Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tories put the brakes on building homes and jobs

According to the Observer, Caroline Spelman has written to Tory councils and MPs advising them to delay new commercial and housing developments until the advent of a Conservative government.
We would advise councils not to rush ahead with implementing the controversial elements of regional spatial strategies....
as Tory policy - to have a wholesale bonfire of central government controls on local authorities - will revoke regional development targets and
put the brakes on elements of regional spatial strategies that [local authorities] find undesirable.
Essentially, this means that the Tories - having assumed that they are the government in waiting - don't want a head start on building the new homes that the people of this country actually need. The building industry is finding it tough now, but Labour is putting £1 billion into building, which will not only provide desperately-needed homes, but will also help to provide jobs. I still don't think that's enough, but it is a start.

The Home Builders' Federation was quick to respond
There is no recognition of the desperate need in all parts of the country for more homes of all kinds and tenures, or of the responsibility of local authorities to make provision for these. Rather, local authorities are seemingly being encouraged to put such considerations aside if they want to. Hard-pressed first-time buyers and those on the growing waiting list for social housing would suffer in particular.
Tory shadow minister Grant Shapps has this as a brave step forward in scrapping top-down 'Stalinist' targets, but it is really a shuffle backwards and one that will actually affect the future of families who need homes.

If they win the next election, this is our future and it isn't one where you want to be poor or unable to afford a home in one of their nice, green-fringed communities.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Charlie Brooker abuses Dan Hannan

Even as the Guardian publishes another article pointing out that the US systems starts to look rather piss-poor compared to the NHS and David Cameron has to cover for one of his health ministers who is dedicated to the NHS, but is consulting for a private GP supplier as well, a serious political commentator opens fire with all weapons on Dan Hannan. Not safe for work - but then Charlie Brooker rarely is.

Stephen Bates fell off a ladder while painting his house. Hey - anyone could do it. This accident caused him a serious fracture to his leg. He paints an honest picture of a health service under strain, but delivering decent care and - this is the important bit - removing the fear from illness and injury.

I have so far spent three weeks in hospital, had four operations under general anaesthetic, daily home visits from district nurses and face weeks, if not months, of more care. Yet I have never been asked for my credit card or insurance documents before treatment, as I was the only time I fell ill while visiting the in-laws in the US. No one has murmured that this treatment or that service might be a little on the expensive side, or will incur a delay. And no one – despite what conservative Republicans allege – has yet questioned whether my life is still worth living, or whether amputation would be cheaper. I can't tell what my treatment has cost the NHS, but I have some idea what it might have been in the US thanks to the in-laws' doctor, who gave an estimate based on prices in Houston. The figures are eye-watering. She reckons: $12,000 per operation; up to $3,500 for anaesthetics each time; hospital at $500 a day and ambulance $300 a trip. That's not counting the cost of medicine. It adds up to more than $76,000, or at least £47,000. We'd have had to sell the house I was so rashly attempting to paint.

There's also an interesting comment added onto the original article, from a MarcoScorce

I live in the US, and in June my employer terminated the health insurance benefits, with three days of warning. After 19 years of health insurance I saw the monthly cost going from $350 to $1200 for a family of 6., and now with 3 days of warning, I was with no insurance and 4 kids at home. While shopping around for a private health insurance, on June 15th I was in a car accident, I was not at fault, the other guy lost control and hit my car. In the ER, as soon as they found out I was uninsured, they "stabilized" me, pumped me up with heavy-duty pain killer, and released me the same afternoon. I had three broken vertebrae in my neck. After a few days, of agonizing pain, I went to see a doctor. To make it short, urgent surgery was needed to avoid being paralyzed for life. $60,000 dollars later, I am at home, partially healed, in debt for $50K (friends and family pitched in and loaned me the $$, surgery could not be postponed, now I would love to pay the money back, but I do not have that amount of cash on hand. Auto insurance will come into play, but it could be up to two years before they pay, and even then it will not be for the full amount. The other guy had minimal insurance, and my insurance added up does not cover the total amount I spent, so far in excess of $60K. And I will probably have to hire an attorney for the legal fight, and that alone will cost me about 40% of anything that will be recovered from the insurance. In the meantime I have been making calls to finally acquire health insurance, but all the company I called so far, either refused to insure me or priced me out of the policy, because of
the injuries in the car accident. So, now I am still uninsured, not of my own will, still somewhat hurt, $50k in debt, spent $10k of my cash reserve, and mad as hell.

