Wednesday, November 26, 2008

If politicians open their eyes, the BNP spectre will vanish

The purloined BNP membership lists are revealing, beyond the Anglo-Saxon or Viking nostalgia of their house names or email-addresses. Most of the male, middle-aged membership hale from areas of deprivation - like Blackburn and Stoke or the farther wastelands of east London. They are not all former soldiers or policemen who do a bit of Hitler in their spare time. As well as one witch and a vicar, they include a couple of academics from Cambridge and Leeds, doctors, teachers and social workers. Many are former Labour supporters. This partly explains why the Left is so keen to ramp up the distant thud of jackboots, for it has always needed "anti-Fascism" like a regular blood transfusion.

Beyond an implacable core, obsessed with Jews, Blacks and Asians, BNP supporters are driven by the creed of "England for the English", with diffuser resentments towards the EU and foreigners in general. Possibly their biggest handicap, apart from the fundamental decency and sanity of most British people, is that their local activism invariably translates into ineffective, useless representatives wherever BNP candidates have been elected.

Another handicap is the absence of a charismatic leader. Fascist parties need them to conceal policies that are like a leap of faith into a mythic past and future. Britain's last Fascist dynamo was Sir Oswald Mosley, a Labour MP who crossed to the dark side in the 1930s, although his cut-glass tones and manic Hitlerian gestures seem ridiculous. Mr Nick Griffin resembles one of those bulbous creatures that excite one's curiosity on the fish counter, but which would bring no joy to purchase. He is devoid of the steely style of the Italian far-Right politician Gianfranco Fini, a former professor of economics, or the gay ski-instructor charm of the late Joerg Haider. This is not to imply that the BNP is only one charismatic leader away from real power - as distinct from maybe getting a Euro MEP elected next time round. We can probably cope with that.

The last really grave Fascist challenge came in the wake of a lost war, Bolshevik revolution, hyper-inflation, and a Depression which saw nine million unemployed in Germany. Many Nazi Stormtroopers could not afford shoes, let alone boots, and were fed by party soup kitchens. The Nazis went from 2.8 per cent to 36 per cent of the vote in four years because of a leader who epitomised his "movement" and spoke to people in fear of an abyss. The democratic alternatives either imploded, or had no solutions to Germany's problems. Nor did Hitler, but that is another story.

Such conditions do not exist in contemporary Britain, though there is admittedly poverty of other kinds, such as drug misuse in substandard housing where the inhabitants have been weaned off responsibility by decades of welfare dependency. Iain Duncan Smith has spoken to and for such constituencies highly effectively. Others need to move up a notch to the BNP's likely constituency of C2s.

All parties need to listen to the concerns of their potential audience and find ways of addressing them. Rather than painting a Fascist spectre on the walls, politicians can start by acknowledging that it is not "racist" to be concerned about culture, identity, mass immigration and the cynical misuse of our asylum laws. If they fail to do this, they may find more people turning to politicians who are even less plausible than themselves.


What the destruction of traditional British values has done to Britain

Officially Bulgaria may be the EU's most corrupt country, says Kapka Kassabova of her former home, but Britain is scarier

Let's go sightseeing. I live in a central Edinburgh neighbourhood called Broughton. It's the kind of neighbourhood where the deli, health-food shop and independent wine merchant are housed in Georgian buildings and rub smug shoulders in the daytime. The night-time is another matter, especially come Friday, when the belligerent drunk hordes from downtown trickle down Broughton Street.

If you were unfamiliar with native ways, you'd think you were walking through the aftermath of a small but vicious war. Rivulets of urine crisscross the pavements as you slalom between puddles of fresh vomit, discarded takeaway cartons smeared with ketchup, and the occasional survivor swooning in an alcoholic daze in some corner, watering the nearest pot plant. In the morning, everything is swept again.

Well, not everything. On a Saturday morning, it's normal to walk past the Calabrian restaurant and find its spotless window smashed. And the boutique next door, and the cafe next door to that. On a Sunday morning, it's normal to find all the cars parked in my street with their side mirrors smashed. It's normal to find the glass entrance to my building smashed, to have it fixed, and then smashed again. And so it goes in our pleasant neighbourhood. And when, in the middle of the night, I hear the pimply youths smash the entrance door downstairs yet again, I'm too scared to go and remonstrate. When I see a lad pissing in the street, I'm too scared to say: "Oi, this is not a public toilet". In my first year in Britain, I was foolish enough to do this, and nearly got my nose bloodied a few times for my civic behaviour. I've learnt my lesson now. I just turn the other way, walk faster, pretend it's not happening. That's the British way, right?

