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Syria Redux:

By Guest
December 1st, 2015 at 10:42 pm | Comments Off on Syria Redux: | Posted in UK Politics

1) The Conservatives are largely united behind their Leader on the case for air strikes.

2) The Labour Leader is united behind most of his Party members on the case against.

3) The Labour MPs and Shadow Cabinet are divided between both.

4) The Liberal Democrat MPs are united against most of their Party members on the case for.

5) The SNP are united against action and wondering if they’re about to become the official Opposition.

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Corbyn’s Conversations Are Not Statecraft

By Guest
November 23rd, 2015 at 11:24 am | 2 Comments | Posted in Labour

Judging from the social media and blog feeds over the weekend. There is a Momentum campaign in operation to try and paint attacks on Jeremy Corbyn’s unconvincing posturing as a vast media conspiracy. Even the BBC is being roped into the usual anti-Daily Mail and Murdoch rants as ‘wilfully not seeing, as the public does, the deep integrity and morality behind his position’.

The problem for this analysis, is that the public largely does see Corbyn for what it is, and they don’t much care for it. While many people have deep and sincere concerns about military ventures in far-off lands. And deep suspicions about the need for action, particularly as articulated by Government. They can also see Islamic State for what it is, and accept ‘no action’ in Syria has not been a wild success for peace and security, either here or in the region. People are dying either way, and the long and bloody Syrian civil war shows no sign of concluding soon.

They expect their wannabe Leaders to have a clear position on such things, backed up by a credible plan. Not beard-stroking incoherence, or a sense that whatever the Government does, he is against it, while having no Plan B.

Corbyn is not a liberal pacifist. Largely he’s an observer and oppositionalist on matters of state. He correctly sees the resolution of most conflicts as being based on dialogue not bombs. But incorrectly presumes that dialogue is always an option. Or an option right now. It should be self-evident but apparently isn’t to him that a death cult, with a moral vision based on bringing about a final conflict between civilisations is not a prime candidate for having a chat. If there is any prospect of that whatsoever it will require a radical change of vision, leadership and personnel in IS. This in turn will largely require beating them militarily. Some people do just want to kill you. And will if you let them.

However the even less attractive aspect of Corbyn’s statecraft is the manner he which does engage in dialogue when he can. His relationship with the IRA at the height of the Troubles was not admirable. Rather than coming across as the work of a sincere peacemaker, ahead of his time, he seemed to be wallowing in the association with those who would slaughter his political opponents at home. Feeding on grievances, not resolving them.

With Hamas, there is a line between a sincere desire to defend the rights of Palestinians – by questioning the decisions of the Israeli state. And apologism for acts of murderous aggression against Israeli citizens – by ignoring or excusing them. It is hard to see how the thinly veiled anti-Semitism of his fellow-travellers on the hard Left – or their aggressive relativism against Israel, is the former, not the latter. Hatred and wilful ignorance of one side’s concerns is a poor catalyst for facilitating peace.

And so it goes on. Corbyn’s preference is to be the man sitting on the sidelines preaching about how everyone else made mistakes, and how much better life would be if only some utopian peace plan had been allowed to succeed. That and pretending to be neutral while actually being ruthlessly partisan. That preference is not compatible with a job application to run the affairs of a member of the UN Security Council.

British Prime Ministers have to take tough decisions, often without any path being clear or right, and live with the consequences. They cannot just hope for a better conversation. The public can see that. Many Labour MPs can see that. The question is how long it will take Labour’s new intake to reach the same conclusion.

CRUK – Plain packs collateral damage?

By Guest
August 26th, 2013 at 10:30 am | 15 Comments | Posted in Charities

As a supporter of Cancer Research UK (CRUK) I have found myself faced with a bit of dilemma recently. I am very familiar with the excellent work performed by its many scientists but am unhappy that it has embraced ASH and deeply concerned by what I see as a change in emphasis away from scientific research towards political advocacy. Symptoms of this malaise include a slogan shift from “beating cancer through research” to the worryingly trite “together we will beat cancer”, propaganda on lifestyle links to cancer badly dressed up as science and a tendency to employ increasingly strident spin doctors.

I don’t believe that half of cancers are “caused” by lifestyle factors and even if that were true then I am not convinced that trying to force mass behavioural change is socially acceptable or likely to succeed on a major scale. So despite what the nutritionists would have us believe, in my view funding laboratory research is a lot more important than banning ham from children’s lunches.

