Saturday, April 04, 2009

Margaret Thatcher: A Free Market Environmentalist

Thatcher's environmental views from a new perspective

By Iain Murray

Tracy Mehan's account of Margaret Thatcher's approach to the environment reminds us that this remarkable lady was both concerned and informed about the issues. Yet Mehan's concentration on speeches in 1988-90 means that a wider context is missing.

In my view, Lady Thatcher's approach to the environment is as deeply connected to her belief in the importance of the free market as it is to her belief in tradition and our shared inheritance. She has been consistent in her belief that when the two come into conflict, we should not be blinded by our love of the latter into sacrificing the former. This became all the more apparent to her as she realized the real motives of some of her initial allies.

As Thatcher explains in her autobiography's first volume, The Downing Street Years (1993), she "always drew a clear distinction" between different sorts of environmental concerns (638-39). Many were primarily local concerns that she believed could be addressed through the privatization of badly run municipal services. She also inherited state-run programs that she saw through to success, including the cleanup of Britain's rivers (although the hugely successful private cleanup of London's River Wandle shows that those programs could well have been run privately).

Then came concerns about land use and overdevelopment. On this subject she stood close behind one of her chief political allies, her secretary of state for the environment, Nicholas Ridley. As she summed up the issue: "If people were to be able to afford houses there must be sufficient amounts of building land available. Tighter planning meant less development land and fewer opportunities for home ownership" (638). (She also supported Ridley against what she called the "romantics and cranks" of the "environmental lobby" [758].)

Yet Thatcher saw traditional environmental concerns as very different from "the quite separate question of atmospheric pollution." There her background as the only major world leader to be a trained scientist drove her approach. As she said: "There had always to be a sound scientific base on which to build--and of course a clear estimation of the cost in terms of public expenditure and economic growth foregone--if one was not going to be thrust into the kind of a "green socialism' which the Left were eager to promote" (639).

This issue was complicated by the nature of British science funding. Prior to Thatcher's intervention, most government science funding supported industry, which engaged in extensive lobbying. But she thought that industry should pay for research and development, and directed government science funds to universities and scientific institutes.

In her latest book, Statecraft (2002, 449-58), Thatcher devotes ten pages to the subject of "Hot Air and Global Warming." Thatcher is quite clear that she feels things have gone in the wrong direction since former British ambassador to the United Nations-turned-global-warming- campaigner Sir Crispin Tickell convinced her to tell the Royal Society, "it is possible . . . we have unwittingly begun a massive experiment with the system of this planet itself." She notes that the doomsters' favorite subject today is climate change, which "provides a marvelous excuse for worldwide, supra-national socialism" (449).

Thatcher's critics might claim that she has--to use a fashionable term--flip-flopped on the issue, but that is not necessarily the case.

First, she stresses that she was initially skeptical of the arguments about global warming, although she thought they deserved to be treated seriously. She points out that there was "rather little scientific advice available to political leaders from those experts who were doubtful of the global warming thesis" (451). However, by 1990, she had begun to recognize that the issue was being used as a Trojan horse by anti-capitalist forces. That is why she took pains in her Royal Society speech in 1990 to state: "Whatever international action we agree upon to deal with environmental problems, we must enable our economies to grow and develop, because without growth you cannot generate the wealth required to pay for the protection of the environment" (452). In fact, Thatcher makes it clear that she regards global warming less as an "environmental" threat and more as a challenge to human ingenuity that should be grouped with challenges such as AIDS, animal health, and genetically modified foods. In her estimation,

All require first-rate research, mature evaluation and then the appropriate response. But no more than these does climate change mean the end of the world; and it must not either mean the end of free-enterprise capitalism. (457)

As Tracy Mehan implies, Thatcher's environmentalism is founded on Edmund Burke's conservative view of our inheritance as being worth defending. Yet that view is tempered by her classical liberal belief that human wealth and progress are crucial. That is why Lady Thatcher can be described as a true free market environmentalist.


Regulator orders 21 NHS hospital trusts to clean up their filthy hospitals

Warnings about substandard levels of hygiene and infection control have been issued to twenty-one NHS trusts, including four flagship foundation hospitals. The Care Quality Commission (CQC), the new “super-regulator” for health and social care that started work on Wednesday, said that the trusts had failed to meet standards on cleanliness.

