obhi

Husband, interested in Tagore, films and digital thinking ... and then there's the day job!

Jul 192017
 

According to reports of the Brexit negotiations, the second round of talks this week may be stopped ‘because the UK is not ready‘. Over a year after the EU Referendum result, we may wonder how that can be.

In the table below, I have summarised the negotiating position papers published by the European Commission and by the UK Government.

Strictly speaking, the White Papers and Terms of Reference are not formally part of the negotiations. However, the UK Government website includes them under the heading ‘position papers’, so I have included them in the table. I have also included the terms of reference, which appear on both websites, although they too are not position papers. The terms of reference set out the negotiation process, including dates of meetings.

International negotiations usually take place chapter-by-chapter. The discussions on different “chapters” usually involve the relevant experts for each chapter.

So far, as you can see from the table below, the Commission has published 10 position papers (in the strict sense) while the UK Government has published only 4. Most of the Commission’s position papers were also published in draft form when they were sent to the EU27  for comments two weeks earlier. Perhaps the UK Government’s problem has been that they also published the Repeal Bill on the same day as three of its position papers.

I have included direct links to both the EU27 and UK position papers in the table, together with their dates of publication. In a previous post, I had tried to compare the EU27 and UK positions on citizens’ rights. It was not easy because the structures of the EU27 and UK position papers are very different. Still, if anyone has the time to complete the exercise of matching the paragraphs of the UK position on citizens’ rights (in the second column) with the corresponding paragraphs of the EU27 position, here is the comparison table I had started.

As Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake observed after Brexit Minister David Davis left the talks after an hour to return to London and was pictured without any papers at the negotiating table, “This is a Government with no papers, no plan and no time for the most important negotiations of a lifetime.”

TopicDate published by
European Commission
Date published by
UK Government
Repeal Bill: White Paper15 May 2017
The United Kingdom’s exit from and new partnership with the European Union White Paper15 May 2017
Essential principles on the financial settlementDraft: 29 May 2017
Final: 12 June 2017
Essential principles on citizens' rightsDraft: 29 May 2017
Final: 12 June 2017
26 June 2017
Terms of reference for the Article 50 TEU negotiations19 June 201719 June 2017
Nuclear materials and safeguard equipment (Euratom)Draft: 23 June 2017
Final: 13 July 2017
13 July 2017
Ongoing Police and Judicial
Cooperation in Criminal matters
Draft: 29 June 2017
Final: 13 July 2017
Functioning of the Union Institutions, Agencies and BodiesDraft: 29 June 2017
Final: 13 July 2017
13 July 2017
GovernanceDraft: 29 June 2017
Final: 13 July 2017
Goods placed on the Market under Union law before the withdrawal dateDraft: 29 June 2017
Final: 13 July 2017
Ongoing Union Judicial and Administrative Procedures13 July 201713 July 2017
Judicial Cooperation in Civil and Commercial matters13 July 2017
Ongoing Police and Judicial Cooperation in Criminal matters13 July 2017
Jul 092017
 

This clip is from this morning’s interview of Sir Vince Cable on the Andrew Marr Show. His remarks were analysed on BBC News, in The Guardian and in The Independent. As the BBC put it, he said:

“I’m beginning to think that Brexit may never happen.

“The problems are so enormous, the divisions within the two major parties are so enormous. I can see a scenario in which this doesn’t happen.”

MPs are set to vote on the Repeal Bill, a key piece of Brexit legislation, in the autumn. Sir Vince has said he wants to form a cross-party coalition including like-minded Tory and Labour MPs to oppose Britain’s exit from the single market – the official policy of both the Conservative and Labour parties.

Tony Nog has explained in a thread entitled “Stopping #Brexit one step at a time” what I had been thinking of setting out in this blog post. Here’s what he said:

Potentially, change is in the air – Hard Brexit is dead and Brexit itself is on the ropes. But finishing it off is a process, not a single event.

At the moment the talk is around “but how can we stop Brexit?” “What about the vote?” “We can’t ignore the referendum” “Do we have a 2nd Ref?” “Do we need another GE?” “how will it happen?”

This is putting IMHO the cart before the horse. Yes,a democratic event will be needed to stop Brexit–a 2nd Ref, a vote in Parliament, a GE, … .

There are arguments for & against each option, but the exact answer doesn’t matter right now – the end is not as important as the start. No “stop Brexit” democratic event can occur until the public definitively turns against Brexit in a way that Cons/Lab can’t ignore.

That is starting, that’s what needs to be encouraged. Once Brexit is seen clearly and transparently for what it is by the public, the democratic “stop Brexit” event, whichever one it is, will be forced into existence – it’ll be political suicide to prevent it.

