Sunday, March 25, 2007


Long claimed as why socialism is superior to "chaotic" private enterprise

NHS planning has been a disastrous failure, leading to an uncontrolled boom in the workforce followed by a bust in budgets, a report by MPs says. The health service set out in 1999 to recruit 20,000 more nurses by 2004 but hired 67,878 - 340 per cent over target. It also recruited twice as many GPs as planned and 69 per cent more health professionals, such as physiotherapists. As the inflated workforce had to be paid, hospitals and trusts plunged into deficit, the Commons Health Select Committee report says. Now posts are being left empty or lost, and a few NHS workers are being made compulsorily redundant. More than half of newly qualified physiotherapists have failed to find work in the NHS.

The MPs are scathing about the failure to maintain a link between staff numbers and the money available to pay them. Instead of raising productivity to meet targets, the NHS "threw new staff into the task rather than consider the most cost-effective way of doing the job", the report says. It calls the staff expansion "reckless and uncontrolled" and says that funding increases were often seen as a blank cheque for recruiting new staff. There is also criticism of generous contracts. "Large pay increases were granted without adequate steps being taken to ensure increases in productivity in return," it said. The committee urged the Government to make workforce planning a priority [When will they ever learn?], and for an end to constant health service reorganisation.

Stephen O'Brien, the Shadow Health Minister, said: "Top-down workforce targets imposed by Labour have created confusion amongst NHS staff. Patients are bewildered about where all the money has gone, and hard-working staff are losing confidence by the day in Labour's stewardship of the NHS."

The British Medical Association did not entirely endorse the report, however. Sam Everington, its deputy chairman, said: "While agreeing wholeheartedly that integrated workforce planning must be a priority... we do not agree that the expansion of the medical workforce was reckless and uncontrolled and that pay increases for doctors have not seen a return in productivity. "The UK is still critically short of doctors and the BMA has always believed that government goals to increase doctor numbers were too low."

Andy Burnham, the Health Minister, said: "While the pay contracts cost more than we or the trade unions and professional associations first anticipated, we must remember that we were setting right an NHS system with widespread recruitment difficulties. We have been able to eliminate these and reward hard-working professionals with the pay they deserve."



Typical Leftism: Treat all kids as if they are the same. Sitting through what passes for a High School education these days may even be helpful to most but it will certainly not be helpful to all

Teenagers who drop out of school or training at 16 will face criminal action and 50 pound on-the-spot fines under plans to raise the age for leaving full-time education. Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, said that dropouts would be served with ASBO-style "attendance orders" specifying a study course that they are expected to attend. Breaching an attendance order will be a criminal offence, punishable by a 50 pound fixed penalty or prosecution. Ultimate sanctions include community sentences or fines.

Mr Johnson accepted that there was no point in forcing nonacademic teenagers to struggle on in the classroom. But he emphasised that compulsory education or training to 18 was essential to ensure that the next generation of workers could compete in a knowledge-based global economy. At present Britain has one of the lowest staying-on rates for education among developed countries, ranking twentieth in the OECD rankings, with 76 per cent of young people aged 16 to 18 remaining in education or training. "It should be as unacceptable to see a 16-year-old in the workplace without any education or training as it was to see a 14-year-old, which used to be common before the Butler Education Act [of 1944]," he said. He added that he expected the sanctions, which may also include the confiscation of driving licences, to apply only to a small "hardcore" of refuseniks.

Under the plans, training could take the form of full-time academic or vocational studies, workplace apprenticeships or training courses. Teenagers already in employment would be expected to undertake accredited training one day a week. The names of all 16 and 17-year-olds will be added to a database held by local authorities so that they can track their participation in education or training. Local authorities will receive 476 million pounds a year to employ advisers to help young people to choose suitable forms of training. The education maintenance allowance of 10 to 30 pounds a week, which is paid to 400,000 youngsters from low-income families to encourage them to stay at school, will be replaced with a new "training wage". This is likely to include a basic allowance for those who turn up to training, and "bonus" payments for those who gain qualifications and demonstrate progress.