All 21 have had strict conditions placed on their registration with the commission, which is a legal requirement. Hospitals that fail to act to improve hygiene levels could be issued with warning notices and fines, or face prosecution or closure.

The CQC rulings, issued today, show that ten acute hospital trusts, six primary care trusts, four mental health care trusts and one ambulance trust have registration conditions as a result of failing to meet the criteria fully. The four trusts with foundation status — a supposed marker of excellence — are Kettering General Hospital, Leeds Partnerships, Medway and Alder Hey Children’s.

Fears over the regulation of foundation trusts were raised last month after it became clear that Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust had been awarded the status despite concerns over its death rates. The Healthcare Commission, the CQC’s predecessor, published a damning report on “appalling standards” of care at the trust. Between 400 and 1,200 more people died there than would have been expected between April 2005 and March 2008.

Today’s data shows that some trusts have been given a deadline for taking action to meet hygiene standards while others have conditions on their registration, such as the need to keep wards clean. Examples include ensuring that the decontamination of surgical equipment is satisfactory and developing tighter policies to tackle infections such as MRSA, Clostridium difficile and legionella.

Overall, 388 NHS trusts have been registered with the CQC, which replaces the Healthcare Commission, the Commission for Social Care Inspection and the Mental Health Act Commission.

As part of their assessment, trusts declared whether they were compliant with national hygiene standards. The CQC also looked at other information, including patient and staff surveys, hygiene inspections carried out by the Healthcare Commission and MRSA and C. difficile rates. Of the 21 trusts, 13 declared non-compliance with some of the criteria set down by the CQC for registration.

In another eight cases, the CQC had evidence that the trust had repeatedly failed to achieve required standards for infection control, had a high infection rate and/or was identified by the Healthcare Commission as having substantial problems that could risk patient safety.

The CQC defended its decision not to issue a hygiene warning to East Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the Eastbourne hospital where a strain of C. difficile last month was linked to the deaths of 13 patients. It said that a warning had been considered, but the trust was handling the outbreak efficiently and appeared to have been victim of the small chance all hospitals have of such an incident occurring, rather than as a result of poor hygiene.

Over the next year, up to half of all NHS trusts providing acute, primary care, mental health and ambulance services will be inspected by the CQC.

Baroness Young of Old Scone, the chairwoman of the CQC, said that recent decreases in rates of MRSA and C. difficile reflected how infection control was improving nationally. “Most trusts have stronger systems to protect patients from infection than a few years ago, and trusts’ boards are taking the challenges seriously. We commend them for that,” she said.

She said that registration of NHS trusts based on healthcare-associated infection marked the first step in a new system to drive further improvement and ensure patients’ safety. “This was an opportunity for trusts to let the public know that they are taking effective action to tackle these infections. The overwhelming majority of trusts provided the assurance needed to register. We will closely monitor their performance to ensure they continue to meet the regulations and make improvements when required.”

Of the 21 trusts that had fallen below the CQC standards, she said: “We have placed rigorous conditions on these trusts’ registration and will monitor them closely.”


How some girls are born to be anorexic: Eating disorder linked to brain abnormality

That it just another obsessive/compulsive disorder (a psychosis) has long been obvious and psychoses do normally have an hereditary component

Thousands of girls may be born at risk of suffering anorexia, according to a study that could revolutionise treatment of the eating disorder. Most sufferers are predisposed to the condition because of the way their brains developed in the womb, it is claimed.

The research threatens to overturn decades of scientific orthodoxy holding that anorexia is primarily caused by social factors, such as the pressure to lose weight to emulate size zero models.

Charities say the findings raise the prospect of drugs being developed to treat anorexia. Alternatively, doctors could screen girls at the age of eight to assess risk and treat accordingly.

The study, led by Dr Ian Frampton, consultant in paediatric psychology at London's Great Ormond Street hospital, will be unveiled at a conference at the Institute of Education in the capital this week. Dr Frampton said: 'Our research shows that certain kids' brains develop in such a way that makes them more vulnerable to commonly-known risk factors for eating disorders - such as the size zero debate, media representations of very skinny women and bad parents.'

Dr Frampton's team tested more than 200 anorexia sufferers from Britain, the U.S. and Norway. Most were females aged between 12 and 25 being treated in private hospitals in Edinburgh and Maidenhead. The researchers found around 70 per cent had suffered damage to neurotransmitters - which help brain cells communicate - or had undergone other subtle changes in the structure of their brains.