We went from “Brexit is great” very quickly into “Brexit is inevitable”. Now we’re onto “without Brexit there’ll be riots”. This argument is self-evidently ridiculous – it says the UK is subject to the rule of the mob. That’s indefensible for any Government.

The fact is: Brexit is misguided & self harming. This is true whether 52% or 92% voted for it. Support can only shrink, not grow. There is no good Brexit news that will outweigh the bad, no “silver lining” and as negotiations start no hiding place for David Davis.

And the fact is a large part of the country is, frankly, fickle. We want a great NHS, but we don’t want to pay for it. Opinion polls shifted hugely in the last GE, by 15 points or more in a few weeks – in large part because of Remain concerns.

And the UK simply will not want to pay for Brexit, they didn’t even want to see a minor NI rise for the self employed. So now “Brexit might not happen” is being whispered. The more it’s said, the more real a possibility it becomes.

Panic we’re seeing from Brexiteers now is because the only card left was “will of the people/Brexit is done”–there’s no other arguments. To stop Brexit, all that’s needed is to demonstrate it’s not unstoppable or inevitable. A50 can be reversed, the EU will welcome us back.

Nothing in a democracy is set in stone, we can always take a 2nd look at anything, that’s the nature of it. And national interest matters.

In time many may say “actually, why ARE we doing this” & as the reality of the impacts sink in they may say “No, I don’t want to”. 54% are now saying they would have voted remain, in time 64% could say “why are we continuing this – it makes no sense”.

So to conclude this overlong thread – The way to beat Brexit is not to worry about a 2nd ref, a new GE or any backlash – not yet. It’s simply to say “we don’t have to do this, it’s not even close to being inevitable and we shouldn’t do it, and here’s why”.

PS – Sorry, some people are seeing this thread as advocating “let brexit fizzle out” Far from it – I’m suggesting increase the pressure. Point out every day that Brexit is foolish & can be stopped & don’t get distracted with the “how”, the possibility is what matters now.

So far, all the advantages claimed for Brexit before the Referendum have proved to be illusory. The Confederation of British Industry has concluded that the UK Government has ‘no clear plan’ for BrexitThe Cabinet looks set to split over Brexit. And Chuka Umunna’s amendment to the Queen’s Speech exposed the divisions within the Labour party on Brexit.

But what about the German car industry which was going to convince the EU27 to go easy on the UK in the negotiations to maintain their exports to the UK? Apparently, that’s not going to happen either.

Oh, and after Theresa May referred to ‘citizens of nowhere’ at last year’s Tory party conference, Vince Cable observed that that particular phrase was ‘quite evil‘ and ‘could have been taken out of [Adolf Hitler’s] Mein Kampf‘. This morning, he corrected his reference to ‘rootless cosmopolitans’ (as a euphemism for Jews) as being from Stalin. He had compared Theresa May to the wrong murderous dictator.

Jun 272017
 

Today, Theresa May finally revealed the UK Government’s counter-proposal regarding the rights of EU citizens in the UK to the essential principles published by the EU27 two weeks ago. According to George Osborne, she was the only Cabinet member to have prevented this commitment being made unilaterally a year ago.

So how do the two positions compare? At first sight, the UK position is more detailed (22 pages vs 4). However, the UK position contains quite a lot of waffle while the EU27 position is a series of bullet points.

For example, paragraphs 1-4 and 12 of the 12-paragraph summary in the UK position appear to be aimed more at a domestic audience than at the EU27.

It is also strange that the UK position seems to have been drafted without any awareness of the EU27 position. See, for example, the opening of paragraph 6: “The Government undertakes to treat EU citizens in the UK according to the principles below, in the expectation that the EU will offer reciprocal treatment for UK nationals resident in its member states.

In case you want to contribute to a crowd-sourced comparison of the two positions, please comment below or send me a direct message via Twitter to receive access to the Google Doc I have started.

Comparing the EU27 and UK positions on citizens' rights

Jun 252017
 

In today’s Observer, Andrew Rawnsley writes that ‘That jeering sound you can hear is Europe laughing at Britain‘.

Though European leaders are too polite to put it so bluntly, they think that this country, once thought to be a nation of level-headed pragmatists, has taken leave of its senses. First, Britons narrowly vote to quit the world’s largest and richest free trade area. Then, at an election less than 12 months later, Britons split their support between the parties in such a way that there is no consensus in parliament about the terms on which Britain should leave. There is not even agreement about how to proceed on Brexit within the riven ruling party. Ridicule abroad is matched by ridicule at home.

