Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Incredible Greenie intrusiveness in Britain

Ministers want a slop bucket for food waste to be placed in every kitchen under their latest plan to generate green electricity. Instead of throwing out scraps, households would be required to store them separately for at least a week until they are collected by recycling teams. The rules will oblige some homes to sort rubbish into five containers - or potentially risk fines. Some councils already insist on separating glass, metal, paper and nonrecyclable refuse.

David Miliband, the environment secretary, is expected to unveil the scheme this week as part of the government's waste strategy. Food accounts for about a fifth of domestic waste and releases greenhouse gases when dumped in landfill. Now local authorities are set to be given the power to introduce schemes whereby methane generated by decomposing food will instead be trapped and used to generate electricity.

The proposal is part of a wider shake-up of Britain's waste collection. The government also plans to give councils the power to introduce "pay per throw" charges, levied according to the weight of rubbish. Households would not be charged for recycled waste. During the recent council elections there was a backlash in some areas against the scrapping of weekly collections. Fortnightly collections were blamed for causing infestations of vermin.

However, advocates of recycled kitchen waste insist that sealed containers will provide a hygienic solution. The idea was inspired by the government's waste body, Wrap, which found that homes across Britain waste a total of 3.3m tons of food a year. He is also likely to outline a plan for giant incinerators to burn more than 20% of rubbish that cannot be recycled. This too would be used to generate energy.


The A-word Now Forbidden in Britain

We read:

"It’s official – there is no longer any such thing as an accident. The word ‘accident’ is to be banned from the new edition of Britain’s Highway Code, which is published by the UK Department of Transport. Instead the words ‘collision’, ‘crash’ or ‘incident’ will be used to describe events that once were known as accidents.

This adoption of new terms for everyday events does not only have linguistic significance. The banning of the A-word is a consequence of a broader cultural outlook which insists that nothing happens accidentally these days and that there is always someone to blame.

The change in terminology reflects a dramatic shift in the way that Anglo-American societies make sense of human experience. The compulsion to blame is growing all the time. That is why the word accident is being written out of existence.... writing off the A-word highlights the profound difficulty that Western societies have in accepting that misfortune is part of life.


A defender of the indefensible

The chairman of the British Medical Association, James Johnson, has resigned after a letter he wrote to The Times defending the failed medical application system caused widespread fury and led to a number of doctors resigning from the BMA in protest. Mr Johnson, a surgeon, wrote yesterday to the BMA tendering his resignation. “My letter caused an absolute furore,” he admitted. But he was unrepentant about the letter, signed jointly with Dame Carol Black, which defended the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, regarded as the chief architect of the new medical training system.

Since the letter appeared on Wednesday, in response to one from Professor Morris Brown of Cambridge University and colleagues, a wave of anger has engulfed Mr Johnson. There has been no opportunity for the Council of the BMA, which he chairs, to meet since the letter appeared but opinions expressed on medical websites and in Times Online made clear that he had lost support. On Times Online there were by early yesterday afternoon 496 reponses to the letter, universally critical of Mr Johnson and Dame Carol, who is chair of the Academy of the Medical Royal Colleges. Many called on them both to resign.

The day after the letter appeared, a meeting of the Scottish hospital consultants condemned it unanimously. Other comments on the website include one from Richard Sidebottom, a junior doctor from London, who says: “I see the BMA and the royal colleges as traitors to those they should be looking after.” Others say that the letter is “arrogant, deluded and out of touch” while Chris Twine, a junior doctor from Cardiff, says the views expressed in it are “totally at variance with those of doctors dealing with the Medical Training Application Service (MTAS) in any capacity”.

What appears to have caused the greatest offence is a sentence in which Mr Johnson and Dame Carol “restate our support for the Chief Medical Officer and his role in improving junior doctors’ training”. Yesterday Mr Johnson was unrepentant over his defence of Sir Liam. “He’s a civil servant, he can’t defend himself,” Mr Johnson said. But his view of Modernising Medical Careers (MMC), Sir Liam’s creation, is not shared by the bulk of junior doctors. Nor, apparently, is it shared by Dame Carol’s successor as President of the Royal College of Physicians, Ian Gilmore, who last week wrote an open letter to Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, saying that MMC needed to be reconsidered along with the failed application system.

A member of the BMA Council said yesterday: “Jim’s position became untenable when his letter to The Timeswas published. He did not consult senior BMA colleagues before sending it, and the letter caused substantial damage to the reputation of the association.”