In most countries medical research largely government funded but the UK relies heavily on the Wellcome Trust (£700M) and charities who according to AMRC contribute around a third of approximately £3 billion public spend on medical research. CRUK is a major player contributing over £300 Million.

CRUK receives the vast majority of its revenue from donations, so a significant percentage of the UK medical research effort is dependent on its ability to attract public support. That ability has been called into question in recent years. Fund raising has flat lined to the extent that this year CRUK felt obliged to spend £687,000 “refreshing” its brand and an unspecified amount on a TV advertising campaign.

In justifying this revamp CEO Harpal Kumar says:

“We’re showing our age – our brand was created 10 years ago … We’re also looking out of touch at a time when the economy is fragile and the public have more choice than ever before.”

I believe that CRUKs image problem is partly self-inflicted. 10 years ago its message was clear and people knew that they were donating money for scientific research. These days in CRUK’s research directory, listed alongside talented scientists that include Nobel Laureates we find Deborah Arnott of ASH, an anti-tobacco activist who is a stranger to science, research and on occasion objective reality.

CRUK + ASH LV

CRUK spends the vast bulk of its money on research but lifestyle pseudoscience sensationalised by its spin doctors often makes headlines whereas the excellent work of its laboratory scientists rarely does. This effect influences public perception and unpopular campaigns such as plain packaging for cigarettes may actually damage the CRUK brand.

The contrast in quality between CRUK’s laughable “research” intended to “prove” that the plain packs vanity project is evidence based and the scientific research performed by its laboratories is startling and should be embarrassing.

The plain packs campaign also highlights the extent to which CRUK has allowed activism to dominate its public image. Shortly after the government decision not to adopt the measure the BBC claimed to quote CEO Harpal Kumar as saying:

“The government had a choice: protect children from an addiction that kills 100,000 people in the UK every year or protect tobacco industry profits,”

This statement was subsequently removed from the BBC article presumaHarmal Kapur plain packs supporterbly at the request of someone at CRUK who realised that manipulative language and speculative political accusations are inappropriate from the CEO of a charity. Perhaps what I had presumed was a typo on the Plain Packs campaign website is actually an allusion to Kumar’s political ambitions. Kumar  is of course only thinking of the “the children”. He does a lot of that.

One might hope that a lesson had been learned but the publication of a  poor quality study in BMJ Open that deservedly received a lukewarm reception from virtually everyone apart from public health worshipers led to a somewhat misleading press release from CRUK that was further spun by the mainstream media to suggest that plain packaging has had a measurable impact in Australia. The public was subjected to extraordinary claims by Kate Alley of CRUK courtesy of the BBC:

“When cigarettes aren’t disguised by flashy packaging and carefully crafted branding, smokers see them for what they are – a lethal product which kills half of its long term users.”

“85% of the British public wanted government action to reduce the number of children who smoke.”

Both these statement are disingenuous. The first is extremely unlikely hypothesis and the second is an attempt to divert attention from a lack of public support for a specific measure by introducing a dubious contextually irrelevant statistic to imply that support exists. CRUK should be embarrassed by such slyness but instead diverts donations intended for research to producing spin.

This manipulative technique has been used by CRUK activists in their latest attempt to browbeat the government using yet another YouGov survey in which leading questions are asked and the “right” answers are then spun into policy based evidence. Presenting the results of such surveys as “evidence” for policy is bordering on fanaticism and so far removed from the scientific rigour that is the keystone of CRUK’s core activities that I am sincerely surprised that it is tolerated.

CRUK argues that it is merely continuing a history of advocacy but there is an ethical chasm between advocating informed choice based on hard evidence presented by scientists and authoritarian “denormalisation” campaigns fronted by advocates and PR people.  This increasingly coercive and unscientific approach may appeal to activist supporters but such people are hardly representative of the wider population whose donations are what really fuels cancer research. Historically, the UK public has been lukewarm to heavy handed government interventions and I fervently hope that no amount of rigged YouGov surveys will change that.

I don’t expect CRUK as a cancer charity to be supportive of smoking but I believe its output on the subject should be well researched and objective. It is far from that standard at present. This year’s figures suggest that the advertising is helping fundraising but I can’t help but feel that the money might have been better spent and I also believe that support may depend a little on the probability that most donors are blissfully unaware that their money might be diverted to support aggressive advocacy.

There are hopeful signs that someone has got the message as CRUK advertising at least is now focussed on research but I note that ASH funding was renewed in 2013. Didn’t anyone notice the lack of public support for ASH before rushing to adopting its philosophy and tactics?