Earlier last week, many on social media noted that even the Queen, who is not supposed to intervene in political matters, appeared to be sending a subliminal message through her choice of hat, the colour of her dress and her delivery of the Queen’s Speech. Some noted that, by putting her handbag on the floor as well, she was signalling that she was not amused by what she was obliged to read in the Queen’s Speech.

The ridicule is not limited to Europe. Here is a view from Australia’s ABC News:

Huw Parkinson turns to the fallout from the recent UK general election. Having lost her majority, and with complicated Brexit negotiations and fields of wheat on her doorstep, Theresa May is determined to “get on with the job of government” (and to seek the Holy Grail).

Meanwhile, in India, the Hindustan Times reported that the UK was looking to India to find nurses to fill a reported 40,000 nursing vacancies in the NHS. Yesterday, the Liberal Democrats’ Brexit spokesperson and Carshalton & Wallington MP, Tom Brake, drew attention to the impact of Brexit on our local hospital, which is the opposite of the extra £350 million per week which Boris Johnson and other Leave campaigners had said would be spent on the NHS if the UK left the EU:

At St Helier Hospital, they are no longer recruiting nurses from Spain, Portugal and Italy, partly because [the nurses] don’t know what their future is [without any guarantee from the UK Government of the rights of EU citizens in the UK], but also because the value of the pound has dropped and therefore they have less to send home as remittances and therefore they are not coming. So what the hospital is doing instead is to recruit nurses from India and the Philippines. The only difference, apart from the fact that it is harder, is that they have to pay £1,000 a visa to get them … really clever!”

Jolyon Maugham QC summarised the effect of the year since the EU Referendum in the UK as follows:

This is purely due to the uncertainty created by the Tories even before the UK has left the EU. Of course, all of this hardship and uncertainty for millions of people has been the result of attempting to keep the pro-EU and anti-EU wings of the Tory party together. So it is extremely rich for a Tory politician like Andrea Leadsom to interrupt a BBC Newsnight interviewer by saying that ‘if broadcasters were willing to be a bit patriotic’ about negotiations with the EU to refuse to answer a question about what the UK Government actually wants to achieve with Brexit a year after the referendum. This from a political party which has put its own interests ahead of those of the people of the country and made the UK a global laughing stock.

So what was Brexit supposed to be about? Taking back control of laws, borders and money, apparently. Well the Queen’s Speech for the next two years included 7 new pieces of legislation to try to make up for the EU laws which would not apply if ever the UK were to succeed in leaving the EU.

And why would the UK want to take back control of laws? Well, it was all about reducing red tape. The sort of red tape that could have prevented the Grenfell Tower fire disaster. This disaster underlined why regulations and regulators are needed: it’s to keep the public safe.

Sky News Political Editor Faisal Islam revealed last week that the Building Research Establishment had prepared a presentation in June 2014 about The fire performance of building envelopes. The presentation included a list of such fires dating back to 1991.

Knowsley Heights – 1991

Basingstoke – 1992

Irvine – 1999

Paddington, London – 2003

The Edge, Manchester – 2004

Windsor Tower, Madrid – 2005

Berlin  2005

Hungary 2009

Dijon France 2010

Chechnya

UAE

USA

The presentation also included diagrams showing how fires spread in buildings with external cladding, such as Grenfell Tower.

The fire risks of such cladding were examined in 1999/2000 by the Commons Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regulatory Affairs after the fire in Irvine, Ayrshire on 11 September 1999. Unfortunately, it seems that successive Government Ministers since then refused to adapt the Building Regulations fully to take these risks into account.

As Thomas Lane wrote in BDOnline soon after the fire:

There have been many calls for Part B, the regulation dealing with fire safety, to be revised in response to the risks of external fire spread via the cladding. As far back as 2000 a parliamentary committee investigating a fatal fire at Garnock Court in Ayrshire in 1999 where fire spread externally via the cladding said the guidance in Part B might not be adequate to prevent the external spread of fire. It said external cladding systems should be required either to be entirely non-combustible, or to be proven through full-scale testing not to pose an unacceptable level of risk in terms of fire spread. It also said it should not take a serious fire in which many people are killed before all reasonable steps are taken towards minimising the risks. This advice was not incorporated into the 2010 revision of Part B. Since then there has been the Lakanal House fire where six people died. The coroner’s 2013 report into this disaster found problems with fire safety including the building’s fire resistance.

Instead the government has sat on its hands and Part B remains unrevised allowing the use of cladding systems such as the one used on Grenfell Tower.