Mr Johnson told The Times yesterday that he had planned to give up office at this year’s Annual Delegate Meeting in Torquay next month. The council will be chaired in the meantime by Sam Everingham, the deputy chairman. A new chairman will be elected at Torquay. Mr Johnson’s is the third resignation prompted by the MTAS fiasco. Previously two officials at MMC, Professor Alan Crockard and Professor Shelley Heard, resigned in protest at how, in their view, the MMC process was being subverted by efforts to repair the damage done by the computer failure. The High Court has yet to give judgment on the case brought by RemedyUK, the junior doctors’ pressure group, against MTAS. That is expected on Wednesday.


The British decay

Meanwhile, in London . I open this morning's papers to find that our next prime minister Gordon Brown's first policy announcement is that he intends to build 5 environmentally-friendly `eco-towns' which are totally self sufficient in energy generated by solar and wind power.

One would have thought that Brown would have other priorities on taking over from Tony Blair at Number 10. Immigration is out of control, with bogus asylum seekers, East European ex-cons and sex offenders failing to `report back' to the immigration authorities after their initial processing on arrival. (Last month some minister came up with the daft proposal to serve these people deportation notices by SMS text!). Perhaps linked to that problem is the staggering leap in gun crime and knifings in our streets. (Jewish areas have had to enlist private security to cope with a crime wave of 30 armed raids on Jewish homes in recent weeks.) And perhaps linked to both those problems is that this country has also run out of prison cells. This means that criminals are being let out early to make way for new offenders who may expect even earlier parole as the crime wave rises even higher. All of which goes to less deterrence to criminals who are no longer afraid of being caught.

This of course assumes that the baddies are actually caught. But that's increasingly unlikely since the government has been closing police stations at breakneck speed as if it were some important target. Over 25% of local police stations have disappeared in the last 10 years.

And let's not forget that the erosion of border controls and policing is not just attracting criminals. Even more serious is the infiltration of Islamic terrorists and the free movement of the British-born Asian youths they have incited to mass killing on our streets and transit systems. The security services have admitted to the existence of dozens of terror cells under various levels of investigation. One must wonder how many may have escaped their attention.

But despite all of this, the leaders of the two biggest political parties in the UK are battling to save the planet. The vital question is: which party offers the smallest carbon footprint? Which is why I am more likely to find a council recycling inspector checking my garbage bin than a police officer checking my street.

Whilst our cuddly leaders fret over carbon and ozone, evil despots are busy with other elements in the Periodic Table. Beneath schools and hospitals in Iran, hundreds of German-built centrifuges are humming away 24/7 in reinforced bunkers, refining a new final solution to the Jewish Problem and the means to enslave the West by nuclear blackmail. Let's stop worrying about the planet and start worrying about ourselves.


More British craziness -- BBQ police

The Primrose Hill community centre in north London has been hosting a popular annual summer festival for the past 30 years. Yet this year, in order to qualify for the 400 pound grant from Camden Council that helps to make the festival a reality, the centre is having to jump through some pretty strange hoops.

The centre is being asked to fulfil a string of new requirements. These include making sure that five per cent of festivalgoers fill in a questionnaire to say whether they enjoyed themselves; inviting `under-represented groups' to participate as stall-holders or performers; hiring only professional caterers who must be registered with their local authority; making sure all staff, artists and volunteers have a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check to ensure they do not have a history of harming children; and using only a gas barbeque. Under no circumstances may the Primrose Hill community festival use their traditional coal barbeque, even though it has not caused any accidents over the past three decades.

Alongside New Britain's speech police, health-and-safety police and ethnic quotas police we can now add the Barbecue Police: council officials whose job it is to ensure that only the right kind of barbecue is used in the right kind of way by the right kind of people. Another bit of fun goes up in smoke.

More here

A toxic view of working-class parents

Commentators heaped praise on Sue Palmer's Toxic Childhood. Didn't they spot its poisonous arguments about a 'dead-eyed', over-breeding underclass?

I put off reading Sue Palmer's "Toxic Childhood: How the Modern World is Damaging Our Children and What We Can Do About It" for as long as I could. But the book, which was held up as a great insight into the state of childhood today by numerous public figures, just kept on coming up.

First published in 2006, the book got good reviews everywhere. And there was that letter to the government, published in the Daily Telegraph and signed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and a hundred or so others who agree that so-called junk culture is `poisoning our children'. Indeed, Palmer could hardly have found a finer club of supporters; it included former children's laureate Anne Fine and Marion Dowling, president of the British Association of Early Childhood Education.

I was mainly put off by the book because the title bothered me. Where did this idea come from, that we're all being poisoned? The book seems to issue a challenge; first you de-toxed your diet, now it's time to de-tox your children. And once the kids are de-toxed, you still won't be able to take it easy because you'll also have to de-tox your home (the Wi-Fi is scrambling your brains, in case you didn't know). I even heard the keynote speaker at a leading early years conference a few years ago telling everyone to get their houses rewired to avoid damaging their children with electrical currents running beneath their bedrooms. Strangely, all those concerned with such dangers neglect to mention any of the real cases of toxicity today. To take just one example, the thousands of children in the developing world poisoned by the use of glycol to sweeten counterfeit medicines never even get a mention.