That first line is one of the major drivers behind the healthcare plan - while there are currently 40 million or so uninsured Americans, that number is likely to rocket as companies withdraw their healthcare benefits or restrict them to existing scheme members only - rather like the current company action over final salary pension schemes in this country. Many millions more could find themselves without protection for themselves and their families and something has to be done and quickly.

This poor guy ended up $60k in debt through no fault of his own.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hannan - not just a cock.

As John Hemming reminds us, Daniel Hannan has been a great seer for some time. In the Spectator, the poster-boy for the Tory right wrote
Consider Iceland, a volcanic lump at the uttermost edge of Europe, straddling the tectonic line that separates our continental plate from America’s. Iceland has few natural advantages: it is cold, treeless and, for much of the year, sunless. It has a population of 285,000 — roughly that of Croydon. Yet this sparse, chilly speck of tundra has just overtaken Norway to become the wealthiest place in Europe. Faced with a small home market, Icelandic entrepreneurs have expanded into neighbouring countries. In Britain alone they have bought, among other things, Hamleys, Somerfield, Oasis and Karen Millen. Icelanders now enjoy the highest life expectancy in the world. And — here’s the thing — they have achieved all this while remaining outside the EU.

The coda to this is that following the descent of the Icelandic economy into a pit that makes our own travails look like a quiet couple of weeks, in July, the Icelandic government applied to join the EU and is currently having the application fast-tracked.

Meanwhile, across the way at the Ministry of Truth, the redoubtable Unity explains that, whilst Hannan may trumpet the successes of the Singaporean health system, it has a major, non-financial cost to the residents that should trouble the libertarian right who want to import that state's way of business. Yet another fine piece of work from an excellent blogger.
The price of an efficient healthcare system in Singapore is a corporatist state that would have fair warmed the cockles of Mussolini’s heart and level of political and social quietism that would have had the pre-Glasnost Kremlin swooning with envy.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The biter frit?

As the Birmingham Post revealed earlier this week, John Hemming is under legal attack from a Malvern businessman who alleges that he has been libelled by a Liberal Democrat leaflet in Yardley. At that point, the leaflet hadn't reached this particular corner of Yardley - only a few hundred yards from the Tesco development.

As you can imagine, my excitement was barely contained until my copy arrived today, so imagine my disappointment when I discovered that there have been some editorial changes. In the place of the allegedly libellous text was a simple and uncontroversial passage.

During July, a public enquiry is taking / has taken place into compulsory purchase of land needed by Tesco for their supermarket at the Swan. We [the Lib Dems] are keen to see these outstanding issues resolved and an end to the derelict nature of the area. Cllr Dave Osborne, representing Yardley Lib Dems said "Yardley needs the jobs and improved shopping choice this project will provide. We have no hesitation in supporting Tescos [sic] proposals. We expect a positive response soon."
Nothing even remotely questionable there - apart from the clunky opening sentence.

So what could Mr Knight Adams have found so offensive?

Unless, of course, John has gone back on his promise not to be silenced and the leaflet has been edited. But that couldn't be the case, could it?

Mr Knight-Adams is trying to gag an MP. But I am not going to be gagged.