I should mention that my father was Head of Building Regulations for England and Wales in the late 1980s. So I grew up knowing that he was investigating High Alumina Cement, whose tendency to become porous had been responsible for a series of building collapses – including the Morden Swimming baths, where I learned to swim. When he took over the job, my father decided to go back to first principles, to why Building Regulations first started to be put in place. Their origin was the immediate aftermath of the Great Fire of London in 1666, when a small fire in a bakery had destroyed most of the city. That would appear to have been forgotten lately, perhaps as part of David Cameron’s pledge to “kill off the safety culture” to permit a “bonfire of red tape” to liberate the UK economy.

Yesterday, Sutton Council Leader Ruth Dombey said of the Grenfell Tower disaster that “All I do know is that their cladding was the cheap stuff. Their cladding was the stuff that you use when you want to cut corners. … We have two Council-owned tower blocks here in Sutton with cladding. They have both been tested. They are both up to the highest possible standards but, in spite of that, at 9:00 on Monday morning, we are taking off a panel from each of those two tower blocks to get it tested, just to be absolutely sure it’s OK. In the meantime, one of the two tower blocks already has a sprinkler system. We believe it was the first tower block in the whole country to have a sprinkler system installed and the other tower block will have a sprinkler system installed very soon.

“But what was so different between our response and the response of Tory-run Kensington & Chelsea is that, a few hours after we realised the tragedy, we were knocking on doors on every single flat in those tower blocks, together with the Fire Service, and the organisation that runs the Tenants’ Association. And we were talking to people who live there, reassuring them, listening to their concerns and answering their questions. The Council and Councillors have to be present. They have to be visible. They have to be there to deal with things when they go wrong as take the credit when things go right.”

So far, the Leave campaigners who got the country into its current mess of starting negotiations to leave the EU without much of a plan, then calling an inconclusive General Election without any clear consensus of what the plan is now, have been rather invisible.

As David Allen Green noted in the Financial Times, the diminishing public enthusiasm for Brexit is similar to the story of the Poll Tax, which was originally proposed as a brilliant idea by Margaret Thatcher, until everyone realised how unfair (and unpopular) it really was.

And maybe, since the UK Government appears to be singularly unprepared for the Brexit negotiations, Gina Miller’s observation could be quite astute.

Jun 102017
 

As usual, the speech by Liberal Democrat party leader Tim Farron at the National Liberal Club after the General Election received little media coverage. The full transcript (see Mark Pack’s blog) is well worth reading. Here is the last part of it:

Nick Clegg is a giant of British politics, a friend and a hero to me and to countless others. Not only did he lead our party into government for the first time in generations, he did so in the most difficult of circumstances and for the most noble of reasons.

Our party paid a political price for joining the coalition government, but it is nothing compared to the price our country would have paid if Nick had not shown the steel and determination to do the right thing when it was needed most.

In 2010 our economy was on the edge of a precipice. Because of Nick Clegg it survived and flourished.

Theresa May called this election expecting it to be a coronation. She took each and every one of us for granted in the most cynical way possible. Like David Cameron before her, our Conservative Prime Minister rolled the dice and put the future of our country at risk out of sheer arrogance and vanity.

And now in her diminished state, she reaches out to the right to form her own coalition of chaos. Theresa May has done the opposite of what Nick Clegg did. She put her party before her country. She has been found out. She should be ashamed.

We will now have a government that is weaker and less stable at a time when we are about to embark on the most difficult and complex negotiations in our history. Theresa May promised strong and stable leadership. She has brought weakness and uncertainty. If she has an ounce of self-respect she will resign.

The Tories have taken our country for granted too many times. Whatever happens in this coming parliament, the Liberal Democrats will fight for you, your family and for your community.

And if Theresa May, or any other Conservative, approaches the Liberal Democrats and asks for our support to deliver their agenda, let me make our position clear: no deal is better than a bad deal.

There will be no deals, no coalitions and no confidence and supply arrangements. If the Government puts a Queen’s Speech or a Budget in front of us, we will judge it on whether or not we think it is good for the country – and if it isn’t then we will not support it.

This parliament faces a challenge greater than any for generations – Brexit. And yet, both the Conservatives and Labour went to great lengths to make sure this election was about anything but.

Their plans were paper thin. Their ambitions built on little more than platitudes. Now they must lay their cards on the table. Brexit is about to get very real – and its consequences will be felt by every single person in this country.

One thing that is clear from the result of the election is that the mandate Theresa May sought for her extreme version of Brexit has been rejected by the British people. It is simply inconceivable that the Prime Minister can begin the Brexit negotiations in just two weeks’ time. She should consider her future – and then, for once, she should consider the future of our country. The negotiations should be put on hold until the government has reassessed its priorities and set them out to the British public. The British people have a right to expect that our Prime Minister will explain to them what it is that she seeks to achieve.