Once I got round to reading the book, I found that it mostly gives perfectly good, straightforward analyses and advice about the state of childhood today. Yet it left me feeling I had been held up somewhere rather unpleasant for a few hours. Underneath all the nice stuff about the importance of good fresh food, outdoor play and parents giving time, love and attention to their children, there is a nasty stench. Do right by your children, the book seems to say, but at the same time beware the savage children of the underclass - the `feral' kids who `don't have children's faces - they're pinched and angry with dead eyes'.

So you slip quickly from the spurious notion that there is something called `toxic childhood syndrome' (both `toxic' and `syndrome' have proper medical definitions, but here they are used as pseudo-medical jargon) to some far more familiar ideas. Parent-bashing by teachers, for example: the problems in school today, the argument goes, are basically the fault of an underclass of parents. What else would you expect from them - `deprived, uneducated, often scarcely more than children themselves.often junkies, alcoholics, involved in crime'?

This group of parents is seen as a lot of feckless infants. They eat the wrong food, they don't take their children out on the right trips to broaden their horizons - they don't even talk properly. There is even a dire warning about the `soaring' birth rate of these have-nots, whilst the `educated classes' fail to reproduce in comparable numbers. The reader is thus softened up for the idea that the state must step in and `detoxify other people's children' - or else there will be `serious civil unrest within a generation'.

Palmer's language is eloquently nasty. She writes about children in poor neighbourhoods who are `huge, heavily-built and lumbering', and `teenage mums devouring taxpayers' money'. It's perfectly pitched to upset and even terrify anyone who is trying their best to bring up their children well.

Palmer is more than matched by the teachers she approvingly quotes - but are these teachers always right when they blame everyone else for children's apparently poor development? If the state of childhood really is as dire as Toxic Childhood makes it out to be, then don't schools play any part in this? The image of a group of inner-city headteachers sitting around with Palmer telling her that `something really awful will happen soon' makes me think it's time to get the hysteria under control and get a grip. What hope can anyone hold for children's education and moral growth in schools if the headteachers are so cynical and brutalised?

This is not to say that Toxic Childhood is without its insights, which come from careful research and are expressed with clarity and verve. I think that Palmer is right to identify one of the fundamental problems with the nature of childhood today: society's increasing sense of fearfulness about children. Many parents are afraid to set limits and control their children's behaviour. Most of us are afraid to let our children play outdoors. Neighbours and shopkeepers are afraid to intervene to stop bad behaviour. Palmer captures this hopeless fearfulness well.

But in the end, Toxic Childhood just generates even more fear - fear for one's own children, laced with terror about other people's. It addresses the problem that parents aren't feeling authoritative, and then suggests that this should be remedied by taking away even more of their responsibility and giving it to the state. It addresses the problem of relationships between schools and families, by indulging in the sort of parent-bashing that has always characterised the staffrooms of the worst schools I have worked in or visited.

Rather than putting forward an inspiring vision of childhood, for all children, Toxic Childhood stirs up a fear of the basest kind - that other people's children are sub-human. Their existence today is nothing more than a prediction of savagery and mindless civil unrest in the future. It is an unashamedly insular book, obsessing over the supposed toxicity of texting, instant messaging and pre-teen fashion, whilst ignoring the genuine mass poisonings experienced every day by poor children around the world.

Anyone who writes about a fast-breeding, barely-human underclass that will cause the collapse of society, and then argues that we need a more interventionist and authoritarian state, is leading us somewhere we've already (and only recently) been in western Europe. We need to pause for a moment's thought.


WiFi scare: Just another bureaucrat defending his patch and the media looking for scares

No evidence of safety will ever suffice for some in this area but we have of course noted the huge upsurge of brain cancer since a billion people got cellphones [/satire]

Sir William Stewart, chairman of the Health Protection Agency, has called for a review of the health risks of wireless technology after an investigation into its effects on children. The BBC’s investigative programme Panorama claims that wi-fi networks in schools can give off three times as much signal radiation as phone masts. Current government advice says that phone masts should not be sited near schools without consulting parents and teachers, because children are thought to be more vulnerable to radio-frequency radiation.

The programme-makers measured radiation levels from a wi-fi-enabled laptop in a classroom in Norwich. It found that the signal strength was three times higher than that of a typical phone mast. Wi-fi, or wireless fidelity, allows a computer user to connect to the internet at broadband speeds without cables. More than two thirds of secondary schools and nearly half of primary schools have wi-fi. Panoramaspoke to nearly 50 schools and only one had been alerted to possible health risks. Others had been told that there was no risk.The Government says that wi-fi poses no health risks, citing advice from the World Health Organisation.

