically newsworthy, and spent the best part of a week not really tuning in to Twitter, or the news, or any of my normal sources of information. I didn’t actually ever get to see the programme itself fully either. Instead I just got the background chatter from people I work with, the glimpses of other peoples newspapers on the train. In short I got the man in the street’s version of politics – not the politics wonk’s version. I have to say that the revelations about Stephen Buyers, Patrica Hewitt, Geoff Hoon, and Margaret Moran didn’t register on my radar at all, and when I came to catch up with this at the end of the week, it would appear that Labour’s reaction, had been to condemn the four out of hand, and more or less say – well we wanted rid of them anyway, it’s no big deal. Simples ! as those meerkats annoyingly say.

Except, to be fair to Esther Rantzen, I think she had both me and them bang to rights (I’m talking like Gene Hunt now – I’ll have to watch out). I couldn’t see any saving graces here, and none were offered by the party as far as I can see. The actions of these MPs appear to have been despicable and dishonourable.  In other circumstances this could have been very damaging indeed to the Government, and to the Labour Party, and yet – somehow – it hasn’t been.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been inch after column inch of coverage of it in all the papers Stephen Byers, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon suspended over lobbying allegations – Telegraph . It’s not to say that the opponents of Labour out there in the blogosphere and twittersphere, haven’t gone ballistic over it. But if you ask someone who’s not a political blogger, someone perhaps who thinks Facebook is for looking at their niece’s wedding pictures, and for playing Farmville, ask them what they think about the lobbying allegations; then they’ll more than likely just look blankly at you. Geoff Hoon ? Geoff Who he ?

I don’t understand this. Sometimes the public really do get worked up about political stuff. Remember the #ILoveTheNHS hashtag ? the storm that was created when right wing Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan described the NHS as 60 year mistake ? It was huge. It was on all the newspapers, everybody heard about it, and it just grew out of nothing.

Completely spontaneously.

Except that it didn’t really – it had rumbled on for months with John Prescott amongst others, trying his best to make a story out of this, plugging YouTube videos of Hannan  – all to no avail. The story would not run. But then it did. It ran and ran and ran.

I don’t understand it – and for once I’m not offering any answers – just asking the questions. When does politics ever really engage the public ? and Why ?

Maybe we’ll find out over the next few weeks.

April 5, 2010 Posted by | blogs, economy, politics, twitter | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Things that bug me – Part 2

Well I said I’d make up for lost time.

My second blog of the night – My earlier one can be found here : Things that bug me ! – Part 1 « Northernheckler’s Blog

Next thing I’ve seen that really bugged me  in the last few days was this pitiful article on the front page of the Daily Mail :England’s poor cancer detection and bad diet mean Slovenian women live longer which reports on the publication on the Government’s Health Profile of England 2009   http://www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/documents/digitalasset/dh_114938.pdf

This is just so absolutely typical of the Mail’s – “everything is terrible, and it’s all the fault of  Labour/David Cameron/Foreigners/Communists/Women/Fat people/Insert-your-own-scapegoat-here” approach to journalism.

One barely needs to read beyond the headline to sense the antipathy towards women, towards Eastern europeans, towards the National Health service, and towards the Government.

Reading on, it gets worse –

First we’re told “Health Care is so poor” – and yet this paper supposedly supports the Conservative party, whose support for the NHS is far from certain, and who definitely want to cut radically funding to public services.

It’s even worse than Slovenia – Slovenia ? Why Slovenia ? Could it be that it’s because we have some Eastern Europeans in the country at the moment, and it’s way of belittling them ? (Poland are noticeably further down the list than both Slovenia and England, but where would be the fun in saying that British women live longer than Polish women ?)

We’re given a picture of a fat woman, always the butt of so many jokes, tucking into what looks like a chicken take away. Doubtless we’re expected to believe she’ll wash it down with half a bottle of vodka, before dying of liver disease. Not that journalists ever have dodgy diets or drink alcohol.

Though the Mail picks up on the report’s concerns about alcohol related sickness and death, the claim that “deaths from chronic liver disease among women” are “driven by the rise in binge drinking” – are not at all borne out by the report – which cautions,

The method for calculating units of alcohol from drinks consumed has been revised since previous editions of the Health Profile of England. These revisions have been made to more accurately reflect the strength of some alcoholic drinks, and the way that these can be consumed. This makes comparisons over time between levels of alcohol consumption or binge drinking difficult.

but does suggest that

The proportion of pupils (aged 11-15) who had ‘drunk alcohol in the last week’ has continued to decrease since 2001.

