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What is the truth behind the rise in strokes? Anyone?

By Angela Harbutt
May 12th, 2015 at 8:10 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in health

News channels are awash today with the latest horror story – that strokes have risen over past 15 years among working-age people.  Cue health “experts” and charity spokespeople of various guises rushing to the TV sofa’s to point accusing fingers at the Great British public’s failure to take enough exercise, and our consumption of too much sugar/salt/fat, to explain the rise.

Newspapers are also falling over themselves to tell us that the latest health crisis is all our own fault. This is the Daily Mail‘s lead paragraph:

“Strokes among middle-aged men have soared because of obesity and lack of exercise, experts said yesterday.”

“Their research shows the number of cases is up 46 per cent on 15 years ago. For women in the same 40s and 50s age group the rise is 30 per cent.”

Or this from the Independent (with obligatory photo of a couple of fat blokes):

“Sharp rise in strokes among people of working age leaves thousands devastated by disability”

“The Stroke Association said the increase was due to more unhealthy lifestyles”

Undoubtedly health choices have a part to play in preventing strokes, perhaps a significant part for all I know, but before we all give ourselves a stroke worrying about the latest health scare let’s just be aware of the facts.

The Stroke Association study these headlines refer to, states that in 2000 there were around 4,260 hospital admissions for strokes among men aged between 40 and 54 in England, compared to 6,221 in 2014. For woman the figures are 3,529 in 2000, to 4,604 in 2014.

Over a similar period, the UK population has grown by over 5 million – and, according to the ONS  (since 2001) “there have been high levels of net inward migration, adding to the population at younger working ages”. I don’t have the precise numbers for England (rather than the UK) nor the increased numbers of men aged 40 to 54 living in England today compared with 15 years ago but the chances are they have risen since 2000. What matters is the % of the 40-54 year olds experiencing strokes today vs 2000, not the rise in absolute number of strokes surely?

I can’t help but wonder why the percentage changes have not been reported?

Lost in the story is also the fact that “hospital admission practice” (mentioned in passing in the press release) is also having an impact on the rise in numbers. Have we got better at diagnosing strokes over the last 15 years (probably)? Could that also account for some of the rise?

We should also note that the causes of strokes are many and various. The BBC managed to find two young stroke victims on its web site, one was a 34 year old whose stroke was caused by a (previously undiagnosed) heart condition and the second was a “very fit” (49 year old), who was “in the gym six days a week”, “ate healthily”, but had (again undiagnosed) high blood pressure. Neither of those men appear to had a stroke as a result of their lifestyle choices – far from it.

But does the BBC lunchtime news talk about either the population growth or indeed, the possible improvement in diagnosis as possible reasons for the “rise”? Does it bother to alert the “fit and healthy” that they may still be at risk of stroke even if they have a perfect diet and  take regular exercise? (eg according to the Stroke AssociationSouth Asian and black people in the UK are also at increased risk of stroke. Although the reasons for this are not completely understood, we do know that black people are twice as likely to have a stroke compared to white people and that black and South Asian people also tend to have strokes at a younger age than white people.”)

No. Nor any mention of the fact that if you have had (often undiagnosed) TIAs (mini strokes) you are at high risk; likewise you are at higher risk if there is a family history of strokes.

The tack taken by the Stroke Association and health journalists across the board is nothing less than irresponsible. The data extracted from the NHS by the Stroke Association shows a snap shot of the number of strokes occurring amongst those of a certain age in England and nothing more. The headlines/soundbites from them creates an impression that the sole cause of the “rise” in strokes amongst 40-54 year olds is “lifestyle choices”.  That is nothing more than a hypothesis/best guess/hobby horse from the health spokespeople. It is not only not backed up by any evidence presented in its press release or elsewhere, it runs the risk of leading to stigmatization of those suffering from strokes (“it’s their fault”) and creates a false sense of security among the fit and healthy – but otherwise vulnerable groups – that they are low risk or risk free.

It also displays, yet again, sheer laziness from the so-called journalists. When I spoke to the BBC after the lunch time news edition to put some questions to them; why they had shown the rise in strokes in absolute terms and had not factored in population growth in the last 15 years; whether there was any evidence to show if diagnosis had improved; and whether they had figures showing the percentage of stroke victims defined as obese, it was quite clear they had not even considered these points. Indeed they started off by trying to tell me that they thought the figures had taken into account population growth.