Getting the word out

Nice work here from Comrade Political Penguin (with my hat duly tipped to Cllr Piper).
My favourite lie from the US healthcare industry was the one about how Professor Stephen Hawking would have been left on the scrapheap by one of these NHS 'death panels' if he'd lived in the UK, as his condition would have made his life worthless.
Completely ignoring the fact that Prof Hawking, despite his accent, has lived in the UK all his life and is demonstrably still with us. But why should little things like facts get in the way of a good lie? Hopi Sen keeps abreast of the news.
The opponents then came back and said that of course Prof Hawking was OK - he was a brilliant man and a Cambridge don. What about the ordinary sufferers? According to Hugh Muir at the Guardian Diary, there are thousands of sufferers who receive fine care from the NHS and haven't yet been thrown to the wolves by the government bureaucrats.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Daniel Hannan is a cock

Well, he's certainly proved to be a tool for the big healthcare insurers in the US with his performance on Fox News (sic) with his inane comments on the National Health Service. There aren't many politicians who would spend so much time running down their own country as Hannan, who certainly finds himself at the far end of the Thatcherite scale, receiving messages from the Redwood mothership.

He said that he 'wouldn't wish it on anyone' and called the NHS 'a 60 year mistake.'
The healthcare system we have is kind of a relic of an era in Britain when the state was considered all-powerful and benign and when we had rationing and when we had ID cards and when we had mass nationalisation. And we're still stuck with it because, once you get a system like that, it's almost impossible to get rid of. How amazing to me that a free people, you know, citizens of a country founded on the principle of independence, independence for the citizen as well as independence for the state, should be contemplating, in peacetime, burdening themselves with a system like this, which puts the power of life and death in a state bureaucracy

Here's the full display of Hannan's arrogant cockosity, courtesy of YouTube.

Quite early on, the 'fair and balanced' Fox News show puts up a graphic which claims to show waiting times in the NHS

That claims that this data comes from the BBC in May 2009, when it actually refers to this page from May 2004. A mistake or an attempt by Fox to deliberately mislead to support their argument?

More current data - also from DrFoster - reveals that hip replacements and knee replacements are typically completed within three to four months; varicose veins are sorted within two months, cataracts within three months (although some trusts are down to a month now) and hernias are being repaired within 90 days. All those figures include the wait to see the consultant from when your GP first refers you.

I'd be failing if I didn't point out that Daniel perhaps remembers a different time, when the Tories ran the NHS into the ground, when a Conservative Prime Minister sought to win votes by promising treatment within 18 months on the NHS. Now we've had massive investment under Labour, putting money into a service that had been starved, and we're looking at treatment in less than 18 weeks.

Elsewhere, that long term friend of socialised medicine, The Daily Mail, produces a piece that shows the NHS at its magnificent best, with a team of Birmingham medics leading an incredible 48 hours that has delivered a better life to 15 people with a record-breaking series of organ transplants.

And nobody asked for insurance details, queried whether the patients had a pre-existing condition or demanded a credit card up front.

There's a reason why your holiday travel insurance jumps up if you include the US as a destination and the healthcare system is it. He's a former resident on his experience when he fell ill on a brief return to the US for a meeting

With an acute urinary obstruction, the first person I saw, and the only one who could admit me for treatment, was the woman in charge of payment. My credit card probably saved my life.

So, not a 'death panel' or a 'bureaucrat between you and your doctor,' but rather a woman with a cash register. In the US, it may not be a government official who gets to decide whether you live or die, but rather a representative of your insurance company. Actually, the thing is that Obama isn't even proposing to create a US NHS service - there isn't even a bill to debate at the moment and it looks increasingly likely that the voices of big business will win the day.

Thirty years ago, a close relative suffered a major haemorrhage while at work. The emergency ambulance crew who picked her off the floor of the classroom didn't have to check with her insurance company before deciding which hospital would be appropriate. The doctors didn't have to get a credit card swiped or check her insurance cover before starting her on the first of the ten or so pints of blood that they pumped into her over the course of a life-saving operation. They weren't worrying about whether they would get paid, just whether this woman would live. When my daughter was born prematurely, it was the NHS team at Heartlands that saw her through her first few weeks in an incubator and helped to ensure that she's now a bright and healthy teenager.