In 2000 Sir William produced a report on the impact of mobile phone masts on health. He found that: “There may be changes, for example in cognitive function . . . There were some indications that there may be cancer inductions . . . There was some molecular biology changes within the cell. . . ”

The levels of radiation found in the Norwich classroom were 600 times lower than the levels deemed dangerous by the Government. It uses data from the International Commission on NonIonizing Radiation Protection, which bases exposure limits on a thermal effect. In other words, the radiation has to be strong enough to cause a heat effect before it is restricted. Dr Olle Johansson, of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, has carried out experiments on radiation similar to or lower than wi-fi and found biological implications. Asked if the commission was right to set limits based on thermal effect, he said: “That’s just rubbish. You cannot put emphasis on such guidelines.”


The current British immigration scene

"The people here are wonderful," says Jenny Sturgeon, a white Englishwoman who has lived in Slough for 30 years. "And the ethnic mix is wonderful. It's how the country should be. But we get a huge number of people coming in from all ethnic groups. A shortage of money can lead to tensions. The government has a lot to answer for." The town of Slough, which lies outside the M25 near Heathrow, has the greatest ethnic mix in the UK outside London. By comparison, even Leicester and Coventry seem blandly uniform.

Take Malinka, a Polish deli near the library. The large majority of shoppers are Polish but nonPoles go there too. One who enters to buy sausages while I'm there is Stephen Cordeiro, a Portuguese-Asian who was born in Kenya. And I notice that in the deli's window, among the job ads in Polish for nannies, waiting staff and handymen, that there's a card written in English, offering the services of an "African hair stylist".

Surveys carried out by the council show that a quarter of the town's businesses with more than 10 employees use the new migrant workforce because - businesses reported - they brought higher productivity and a better work ethic than indigenous workers. But inevitably there are tensions. One Polish woman, Aneta Kania, says she had never seen such diversity till she came to Slough. "I was very shocked by the mix. At first I thought it was a bit scary." Another Polish woman, an economist by training, told me darkly that she had recently been working in retail "for an Indian" but had stopped doing so "because they don't respect you".

A Sikh with a strong Indian accent lent credence to what that Polish woman said when he told me "there are too many immigrants in Slough". Polish drivers with no car insurance jump red lights, he muttered. And last week he'd been bothered by Bulgarians ringing his doorbell to beg for money.

Ted Cantle, who conducted the official inquiry into the cause of riots in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham in 2001, believes that migration to the UK can bring real benefits. "But building cohesive communities to harness the benefits long term takes resources. "It is important that councils like Slough are funded correctly for their population size and complexity to make sure they continue community cohesion work," he says. "Com-munity tensions are sometimes caused by the perception of competition between groups over resources and councils have to be able to demonstrate this is not the case."

Perhaps with that in mind, Slough last week formally protested to the Treasury that it had been severely underfunded because government statistics underestimated the number of immigrants coming to the town. Richard Stokes, leader of the council, describes official statistics as "not fit for purpose". "Estimates have failed to keep pace with what is happening on the ground and public services are suffering as a consequence," he says. "The migrants that come to Slough are hard-working and bring great benefit to the local economy but the council remains severely underfunded because of these poor statistics."

Andrew Blake-Herbert, Slough's strategic director for finance and property, says the council faces a 15m pound shortfall. It has managed not to cut crucial services but cannot make necessary improvements in areas such as children's services and recycling.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Slough experienced the ninth-fastest population increase of any local authority in the country between 1991 and 2001. But since then, the ONS contends, the town's population has declined by 3.3%, to a total of 117,600. Slough's own data suggests the total is nearer 130,000. To support that figure, the council puts forward an impressive array of evidence. It points to substantial increases in new housing, the rapid rise in house prices, the increasing numbers of households from which the council tax is collected, the high fertility rate among women in Slough (66 births per 1,000 women, compared with 54 in the country as a whole) and even a substantial increase in the amount of sewage flowing out of town.

Visiting Slough last week, I found plenty more evidence that the migrant population is getting bigger. I talked to officials, business figures, and residents from across the entire community - pale-skinned and dark, European, African and Asian. To start, I visited the busy road near Slough's massive trading estate - the largest in Europe - where coaches from Poland stop illegally to disgorge new arrivals. And I talked to a resident who watches that happen twice a day, sometimes more.

Tadeusz Chruscik is Polish but he's been living here since 1942, having served in the Polish Air Force. (Some 130,000 Poles settled in Britain during and after the war.) He says he's met some people who get off the coach without the slightest idea where to go, having got on after having too much to drink.