Meanwhile, the negotiations had been due to begin on 19 June – the same day as the Queen’s Speech, in theory. This seems to be unlikely now.

Speaking on German radio, Commissioner Gunther Oettinger said the EU stands ready for Brexit talks, “but the next few hours or days will indicate if the other negotiating party can even begin talks because without a government, there can be no negotiations.”

Theresa May’s speech after returning from sharing her intention to try to form a Government with the Queen was as delusional as the promises of the Leave campaigners. Shortly after saying that she would be staying in power with the help of the 10 DUP MPs, DUP leader Arlene Foster said that they would enter talks to explore ‘how to bring stability to our nation’. Earlier in the morning, she had said that it would be difficult for Theresa May to continue as Prime Minister.

Since then, the world has been trying to work out what the DUP stands for. This is perhaps the most authentic analysis. In particular, “The DUP’s key concern is the effect of Brexit on the Irish border. Although the party is very pro-Brexit, they none the less want to allow travel and trade between the two parts of Ireland to continue unimpeded.

On 29 March 2017, Theresa May set the 2-year clock ticking on negotiating the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. It would have been less risky to have done so after having had a General Election but she decided to do it the other way around.

Ironically, the 27 other EU Member States are now more united and in a stronger negotiating position than the UK Government. Moreover, they have already put all their cards on the table (based on the broad intentions stated by Theresa May). The General Election result was a clear rejection of the ‘hard Brexit’ she had proposed.

Even with an agreement with the DUP, the Conservatives would have a tiny majority in Parliament. The chances of getting anything like a ‘Great Repeal Bill’ through Parliament as Theresa May had been proposing would seem to be remote. We should be grateful to Gina Miller’s Best for Britain campaign for contributing to preventing a Tory landslide. The question now is what all these pro-EU MPs should do.

Various things are on the horizon now for the Conservatives.

Having announced a deal with the DUP before she had actually negotiated it, Theresa May is now almost obliged to promise them whatever they ask for – including staying within the EU Customs Union to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. It is a poor negotiation strategy – one we should hope will not be applied in negotiations with the EU.

Some in Theresa May’s party already seem to be preparing to replace her. With all this going on, not to mention the possibility of another General Election after summer, it does not seem useful to start negotiating with the EU27. With the SNP, Lib Dems and Greens in Parliament all against Brexit, if they are joined by pro-EU Tories on a vote-by-vote basis, mathematically, the only way in which Brexit could happen is if Labour formed an alliance with the Tories.

Meanwhile, the Article 50 clock continues to tick. As long as a new Government is not formed, the Brexit negotiations will need to wait. And perhaps that could be an indefinite wait, in the absence of a strong and stable Government.

Let's make June the end of May

Jun 082017
 

On 6 June 1944, the largest seaborne invasion in history began the liberation of German-occupied northwestern Europe from Nazi control and contributed to the Allied victory on the Western Front. Just over 73 years later, courtesy of Theresa May triggering the Article 50 procedure to leave the EU and calling today’s General Election, Britain now finds itself looking over the precipice, away from most of its allies.

The official exit poll predicts a hung parliament: 314 seats for the Conservatives and a possible 314 seats for a ‘progressive alliance’ of Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrats. The Brexit negotiations are due to resume next Tuesday and the UK already lost 4 weeks’ preparation time due to the General Election. The deadline to complete the negotiations remains 29 March 2019.

If the exit poll is close to being correct, the Conservatives could lose 16 of the 330 seats they had won in 2015. This is rather more than the condition Theresa May had set for leaving Jeremy Corbyn (or rather, in practice, Keir Starmer) to lead the Brexit negotiations.

Of course, the exit poll after the UK Referendum on 23 June 2016 had predicted the opposite result to the Leave vote which emerged by the morning. Still, for now, this does not appear to be the resounding mandate Theresa May had called for to enter the negotiations with the EU27 for the UK to leave the EU.

Some thoughts from Tagore:

Man loses his true stature when he fails to unite fully with his fellows. A complete man is one who has this capacity for union, a lone individual is a fragmented being. We know that a child dreads ghosts only when he is alone. This is the lone person’s fear of his own weakness. Most of our fears are replicas of this fear of ghosts. — The Co-operative Principle, 1928.

Jun 082017
 

As you will have understood from this series of blog posts, I will be dismayed but not surprised if Theresa May and the Conservatives win this General Election, in spite of all the gaffes and scandals which emerged during the election campaign. The song ‘Liar, Liar’ in the video above reached Number 2 in the UK music charts on Monday, in spite of being banned from being played by radio stations.

