Monday, March 17, 2008


By Dominic Lawson

It's a brave reporter who challenges Arnold Schwarzenegger face to face. Who knows what physical retribution the former Terminator might wreak? Yet one man was brave enough to trade (verbal) blows with the Governor of California last week. It followed the revelation by the Los Angeles Times that Schwarzenegger - who after Al Gore is the US politician most identified with the "battle against climate change" - had been commuting almost every day by private jet. Let me share with you this extract from a transcript of a news conference, as released by Schwarzenegger's office:

"Governor, there have been reports coming out that you're flying up and down the state on a daily basis in a [private] jet...How do you reconcile your public rhetoric on global warming versus your personal lifestyle choices?".

"Are you always that positive? What a positive guy! To me it's very important that I serve the people of California but also at the same time that I serve my family... do the homework with the kids, spend time with my wife and everything."

"So global warming is for other people to worry about, as long as you can afford carbon offsetting?"

"You're absolutely correct. Global warming is very important and that's why we're fighting global warming... in all kinds of things we are promoting."

Schwarzenegger might be a hypocrite, but at least he is not charging the public: It's his own private jet and he's paying all the bills. In Britain, where the New Labour government vies with the Governor of California to be seen as a "leader in the battle against global warming", such moral inconsistency is entirely funded by the taxpayer.

Yesterday it was disclosed that two Cabinet ministers, Ed Balls and Shaun Woodward, used chauffeur-driven ministerial cars to travel 150 yards from Downing Street to a dinner party for Labour donors. The chauffeurs waited outside and then after dinner drove the pair, separately, a further 300 yards to the House of Commons. This has come to light because the Conservative MP Justine Greening has written to the Cabinet Secretary arguing that since the event was a Labour Party fundraiser, official limousines should not have been made available - at least for the first 150 yards of this 450-yard round trip.

The more obvious, but less party-political point, is that if ministers truly believe what they say about the dire threat of irreversible and murderous climate change through man-made carbon emissions, how could they simultaneously behave in such a casually wasteful manner? Surely they cannot be so wicked as knowingly to condemn another African to a premature death through thirst - or whatever the latest climate-catastrophe theory insists - in order to avoid walking for a quarter of a mile down Whitehall?

I think it is more likely that the ministers, deep down, don't really believe the conventional wisdom that such consequences flow from being driven everywhere in limousines - but of course they would do anything rather than confess that: better even to be thought a monumental hypocrite than a "climate change denier".

If I am right, it would explain quite a lot about Alistair Darling's first Budget, which was pre-sold as being "The Greenest Budget in history". The allegedly passionless Darling emoted impressively about the scale of the problems posed by man-made climate change: "We need to do more and we need to do it now. There will be catastrophic economic and social consequences if we fail to act." So he deferred the increase in duty on petrol that had been originally scheduled for this Budget; instead he promised that from 2010 cars with the biggest engines would face a one off levy - amounting to o950 for top-of-the-range 4x4s.

This is, of course, not rational if you really believe that unpredictable weather is caused by the consumption of petrol. In that case you would continue to concentrate solely (and proportionately) on the actual use of petrol, through excise charged at the pump, rather than on the size of a car's engine. The new levy, however, qualifies as an "eye-catching initiative", just as does Mr Darling's threat to make retailers charge the public for disposable bags, even though this will do nothing to reduce carbon emissions.

Mr Darling's promised measures to make homes "greener" amount to a similar exercise in spectacular tokenism. Under all the rhetoric about "zero-carbon" houses, the Chancellor's actual commitment was for grants of o26m for such improvements as loft insulation, solar panels and roof-top wind turbines. This means that if every household in England and Wales were to implement such measures, each of them would get an additional grant of one pound. Since a wind turbine costs thousands of pounds to install ( assuming you get the planning permission), and takes more than 50 years to recover those costs through fuel bill reductions, I fear that Mr Darling's solitary pound will not have a decisive influence.

So the Green lobby has been united in denouncing Mr Darling for failing to deliver on his promise to deliver a Budget which would help to save the planet. To be fair to the Chancellor, to have satisfied them would have been politically suicidal. He is clearly - and rightly - concerned with the rise in "fuel poverty", as energy costs have soared.

Ministers have even waved the (probably illegal) threat of some form of statutory price controls at electricity and gas suppliers, and have - not so very long ago - bleated to Saudi Arabia to bring down the price of oil by increasing the supply of crude to the market.

Yet if the Government really believed that the planet was being brought to premature extinction through the consumption of fossil fuels, it would be encouraging the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Counties (Opec) to keep on squeezing the consumer, and thus choking off demand. It would be happy that, partly as a result of the Saudis' refusal to boost production, domestic fuel bills could rise to the level at which people might decide to keep the central heating switched off and instead wear balaclavas and mittens indoors.

It would, admittedly, be a brave Government - and a short-lived one - which told voters that a bit more shivering in the cold is the price we must all pay to ensure that the inhabitants of the Southern Hemisphere don't have to endure even hotter weather than they do already. It would be an even more bizarre Government which implemented such policies even though its members couldn't quite believe the stories of catastrophic man-made climate change in the first place. This Government is not actually deranged and neither does it have a death wish: so it will continue to ensure that its policies don't match its rhetoric.