One in every few hundred girls may be affected in this way, according to Dr Frampton. He said the condition is caused by random conditions, not poor maternal diet or environmental factors.

The 'imperfect wiring' of the brain is similar to that seen in people with dyslexia, depression or hyperactivity. Dr Frampton said: 'These findings could help us to understand a disease we don't know how to treat. 'Arguments that social factors, such as girls feeling under pressure to lose weight to look like high-profile women in the media, contain logical flaws because almost everyone is exposed to them, yet only a small percentage of young people get anorexia. 'Those things are important but there must be other factors, involving genetics and science, that make some young people much more vulnerable than others.'

Around 1.1million people are estimated to have an eating disorder in Britain, most commonly anorexia and bulimia. Susan Ringwood, chief executive of Beat, the eating disorders charity, said: 'It could pave the way for the first drugs to be developed to treat eating disorders, similar to the way that anti-depressants help rebalance the brain of people with depression. 'And it will help parents understand they aren't to blame. 'Parents always blame themselves when their child develops an eating disorder. [That used to be the case for autism too. Psychiatrists blamed "refrigerator mothers" for the disorder -- which multiplied the suffering of the entirely innocent mothers] 'But what we are learning more and more from research in this area is that some people are very vulnerable to anorexia.

'That is down to genetic factors and brain chemistry, and not them trying to look like celebrity models or suffering a major traumatic event early in their lives.' She added: 'This research is a key missing part of the jigsaw of our understanding of anorexia.'


British justice works for once

Parents of killer teens jailed for lying to police. If it had not been such a high-profile case, the parents' action to protect their progeny would probably have been held to be part of their "human rights". One of the mothers is a prostitute so that would be in her favour these days. She is herself a "victim", of course. Could be an appeal on those grounds coming up, I'll guess

THE mother of the teenager who murdered British schoolboy Rhys Jones was jailed for three years today for lying to police during their investigation. Janette Mercer, 49, had pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice at a hearing at Liverpool Crown Court in February.

Mercer, from Croxteth in Liverpool, had backed her son when he told police he owned a black and cream mountain bike, not the silver bicycle captured on CCTV footage of the shooting of 11-year-old Rhys in August 2007.

Her son Sean Mercer, 18, was jailed for life in December for killing the schoolboy who died after being shot in the neck as he walked home from football practice across a Liverpool pub car park.

"Your son was a key suspect in the murder and you knew he had told a pack of lies," Judge Henry Globe told her, as Rhys's parents Stephen and Melanie Jones sat in the court to hear the sentencing, "You backed him up and you told more lies," the judge added, the Press Association reported.

Sean Mercer, a member of the Crocky Crew gang, had been aiming at members of a rival group, Norris Green's Strand Gang. After the shooting, Mercer cycled to the home of a 16-year-old boy where he hatched a cover-up plot with the help of six other Crocky Crew members to get rid of his clothing, bike and gun.

Also sentenced were Francis and Marie Yates, the parents of Sean Mercer's co-accused James Yates, who both pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice. Both were given 18 month sentences for destroying their son's mobile phone SIM card. Francis Yates, 49, was given an additional three years for helping establish a false alibi for his son.


More hatred of decent people from the British police

Student finds mobile phone while out celebrating his 18th birthday and is ARRESTED after handing it in to police

A college student who found a mobile phone while out celebrating his 18th birthday was arrested after handing it in to police. Teenager Paul Leicester was arrested for 'theft by finding' and detained for four hours. The Southport College A-level student eventually had the case against him withdrawn but said it was a 'shocking experience'.

Paul said: 'Being arrested isn't a way to celebrate your 18th birthday. What are you supposed to do when you find a phone? I told the last caller I would drop it off at the police station the next day. But they arrested me for theft by finding.' The teenager was kept by Merseyside Police in Southport police station for four hours and had his fingerprints taken, along with a DNA swab and a photo for police records. Officers then grilled him for 15 minutes about the alleged 'theft'.

Paul, who is of good character, has a Saturday job at a jewellers and is held in high regard by his teachers. The former Birkdale High School student, who lives in Seaforth, added: 'I want people to be aware of what happened. I thought I was doing the right thing and had it thrown back in my face. 'I would not go to the police in future. I would arrange for it to be collected by the last caller. All I was doing was the honest thing. It was a shocking experience.'