The new measures will be phased in from 2013, when the leaving age in England will be raised to 17. In 2015 it will be raised again to 18. The older leaving age will cover pupils starting secondary school in September 2008. Currently, parents face criminal prosecution if they fail to ensure that a child under 16 goes to school. The new measures shift the legal responsibility on to the young person. Employers will face fines if they do not allow employees aged 16 and 17 to undertake accredited training. This rule will apply equally to parents employing their children in a family business.

Start-up costs of the measure are expected to be 200 million, with annual costs running at 700 million. The plans received a mixed reaction. David Willetts, the Shadow Education Secretary, said that it would be better to focus on improving education standards up to the age of 16. Richard Lambert, the director-general of the CBI, the employers organisation, said that it was a necessary step. But Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, warned that criminalising young people could alienate those already disaffected with the system. The Scottish Executive has no plans to raise the education leaving age from 16. The Welsh Assembly aims to increase the number of 16 to 18-year-olds in education or training and is due to issue a strategy this year.


Britain: Throwing celery now incorrect! (It's true)

Even though it has never done any harm. Hard to imagine that it could!

Is the right to bear celery a civil liberties issue? It certainly wasn't what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they drafted the US constitution. However, this week's news that Chelsea Football Club has banned celery from Stamford Bridge has pushed this humble vegetable to the forefront of the civil rights agenda. To paraphrase Voltaire: I don't like to eat celery, but I'll defend to the death your right to throw it.

Celery throwing, in case you weren't aware, is a slightly surreal Chelsea tradition that dates back to the 1980s. The vegetable throwing is an accompaniment to the famous `Celery song', a paean to the erotic properties of the humble apium graveolens dulce: `Celery, celery, if she don't come, I'll tickle her bum, with a lump of celery'.

Until this week the origins of the chant were a mystery to me. However, after trawling football websites, I came across the theory that the chant is based on a Chas and Dave recording of a traditional cockney singalong called `Ask Old Brown To Tea'. Not being particularly familiar with the Chas and Dave canon, I consulted my friend Ed, a self-confessed aficionado of the London pub rockers. He confirmed that the Chas and Dave connection was correct. The original lyric was, `Ask Old Brown to tea, and his family, if he don't come, I'll tickle his bum, with a lump-a celery'. Chas and Dave recorded a version on an old Christmas album, which then became a hit among travelling Chelsea fans on a tour of Sweden in 1981, and a tradition was born.

However, the football authorities haven't always taken kindly to celery throwing. In 1996, Gillingham FC banned celery from the Priestfield stadium after a goalkeeper complained that he had been struck by the vegetable. In 2002, four Chelsea fans were prosecuted and fined for `throwing celery without lawful authority' during the FA Cup semi-final against Fulham. The latest clampdown on celery throwing came after the Carling Cup Final, when Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas was showered with celery as he went to take a corner. Fabregas wasn't injured by the flying vegetables. In fact, the young midfielder, who is probably used to an entirely different calibre of makeshift missile in his native Spain, looked rather bewildered.

Although nobody was hurt, the FA has launched an investigation into this and another celery-throwing incident involving Chelsea fans and the club has decided to make Stamford Bridge a celery-free zone. `The throwing of anything at a football match, including celery, is a criminal offence for which you can be arrested and end up with a criminal record', said a statement on the club's website. `In future, if anyone is found attempting to bring celery into Stamford Bridge they could be refused entry and anyone caught throwing celery will face a ban.'

As I've argued before on spiked, a policy of banning specific objects that might be used as missiles will always be subverted by human ingenuity (1). If celery is banned, then fans will simply throw coins, cigarette lighters, or mobile phones instead. In 2002, a linesman was struck by a half-eaten meat pie at Millwall's New Den. Is a bunch of celery more hazardous than a meat pie? How many people, I wonder, have been injured by celery at a football match? According to Home Office figures there were 78 arrests for missile throwing in the 2005/6 season, only 16 of which were at Premiership matches (2). The fact that only seven Chelsea fans were arrested for throwing missiles in all competitions last season doesn't suggest a particularly widespread problem. Moreover, it is not possible to tell from the statistics whether these arrests were for chucking celery or more bog standard projectiles such as coins or plastic bottles.

