Sunday, October 26, 2008

The British Labour party's race prophecy may be self-fulfilling

Labour should overcome its fear of its own white working-class voters

Phil Woolas, the new Minister for Borders and Immigration, says that Labour needs "a tougher immigration policy" to reduce racial tensions. The problem, he told The Times, is that as recession looms "racial stereotyping becomes stronger".

It might help if ministers didn't reinforce the "racial stereotype" of the white working class as an ethnic pogrom waiting to happen, a racial time bomb ready to be set off by a spark from the British National Party. Mr Woolas says that he has been brought in to "be tougher and to change perceptions" that the Government is soft on immigration. He could start by changing the perception that Labour fears its own white voters.

I was struck by Mr Woolas's explanation that his "lifelong purpose" of dealing with immigration problems began when the first Asian boy at his Lancashire grammar school was called "Banana". At my 1970s Surrey grammar, everybody knew they could not call the only black boy "Nigger". So they called him "Nagga" instead.

Such stories give a glimpse of how much British society has changed in 30 years. Both Mr Woolas's Oldham constituency and my corner of northeast London have large Pakistani communities, and no doubt there are problems. Yet there is little sign of Seventies "Paki-bashing".

New Labour, however, does not trust its own people. "I don't believe we are a country of Alf Garnetts," Mr Woolas concedes, "but there's a large element that is discriminatory in its attitude." So fearful is Labour of white working-class voters that it has long sought to avoid debate about immigration. In the 2001 general election, speeches were banned at the Oldham election counts to stop BNP candidates speaking, for fear that a hateful word might start a race riot. The result was to allow the far Right to pose as champions of free speech.

Now the minister hopes to placate white voters by posturing against immigration, while patronisingly asking them "to be nice to people who do come to settle here". Against the background of communities divided by official multiculturalism, which he concedes has helped to "ghettoise" people, his warning of rising tensions could yet prove a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Back when Phil Woolas was Labour general secretary of Manchester University student union, he did not agree with us revolting Marxist students who demanded an open borders policy, but he did lead campaigns to support overseas students against the authorities. Now he would have us believe that the way to pursue his "lifelong purpose" is to strike anti-immigration poses. That seems bananas.


Learning from Stalin in Britain

Stalin regularly doctored his production statistics. What statistics does socialist Britain NOT doctor? Violent crime up 22% as Home Office admits police have been under-recording serious offences for ten years

Public trust in crime statistics has been dealt a devastating blow after ministers admitted the figures have been downplaying serious violence for up to a decade. The Home Office admitted that as many as one in five of the worst attacks has been wrongly classified in published figures. As many as 4,000 serious assaults each year were mistakenly recorded as minor incidents - and officials conceded they 'simply do not know how far back it goes'.

The tightening of the rules has seen figures for serious violent crimes rocket by 22 per cent compared to last year - and confusion over the figures makes it impossible to say how much of the rise is genuine.

Ministers blamed the blunders on police officers, who were wrongly classifying cases of 'grievous bodily harm with intent' as minor assaults. But if this is the case it is unclear why the practice was allowed to continue for so long unchecked.

Police have been placed under severe pressure by ministers to reduce the level of serious violence on the street. Critics may claim this provided an incentive for officers to downplay the gravity of assaults where - while the intent was grave - the actual injuries suffered were minimal.

In a sign of the chaos the Metropolitan Police yesterday took the unprecedented step of halting publication of its violent crime figures to check whether they meet the guidelines. Senior police chiefs admitted the problems affected all 43 forces in England and Wales.

Critics claimed the revelations were another serious blow to the credibility of Government crime figures following years of complaints of spin and statistical manipulation. The confusion makes it impossible to tell whether serious violence rose or fell last year - although there are indications of a significant increase in serious knife attacks. There are also grave questions over repeated statements by ministers in recent years stressing the minor nature of many recorded offences.

The blunder centres on the way vicious attacks are logged at police stations. Officers generally class an assault as grievous bodily harm if the victim suffers a cut to their skin or a broken bone. But the rules also state that where an attacker tries but fails to inflict such an injury police should record the assault as GBH rather than a lesser offence - in the same way that attempted murder is treated as a serious offence even if the intended victim is unharmed. Where a thug tries to smash a bottle in a victim's face but causes only a nosebleed, for example, police should recorded the incident as GBH.

It now transpires many officers had been downgrading such incidents to lesser charges of actual bodily harm or common assault - which fall outside the Home Office's definition of 'most serious violence against the person'.