By Chris Oakley. Chris’ previous posts on Liberal Vision include: Minimum pricing – policy based evidenceAlcohol is Old News – Minimum Pricing for Digestives is the “Next Logical Step” , Soviet Style Alcohol Suppression Campaign Called for By Public Health Activists , Alcohol Taxation: The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth Lies, damn lies, statistics &… , The Department of Health is Watching You! , New bounty on smokers helps GPs balance their books, Smoking ban health miracles , Public health idealogues don’t come cheap, Plain packs – This week’s non-story

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Plain Packs – This week’s non-story

By Guest
July 30th, 2013 at 12:02 pm | 6 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

The government’s decision not to go ahead with “plain” packaging for cigarettes was welcomed by most sane reasonable people as an indication that we may finally be seeing a beginning of an end to the madness that is government by pressure group.

Only true public health disciples believe that the campaign is anything more than a vanity project intended to bash “big tobacco” and show just how powerful the activists have become. There is no credible evidence of any likely health impact whatsoever and one can be forgiven for concluding that some activists are so wrapped up with winning their “war” with big tobacco that they view health as a peripheral objective.  Others seem more interested in topping some sort of public health competition to determine which nation can be the most authoritarian.

Arnott chris oakleyThe response of the public health industry to the plain packs setback has been predictable and sad. Refusing to even acknowledge the public or its opinion, it has responded with a wave of unpleasant speculation and conspiracy theories based on the now very tired claim that the only opponents of the activists are in the pay of “big tobacco”.

This is not even remotely true but the strategy that it underpins has nonetheless been amazingly successful over the years because it has proved much easier to undermine opponents and demonize the tobacco industry than it has to rationally justify most of what tobacco control has campaigned for. It has in fact been so successful that we now live in a society in which a person’s research or opinion however valid in its own right can be effectively dismissed by any association, however tangential with the tobacco industry.  Although we do need to be alert to the influence of vested interests, the current state of affairs is lamentable and should be a source of shame to those who have created it.

The media has played a major role in the growth of what can be termed censorship by association as a result of monumental ignorance and the love of a “good smear story”. The Guardian is particularly enthusiastic when it comes to bashing industries that try to turn a profit and being staffed, for the most part, by people who would prefer not to do anything quite so vulgar themselves, provides many natural allies for public health activists.

The latest mouthpiece for Deborah Arnott’s ASH is Jamie Doward who treated us to a major scoop in this weekend’s Observer by exposing a “sophisticated lobbying campaign” by Philip Morris Industries (PMI) apparently intended to prevent plain packs being adopted in the UK.  It appears that someone leaked some 2011 PMI files intended for internal use only and from those files the intrepid Doward has managed to concoct a deeply dishonest and frankly ridiculous conspiracy theory in which organisations such as the IEA, TPA and UNITE are mere pawns in the hands of Machiavellian tobacco company executives.

In Doward’s fantasy, dissident smokers are unthinking recruits of “big tobacco” and absolutely no grass roots opposition to anything the tobacco control lobbyists have to say exists at all anywhere. The hundreds of thousands of signatures opposed to plain packaging don’t exist or are the product of manipulation by “big tobacco”. Lynton Crosby of course appears complete with photograph despite not apparently being directly involved in the leak.

It is of course entirely unsurprising that PMI analysed the politics surrounding the plain packs proposal in some depth but I would like to see the justification for Doward’s claim that the tobacco lobby has “spent millions” trying to derail the proposal in the UK.  Having waded through his nonsense in search of anything that represented fact rather than fantasy I was struck by a section in which he reveals that those dastardly executives at PMI actually resorted to canvassing public opinion in their efforts to thwart plain packs. Apparently they used their endless resources to commission a small poll of a thousand people from marginal Tory constituencies and found that only 3% of people thought that action on smoking was a top priority for the government. I hope that the 30 are a sampling artefact for the sake of mankind. When it came to proposed smoking reduction measures 24% mentioned plain packs but 62% preferred education.  Apparently Doward thinks that it is extremely naughty of PMI to expose the lack of public support for plain packs. I am trying to work out why.

Doward leaves the last word to Arnott who rarely fails to oblige with a manipulative meaningless sound bite. The Observer article is of a laughable standard but the underlying behaviour and the societal sickness of which it is but a symptom is no laughing matter. I look forward to next week’s instalment.