The sheer numbers arriving here simply can't be housed properly. The council is paid by central government to ensure that three-storey houses are not overcrowded but lacks the funds to check buildings with only two storeys. As a result, many migrants endure dangerously crowded conditions. Colin Rodgers, manager of the estate agency B Simmons & Son, says: "I've seen places where there are three beds in the lounge and three in the dining room. " I've also heard stories, from quite believable sources, about people using those beds in shifts."

Property, it hardly needs adding, has become unaffordable to many people. Baber Zafar is 21 and has lived in Slough all his life. In the town square, Zafar says immigrants have put so much pressure on house prices that he is moving to Spain. By a grim irony, the rising property market recently resulted in the closure of Slough's immigration counselling centre. It has now moved to Southall, west London, explains one of the counsellors, Qazi Anisud-din, because rising rents in Slough made the old premises unaffordable.

Of course, the borough council does what it can. In fact, it does more than most. In the past 18 months it has placed in schools some 900 children who arrived in Slough from overseas. In other towns, they might have had to wait weeks or months to be placed, but Slough established a special assessment centre to speed the process. But it's slow work: the centre can take only eight children a week. Last year two primary schools accepted 50 Polish children and 60 Somalis in just one term.

Not everyone welcomes the flood of pupils for whom spoken English is not easy. Aneta Kania sends her daughter to St Anthony's Roman Catholic school but says there are so many other Polish children there that seven-year-old Paulina is making slow progress in English. (Kania has poor English herself. Though trained as a nurse, she's obliged to work as a cleaner until her language skills improve. What with bringing up a child on her own, and her job, she finds it hard to fit in the lessons.) Another pioneering service set up by Slough council is devoted to dealing with Roma migrants who have been arriving by the hundreds since Romania joined the European Union in January.

Eighty-eight unaccompanied Roma children have asked for support from the town's children's services. Six have babies of their own, and seven are pregnant. To deal with these Roma children, Slough has set up a specialist team, at a cost of œ150,000 since January.

Fiona Mactaggart, Slough's MP and a former minister in the Home Office, says the flawed calculations "will not do". And the ONS itself recognises the shortcomings of its statistics. Karen Dunnell, the national statistician, wrote in May 2006: "There is now a broad recognition that available estimates of migrant numbers are inadequate for managing the economy, policies and services." Even the Poles don't relish the arrival of yet more Poles. Kania, the nurse who came to Slough just 18 months ago, says she dreads June, July and August because that's when Polish students come here for summer jobs. "There are too many people in Slough already," she says.

The legal tangle

Some days ago a newspaper published a photograph of 21 members of a Roma family. Apparently there are another 80, all relatives and all newly arrived since Romania joined the EU in January. A social worker in Slough explained she had nine teenage Roma girls, several of whom were pregnant, in her care. In theory, Romanians and Bulgarians are subject to a special regime for a transitional period of up to seven years. They can only come here to work legally if they are highly skilled, have been granted a work permit or come under a special quota for temporary agricultural workers. But there are no checks on the borders. They only have to show a valid ID card and walk in and they are entitled to stay as visitors for up to three months.

Back to our pregnant teenagers. Why can they not be sent home? The answer lies in a tangled web of legal obligations. Successive children acts have placed an obligation on local authorities to care for children in need. The Race Relations Act 1976 makes it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of race or nationality; foreign children have to be treated as British. As for access to the NHS, pregnancy is regarded (rightly) as a medical emergency so treatment is automatic.

On top of that, the Free Movement Directive which came into force last year severely restricts the government's ability to expel EU nationals even if they have committed a crime. In expanding the EU to countries which are far poorer than our own, we have stumbled into a potential crisis. The free movement of labour has set in hand movements of workers to Britain on a greater scale than anticipated. At the same time "harmonisation" of social security has placed obligations on EU governments to provide benefits in the richer countries that greatly exceed wages in the poorer ones.



An attempt to block the DVD release of The Great Global Warming Swindle displays contempt for free speech -- says this "Guardian" writer

A recent reaction to a climate change denial documentary broadcast on primetime TV displays contempt for free speech and political ineptitude. Bob Ward, a former press officer at the Royal Society, has published an open letter to Martin Durkin, maker of a documentary film broadcast recently on Channel 4 television that denies human influence on climate change. The letter is signed by a number of climate scientists and other academics with an interest in climate change.

I have no time for Durkin or his film, but take issue with Ward's letter, which, as reported by David Adam in the Guardian, demands that the DVD of Durkin's documentary be either withdrawn or corrected of its scientific errors. The open letter states that " ... it is in the public interest for adequate quality control to be exercised over information that is disseminated to the public to ensure that it does not include major misrepresentations of the scientific evidence and interpretations of it by researchers."