In the latest quarterly figures published yesterday the category of 'most serious violence against the person' had leapt by 22 per cent year on year. It rose from 4,500 in the second quarter last year to 5,500 in the same period this year, equivalent to around 60 a day. But ministers said the startling rise was largely because police across the country were ordered earlier this year to follow counting rules more rigorously when logging crimes.

This 'clarification' by the Home Office quickly revealed that many serious assaults were being wrongly recorded. The Home Office's head of statistics Paul Wiles said: 'We simply don't know how far back this goes. The people doing the recording are constantly changing and retiring.' He said there was evidence that two-thirds of the 22 per cent increase in serious violence was caused by the new counting rules.

Warwickshire Chief Constable Keith Bristow, for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: 'This is an issue that affects all police forces to a greater or lesser degree.' Home Office police minister Vernon Coaker denied the blunders were embarrassing, saying: 'I want the statistics to be as clear as possible.'

But Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve said: 'These figures fatally undermine government spin that violent crime was getting better. Labour should now face up to the reality of their failure and realise that if you can't count a problem, you can't combat it.'


British exam board told to dumb down High School science exam to make it easier to pass

20% is a "pass" in some British exams. In other words, you pass while having learned virtually nothing about the subject

England's largest exam board has been forced to make its science GCSE easier because it was too difficult for pupils to get a good pass. The Assessment and Qualifications Alliance said it had lowered the mark needed to achieve a grade C in the exam 'under protest'. It had reluctantly agreed to a request from England's new qualifications regulator, Ofqual, to bring it into line with the level set by rival exam boards. This is the first time that an exam board has publicly questioned the standard of one of its own papers. The step also casts serious doubt on Government claims that exam standards are being maintained.

The controversy relates to a new GCSE science exam taken by more than half a million pupils this summer. It had already been attacked for reducing the factual knowledge required. But it has now emerged that in early August, England's three exam boards asked Ofqual to adjudicate after they failed to reach agreement on setting comparable grade boundaries. The Times Educational Supplement claims that rival board Edexcel awarded C grades in a paper for one of its new science courses to pupils scoring only 20 per cent.

On August 7, just two weeks before results were due to be published, Ofqual wrote to AQA asking it to reduce the boundary for the grade C below what the board had calculated was necessary to maintain standards. Ofqual said the 'least problematic solution' was for AQA to bring its grade C into line with the others.

On August 12, Mike Cresswell, AQA director general, replied, saying: 'AQA is extremely reluctant to adopt a standard which is less comparable with the past than it needs to be.' Ofqual wrote back claiming that all the exam boards believed their grade boundaries maintained standards. Dr Cresswell told the TES: 'We would have preferred a solution that promoted standards that were a little more consistent with those of 2007.'

Professor Alan Smithers, of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said Ofqual was failing in its duty to maintain standards 'by accepting the lowest common denominator on offer'.


Some users of slimming drug at risk of psychiatric disorders

One hundredth of one percent is a worry?? I would have thought that a drug which 99.99% of people use without suffering severe side-effects was a triumph of safety! All drugs have side-effects. I know one lady who had acute renal failure after taking the common antibiotic Keflex (cephalexein). Maybe we should ban that too! And aspirin would never have been approved under current guidelines

An anti-obesity drug that has been prescribed to 97,000 people in the UK doubled the [tiny] risk of psychiatric disorders in those who took it, the European Medicines Agency has found. The EMA has decided that the benefits of the drug Acomplia - which has been licensed in Europe since June 2006 - no longer outweigh the risks, and have advised doctors to no longer prescribe the drug. In a trial of 36,000 this summer, five of those taking the drug [i.e. 0.01%] committed suicide, compared to only one of those taking the placebo.

Acomplia, whose active substance is rimonabant, has been available on the NHS since June this year. It works by suppressing the appetite. During clinical trials, one third of patients lost more than 10% of their initial bodyweight in a year. Nearly two thirds of patients lost over 5%. The drug is prescribed for people who are clinically classified as obese, or those who are overweight and suffer from problems like type 2 diabetes and a high cholesterol.

Warnings about the side effects of the drug-- which can cause depression-- have been known since the drug was introduced. It is only now however, that it has been decided that these side effects make the drug too dangerous to prescribe. Following a re-evaluation of the drug, the EMEA said that "there is an approximate doubling of the risk of psychiatric disorders in obese or overweight patients."