The police may, of course, have been taking a softly-softly approach to celery throwing, so I contacted the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) to find out whether flying celery is a health hazard. `I don't think we can find any instances of people struck by vegetables at sporting fixtures,' Roger Vincent from the RoSPA press office told me. Vincent thought that, while throwing bunches of celery might be dangerous, there wasn't anything wrong with fans waving the vegetable. (Perhaps Chelsea fans should follow the lead of the campaign for safe standing and start a `safe celery' campaign.)

Next I tried the Football Licensing Authority (FLA), which was set up after the Hillsborough disaster to oversee stadium safety. According to the FLA website, the rate of fan injuries at football matches in the 2005/6 season was one injury per 32,449 spectators, of which 65 required hospital treatment (3). Two thirds of these injuries resulted from trips, falls or contact with turnstiles, while half of the remaining injuries were scalds from hot drinks. What about flying vegetables then? I rang the FLA to find out. `There is nothing on record to say anyone's been injured by a vegetable,' said Nikki Rutherford who compiles the FLA injury statistics. `We did have one person choking on a meat pie but that was about all,' she added. So, there you have it, the half-time catering is far more hazardous to spectators than flying celery.

Chelsea might be despised for their new-found wealth and success but celery throwing remains one of their more endearing traits. The spectacle of thousands of Chelsea fans singing their lewd ditty and hurling celery is guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of most football fans, regardless of club allegiance. However, the football authorities evidently fail to see the funny side. Celery is now salata non grata at Stamford Bridge. Worse still, the club is urging supporters to ring a special hotline and inform on anyone seen throwing celery inside the stadium. A celery hotline, for Christ's sake! George Orwell himself couldn't have made it up.


Britain: A war of words over the 'Yid Army'

Ignore the touchy PC brigade: the fans of north London football club Tottenham Hotspur should be allowed to call themselves whatever they like.

YID - Your Ideal Dating - is an international Jewish dating site. Yid Vicious is an American klezmer (Jewish East European folk music) band. Yid Kids is a clothing line for newborns. Yid Army is the fan club of Tottenham Hotspur, a North London football club. Though the word ‘Yid’, which is the Yiddish ethnonym for Jew, has historically often been used as a pejorative (for an anti-Semite, simply calling someone a ‘Jew’ is a term of abuse), in these cases the word has no racist connotations. On the contrary, it is used humorously and, for Yid Army, it was originally a case of positively reclaiming a racial slur from rival supporters and throwing it back in their face.

Yet now, Tottenham Hotspur Football Club is conducting a ‘full consultation exercise’ over their fans’ habits of referring to themselves as the Yid Army because of fears it can give rise to ‘casual anti-Semitism’. A meeting next week will be attended by representatives of the club and its supporters’ trust, the Kick It Out anti-racism campaign, the Football Association, the Premier League and the Community Security Trust, a Jewish defence organisation.

There are various theories as to exactly when Spurs fans started referring to themselves as Yids and Yiddos. By most accounts, such words were originally used as an anti-Semitic provocation by opposing fans, but the Spurs, who have always had a sizeable Jewish fan base, took it over in the 1960s as a badge of honour. They thereby lessened its racist impact and got one up on their rivals.

Now, there are growing concerns that the Yid Army itself is causing racism because apparently people who don’t really understand the history of the term can become ‘casual anti-Semites’. It seems that so long as something offends someone somewhere – regardless of whether it was said informally or with racist intent – it can be construed as racist.

Two incidents over the past couple of weeks have reignited concerns that chants and phrases that have been bandied around football terraces for at least 40 years can give rise to anti-Semitism inside and outside sport stadiums.

During a Sunday football match, West Ham United fans were filmed chanting slogans such as ‘I’d rather be a Paki than a Jew’ during half-time at Upton Park. A week later, eight boys from Chauncy School in Hertfordshire were arrested for apparently saying ‘Yid Army’ at their teacher’s leaving do. This incident was also filmed and when the teacher, David Appleman, saw the video on the internet, he reported his students to the police, accusing them of making anti-Semitic remarks. According to the school’s headteacher, Dennis O’Sullivan, Appleman is ‘looking delighted, smiling and shaking hands with each of the boys’ on the video. O’Sullivan has criticised the police for treating the 15 and 16-year-old boys as criminals and said that ‘it is sad to see that he [Appleman] has made a complaint against our students without telling us’ (1).