Since I arrived in Britain four years ago, casual knife crime has multiplied. I have become frightened of random violence - and cowardly too. If I see yobs attacking someone because he looked at them "funny", would I interfere? You bet I wouldn't. And yes, I hate myself for it.

Now let's zoom across Europe and visit Broughton's counterpart in central Sofia. My family has a small apartment there. The area is called White Birches, and the balconied buildings are indeed white, though there are few birches. This is a pricey area, and last year our building enjoyed a shoot-out between two drug-smuggling rings. The brisk illegal activity explains the expensive cars that line the potholed streets, along with the beauty salons, gyms and designer-furniture shops. In the evening, women chat on broken benches. At night, homeless dogs rummage in the overflowing rubbish containers next to the parked BMWs.

Bulgaria is officially the most corrupt country in the EU. Civil society is in its infancy. The ruling classes and the law are infiltrated by organised crime. "Other countries have the mafia," said a former counterintelligence chief, "but in Bulgaria, the mafia has the country." Some guides to Sofia advise you not to go into nightclubs frequented by "businessmen" with more than three bodyguards. These men are collectively named mutri, or mugs, and they sport Gucci sunglasses and big necks.

They might have the country, but they don't have the streets. Homeless dogs, putrefying rubbish and potholes aside, I'm never afraid to walk home in the dark from the tram stop. I'm never scared of finding some drunk pissing in a doorway, or having someone stick a knife in me for looking at them funny. The glass doorway to our building has never been smashed. Angry teenagers don't carry knives. They grow up and become mutri and then they carry guns. Poor, corrupt, post-totalitarian Bulgaria is much safer for the ordinary person on the street than wealthy, civic, post-empire Britain.

So what is going on? Alcohol, I think. Alcohol, too much money, and poor food culture. The average disaffected British youth has enough money to regularly buy a drink, a knife, and the latest mobile. His Bulgarian cousin has a family to fall back on but no extra cash. He is busy looking for work or emigrating. Destroying public property is a waste of time to him. Besides, in Bulgaria practically everyone except the mutri is disaffected, but practically nobody vomits in the streets.

Not that every yob here is disaffected. Most of them are very affected indeed, with their tailored shirts or hen-party outfits, until they throw up over each other. Britain boasts a centuries-long binge-drinking tradition. You drink on an empty stomach. You drink not to enjoy, but to forget who you are. Drunk sociopathy is the norm. Why, it's almost charming. It absolves you of all crimes, because by the time you've sobered up, you've forgotten everything, which is the whole point of the exercise.

And although the Friday-night yobs that turn Edinburgh into a vomitorium don't have the country in that they don't own the police and the law, they own something as important: the streets. The streets is where we spend a lot of our time. And if on weekend nights the streets are a war zone, what sort of civil society do we have? A rubbishy one, with the dogs of self-hate rummaging in it.


British Tories keen on allowing the return of a clip round the ear

Long overdue

The police would be formally discouraged from taking action against adults who tackle misbehaving youngsters under a Conservative government, Dominic Grieve, the Shadow Home Secretary, reveals today. Fear of legal action, not violence, holds most people back from confronting antisocial behaviour, Mr Grieve said in an interview with The Times. He said that the recent arrest of a father for smacking his seven-year-old son highlighted the need to reassert adults' rights to remonstrate with misbehaving children.

"The key issue is that if you turn up at an incident where children have been misbehaving and adults have intervened [and] the child says, `That man slapped me', and there is no visible mark on him, do you say, `This is a very serious matter and I'm taking you down to the police station', or do you say this is something that, historically, people have the discretion to do?

"If someone appears with a black eye or a bruise, or has been beaten with something, that's a completely different thing from someone making an assertion that that adult touched me in the course of telling me not to misbehave," he added. Mr Grieve also criticised ministers for failing to challenge Muslim groups when they gave platforms to extremists and holocaust deniers.


Barnardo's bunkum

Do British adults really look upon children as `vermin'. or did the charity find what it wanted to find in its latest public survey?

`It is appalling that words like "animal", "feral" and "vermin" are used daily in reference to children', said Martin Narey, the chief executive of the children's charity Barnardo's, as he unveiled a new survey this week which apparently shows that adults in Britain suffer from an `unjustified and disturbing intolerance of children' (1).