By the Six O’clock news, the BBC had added a line to its report stating the increase in the number of strokes “can’t be accounted for by population growth and by changes in the way strokes are treated. Experts say obesity and sedentary lifestyles are to blame.” But that was as far as they were willing, or able, to go.

Where is the journalism from the media? All they seem to have done, by and large, is to have taken the Stroke Association press release and top and tailed it with a “personal story” and/or a sound bite from a “health expert”.  More importantly, where is the responsibility from the the Stroke Association to provide the UK population with factually accurate, evidence-based information? Why have they stooped to shock tactics?

Still it seems to fit the agreed current narrative of the health lobby that “lifestyle” is the root of all our health problems. And “health journalists” seem to happily gobble up and spew back out whatever froth they are fed. They have ceased to be the fifth estate, examining the validity of the claims made. They have become the mouthpieces for their friends and colleagues working in health. They may as well just give health campaign groups their login and password and go sit on a beach.

Until the wider health lobby (in which we must include journalists as well as campaign groups) gets off this bandwagon and starts giving people the full facts however dull, rather than the spin that suits their beliefs or grabs the headlines, we should simply ignore everything they say. As an increasing number of people are clearly doing already. And government must start to consider whether health authorities should, in the interests of Public Health, continue to outsource it’s services to charities that persist in playing fast and loose with the facts.

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Time for the Lib Dems to put the amateurs out to pasture

By Angela Harbutt
May 10th, 2015 at 2:00 pm | Comments Off on Time for the Lib Dems to put the amateurs out to pasture | Posted in Liberal Democrats

Following the “evisceration” of the Lib Dem parliamentary party on Thursday, will the Lib Dems finally wake up and smell the coffee?

Losing some 47 seats in the House of Commons and somewhere in the region of 350 deposits, on May 7th, was not an accident. It was not a “price paid for being in coalition” – particularly when the entire South West was lost to a party to the right of them. It was not the “brutal tactics of the Conservatives” – they simply fought an excellent campaign – and won. Did Lib Dems really expect Lynton Crosby to back off in the South West because the Lib Dems had been good eggs in 2010? Of course not. It was not a price paid for the tuition fees debacle. It was certainly not the “unfairness of the voting system” (we presumably knew that before we started) and it was definitely not a lack of media coverage or the “biased” media coverage (the much-loved “all the media hate us” hobby horse of the party).

It was the total and utter failure of the Lib Dems to offer anything interesting or compelling to the country.

It was a shambles of a campaign. And it was a total and utter failure of Nick Clegg to make the necessary changes to the party, its structure and its personnel over the last 5 years that made such a disastrous campaign inevitable.

Let me be clear; I know Nick is a good man. He is an excellent media performer (as he showed yet again during the General Election). He is also a brave and honourable man. Had he not been prepared to drag the party into the 2010 coalition, the country would not just be on its knees right now it would be on the floor. I hope that history will recognise this contribution, because it was truly noble and magnificent.

But for all the bravery he showed for the sake of the country, he was a coward when it came to taking tough decisions for the sake of the party.

He did nothing to modernise the ludicrous archaic committee structure of the Liberal Democrats (too many groups with lots of power and prestige but no accountability). You can hardly make a cup of tea in the Lib Dems without half a dozen committees getting involved. It probably has more rules than it has members.

This is no way for a political party to operate in the 21st century. Take just one example. Why on earth did Nick allow the perpetuation of the wholly undemocratic conference elite (those who have been awarded a magic “voting card” by some local party ) deciding party policy rather than, oh I don’t know, those who actually have been elected by the voters? If the idea of accountable MPs determining policy was a step too far, at the very least we should have moved to a democratic “one member one vote” system by now. Why no change?  Of course the answer is probably that Nick didn’t want to take on the 29 person Federal Policy Committee and the 20+ person Federal Conference committee (and possibly several other committees I have never heard of) who would undoubtedly have fought tooth and nail to protect their power base. But that should not have stopped him from doing it.

Likewise, he did nothing to end the spectre of hapless amateur hangers-on at the top of the Lib Dem hierarchy surrounding the leader like a ring of steel; getting their kicks from “being important”, hoarding information, and lauding it over everyone else – hopelessly out of their depth and too self-obsessed or too stupid to know the limitations of their own abilities.