The future based on hate that Theresa May promises is not only outside the EU Customs Union without freedom of movement but also with a clampdown on the internet, a collapsed NHS, an unworkable approach to social care and an inadequately resourced approach to dealing with extremism and terrorism. In short, it is a dystopian future which few would want to be part of.

So why would people vote for it? I was reminded today that people’s level of trust in Government, judiciary and media has fallen sharply, particularly in the past year. They need someone they can believe in who could lead them through this. Hence Theresa May’s repeated use of the phrase ‘strong and stable leadership’ and branding the opposition as the ‘coalition of chaos’, whether in interviews, speeches and in campaign literature. She has also promised to fight injustice and make the UK ‘a country that works for everyone’. Although this encouraged some to refer to her as the ‘Maybot’, these repeated soundbites were no doubt deliberate from a psychological perspective.

As with the UK Referendum last year, we all suffer from three intrinsic biases: personal bias (influenced by our own experiences as we grew up), education bias (since western education focuses on reading, writing and arithmetic instead of opening the mind to learning) and media bias (where only extraordinary activities receive the attention of journalists). Unconventional ideas are rejected without analysis. This is how those who stir up people’s anger against the establishment gain their popularity. Of course, in this case, it is ironical that Theresa May is the establishment!

Perhaps the only unknown factor is whether young people will actually go and vote. If they do, they might save themselves (and the rest of us) from the authoritarian rule without human rights that Theresa May would like to have a mandate for.

In addition, with so many other problems facing people in the UK, it could have done without diverting scarce resources to negotiating Brexit – an expensive activity which I am sure will be regarded in years to come as an act of self harm by the UK. All to settle a catfight within the Conservative party that got out of hand, as the European Parliament’s Chief Negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, put it.

Maybe the UK will recover from the experience, one day sooner or later. Here is a poem from Tagore, as I near the end of this (almost daily) series of pre-election blog posts.

Through the troubled history of man
comes sweeping a blind fury of destruction
and the towers of civilisation topple down to dust.
In the chaos of moral nihilism
are trampled underfoot by marauders
the best treasures of Man heroically won by the martyrs for ages.
Come, young nations,
proclaim the fight for freedom,
raise up the banner of invincible faith.
Build bridges with your life across the
gaping earth blasted by hatred,
and march forward.
Do not submit yourself to carry the burden of insult upon your head,
kicked by terror,
and dig not a trench with falsehood and cunning
to build a shelter for your dishonoured manhood;
offer not the weak as sacrifice to the strong
to save yourself.

Jun 082017
 

Long-standing followers of this blog will remember that I started to take a special interest in healthcare and particularly dementia after my father started to decline towards what was eventually diagnosed as frontotemporal dementia. I was so shocked by what I discovered that I made the feature-length investigative documentary You must be nuts! – The business of dementia. So, even though the topic of the day remains security, I will turn my attention in this post to an issue which came up much earlier in the election campaign: the dementia tax and the state of the NHS.

What emerged from my research into how best to treat my father was so distressing that I included animated sequences to ensure that viewers would make it to the end of the film! Over 8,000 people have watched it so far on YouTube, after around 1,000 had watched its initial appearance on Vimeo. Thanks to the contacts I made when making my film, I now find myself among an active but occasionally frustrated community of scientists and researchers who have joined the quest for a holistic approach to healthcare.

If you have been watching the ‘Doctor in the House’ series on BBC 1, you will know that my namesake Dr Rangan Chatterjee uses such an approach to treat families after visiting them in their homes and experiencing their lifestyles. You may also have seen cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra on TV. Dr David Unwin is a GP who became the first to publish a paper demonstrating how lifestyle changes could reverse Type 2 diabetes and have saved £20,000 per year in diabetes medication costs in his practice. He recently argued in a paper in the British Medical Journal that GP practices should be able to keep the money saved from putting patients on a low carbohydrate diet.

So what is stopping the NHS adopting a holistic approach to healthcare? Unfortunately, this is where you need to ‘follow the money’. I detailed my concerns and called for a formal investigation in a letter to the Chair of the Commons Health Select Committee in February 2015. I have given up hope of ever receiving a reply, let alone seeing a formal investigation. As others who had raised similar issues before me have found as well, the problems I identified seem to lead right to Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health since 2012.

In essence, I believe that certain Government policies may have increased the risk of dementia and other modern chronic diseases (cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer). Over several decades, under successive Labour and Conservative Governments, the NHS has been pursuing unscientific practices such as:

Meanwhile, since 2012, the city of Amsterdam has reduced child obesity by 12% by banning fast food sponsorship and fruit juice at schools while encouraging parents to allow their children to get enough sleep. In contrast, child obesity in the UK is rising.