Yet who was it that introduced these foul words into the public debate about kids? Barnardo's itself! It was the pollsters employed by Barnardo's to survey 2,021 people who asked loaded questions about whether children can be viewed as `feral', even as `animals', who are `infesting' our streets.

What Narey, and the subsequent media coverage, implicitly presented as a groundswell of intolerant prejudice against animalistic children is nothing of the sort. Rather, Barnardo's has carried out a shameless piece of advocacy research, designed to discover the prejudices that it is convinced (by its own prejudicial outlook) are lurking within the adult population.

The media have had a field day with Barnardo's survey findings. `Britons fear and loathe "feral" children', says Reuters. Some media outlets have taken the research as evidence that adults have a warped view of kids (see the Guardian, for example), while others have welcomed it with open arms as confirmation that British yoof really are going to hell in a handcart. `Half of British adults are scared of children who "behave like feral animals"', screeched the Daily Mail (2).

The coverage all springs from Barnardo's press release, titled `The shame of Britain's intolerance of children'. It tells us that `more than a third (35%) of people agree that nowadays it feels like the streets are infested with children'. Something about that wording doesn't ring true. Have you ever heard anyone say the streets are `infested' with kids? I haven't, either. But then, no member of the public volunteered to Barnardo's the view that Britain's streets are `infested'. Rather, the image of `infestation' was introduced by the Barnardo's-employed pollsters.

They put the following statement to their 2,021 respondents, `Nowadays it feels like the streets are infested with children', and asked them to agree or disagree. How is one supposed to respond to such a bald, black-and-white statement, where there's no room for manoeuvre? What if you are, say, an elderly person who thinks there probably are too many kids hanging around on street corners, when they could be in youth centres or on football pitches instead, but you would not necessarily use the word `infested'? Do you say `agree' or `disagree' to the survey statement?

In the event, eight per cent `strongly agreed' and 27 per cent `agreed', adding up to Barnardo's total of `35 percent' who think the streets are infested with children. A large majority, 46 per cent, `disagreed'; and strikingly, 14 per cent `strongly disagreed', almost twice the number who `strongly agreed'. Maybe some of this 60 per cent who disagreed or strongly disagreed with the idea that Britain's streets are infested with children were thinking to themselves: `What a disgusting sentiment. Why am I being asked this question?

Even worse, having introduced the noxious notion that Britain's streets are `infested', and found that some people seemed to agree, the chief executive of Barnardo's then went on to say that `it is appalling. that words like "vermin" are used daily in reference to children' (3). Are they really? The survey doesn't mention `vermin' and so far as we know none of the respondents volunteered the belief that children are verminous. Rather, Barnardo's is extrapolating from its already loaded question about `infestation' the loaded idea that British adults have an `unjustified and disturbing' view of children as `vermin'. No we don't. You just think we do.

The question on whether children are `feral' was even more convoluted. `Most adults think children are feral', claimed the newspaper headlines, as if Barnardo's had uncovered a scientifically measurable prejudice against young people (4). In fact, Barnardo's put the following statement to its respondents: `People refer to children as feral but I don't think they behave this way. Do you agree or disagree?'

Eh? Come again? I write and edit words for a living, and even I was bamboozled by this statement. Does one say agree or disagree to the first part (`People refer to children as feral') or the second part (`But I don't think they behave this way')? It took me a couple of minutes to work out that I would say `agree'. Forty-two per cent of respondents agreed with Barnardo's statement (that is, they agree that people refer to children as feral but don't think that is a useful description), while 45 per cent disagreed with Barnardo's statement, which presumably means they think children are in some way feral (at least I think it does; I'm confused again). Not surprisingly, 13 per cent said `Don't know', which was by far the highest `Don't know' response for the whole survey. If there had been a choice that said `I have no idea what you are talking about', I imagine it would have been selected by, ooh, at least 20 per cent of the respondents.

Whatever this bizarre question on feral children tells us - about Barnardo's scribes; about the illiteracy of pollsters; about the duplicity of advocacy research - it does not scientifically prove that `most adults think children are feral'. Just as the responses to the loaded statement `British children are beginning to behave like animals' - with that horrid animal image being projected on to public debate by Barnardo's itself - does not tell us everything, or anything really, about how adults view, interact with and care for children.