The EMEA, and their UK counterpart the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), have recommended that the drug is no longer prescribed, and said that those currently on the drug- thought to be about 20,000 in the UK- should consult a doctor about their treatment. The MHRA is alerting healthcare professionals about the recommendation. The MHRA said: "Patients who may be at highest risk of psychiatric reactions cannot be identified reliably. Therefore, further restrictions on the use of this medicine would be unlikely to reduce the risk to an acceptable level."

There are three main anti-obesity drugs prescribed in the UK- Acomplia, Sibutramine, and Orlistat. Acomplia is prescribed in for about 9% of cases, whereas Orlistat, approved by the EMEA in July 2007, is prescribed in 66% of cases. The manufacturer of the drug, Sanofi-Aventis, said: "Sanofi-Aventis will comply with the European authorities' request to temporarily suspend the marketing authorisation of Acomplia in obese and overweight patients and will make every effort to actively support patients and healthcare professionals in this process." They said that the drug had provided "significant clinical benefits to patients" and that 700,000 people worldwide had used the drug.

Dr June Raine, Director of Vigilance and Risk Management of Medicines at the MHRA said : "Most medicines work well and are acceptably safe and most people take medicines without suffering any side effects. The MHRA and the EMEA work together to continuously monitor the safety and quality of medicines after they have been licensed, and use a range of approaches to minimise risk. "In the case of Acomplia these measures have not proved to be effective in clinical use.


British government aims to make IVF less successful

When all the world wants the opposite

IVF success rates will fall by up to 20 per cent because of a government policy designed to cut the number of damaging twin pregnancies, research has suggested. An initiative to limit multiple births by persuading IVF patients to use only one embryo at a time will cause a "significant reduction in treatment success", according to an analysis of a clinic's patients.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority strategy, which aims to cut the twin birthrate by 2012 from one in four to one in ten, would in practice reduce the IVF success rate at St Mary's Hospital in Manchester from 21 per cent to 17 per cent, the study found. Daniel Brison, of the University of Manchester, said that the strategy was right to encourage single-embryo transfer because a multiple birth was the greatest IVF risk to mothers and babies, but its implementation needed to be backed by better NHS access to IVF, especially for follow-up courses using frozen embryos. Evidence from Scandinavia and King's College London has indicated that some women's chances of conceiving are just as high with one embryo as with two, if a second frozen-embryo cycle is available.

About a third of NHS trusts do not offer frozen back-up treatment and 85 per cent do not provide the three full cycles that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence recommends. "Single-embryo transfer is the right way forward, but we have to fund more than one cycle," Dr Brison said. "It is very difficult to ask patients to accept any reduction in success rates if they have only one shot. Embryo freezing is also crucial, as is careful selection of patients who are suitable for a single embryo."

IVF produces a higher rate of twins and triplets because multiple embryos are often used to maximise the chances of pregnancy. Such babies, however, are more likely to be stillborn, die in their first year, suffer disabilities or be born prematurely. There are also risks to mothers.

In the study, published in the journal Human Reproduction, Dr Brison and his colleagues Stephen Roberts and Cheryl Fitzgerald constructed a model of what would happen to their clinic's success rates under the single-embryo strategy. To achieve the target of 10 per cent multiple births, about 55 per cent of patients would have to have single-embryo transfer. The current rate is about 10 per cent. This would bring the success rate down by about 20 per cent. If women were selected carefully, the decline would be slightly smaller but the live birthrate would still fall to 18.5 per cent.

The paper suggests ways that women could be selected, including analysis of their embryos as well as their age and hormone levels. Such measures would be essential to limit the policy's impact on pregnancy success, the scientists said. The St Mary's success rate is below the national average of 31 per cent for women under 35 who use their own fresh eggs. It is an NHS centre with a waiting list of up to three years, so couples with a good prognosis often conceive spontaneously while waiting for treatment, leaving the clinic to treat harder cases.

Professor Peter Braude, of King's College London, led the group that drew up the single-embryo strategy. He said that patients could be chosen who would not be disadvantaged by the policy. "It doesn't reduce pregnancy rates in women who are most likely to get pregnant, and who are also most likely to have twins," he said. "We have never said that a single embryo is right for every woman and the 10 per cent target is an aspiration. A very small proportion of patients give rise to most of the twins and by identifying them, we can reduce multiple births but not the pregnancy rate."


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