If Durkin's Great Global Warming Swindle DVD should be withdrawn or corrected, what about Al Gore's hyperbolic An Inconvenient Truth, soon to be distributed to all schools in England courtesy of Her Majesty's government? Ward complains that Wag TV, the production company responsible for Durkin's film, will not be bound by any Ofcom ruling against Channel 4. Channel 4 is restricted by a code of conduct when it comes to what may be broadcast, but Wag TV as an independent, commercial entity is free to distribute the DVD, and I'm not sure how it could be otherwise.

We are all of us surrounded by wild claims, ideological nonsense, misrepresentations and downright lies. But it is no business of the state, or assemblies of the scientific great and good, to pronounce on what may or may not be published. So challenge Durkin and show him up as the dissembler he undoubtedly is. But win the battle by force of argument. The data are on the side of those arguing that human beings are largely responsible for current climate change, and do not require backing up with bullying tactics.

Durkin is reported by Raphael Satter in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to have acknowledged two scientific errors, and said that these will be corrected in the DVD. That is an astute move by Durkin, but Ward et al demand that all the errors be removed, and then declare that if this were done, the documentary would fall to pieces.

I'm not so sure about this. Durkin could remove all the blatant scientific errors, and still make a superficial case based on issues that are not clear-cut, and over which there remains some scholarly debate. Reality is ever thus, yet given the increasing predictive power of climate models backed by hard data, the majority view of climate change is the only credible one to take.

But try explaining that to a mass audience. It can and should be done, but not in the combative rhetorical style beloved of the media and a number of scientific protagonists. Ward is quoted in Satter's article as saying: "Free speech does not extend to misleading the public by making factually inaccurate statements. Somebody has to stand up for the public interest here."

Strong stuff, but very, very wrong. Free speech does indeed extend to coming out with any old rubbish, and people - even highly intelligent ones - frequently do. Others are free to point out factual errors, and in doing so attempt to convince the masses of the truth. Like Bob Ward, I complained to the broadcasting regulator about Durkin's documentary. I did so not because I object to the line taken by Durkin, but rather because the filmmaker offered no space for opinions contrary to his own. The documentary was pure polemic subsidised by the taxpayer.

But Ward is going much further than a complaint to Ofcom, both in his open letter and discussions surrounding it. Regarding the demand for "quality control", it is not clear who would be the adjudicators, and even if Ward et al are right about the science (I am convinced they are), this is not a proper way for scientists to behave.

My principal objection to Ward's open letter is that it shows contempt for free speech, and an unwarranted lack of confidence in the ability of the public to think critically. A secondary objection is that it displays political ineptitude, and may prove counterproductive.


Come, friendly bombs, fall on Brown's eco-towns

With his plans to erect zero-carbon homes in zero-car suburbs, Britain's Gordon Brown builds on the Blairites' small-minded approach to housing

Britain's prime-minister-in-waiting, Gordon Brown, has announced that one of his first big initiatives will be to build `eco-towns' - that is, areas with new houses that emit little or no carbon, where there is little need for people to drive cars, and where the most a home-owner aspires to is to watch his electricity meter to ensure he isn't using up too much of the nation's energy. For all his claims to be bringing something `new' to Britain, Brown's small-scale and small-minded attitude to housing seems entirely in keeping with his predecessor's.

In the closing months of the Blair decade, Haringey Council in north London pushed through a remarkable innovation in housing policy. It wanted to check which residents were failing to claim grants to buy fuel. It also wanted to check which homes in Haringey lie empty. First and foremost, however, it wanted to indict all the local homes it deemed wasteful of energy. So the Council hired a plane, equipped it with a thermal imaging camera, and posted colour-coded street maps of the offending energy wasters on the web (1).

In terms of the direct intrusion of the government on the British house, the Blair decade has been remarkable. A recent pamphlet by the Centre for Policy Studies, a Thatcherite think-tank, could point to no fewer than 266 ways in which the state is able to enter people's homes (2). Indeed, Labour government minister Ruth Kelly's Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG), successor to John Prescott's Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (1997-2006), plans further controls. If parliament agrees, all houses in England and Wales will only ever get sold once the state rates them for their carbon emissions - from a disgusting `not environmentally friendly', rating 1 to 20, to a mystical `very environmentally friendly', rating 82 to 100 (3).

Just what physical units these ratings consist of, the new Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) do not say. At the end of the Blair years, the CLG invokes the 2006 Stern report on climate change, which was commissioned by Gordon Brown, whenever it can; yet when some more basic science is required, Ruth Kelly's empire is silent.