By Chris Oakley. Chris’ previous posts on Liberal Vision include: Minimum pricing – policy based evidenceAlcohol is Old News – Minimum Pricing for Digestives is the “Next Logical Step” , Soviet Style Alcohol Suppression Campaign Called for By Public Health Activists , Alcohol Taxation: The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth Lies, damn lies, statistics &… , The Department of Health is Watching You! , New bounty on smokers helps GPs balance their books, Smoking ban health miracles , Public health idealogues don’t come cheap

 

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Public health ideologues don’t come cheap

By Guest
May 14th, 2013 at 10:00 am | Comments Off on Public health ideologues don’t come cheap | Posted in health

Back in 2009, Dick Puddlecote highlighted a particularly odious piece of behaviour from a member of the “caring” profession who had long before decided that he could make a greater contribution to our collective wellbeing and his bank balance by practicing politics rather than medicine. Chris Spencer-Jones attempt to close the legally exempt smoking room in a hospice on ideological grounds were of course ignored by the mainstream media presumably because it views people who hold medical degrees as saints who can never be shown to do anything other than good works for the rest of humanity.  Fortunately the Birmingham Mail is rather less squeamish when it comes to exposing unpleasant ideologues and reported the Public Health Director’s inhumane efforts.

Obviously, Spencer–Jones was not fired or even reprimanded for what he did as common decency is not considered all that desirable in the modern public health bureaucrat.  He soldiered manfully on, talking utter twaddle, attending meetings, preparing PowerPoint presentations and performing all the other duties of a public health official until 2012. The Birmingham Mail also soldiered on, exposing the fact that Birmingham had not one but at one stage five Directors of Public Health and that they cost £600,000 per annum between them.  Two of them were paid more than the Prime Minister. Spencer–Jones was on over £145,000.

Spencer-Jones and his colleagues do appear to have been paid rather extravagantly for doing very little but they were by no means the highest paid public health bureaucrats in the land.  Thanks to the Guardian’s report on civil service pay back in 2010 we can see that the highest paid Director of Public Health at that time was ardent socialist, champion of the NHS, opponent of big business and “plain” packs supporter Gabriel Scally.

oakley blog salaries
I do not normally comment on the salaries of others but I am happy to make an exception in the case of public health because for many years it has been a gravy train for the not especially talented and those with political axes to grind. In recent decades it has cost many millions and delivered very little except for a more divided and unhappy society in which an increasingly judgemental approach is encouraged towards behaviours deemed unacceptable by a well-heeled elite. Huge sums have been spent on lifestyle propaganda whilst the people who work in “real” public health laboratories have had their budgets squeezed.

Gabriel Scally very publicly resigned in 2012 ostensibly because he doesn’t like the current government and what he thinks that it is doing to the NHS. He also doesn’t care much for responsibility deals and is upset by the very thought of elected governments treating legitimate companies that he doesn’t like as anything other than enemies of the state. Prior to resigning he apparently saw his staff shrink from 50 to 9, which although unfortunate for his staff, who I hope found something more worthwhile to do, has to be a very good thing overall. Similar good things seem to have been happening in Birmingham where at around the same time Spencer-Jones and his colleagues were reduced from four to one.

Before we get too excited about the NHS reforms actually doing some good, we should pause and consider the fact that the government is not promising a reduction in spending on the public health industry but is simply shifting responsibility for public health to local authorities and a new QUANGO that may be no less profligate than those that preceded it. A number of local authorities appear to be acquiring Public Health Directors and the going rate seems to be £75-£100,000 which is consistent with what the local authority contingent of the Birmingham four /five were being paid. Chris Snowdon has pointed out that the transfer of budget to local authorities from PCTs has done nothing to curb spending on health lobbyists in the North East where £2.8 Million is already earmarked to pay spin doctors to lobby government and tell people how to behave. Apparently the “The unanimous view of the new directors of public health, together with the Health and Well-being Committees, was that funding … should continue.” Health and Well-being Committees sound rather ominous so I am not hopeful that we are going to see much change. One would hope that local authorities would at least be more accountable than the NHS but does anyone know who the new people responsible for bankrolling the lobbyists are?

By Chris Oakley. Chris’ previous posts on Liberal Vision include: Minimum pricing – policy based evidenceAlcohol is Old News – Minimum Pricing for Digestives is the “Next Logical Step” , Soviet Style Alcohol Suppression Campaign Called for By Public Health Activists , Alcohol Taxation: The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth Lies, damn lies, statistics &… , The Department of Health is Watching You! , New bounty on smokers helps GPs balance their books, Smoking ban health miracles

 

 

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