You might have thought that Nick would learn from the omnishambles of the “YES to Fairer Votes” (Yes to AV) campaign – possibly the most disastrous campaign ever witnessed by mankind (up until the General Election of 2015 that is). For the 2011 AV campaign he appointed his mate John Sharkey  to head up the fight. Sharkey, you will recall, was the bungling strategist in charge of the lacklustre 2010 election campaign which was saved single-handedly by Nick’s own performance at the TV debates (not helped by the hapless Sharkey apparently leaving his secret TV debates notes in the back of a cab).

Yet come 2015 Nick does the same thing again, appointing his patron and friend Paddy Ashdown as Campaign Chair and Olly Grender (ex everything in the Lib Dems) as Deputy Chair. It was like YES to AV all over again – a total misallocation of resources, and silly gimmicks (a manifesto launch in a nightclub where the sound fails) failing to cover up the lack of any coherent proposition to the electorate.

And if you want proof positive that the amateurs in charge at the top of the 2015 campaign were living in la-la land right up to the end,  then look no further than Paddy’s assertion that it had been “a wonderful campaign” on May 6th and Grender’s preposterous tweet on May 7th in response to the “I’ll eat my hat” gaff:

“@campbellclaret will eat his kilt, @paddyashdown will eat his hat …… right now I’d settle for a sandwich #GE2015”.

Did these people have absolutely no idea what was going on, even that late in the game?

And that is the problem with the Lib Dems. It is the plaything of too many amateurs and wannabes – whether they prance around at the various committees feeling self important (with all the power and none of the accountability), wander around on stage at conference admiring their own images on the TV and grinning whenever they “take a lump” out of the leadership, or head up disastrous self-indulgent campaigns, for which they all too rarely face the consequences.

Nick has stood down as leader, but what of Olly Grender and Lord Ashdown? They have, presumably, been automatically stood down now the campaign is done. So what do they do – just move on and go back to writing books or popping up on the odd TV programme? I trust they will never be put anywhere near the Lib Dem levers of power ever again. And, that the time for appointing amateurs is well and truly over.

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Lib Dem Leadership – surely it’s sorted?

By Angela Harbutt
May 10th, 2015 at 11:01 am | Comments Off on Lib Dem Leadership – surely it’s sorted? | Posted in Leadership, Liberal Democrats, Uncategorized

So the discussions on who might be the next Lib Dem leader have already begun. Tim Farron has not ruled himself out, whilst Greg Mulholland has apparently. Not sure about Norman Lamb, but the bookies think he is in with a shout. Mind you, given the numbers, they probably all are (in with a shout that is).

Lib Dem Party President, Sal Brinton, has already written to all Lib Dem members (Friday) telling them that “The Federal Executive meets for the first time tomorrow afternoon to consider the timescales” for the leadership election.

Just to be clear, 28 or so Lib Dems will have sat down in a room somewhere yesterday to work out the “leadership election” process. This may sound ridiculous to outsiders (for crying out loud there are only 7 MPs in the running!) but not to those, like the usually sane Lib Dem Mark Pack, who think this is deadly serious. He has already called for  a “properly contested leadership contest, not a coronation“.

Why? Because “A contest triggers debate and a chance of collectively learning the lessons“. Hmmm…. what the Lib Dems need is yet another post-mortem on why it all went wrong. I don’t think so.

It really doesn’t appear to occur to any of them that this constant navel-gazing which is sending them backwards, not forwards. What did the Lib Dems learn from the lame 2010 GE campaign, the 2011 AV campaign, the (several) Rennard inquiries; the 2014 European elections; the various local council elections? Nothing it would seem, given that the 2015 General Election campaign was every bit as bad as the ludicrous “Yes to Fairer Votes” campaign.

[The truth of the matter is that the Lib Dems never learn, collectively or otherwise, the lessons of any particular failure because they don’t really want to hear the answer – but more of that later today]

Returning to the Leadership Election….

If the remaining eight MPs (assuming they all stay Lib Dems) had anything about them they would dispense with the now meaningless Lib Dem rule book  (which states that any leadership candidate needs 10% of MPs to back them (!) plus the backing of at least 200 party members from at least 20 different local parties). They would  have sat down already and agreed amongst themselves who it will be –  and announced it.