O’Sullivan said: ‘We have Spurs supporters chanting “Yiddo! Yiddo!” about themselves at matches. I wonder if we will see the police making arrests at the next home match.’ (2) Well, considering the current consultation exercise and demands from the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) that fans stop calling themselves Yiddos or the Yid Army, it seems neither football matches nor schools are safe from the language police these days.

Spurs fans say that the term Yid is part of the Tottenham subculture and that ‘some people not used to hearing the word used in this way may find it offensive, but genuine supporters usually try to explain to them that it is really an ironic term of endearment – and, importantly, that its use by Spurs fans has stopped its use as real racial abuse by rival supporters’ (3). Even if Tottenham supporters are today largely non-Jewish, Yid Army is simply the term they use to identify themselves as a group with a common interest, and to position themselves against rivals.

One fan said the word Yid is ‘part of our identity and we should be proud of it. It is not racist. It’s about sticking together and responding sensibly to the bullying of others many years before.’ Another fan said that ‘like a great many non-Jewish Spurs fans, my link to this great club goes back to the Jewish community. I am proud of the club’s Jewish links, and those links are celebrated by the fact that we identify ourselves as yiddos’. He added: ‘If there are certain sections who are offended by our own yid chants, perhaps it would be good for them to talk to the fans and learn why we sing it and find out how proud we are of the club’s Jewish heritage. In fact, if we stopped calling ourselves yids, this Jewish heritage would be less obvious for all to see.’ (4)

No doubt, things can get rowdy on football terraces where rivalry is expressed through taunts and insults, but demands that Spurs fans stop using words like Yiddos show that increasingly people aren’t even allowed to decide what to call themselves – never mind what they choose to call their rivals. This is despite the fact that the history of the Yid Army is bound up with popular fights against racism. These days, it seems racism can only be fought on our behalf, by anti-racist quangos and officials.

The link between language and racism is not as clear-cut as it is made out to be by those who want to clamp down on offensive speech. Not only because offence is often in the eye of the beholder, but also because taken out of context and held up to the standards of political correctness, phrases and chants lose the significance they have in their original settings. So the fact that West Ham fans are anti-Spurs, not anti-Semitic, is seen as irrelevant because the words they use to express it are not acceptable according to new and ever-widening definitions of ‘hate speech’.

Chants at sports stadiums should not be interpreted literally. An obvious case in point are the basketball games between Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel, where a common chant from the Jerusalem supporters is ‘Ya Saddam ya habib udrub udrub Tel Aviv’. Hapoel fans adopted it after news programmes showed Palestinians chanting it on rooftops during the Gulf War. It means ‘Saddam, darling, bomb Tel Aviv’ in Arabic.

While the Yid Army turned the tables on their rivals and helped change the word Yid from an insult to a badge of honour, some supporters are seen as ostracising others who may be offended or even as causing anti-Semitism amongst schoolkids and justifying others’ racism. At a 2003 UEFA anti-racism conference, Chelsea chairman Ken Bates said: ‘It is hard to criticise Chelsea fans for calling Tottenham supporters something that they call themselves.’ (5)

The Yid Army website asks why, when fans have used the term Yid Army since the 1960s to deflect racism, it is seen as a problem now. Indeed, this is a sign of our times, of today’s growing tendency to divide society into those who cause offence, those who are easily offended, those who can be easily ignited by offensive words and those who need to police the public in order to minimise such speech.

But reading various Yid Army discussion forums, the Yiddos themselves seem more than capable of distinguishing between racist and affectionate speech. As one puts it: ‘I’m Jewish and a Spurs fan and I’m very proud that Spurs fans - whether they’re Jewish or not - have taken up the yiddo name as a badge of honour. I think that’s what anti-racism is about: people standing together whatever their race/origin/skin colour etc and shoving it back in the racists’ faces.’ (6) Another fan is more to the point: ‘I’m not jewish but i am a yid. Tottenham always will be the yid army and that is that. For any f u k e r who think political correctness is the way to go can go fuk themselves. im fed up with the s**t. coys. YID ARMY’


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