Paul's father Vinnie Leicester, 37, said: 'I'm disgusted and angry. It should never have happened. Paul's mum and I have brought him up the right way. It's ridiculous.'

A police spokesman explained the complaint of theft was subsequently withdrawn and Paul was released without charge. Sefton Area Commander, Chief Supt Ian Pilling, said: 'Merseyside Police has contacted Mr Leicester in relation to the incident and he does not wish to make a complaint against the police. As a matter of course we are reviewing the circumstances of the arrest.'


British High School Physics exam is 'too easy and fails to prepare students'

Physics A-level has become so undemanding that it leaves British students the worst prepared in Europe to take degrees in the subject, an academic has claimed. Gareth Jones, a retired professor, said teenagers had been ‘short-changed’ by the removal of difficult maths topics such as calculus from A-level syllabuses. He also said shortages of specialist physics teachers were worse here than in other countries, leading to gaps in students’ knowledge.

Professor Jones is one of five academics who questioned staff at 120 universities in 21 European countries on the state of physics students’ knowledge. He said that in most countries, there was generally a ‘growing gap between what has traditionally been expected and assumed of new students by university physics departments and the preparation in physics and maths that they have received at school’.

But he said the drop in standards was particularly acute in England and Wales. ‘It seems that the shortage of specialist physics teachers with degrees in physics is greater in England and Wales than in other European countries,’ he said. ‘Also significant is that the physics school curriculum is less mathematical here than in other European countries.’

A-level physics courses, he said, were increasingly expecting pupils simply to regurgitate information, rather than getting them to use their understanding to reason their way through problems themselves. He said: ‘Students are more or less guided through the answer. Not very much careful reasoning is required.’

They no longer required the teaching of calculus in any depth, he said, and the level of maths needed for A-level physics was now ‘really quite low’. In drawing up the exams, boards could not assume that students were studying A-level maths.

The physicist and emeritus professor of Imperial College London, added: ‘If students are being taught little of this at school, then they are being shortchanged and receiving poorpreparation for careers in physics and engineering and for university courses in these subjects.’

His concerns were highlighted in a report on a seminar at Cambridge University on the teaching of mechanics in schools. The seminar heard that mechanics was the foundation for university physics study but up to 40 per cent of maths students were only given the chance to take one paper on it from the six they sit for A-level maths.

His findings follow the admission last week by Professor Alan Wilson, a former senior civil servant at the then Department for Education and Skills, that he was ‘astonished’ to learn that at least one major exam board no longer required calculus for A-level physics. Writing in the Times Higher Education supplement, Professor Wilson, now based at University College London, said there had been a ‘dumbing down’, even from the 17th century.

Also last week, the Government’s exams watchdog found the standard required to achieve A grades in A-level physics had fallen since 2001, while backing claims that GCSE science has been ‘dumbed down’.


Don't say 'blind as a bat', British diversity guide warns police

Offensive to bats??
"Thousands of police officers have been issued with a 140-page 'diversity handbook' containing tips such as 'Don't lean on a disabled person's wheelchair'.

The guide points out that it is unhelpful for officers to cover their mouths when talking to somebody who is lip-reading, and suggests the phrase 'blind as a bat' may cause offence.

The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland spent almost £5,000 on the project, consulting 75 different groups before handing out 7,000 copies of the booklet to all Scottish police forces. But frontline officers dismissed the book as patronising and pointless, claiming money was being wasted on stating the obvious in the name of political correctness.

The book also points out that cheery traditional greetings such as 'hen', 'pet', 'love' and 'my dear' should never be addressed to a woman.

And officers are reminded that a woman who is provocatively dressed and 'paying attention to passing vehicles' may not necessarily be a prostitute.


Most bats can actually see quite well, as it happens. Their eyes are primarily adapted to night vision, however.

A caricature of a riot: “Yesterday’s anti-capitalist protest in London was a half-hearted ritual of pretend-rage and pseudo-concern. ‘Concerned of Tunbridge Wells’ was elbowed aside by ‘Angry of Brighton’ in a shallow display of second-hand militancy. What was really striking about the G20-related demonstrations against ‘capitalism and climate chaos’ — which took place outside the Bank of England and elsewhere in London — was the extent to which the opportunistic coalition of protesting moral crusaders represented a going-through-the-motions activism; they weren’t so much representing a cause as searching for one. Predictably, the authorities faithfully played their part in this melodrama.”

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