Still, in a striking, therapeutic reversal of the Roman, adult commandment caveat emptor, Blair's infantilising doctrine of consumer protection has come to housing. Anyone out to sell a house in England and Wales will have to pay the state upwards of 600 pounds, just so buyers can receive mandatory Home Information Packs (HIPs), each containing an EPC, the title deeds and details of local searches.

In an Orwellian 2007, the government wants at least 7,500 Home Inspectors to knock on millions of British doors. The country now needs to build no fewer than five million new homes in the next decade (4). Instead, Haringey's spy-in-the-sky and the CLG's HIP approaches to housing confirm that displacement activities have triumphed in the Blair years.....

New Labour puts houses out of reach, but in your face

As Brown was forced to concede in statements over the weekend, Blair has left Britain with a crisis not just of housing supply, but also of affordability. The price of an average house in the UK has risen from œ77,531 in 1997 to a likely œ200,000 in 2008 (6). According to the Halifax, residential property is too expensive for people to buy in 70 per cent of British towns.

Along with first-time buyers, public sector workers - above all, nurses and firefighters - face the greatest difficulties in affording a home. Yet it is on public sector workers that much of the British economy, especially in the north of England and the devolved regions, now depends. As for those public sector workers who are searching the south of England, in vain, for property cheap enough to suit their pockets, things are now so bad that the conservative Financial Times recently came out in favour of paying such ill-starred individuals higher wages. The FT ridiculed Blair's schemes of houses built for `key workers', noting: `Those who are not eligible - young or low-paid workers in the private sector, academics, or the many key workers who cannot get into one of the subsidised schemes - are left with fewer, more expensive properties to buy, while existing homeowners prosper as the subsidies drive up prices.' (7)

Existing homeowners - the middle classes - have indeed prospered from Blair's divisive housing policies; indeed that was always a deliberate strategy on his part. Similarly, there have been only incremental annual increases in the building of new dwellings. In 1997/8, just 180,566 new homes were built in Great Britain, only for the total to go almost straight down until 2001/2. By 2005/6, the pick-up was to just 196,307. That amounted to a rise in housing output of less than nine per cent over eight years (8).

New Labour and the propertied classes conspire with rural romantics, environmentalist reaction, narcissistic architects and authoritarian planners to make new homes harder and harder to build. Despite the standardised houses made by Georgians, Victorians and inter-war builders of semi-detached suburban properties, there are no plans to emulate the Toyota Motor Company and manufacture light, airy, personalised, œ100,000 homes that are ready to receive roofs in the space of six hours (12). Instead, a homeopathic approach dominates: the more house numbers are diluted within a solution of sustainable communities and `place making', the more effective housing policy is deemed to be (13)....

It was the architect Richard Rogers who, made official adviser to John Prescott early on in Blair's premiership, first suggested that nearness makes for neighbourliness (18). Nine years after Prescott put Rogers in charge of the Urban Task Force, this inane idea continues to dominate the New Labour imagination. The urge to make housing and cities `compact' has become so deep-seated that housing minister Yvette Cooper has been forced to blame local authorities for exceeding central government's already excessive targets for the percentage of houses built on brownfield sites (19).

Zero carbon, maximum regulation

In the old days, the Prescott doctrine of `sustainable communities' was mainly a pretentious protest against sprawl, the suburbs, the working class and all that. Yet as environmentalist opinion has grown more strident, so the nuances of housing sustainababble have changed. Government continues to plead for place-making and better home design; but the dogma that British homes must save the planet trumps everything.

Over his final winter, Blair saw the CLG embark on a series of `consultations' with interested parties. By March 2007, one of the weirdest of such exercises had closed, marked by the publication, over 90 pages, of Planning Policy Statement: Planning and Climate Change - Supplement to Planning Policy Statement 1 (20). It is worth getting a flavour of the CLG's housing Newspeak at the end of a decade of Blairite managerialism. In paragraph 1.14 of the consultation document, under the heading `Transitional Arrangements', we read the following:

`The need to take steps to mitigate and adapt to climate change is not a new requirement. RPBs and LPAs should already be taking steps to ensure that development plans contribute to global sustainability by addressing the causes and potential impacts of climate change. RPBs and LPAs may, however, come under pressure or themselves consider it necessary to halt plan-making so as to allow time to absorb the full implications of the policies in Planning and Climate Change, in its draft form as well as when finalised. The Department considers that such pressure should normally be resisted, but anticipates that RPBs will consider whether the content of emerging revisions of RSS, and LPAs similarly for DPDs, is consistent with the Key Planning Objectives set out in Planning and Climate Change.'

RPBs, anyone? They are regional planning bodies, and work with unelected regional development agencies (RDAs). LPAs? Local planning authorities, offshoots of local authorities. RSS? Regional spatial strategies in England, prepared by regional assemblies, which are only indirectly elected. DPDs? Development plan documents, prepared by LPAs.