The black-and-white nature of Barnardo's questioning must have also proved problematic in relation to the issue of `professional help'. The following statement was put to the respondents: `Children who get into trouble are often misunderstood and in need of professional help.' Forty-nine per cent of respondents disagreed, and this was held up in Barnardo's press release as evidence that adults are not sufficiently sympathetic to the plight of children. On the other hand, the response might signal a healthy suspicion towards `professional help'. Certainly the mums and dads among the 2,021 respondents might kick against the idea that troubled children need outside intervention rather than discipline or care within the family home.

Barnardo's has simply found what it wanted to find: that British adults don't understand children, and in fact even fear and loathe them, and thus we need expert charities to educate the British public about how wonderful children are and how we should look after them. Charities like, oh I don't know, Barnardo's maybe? It is telling - in the extreme - that these survey results were released just a few days before Barnardo's is set to launch its first-ever TV advertising campaign calling upon us all to `stop demonising children'. How convenient to discover that `most British adults' demonise children just before you launch a campaign against the demonisation of children. The gods have smiled on Barnardo's.

It is of course true that adult society has a somewhat fraught and even fearful relationship with young people today. As a consequence of a growing sense of insecurity, and a collapse of adult solidarity, young people are increasingly looked upon as either vulnerable victims or potentially violent tearaways. This view of youth is stoked by politicians, the media and even children's charities, all of whom feed us a constant diet of anti-social behaviour scares, stories about chavs, slags, gangs and knives, and concerns that childhood obesity and binge-drunkenness will turn our children into feckless adults. However, this does not mean that adults think children are vermin or animals that are infesting our streets. And by squeezing today's difficult relationship between adult society and young people into this moralistic straitjacket, in which everything is reposed as a war between dumb adults and victimised children, Barnardo's is only making matters worse.

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by Barnardo's advocacy research. This is a charity (founded in 1867) that has long relied upon presenting children as victims and adults as buffoons. As one study of Barnardo's early years in Victorian times says, `Barnardo's philanthropic narratives' set out to `popularise the plight of poor children. while simultaneously casting the adult poor out of the English community and calling into question their basic rights to citizenship' (5). Today, too, Barnardo's is popularising the idea that children are victims while questioning adults' moral priorities. All the better to boost the fortunes of a charity that loves to play the role of in loco parentis.


Britain: A volunteer testing a new treatment died after doctors `missed' a side effect

No vigilance for known serious side-effects

A young widow has revealed that her husband died in a government-funded drug trial - the second victim to be identified. Gareth Kingdon, 39, who was father of a seven-month-old boy, was poisoned by one of the drugs being tested as a new treatment for testicular cancer. His widow Victoria, also 39, from Tunbridge Wells, Kent, said this weekend that he might still be alive if doctors had withdrawn the medication, bleomycin, when signs of side effects first emerged.

She argued that doctors at the Royal Marsden hospital, London, should have noticed signs of lung damage and stopped the drugs. He developed a persistent dry cough, a sign of damage caused by bleomycin, yet they continued to administer the drug for about another month. He was transferred to a critical care unit shortly after the last dose in November 2006.

Two months ago The Sunday Times reported that Gary Foster, 27, had died after he was given an overdose of bleomycin at University College London hospital (UCLH) in 2007. The publicly funded Medical Research Council, which is running the trial at several hospitals across Britain, has admitted that two other men were given overdoses. After Foster's death the trial was suspended at UCLH - where there had been a computer error in setting up the dosage control. The revelation that another patient had died a year earlier raises questions about whether it should be continued at other hospitals.

The deaths also raise broader safety concerns two years after the "elephant man" case, which was supposed to have led to tighter supervision. Six men nearly died when their bodies swelled horrifically after taking an experimental drug in trials conducted on the site of Northwick Park hospital, London, by Parexel, the testing company. All the men suffered multiple organ failure.

Kingdon, who was a senior tax executive at the Ford motor company, was diagnosed with testicular cancer in the summer of 2006. His family were given documents that put the normal survival rate at 50%. They say doctors told them that his chance of beating the cancer if he took part in the trial of a new treatment was about 90%. The trial, TE23, is testing whether a combination of five existing chemotherapy drugs, including bleomycin, is better at treating testicular cancer than the standard treatment of three drugs.