The third problem area is the reluctance to regulate the widespread use of pesticides and herbicides on crops and indeed domestic gardens. Each of us can try to protect ourselves from this by buying organic and eating only real, unprocessed food. Still, it does raise the question of why the consequences of poor nutrition and dietary advice are being ignored while the NHS suffers increasing costs of treating the resulting illness.

As if this was not enough for the NHS to cope with, thanks to the ‘people-have-decided’ anti-immigrant mantra of the Brexiteers, there is also the imminent potential departure of tens of thousands of non-British EU nationals working in the NHS who now feel unwelcome in the UK since last year’s Referendum result. Nick Clegg highlights this in the video above.

Almost all of my father’s carers were non-British EU nationals. We gathered that British carers preferred to stay on benefits rather than continue as carers and earn only marginally more – it is a very tough but low-paid job.

This brings me to the ‘dementia tax’. In the UK, the NHS looks after treating people who are ill while local councils are responsible for social care – as they were before the creation of the NHS. Based on our experience with my father, this setup is totally dysfunctional. Elderly patients are often left for weeks occupying hospital beds while the doctors treating them remain to be convinced that their patients will be able to survive with the care they will get after they leave. Moreover, hospital doctors have different IT systems from community health practitioners such as GPs. In my father’s case, that meant that, although a hospital doctor had signed a paper advising that my father should not be resuscitated in case of breathing problems, this meant nothing to ambulance staff and paramedics without his GP signing a similar paper!

In case you had not realised, local councils have very tight budgets. Social care funding is means tested, although based on their disposable income, not their total assets. This already gives local councils an interest in assessing elderly people as ‘self-funders’. A few weeks ago, Theresa May announced a manifesto commitment to include the cost of people’s homes in this calculation. According to the announcement, their homes would not need to be sold until after their deaths.

However, this seems to be unlikely in practice if the system continues to work as it did when I was managing my father’s carers. He was a ‘self funder’, which meant that he received a monthly contribution from the local council towards his care costs but it was he who was liable to pay the care agency/carers – not the local council.

Under Theresa May’s proposal, his share of our house would have been included in the calculations, presumably reducing considerably the monthly contribution made by the local council. Nonetheless, he would still need to pay the care agency/carers. At £15 per hour, this adds up very quickly – especially if care agencies insist that their carers cannot attend the person alone and need to have two carers in attendance (which is very disorientating for anyone with dementia).

Even with a cap on care costs that was eventually extracted from Theresa May after an outcry by other political parties, the carers have to be paid each week and, somehow, the councils need to find the money to fund the difference. I cannot imagine how an elderly person would avoid having to sell their house during their lifetime (and hence move into a care home) to pay the care bills if the value of their house is included in the means testing assessment.

From what we have seen, there are ways for the NHS to save money provided people are given the right (non-commercially-funded) dietary advice and treated holistically by their GPs (instead of doctors and medical journals being sponsored to encourage daily drugs being prescribed for the rest of people’s lives). In addition, it would be useful if the Government would ban two processed foods which are known to increase the risk of heart disease (margarine and highly processed vegetable oils, such as sunflower oil), as well as glyphosate – the key component of the most popular domestic and industrial weedkiller which is known to be an endocrine disruptor.

However, this would need politicians with the guts to take on Big Food, Big Pharma and Big Ag. Given his performance over the past 5 years, Jeremy Hunt doesn’t seem to be one of them.

 Posted by at 12:39 am
Jun 072017
 

After the London Bridge terrorist attack, Theresa May found the culprit – the internet:

“We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed,” May said. “Yet that is precisely what the internet and the big companies that provide internet-based services provide.”

“We need to work with allied democratic governments to reach international agreements that regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremist and terrorism planning,” she continued. “We need to do everything we can at home to reduce the risks of extremism online.”

As I mentioned in my previous post, she seems to have found the need for more investigative powers rather than providing more police resources to investigate the information available with their existing powers. Maybe she should read the investigation into funding of extremist groups whose publication she appears to have blocked for the past two years … .

Seven years ago, media companies had the same idea to propose laws for the UK to control the internet and block disruption of their rather old business model. My contribution was to draft and submit a motion to the Spring conference of the Liberal Democrats on Freedom, creativity and the internet. Thanks to the support of a dedicated group of Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidates and activists led by Bridget Fox, Julian Huppert and Mark Pack, the motion was passed unanimously and remains the party’s policy. Subsequently, as MP for Cambridge, Julian Huppert successfully blocked Theresa May’s ‘Snooper’s Charter’ during the last Parliament. However, it became law after the Conservatives won the 2015 election.