British equality watchdog fails its own test

But it's headed by a black, so that's OK

Britain's anti-discrimination quango had to be bailed out by ministers to avoid its breaching the law over its own internal equality scheme, The Times has learnt. The disclosure comes as the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), chaired by Trevor Phillips, last week began its first inquiry into human rights in Britain. The commission was set up last year to replace the Commission for Racial Equality, the Disability Rights Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission.

Along with all other public bodies it was meant to implement an overarching equality scheme, setting out its position for its staff on race, gender, disability and other potential areas of discrimination by January 1 this year. It failed to do so, prompting ministers to lay a statutory instrument before Parliament, extending the deadline to April 1 this year.

Last night opposition MPs expressed astonishment at the failure. Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat spokesman for youth and equality, said: "What authority will the commission have in cracking the whip to other public bodies when they fail to comply with their own legal responsibilities with such impunity from ministers?"

According to its mandate, part of" the commission's responsibility is to "reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people and protect human rights". It must also assess compliance with the statutory duties applicable to public authorities as well as take "enforcement action when necessary and appropriate".

The commission maintains that its scheme was very ambitious and that the three-month period that it had to meet the deadline set by the Government's Equality Office was unrealistic. A spokeswoman for the commission confirmed that the deadline had been revised but said this was necessary because of the size of the job. "We take this task very seriously. We are attempting something much more ambitious than merely complying with the duty to set up equality schemes . . . we want a single integrated scheme, which obviously takes time to do properly."


Racial anxiety rules in Britannia

In Britain there has been mounting concern about the country "sleepwalking" into segregation. A government report last year showed schools increasingly dividing along racial lines, particularly in the old industrial north of England. Jack Straw, the respected former foreign secretary and now Justice Secretary, has warned about white and non-white Britons "breathing the same air but walking past each other".

For Britons, the issue has particular potency this year, which marks the 40th anniversary of the "Rivers of Blood" speech given by the Conservative politician Enoch Powell. Then the shadow defence secretary, Powell warned that if immigration wasn't stopped, there would be strife in the years to come: "As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood." Powell's speech has since been inscribed into British political culture, a reference to "Rivers of Blood" shorthand for white racism.

Yet Powellite concerns about race are slowly being reassessed. Last week BBC TV screened the first program of its controversial White season, a series of films and documentaries looking at white working-class Britain. Immigration and race feature heavily in the series (titles include White Girl, All White In Barking and The Poles Are Coming). Its commissioning editor, Richard Klein, says the white working class has been ignored by the political classes, the victim of political correctness. "The way in which they see the world may come across as extremist," Klein continues, "but that's not how they see it." Already, the BBC has been accused of indulging racist fears of immigrants.

There is much public hostility towards immigration. An ICM poll in January found that 78 per cent of Britons thought immigration policy should be tightened, with 56 per cent believing that British Muslims need to integrate more into British culture. Support for the xenophobic British Nationalist Party continues to grow in the lead-up to municipal elections later this year.

Some of this is the fallout from the July 7, 2005, London bombings and their demonstration of the dangers of militant Islamism from within. British politicians have acknowledged the need for a better defined sense of national solidarity. The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has led the way with his push for "British values" to be enshrined in an official statement of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

Yet the difficulties of articulating a national identity that appeals to a white ethnic majority as well as to immigrants are profound. It isn't easy to say what such a thing must involve, as the Culture Minister, Margaret Hodge, found out after a speech last week. Hodge had criticised annual Prom concerts for failing to be inclusive enough of people from minority backgrounds. It was a clumsy intervention. All she managed was to estrange white Britons for whom the Proms (especially the "Last Night Of" concerts featuring pieces such as Land Of Hope And Glory, Jerusalem and Rule Britannia) represent a healthy dose of patriotism.

The bottom line is that cultural marginalisation, for natives and immigrants alike, must be avoided at all cost. Even if such discontent doesn't spill into rivers of blood, it certainly leaves a society on edge.


Blood clot pill approved in Britain

A daily pill that could help to prevent tens of thousands of deaths due to blood clots will be available to hospitals within weeks. The condition, venous thrombo-embolism (VTE), causes one in ten fatalities in hospital and kills at least 25,000 people in England every year, more than 20 times the number of deaths attributed to the superbug MRSA.

Pradaxa, the first new blood-thinning treatment in more than 50 years, is set to receive its licence next month. It will be used initially after hip and knee replacement surgery when the risk of blood clotting is high. But doctors hope that the anticoagulant pill could also be used to treat thousands of other patients at risk from heart conditions and strokes.

As many as half of all patients going into hospital risk developing VTE, which occurs when part of a deep-vein thrombosis or blood clot migrates to the lungs, heart or brain, with potentially deadly consequences. Such clotting is common after surgery, especially in the elderly, the overweight or those confined to bed for more than three days.

Last year the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) issued guidelines recommending that all patients should be assessed on admission to hospital for their risk of developing VTE but an audit by the all-party parliamentary thrombosis group in November found that less than a third of hospitals were doing so. Of those who were screened, only half the patients deemed at risk were receiving preventive treatment, a study published in The Lancet last month suggested.