The leader, with the total support of all 8 MPs, would also then tell the 28 person Federal Executive, the 29 person Federal Policy Committee, the 20+ person Federal Conference committee and any other committee found occasionally lurking in the bowels of Lib Dem HQ that in swift order all the current policies/rules books/committees etc will all be put under immediate review with a view to (a) disbanding or (b) drastic pruning. If the Federal party want a conference they can have one, but it won’t be where policy is made. Policy will be made by the 8 accountable MPs, on a system of their own devising, and, in the interests of democracy, put to the membership on a “one member one vote” basis annually. In the Autumn of 2015 the first set of proposals will be put to the membership (on the “one member on vote” system) and include a question on satisfaction with the leader. The rest the leader will sort as he goes on.

I am sure this suggestion will make many Lib Dem’s toes curl at the very idea of by-passing the FE , and making the Federal Policy Committee all but redundant, but surely their time and effort can be redeployed rebuilding the membership of the party. What the remaining Lib Dem MPs – and indeed the wider party membership – surely don’t need is 10 or so committee members for every one MP?

Please someone tell me commonsense will, finally, prevail.


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By Editor
May 9th, 2015 at 10:40 am | Comments Off on IT’S THE UNIONS WOT WON IT | Posted in Labour

The news channels today are full of speculation about who will be the next leader of the Labour party. It’s a bit of shame that the trade unions won’t get quite the same sway this time around.

After all, had the Unions not defied the will of Labour MPs and the Labour party membership in the last leadership election in 2010, (both groups showing a strong preference for Ed’s brother to lead the party) we could well have seen David Miliband lead the party over the last 5 years – and a Labour Prime Minister sitting down to breakfast in Number 10 today. So the nation’s thanks must go out to every Trade Union that backed Red Ed.

Sadly this time around the Labour Leadership election system will be different. The voting system has been changed (though yet to be implemented) moving to a “one member one vote” system (assuming it actually get’s implemented).  Will that lead to a more sane choice of Labour leader? Well with trade union darling (and health secretary at the time of the Mid Staffs excess deaths scandal) Andy Burnham the current front runner, and millionaire Champagne socialist Chuka Umunna (who views working class people as “trash“) apparently hot on his heals  – ermm maybe not.

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By Editor
May 8th, 2015 at 1:26 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in Liberal Democrats

Pretty much everything that can be said, has been said, by Mark Littlewood in the Telegraph today:

Nick Clegg has spent five years trying to appeal to no one. His party has paid the price.

In their worst nightmares, the Liberal Democrats surely never believed they would meet with such total catastrophe at the ballot box. Even as he held his own seat, against the expectations of many, Nick Clegg looked a broken and defeated man.

Results are still trickling in, but the exit poll – ridiculed by Lib Dem high command on Thursday evening – indicating a tally of just ten seats now looks to towards the top end of their expectations. As a national political force, the Liberal Democrats have been eviscerated. Clegg was right to say that the results of this incredible election raise profound questions for the country and for his party. With regard to the latter, one wonders if it can continue to survive at all in its present form. Perhaps Nick Clegg would actually have preferred to have lost his own seat, rather than return as the nominal leader of a microscopic Parliamentary Party.

The central problem for the Lib Dems was that they could never really work out what they were saying and who they were appealing to. There’s nothing wicked about moderation and seeking to position yourselves as equidistant between the two major parties, but it hardly sets the pulse racing. In essence, the Liberal Democrats were saying that they knew the British people would select gin or vodka – but their pitch was to be the tonic water to pour on top. It is, at root, a pretty feeble and uninspiring offer….

…The party faces a further, long term problem. Although swathes of senior Lib Dem politicians – including those who are household names, such as Vince Cable, Simon Hughes and Charles Kennedy, have had their political careers terminated by the electorate, the truth is that the Lib Dems would have fared even more catastrophically in most of their seats if less well known candidates had been bearing the party colours. Having lost these seats, it is hard to imagine how they can ever be won back.

Once the LibD ems had taken the step of entering government, they may have had the opportunity to define themselves as a genuinely classical liberal party, seeking to shift power in every area of life away from the state and towards individual men and women. But they fluffed it. They retreated to their comfort zone of not really saying anything distinguishable. And – as a result – they fell off the edge of an electoral cliff.

The Lib Dems might decide to limp on as a sort of confederation of residents associations. Almost for old times’ sake. As a sort of hobby. They can gather by the seaside at conferences and reminisce about the old days. Such a future might even be just about viable, but it cannot be described as serious politics and it is hard to see how it meaningfully contributes to promoting liberalism. A lot of people will ask whether anyone would bother creating the Liberal Democrats if they didn’t already exist. And the answer to that question, for many, would surely be “no”. 

You can read the full article here.

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