Science fiction writer, journalist and digital rights activist Cory Doctorow has written this article for Boing Boing called Theresa May wants to ban crypto: here’s what that would cost, and here’s why it won’t work anyway. It says more eloquently than I could what I had intended to say about this. If you click on the image above, you can sign up to support the Liberal Democrats’ campaign to ‘Save the Internet‘ (again).

Tagore’s most famous poem from the English Gitanjali expresses why Theresa May’s ‘Thought police’ idea is the antithesis of what he believed:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Jun 052017
 

In my previous post, I asked whether controlling immigration would make the UK and better, safer place.

The other belief stirred by certain UK politicians and media is that controlling immigration from the EU would reduce the risk of terrorism. Really? 52-year-old Khalid Masood, who carried out the Westminster Bridge attack in March, was born in Kent. 23-year-old Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber who attacked the Manchester Arena last weekend, was born in Manchester. Both had been reported to the security services for their beliefs. This analysis illustrates how Salman Abedi fitted the profile of other terrorists.

In the wake of Saturday night’s London Bridge attack, Theresa May said yesterday that “terrorism breeds terrorism“. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that extremism breeds extremism.

Most of us cannot imagine how anyone could attack fellow human beings with vans, knives or bombs. However, in Tagore’s Nationalism in the West speech a hundred years ago, he noted that:

When we are fully human, we cannot fly at one another’s throats; our instincts of social life, our traditions of moral ideals stand in the way. If you want me to take to butchering human beings, you must break up that wholeness of my humanity through some discipline which makes my will dead, my thoughts numb, my movements automatic, and then from the dissolution of the complex personal man will come out that abstraction, that destructive force, which has no relation to human truth, and therefore can be easily brutal or mechanical.

Take away man from his natural surroundings, from the fullness of his communal life, with all its living associations of beauty and love and social obligations, and you will be able to turn him into so many fragments of a machine for the production of wealth on a gigantic scale. Turn a tree into a log and it will burn for you, but it will never bear living flowers and fruit. This process of dehumanising has been going on in commerce and politics.

It seems to be time to ‘follow the money’ on this issue. Last week, Tom Brake, Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary, called on Theresa May to publish a report into the foreign funding of extremism in the UK. He reminded her that Saudi Arabia “provides funding to hundreds of mosques in the UK, often espousing a hard-line version of Islam”.

Tom Brake, Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary

He said, “The Conservatives have broken their pledge to investigate funding of violent Islamist groups in the UK, seemingly because they were worried about upsetting their dodgy allies in the Middle East.” Home Secretary Amber Rudd had said during last week’s Leaders’ Debate that arms sales to Saudi Arabia were good for industry.

Tom Brake added, “This short-sighted approach needs to change. It is critical that these extreme, hardline views are confronted head on, and that those who fund them are called out publicly.

“If the Conservatives are serious about stopping terrorism on our shores, they must stop stalling and reopen investigations into foreign funding of violent extremism in the UK.”

After the Brussels attacks just over a year ago, our friend Leo Cendrowicz investigated in this article for the Independent how Saudi Arabia’s influence and a deal to get oil contracts sowed seeds of radicalism in Belgium. According to Belgian opposition politician George Dallemagne, Salafist clerics at the Great Mosque of Brussels have tried to undermine attempts by Moroccan immigrants to integrate into Belgium.

“We like to think Saudi Arabia is an ally and friend, but the Saudis are always engaged in double-talk: they want an alliance with the West when it comes to fighting Shias in Iran, but nonetheless have a conquering ideology when it comes to their religion in the rest of the world,” he said.

Mr Dallemagne has sponsored many resolutions in the Belgian parliament aimed at loosening ties with Saudi Arabia, and reducing the Salafist influence in Belgium. “We can’t have a dialogue with countries that want to destabilise us,” he says. “The problem is that it is only recently that authorities are finally opening their eyes to this.”

As Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has pointed out, Theresa May rejected warnings from the police that cutting police numbers would increase the risk of terrorist attacks and that her Prevent anti-terrorism community engagement strategy is not trusted. And, of course, when all else has failed, the superficially easy solution is to propose to control the internet.

To return to Tagore’s Shyama, with which I ended in my previous post, after Shyama hears why Bojroshen has been imprisoned, the Companions sing about the oppression of the innocent:

The locking up of the good at the hands of the cruel – who will stop it? Who?
The flow of tears from helpless, distressed eyes – who will wipe them away? Who?
The cries of distressed people sadden Mother Earth.
The attacks of injustice are poisoned arrows –
Under persecution from the strong, who will save the weak?
Whose generosity will call those who have been insulted into his embrace?

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