While I'm nervous about my job, I don't have to worry that if I do lose it, my healthcare insurance falls away, leaving my family vulnerable. As Mitch Gluckstein puts it, that's one of the biggest benefits of the NHS - it removes the fear.
There may be delays, frustrations and bureaucracy with the NHS, but the system delivers outstanding healthcare at no cost to the patient and far less of the GDP that the US system consumes. Being over 60, all prescription drugs are free. Perhaps it is that absence of fear of becoming ill that is the most important aspect of the system.

Is the system perfect? No. It is one of the largest employers on the planet and treats a million Britons every 36 hours, so within that, there will be mistakes, but any huge service - whether run for profit or not - will make mistakes from time to time. The best thing that it can do is to learn from them and try to do better in future - that's all we can do as humans.

The NHS is the greatest and most enduring gift to the nation from an inspirational 1945 Labour government and it is unquestionably something of which we should be very proud. And here's the best-kept secret - it costs less than the US. Daniel Hannan says that
the state doesn't do things as efficiently as the market does.

Well, in the US, 16% of the GDP goes on healthcare, as against 8.4% in the UK - which translates to $7290 per person per year in the US and just $2992 in the UK. And for that, we have a lower infant mortality than the US and we live longer. Go figure.

Yet Hannan wonders how the US can afford a new system. How can it afford not to, with 15% of the population having no healthcare at all?

No wonder Cameron's been forced to the front to declare that Hannan is 'an eccentric', but it appears that many of the leading lights in the Tory party are close to those US congressmen who see it as their duty to defend the rights of millions of Americans not to have any healthcare at all.
George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, as well as William Hague, Chris Grayling, Michael Gove and Liam Fox, are listed as advisory council members of Atlantic Bridge, an organisation dedicated to finding solutions for the common challenges facing Britain and America through a “well-positioned network of like-minded people”.

Feeble-minded people like Republican congresscritter John Campbell who had the good fortune to run into Dan the Man at the Fox Studios and learnt so much
He gave me a few facts about the socialised medicine plan in Britain, known as the National Health Service. [It] is enormously inefficient, wasteful and costly. And this is the system that President Obama, Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi and the vast majority of Democrats in Congress want to emulate!!!! This is nuts.

However, Hannan could serve a purpose for the Tories. Apart from illustrating an inbred arrogance, he also provides a convenient whipping boy for Cameron. Hannan can act as a focus for the right wingnut branch of the Conservatives, while Cameron can slate him and punish him to show the centrist voting bloc that the Tories have changed and can be trusted to look after the NHS. There's a fine line to be walked here - too much of Hannan and he becomes the face of the nasty party and a walking Labour campaign advertisement. Too little and Cameron won't have the opportunity for a Clause IV moment to demonstrate the differences of New Conservatism. Will Cameron have the courage to really slap Hannan down? I doubt it. Hannan does speak for a nastier edge of the Tory party and Cameron wants them onside, for fear that these Tory die-hards might slough off to UKIP if Dave seems too soft for them.

Hannan is not some great political sage, he's just a cock.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The biter bit

Anyone who knows John Hemming knows that he is fond of heading to the law courts to sort things out - or at least threatening action, relying on his superior wealth to ensure that opponents back down.

It seems that he's met a possible match recently, as he has published a leaflet - yet to reach this corner of Yardley - where he attacks an individual who has refused to sell land to Tesco and is opposing the council's compulsory purchase order. Although the individual is not named, it is alleged that he is easily identifiable and has been defamed by John's claims.

I can't wait to read this exciting missive from my MP.
Lawyers acting for Malvern businessman Jeremy Knight-Adams are demanding Mr Hemming issues a public apology, makes a substantial payment to charity, and undertakes not to repeat the allegations in a speech he plans to make in Parliament.
John, meanwhile, continues to use his blog to threaten a speech in Parliament - using the protection of privilege - to say what he wants about Mr Knight-Adams. How much any proposed settlement could restrict the ability of an MP to speak in the House on any given subject is an interesting issue and it would seem that the 1689 Bill of Rights precludes any such gag on an MP in the House, as it states that
freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any place or court outside Parliament

The Prince in waiting?