This kind of planning gobbledegook, and the unelected appointees that go with it, is not an accident. Under Blair, the purpose of planning has become to stop new houses being built. For proof, look no further than paragraph 6 of the consultation document - that on Key Planning Objectives....

In the Blair terminus, fighting climate change comes before `enabling the provision' of new homes. Reducing the need to travel and especially to drive, and sustaining biodiversity, comes before technological innovation. Indeed, regional planning bodies will have to produce `regional trajectories' for the future carbon performance of new residential and commercial development (paragraph 1.7).....

Wherever, immediately after Blair, a major housing scheme is planned, at least 10 per cent of its energy supply will have to be `gained onsite and renewably and/or from a decentralised, renewable or low-carbon, energy supply' (paragraph 22). But now, since his weekend pronouncement, PM-in-waiting Gordon Brown has shown once again that a parsimonious, small-is-beautiful approach to society's burgeoning energy needs will always take precedence over large numbers of spacious homes that people can buy and own in full.

Much more here

Israel-hating British doctors get a reply: "" We are being innudated with support..." was the reply by Esti Sherbelis, International Public Relations Officer of the Israel Medical Association in response call for physicians signatures by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East to a letter from the the IMA to the British Medical Association and World Medical Association. This initiative was in response to a call by a 135 British physicians to ban the IMA from the World Medical Assocation recently published in the Guardian."

British journalists confess to their bias against Israel: "At their annual meeting in April, Britain's National Union of Journalists passed a resolution asking for "a boycott of Israeli goods similar to those boycotts in the struggles against apartheid South Africa led by trade unions, and [for] the [Trades Union Congress] to demand sanctions be imposed on Israel by the British government." In itself, this is a remarkable display of bias by journalists covering one of the modern world's most contentious conflicts. The New York Times' ombudsman, Byron Calame, observed last year, "Keeping personal opinions out of the public realm is simply one of the obligations for those who remain committed to the importance of impartial news coverage." The NUJ also "called for the end of Israeli aggression in Gaza and other occupied territories." Since NUJ members presumably read newspapers as well as write for them, they should be aware that Israel expelled all of the Jews from Gaza in 2005. Other than kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, there are no more Jews in Gaza. Israeli troops have only returned to the Gaza Strip in response to continued attacks originating from that increasingly fortified territory. The NUJ failed to publish their resolution on their Web site, perhaps sensing their prejudice was only exceeded by their ignorance."

Statue spooks British cops: "A terrified dad was held by police for 13 hours after they mistook a dummy of Lara Croft for a gunman. Computer games fan David Williams, 42, was arrested when armed cops swooped on his home late at night. He was pinned to the ground, handcuffed and quizzed - after officers spotted his life-sized model of the gun-toting Tomb Raider star, reports The Sun. David, from Dukinfield, Greater Manchester said: "I can't believe the police could be so stupid." He had called cops, about nuisance phone calls he'd received, but when two officers arrived, one saw the limited edition 6ft statue, worth 1,000 pounds, standing in the darkness of his living room window. Fearing it was an armed crook, the officers called in support - and David was held at gunpoint. David, who runs a computer games store, said: "The back-up cops burst in through the back door and knocked me to the ground. One jabbed a gun in the back of my neck and said, 'All right - where's the gun?' "I said, 'I don't have one'. They weren't happy and searched the house. "They must have soon realised what had happened because the PC who called for help was getting a lot of stick."

More British keystone cops: "Armed police chased gunmen along a motorway and cornered them in a supermarket car park - only to find two teenage girls in fancy dress with a toy pistol. Holly Spedding and Fatima Rupp, both 19, stopped their car to find themselves surrounded by police marksmen pointing guns at them and screaming: "Put your hands up!" The girls, dressed as cowgirls, cowered in fear as two helicopters hovered overhead and van loads of police dogs snarled at them. Holly and Fatima, who were locked up for hours before they were finally released, told how they had been returning from a Cowboys and Indians night at Chester University. As they headed home to Harrogate, North Yorkshire, along the M62 they joked with passing lorry drivers who spotted Fatima's cowboy hat. She said: "The lorry drivers were pretending to shoot me with their fingers. So I pointed the toy gun back at them. Everyone was smiling and laughing." But an off-duty police officer had spotted the girls and reported them for threatening motorists. Holly, who was driving, and Fatima realised something was wrong when they noticed a half a dozen police cars on their tail. Holly said: "We were petrified when we stopped and they came screeching up and surrounded us. "There were four jeeps, two vans full of dogs, armed police, helicopters and they were screaming: 'Where's the gun?'"

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