Victoria Kingdon, a former marketing manager, said her husband joined the trial in August 2006 and developed a cough two months' later: "Gareth was showing signs of toxicity from the bleomycin. He had a dry persistent cough from early October. I even have the cough medicine he was prescribed. "The last cycle of chemotherapy was early to mid-November 2006. They should have stopped his entire last cycle. If they had done that, Gareth may very well have been with us today."

She added: "Gareth was so sick, I said to him, `How can they think you are well enough to have chemotherapy today?' but they went ahead with the last round," she said. "Gareth went into the critical care unit shortly after the last dose was administered."

The couple's son, Gus, was seven months old when Gareth Kingdon died. Victoria Kingdon was fighting breast cancer at the time, which, she said, had hindered her ability to seek justice for her husband. After having a mastectomy she is clear of the disease and is seeking legal advice.

Kingdon acknowledges that bleomycin is an effective drug if monitored closely. Between 1%-2% of patients taking bleomycin die of the damage it causes to their lungs.The Medical Research Council has declined to disclose how many of the 59 patients in the TE23 trial have died from toxicity caused by bleomycin.

Kingdon said: "We were, like the Foster family, delighted that Gareth got invited to participate in the trial. There is a contract of trust between patient and doctor, however, and where I think mistakes may have been made is in the vigilance to look for symptoms like the dry cough that both Gary Foster and Gareth suffered and to act on them quickly."

Mark Bowman, a solicitor with the law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse, who had acted for Foster, said: "As soon as someone develops toxicity, doctors should stop giving bleomycin. That appears not to have happened, which is of concern."

The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust said: "We would like to again pass on our sincere apologies to Mr Kingdon's family for their sad loss." It declined to comment on the cause of his death. The Medical Research Council has reviewed its trial procedures and introduced additional checks since the deaths. It pointed out that deaths from cancer drug toxicity are an acknowledged hazard. It added that the trial had been monitored by an independent committee and that it would be stopped early if there were concerns about a higher number of deaths than had been expected.


More than a third of schools failing pupils, British regulator warns

More than a third of schools are not giving pupils a good education, inspectors warned today. One in ten 11-year-olds are still leaving primary school without reaching the level expected of their age group in English and maths, Ofsted's annual report found. And more than half of England's teenagers are still leaving school without five good GCSEs, including English and maths.

In her third annual report, Chief Inspector of Schools Christine Gilbert said England must do better if it is to compare favourably with the rest of the world. She said she was concerned that there was still too much variation in achievement between different areas of the country. Poor quality services existed across the education and care sectors, for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Poorer children, such as those who qualify for free schools meals, were still less likely to achieve five good GCSEs, including English and maths, than their peers. In 2007, only 21 per cent of children on free school meals achieved this benchmark, compared with 49 per cent of other pupils.

Ms Gilbert said there was a strong link across every sector between deprivation and poor quality services. She said: "This means that children and families already experiencing relative deprivation face further inequity in the quality of care and support for their welfare, learning and development. "In short, if you are poor you are more likely to receive poor services: disadvantage compounds disadvantage." But Ms Gilbert added it was possible to "buck this trend" and there were examples of places that were outstanding. She said: "Typically the provision that really makes a difference is ambitious. It does not believe that anyone's past or present circumstances should define their future."

Today's report covers the first full year of Ofsted's new wider remit - they now inspect and regulate social care, children's services, adult learning and skills, as well as schools and childcare. It found improvements in school standards, with 15 per cent of schools judged to be outstanding, up slightly from 14 per cent last year. In primaries that figure was 13 per cent while in secondaries it was 17 per cent. But more than a third of schools (37 per cent) were found to be not good enough - given a rating of "satisfactory" or "inadequate". More than four in ten (43 per cent) secondary schools were rated no better than satisfactory, although this was down from 49 per cent in 2006/07. In primaries this figure was 37 per cent. Nursery schools had some of the best ratings, with 39 per cent judged to be outstanding and 58 per cent rated good. Just 3 per cent were rated satisfactory and there were none that were inadequate.

A higher proportion of childcare and early education was good or outstanding this year. But the quality of provision varies, and it is not as good in areas with high deprivation. The report said that teaching literacy and numeracy skills must "remain a priority" and while there was evidence of improvements in these areas, in some progress was still too slow. And it warned that more needed to be done to raise standards at GCSE level. "A decade ago, two-thirds of secondary age pupils left compulsory education with five good GCSEs, including English and maths - it is still more than half."


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