"I don't really see myself as a big beast. More as a kindly pussycat... Yes, a kindly pussycat. I'm a kindly pussycat, with strong views about what we need to do."
So saith Peter Mandelson. Over five years ago - yes, this blog has staggered on for THAT long now - I wrote that I admired the man. He's made some errors of judgement, but he's a fine political operator and he wasn't afraid to be at the front line in the 80s when Labour was suffering the pain and turmoil of making itself electable again. He's focussed, experienced and competent and exactly what we need at the heart of government to navigate the shoals of government. I always thought that bringing Lord Mandelson back from Europe - if not from the undead - was one of Gordon's finest strokes.
Quite the most intriguing possibility is that of Mandelson making a return to the Commons and a bid for the leadership, should a vacancy arise after the next election. A minor change in the law - already slated for inclusion in a government bill - would allow him to renounce a life peerage and it has been suggested that a seat in the North East could be found at short notice. If you accept the wisdom of crowds, then you will note that the odds on this have shortened from 16/1 to 10/1, although Alan Johnson remains the clear favourite.
This fascinating possibility would complete the Blair revolution, because as Tony once said,
my mission would be completed when the Labour Party learned to love Mandelson

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Although John Hemming accused me of lying on an internet forum, he has signally failed to identify a single error in my story below. I've expanded on it and asked the question as to whether either of the newly converted Liberal Democrats were now councillors.

Eventually, Cllr Martin Mullaney came clean
I took these photos in Small Heath in May 2004. No illegal activity was witnessed or photographed - however such was the level of fraud taking place within the inner city by the Labour Party, that the Liberal Democrats feared that the then PJP was also involved.After this incident, a dialogue was started between the Liberal Democrats and PJP, in which it was accepted that the PJP were not committing anything illegal and both parties agreed to work together to catalogue election fraud taking place by the Labour Party.

That doesn't answer the question as to what the undercover Mullaney and Hemming team - the UnProfessionals - actually did photograph and why they thought it necessary to visit the local nick down the road to start this 'dialogue' with the two opposition campaigners.

Nor why an MP decided to accuse me of being a liar without standing those accusations up.

Still, you get used to wild claims being thrown around by the Liberal Democrats.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Bright Spark in Sparkbrook

You may recall a little local controversy over Cllr Nahim Ullah Khan when he was elected last year, which sparked a brief spat on the Stirrer and a story in the Birmingham Post.
Yardley Lib Dem MP John Hemming was the first to query Mr Khan’s credentials when he posted this question on a website on Monday: "It is being said that the Respect candidate for Sparkbrook is a youth worker on the council payroll. Does
it sound right that someone employed by the city council should also be a councillor?" His intervention led to lively exchanges, with fellow Lib Dem Martin Mullaney and John O’Shea, Labour’s council candidate in Acocks Green, predicting that any victory by Mr Khan in Sparkbrook would be declared invalid and a by-election would have to follow.
Well, as it turns out, we weren't too far wrong. A by-election is indeed following, but not as a result of any electoral skullduggery.

A few days ago, Cllr Nahim Ullah Khan resigned as one of the Respect councillors for Sparkbrook ward in Birmingham. The party's leader and council colleague, Salma Yaqoob issued the following statement
A by-election will soon be called in Sparkbrook ward, Birmingham following the resignation of Councillor Nahim Ullah Khan. Due to personal financial difficulties Nahim is being subjected to Bankruptcy Restrictions Orders and can no longer continue to serve as a councillor.

Cllr Khan was actually declared bankrupt only a few days after his election last year, but changes in the law mean that simple bankruptcy no longer disqualifies you from serving as a councillor. To be disqualified means that you have to have a Bankruptcy Restrictions Order laid against you. These aren't common - an insolvency practioner of my acquaintance can't recall the last one he saw - and they are not applied because of personal financial difficulties, but only

If the official receiver considers that the conduct of a bankrupt has been dishonest or blameworthy in some other way

These can be imposed by a court or the bankrupt can avoid further legal proceedings, admit the unfit conduct and accept the terms of the order by giving a Bankruptcy Restrictions Undertaking - exactly the same thing, just by agreement. These BROs/BRUs are public documents, so the details are available.