The Mail’s version of the report though doesn’t bother with the good news, and carries on to make such utterly daft statements as :

“there was better news for English men – their life expectancy of 77 years and eight months is among the best in Europe, behind only Sweden, Italy, Cyprus and France”

Of course that won’t be much consolation for their poor old fat alcoholic unmarried female partners, as they face the final 5 years or so of their life without their already deceased men friends – still, could have been worse – they could have had their teenage pregnancies to a Slovenian

As a matter of fact the report itself  makes very interesting reading. It does draw attention to some of the biggest threats to the health of our population, but it also points out some of the major improvements that have occurred – such as for instance :

  • life expectancy at its highest rate ever – with male life expectancy amongst the highest in Europe
  • sustained reductions in infant mortality rates
  • declining mortality rates in targeted causes – cancer, circulatory problems, and suicides
  • reductions in the numbers of people smoking
  • improvements in the quality of housing stock

All of this data kept according to international comparators, in the public domain, and very open about the problems as well as the triumphs.

So why not do it some justice Daily Mail ? You have good reporters, intelligent people who can write intelligent articles that are accessible to a wide audience. Instead, again, you decide stir up resentment, disappointment, disillusionment, and anger – based on what ? Based on a biased and partial reporting of a very thorough report.

I just wish the Daily Mail would wake up to its influence and take some responsibility for its actions.

April 2, 2010 Posted by | blogs, news, politics, women | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Things that bug me ! – Part 1

Hello

Sorry I haven’t published anything for a while  – I’ve been a bit busy.

I’ll try and make up for lost time.  I’m planning a small series of blogs on “Things that bug me !” – because there have been a few that have just lately !

First  thing that bugs me  is a person who insists on leaving repeated comments spouting the same untrue garbage over and over again on my blog. In case you’re reading, (and I hope not) – I only get to see your comments if I care to check the spam trap – otherwise they’re just deleted. I’ve manually deleted all of your other comments too, even the ones I originally let through. My advice to you is to start your own blog, oh and try and make it more interesting. And get out more.

Returning to my theme …

Things that bug me :  The rubbish being spouted about the rise in National Insurance contributions.

Since the budget we’ve seen lots of media outlets, including my old favourites The Mail give David Cameron unwarranted publicity because he doesn’t think raising National Insurance contributions is a good idea. The Mail managed to call it a “stealth tax” Osborne: I’ll cut Labour’s National Insurance stealth tax on jobs | Mail Online . Call me contrary but announcing a tax rise in the Budget, live on television, in Parliament, doesn’t really seem all that stealthy. In fact I’d say it’s really making it rather obvious.

Making it so obvious though didn’t really make it so that the BBC noticed it. Take a look at their At a Glance coverage from Budget Day.BBC News – At-a-glance: Budget 2010 key points – scroll down to the bit about National Insurance. Can’t find it ? Try searching for “National” or “insurance” or “NIC” – still not got it ? No that’s because they didn’t think it worth mentioning.

Strange then that they should now be making such a fuss, this article being one of several which gives prominence to “Business Leaders” disparaging views of the rise in NICs :  BBC News – Cameron says Labour on ‘wrong side of working people

I could if I wished look at the contradictions in the Tory position – which seems to shift from draconian cuts one day, to who knows what the next, but really that isn’t what ‘bugs’ me so much – that’s their prerogative as a political party.

What really annoys me is that so many media outlets are giving such credence to these “Business Leaders” – many of whom are donors to the Tories, and who have no more qualification to speak on this subject than anyone else, and presenting it as “balanced news”

David Cameron says that it “is an impressive list of businesses” –  Excuse me – 41 ? that’s very few indeed.

I don’t run a business I run a school. I don’t oppose the increase in National Insurance rise – is that news ? No of course not – and neither is the opinion of these “executives”

They are of course entitled to their opinions, and the Conservative party are entitled to theirs, and of course to change the budget if they are elected.

Which sort of draws attention to the fact placed in smaller print in most of these articles – the rise doesn’t come in until April 2011 – so actually, if it IS likely that increases in NICs will affect the economy adversely, the Labour government would also have at least 2 opportunities – the pre-budget statement, and the next annual budget to change direction if need be.

But the BBC – who are supposed to be impartial – choose not to make a big issue of that.

The 1% rise is of course, actually a half a percent rise on what was already planned in 2008’s budget – and somehow that didn’t seem to make as many waves back then.

This is biased and partisan reporting – the BBC in particular should have higher standards than this.

April 2, 2010 Posted by | blogs, economy, news, politics | , , , | 1 Comment

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