A report by Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, admitted that "there was no systematic approach to identifying and treating those patients at risk from blood clots in hospitals and that there was significant room for improvement". At present, many hospital patients at risk of blood clots are given warfarin, which was licensed in the 1950s. Warfarin is effective but can trigger excessive internal bleeding. An alternative drug, heparin, involves a lengthy course of injections.

Preliminary results from a trial involving 34,000 patients suggest that Pradaxa is as effective in preventing clotting as existing treatments but it should be cheaper and easier to take. It works by reversing and inhibiting the effects of thrombin, a protein that allows clots to form after surgery.

Produced by the German company Boehringer Ingelheim, the drug is being evaluated by NICE and if approved it could be available to NHS patients within weeks. Another anticoagulant, Xarelto, is in development by Bayer, with preliminary results suggesting that it could be even more effective than Pradaxa.

Simon Frostick, a specialist in orthopaedics at the University of Liverpool, said: "These new drugs will revolutionise the way we prevent and treat blood clots. "Given the new trend for shorter hospital stays following joint replacement surgery, it is becoming increasingly important to have anticoagulant treatments available which are well tolerated and easy to use."

Beverley Hunt, medical director of the UK thrombosis charity Lifeblood, said: "The number of deaths from VTE is nothing short of a public health emergency. "The development of new drugs to treat this problem is terribly exciting. The potential benefit to the NHS is enormous."

Between 1995 and 2003, the NHS Litigation Authority handled more than 450 claims of negligence after patients developed VTE in hospital. It paid out almost 19 million pounds in compensation to sufferers or their bereaved families.

Professor Frostick added: "If these drugs reduce the number of deaths, the requirement for injections and community nurses, as well as other burdens - and if the proper sums are done - they should work out to be cost-effective for the NHS."


A mocking look at British school insanity

Re: Ed Balls's astonishing revelation, based on unverified research (ooh, my favourite kind) that some state schools are charging parents admission fees

The good ones, obviously, where the children come out the other end largely uninjured. Not the ones where the body-piercing is done with scissors. One school in North London admitted that it was asking for 50 pounds to fund extracurricular activities. It gives you the money back if your kid doesn't get in, though, sadly missing the opportunity to almost define the notion of adding insult to injury.

The schools admissions procedure is mesmerising, even to the childless. Every part of it seems designed to induce the worst aspects of humanity. Some schools are brilliant, some are dreadful, and your child could end up in either. It's like the scene in Flash Gordon where Peter Duncan has to shut his eyes and put his arm in a tree stump to see if he gets bitten by a lethal space-crab.

Not liking their odds in many parts of the country (and let's not forget that Duncan gets the venom), parents play the system - moving house, finding God, assassinating the children next door. O'Brien has to hold a cage of rats over Winston's eyes to make him shriek: “Do it to Julia.” We just have to offer a schools lottery.

I think the new-found religion one is the most chilling, though. If I'd seen my parents acquire a sudden and unexpected fondness for the Pope, I would have thought they'd gone quite mad. And that was before the Vatican issued a new list of seven deadly sins this week, which puts contraception on a par with murder, and prohibits “morally debatable scientific experiments”. I was going to pack up my laboratory and stop trying to build that robot boy, but as an ardent fan of the contraceptive Pill, I guess I'm going to hell already.

But after all the mud slung at pushy parents, now it turns out that the schools themselves may not be without corruption. Some apparently ask for an admission fee, others for compulsory donations. Which, to anyone but an accountant, sounds a lot like a fee. Actually, my accountant thinks it's a fee too. There's something rather brilliant about most of the schools that stand accused of these practices being faith schools. With the faith in Arthur Daley, rather than an omnipotent being, I suppose. Perhaps they could specialise in teaching bribery, and add blackmail, extortion and fraud to the curriculum too. When Ronald Searle invented St Trinian's, he can't have imagined that its moral values would one day seem perfectly reasonable.

The admissions code for schools is a baffling mishmash - you can admit children for aptitude, but not for ability. You can let them in if they have a sibling at the school, but not if it's a cousin. Children in care take precedence and special needs children must be given priority. In other words, the best thing you can do for your children's future is to abandon them, after making sure they have a dyslexic older brother.

But why should schools be the only ones to make money in this whole grotty business? Parents of children who are already at desirable schools should start auctioning off the right to adopt them, thus providing next year's intake with a handy set of older siblings in situ. And why just auction them off once? Each child could sustain at least five new brothers and sisters, surely. And if it's a Roman Catholic school you're trying to get into, that would probably earn you double points.


1 comment:

bloodslides said...

The Vatican never released any new 'deadly sins'.

Contraception is not on par with murder. That's just ridiculous. The confusion probably comes from the fact that some newer versions of the Pill can action cause abortion (by preventing the fetus from implanting on the uterine wall) so in this case, what's thought of as 'contraception' actually causes death.

'Morally debatable scientific experiments' are those that include the deliberate killing off of human beings, such as stem cell research using human embryos.