And here they are. It seems that Mr Khan neglected to pay tax or National Insurance for the tax years 06/07 and 07/08 - just prior to his election - on a sum in excess of £45,000.
That Nahim Ullah Khan (hereafter referred to as Mr Khan) in the tax years 2006/2007 and 2007/2008 neglected his tax affairs, in that: He failed to register his self-employment with HM Revenue & Customs (hereafter referred to as ‘HMRC’) within three months of initiating trading activities. He failed to submit a self-assessment return, as required by HMRC where untaxed earnings exceed £2,500 per annum, in either 2006/2007 or 2007/2008, whilst in receipt of untaxed earnings totalling £45,800 during these two tax years. He made no contributions for either tax or National Insurance in respect to untaxed earnings totalling £45,800 during 2006/2007 and 2007/2008 and made no enquiries with HMRC to determine whether he was indebted to HMRC in this regard. As a result of his actions, during the tax years 2006/2007 and 2007/2008, he avoided paying tax and National Insurance contributions in respect to earnings totalling at least £45,800 and, further, denied HMRC the opportunity to pursue him for these cumulating liabilities prior to commencement of the current bankruptcy proceedings.

There is a tremendous irony in the constant calls from the Respect councillors for more taxpayers' money for Sparkbrook, whilst one of their number hadn't been paying his fair share and was earning rather more than the average wage for that ward.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Partly political

Harriet Harman is insistent that men can't be left to run things on their own.
I don’t agree with all-male leaderships... Men cannot be left to run things on their own. I think it’s a thoroughly bad thing to have a men-only leadership...

For those of you who can't translate this, this actually means
I want to be leader of the party.

Or am I just being cynical?

This is just an unnecessary distraction as we enter the long haul towards the next election. I'm entirely behind the wise words of John Prescott
Quotes like this just raise leadership issues once again just at a time when we should all be pullng together and defending our record.... We created two million jobs, made massive investments in health and education that vastly improved these frontline services, met and surpassed our Kyoto targets and are leading the way in securing an historic global climate change deal in Copenhagen.... And under Gordon Brown's leadership, we're leading this country and the world out of a global recession when it's clear the Tories would have done absolutely nothing.... These successes came out of a strong government of men and women working together.

Harriet won the deputy leadership fairly from a predominantly male field. Frankly, I don't want us to have a party leader or deputy leader who is there on anything other than merit. If that means a man and a woman, two men or two women, that's perfectly fine. We've moved on from when women weren't considered politically important - and Harriet has been a big part of that change in the party. However, this isn't an issue at the moment and she's wasted an interview during the holiday season when she could have been talking about our achievements and our plans to spin a self-serving line.

JP puts the boot in again, on the need to campaign:

This is crucial, now more than ever, after a disasterous June election campaign you were supposed to be running and with a poll today saying we're 24% behind the Tories in the key marginals that you're supposed to be in charge of campaigning in.
Let's talk about what we've done, and are doing, for jobs, social justice, health, education and, yes, equality.So, as I've said to
others before, stop complaining and get campaigning.

The media story isn't with us - they are by and large cheerleading for the opposition parties and this is immensely difficult territory for the party at the moment, so every opportunity has to be seized to put across a positive line and press our case.

We're supposed to be a political party, yet sometimes our senior members don't seem to grasp that. Another example is the legal action against two injured soldiers.

Now, it may well be that this is exactly as the MoD describes it, a necessary legal test to ensure equality of financial compensation for those wounded while in the service of the country. It is certainly true that this government has significantly enhanced the pay outs for injuries sustained, but I find it hard to believe that nobody stopped and considered the public impact of the decision to take the case to appeal. Eric Joyce is exactly right
while the public will give us a lot of rope at times, where we get the moral call profoundly wrong on a matter of how we treat our astonishingly brave service personnel, we'll find ourselves dangling at the end of it

There is a wide ranging review of compensation currently under way and that would be the best place for the discussion, not a court of law. In the battle between accountants and soldiers, the accountants will always lose.