Sing a sad song for a good man

My Dad died suddenly on January 21st this year. On February 1st I spoke at his funeral, and this is what I said:

Thank you all for coming to this celebration of my Dad’s life.  Particular thanks go to those of you who have flown here, or who have driven a considerable distance.

The last song that will be played today is on an album by Otis Gibbs called Joe Hill’s Ashes.  It’s one of Dad’s favourite albums. Otis Gibbs autographed it for Dad with the inscription “Thanks for giving a damn”. In the spirit of Otis Gibbs, I would like to thank you all for giving a damn and attending today.

It’s especially pleasing to see so many of Dad’s work colleagues here including many he worked with over twenty years ago. Dad was a man who tried to keep his work life and home life separate, and one of the most touching aspects of the past ten days has been reading the tributes that have poured in from those who worked with Dad that provide a different side to the father I knew. I remember being particularly proud of him , when his colleagues at Kirklees PCT gave him an “Amazon Award” in autumn 2010, for being “a natural resource, someone who knows something about everything”. The tributes that have followed my Dad’s death prove just how sincerely this message was meant.

Can I once again stress that if you have any little anecdotes or stories that you remember about Dad, can you please send them in to Mum. Such stories will be of great comfort in the months and years ahead. One such anecdote was sent to me by Dad’s school friend Alan, which with his permission I shall relate to you now. Once again, it provides a different side of Dad that I had never known about until the past two weeks.

Alan said to me that “We played hockey at school and took it very seriously and marched throughout the county sweeping all before us. I was a good outfield player but he took me aside one day and asked if I’d sacrifice that to play in goal because he wanted somebody there he could rely on. I did it without question. I wouldn’t have done it for anyone else. It’s a small incident but says a lot. If I looked up to him at the age of 16 I can tell you I have looked up to him for the years since.”

One of the things that gives me hope and confirms my faith in humanity is the support that Mum, Liam and I have received over the past ten days. There are a few people in particular: friends and family who have been extremely helpful in sorting out funeral arrangements, giving lifts or coming round for a supportive chat. I won’t embarrass these people by naming them individually: they all know who they are.  But I want you all to know that the friendship and solidarity that you have shown means more to me than I can say.

On the subject of love & friendship, I’d also like to thank those members of Dad’s family who are here, and many of his friends he’d known since school. Many of my friends have said to me over the past few days that they cannot imagine losing a father. Well, I cannot imagine what it must be like to lose a friend I have known for forty years, or a brother, or a son, so I can only guess what you are all going through. I look forward to catching up with all of you later today, and only regret that it is in the most terrible of circumstances.

Finally, thank you to all of those that have come who knew Dad from the various sports or bridge clubs that he was a member of. I shall remember Dad as a man who gave me the passions that have guided my life so far. He gave up many of his weekends when I was younger ferrying me to various chess tournaments, and I have many happy memories of those days. The numerous books he bought me as a child instilled in me a love of reading, and this plus my fondness for music, which I also shared with Dad, have made me the person that I am today.

I want to end with a biblical quotation. It was one that Christopher Hitchens read out at the funeral of his own father. He chose it for its “non-religious yet high moral character”. That phrase sums Dad up. He was not a religious man. Whenever “Thought of the Day” came on he would immediately switch off the radio and play one of his numerous CDs.  But he was a man of the highest moral standards. Some of the words that occur again and again in tributes sent to us are kind, lovely, generous, gentle, reliable and caring. Dad was all of those things and more. I can only hope that Dad has passed on some of these characteristics to me. You can confirm for yourselves that I have inherited from him the infamous Hazlehurst receding hairline. I have sadly not inherited Dad’s great aptitude for running, but we spent many happy hours watching and talking about sport that I shall forever cherish.

So to conclude, here is Philippians Chapter 4, Verse 8:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

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The NHS- Not Safe in Their Hands.

Last month, with the antics of the honourable member for Mid Bedfordshire providing a useful distraction, the House of Commons passed a bill that outlined several radical changes to the structure of the NHS.  Most dramatically it removed the duty of the Health Secretary to directly facilitate the provision of healthcare, which had been the backbone of all previous NHS legislation (compare section 1 of the current bill, here, with that of the 2006 NHS act, here).  This simple measure, at a stroke, removes what makes the NHS the NHS: the provision of healthcare nationally through one organisation accountable to the democratically elected Government.

Making the administration of the NHS more independent of the government, which has under successive administrations, used the NHS as a political football, compromising the stability of the service, and increasing local accountability, where the issue of healthcare provision can be considered independently of other political concerns, is not in and of itself a stupid idea, but the devil’s in the detail.  It is clear that privatisation, rather than democratisation and independence, is the main motivation behind the changes, with no democratic mechanisms included and ripe opportunities for extended private sector involvement.

This opening clause, sets the scene for the rest of the bill which outlines what it’s author, health secretary Andrew Lansley, envisages to replace the current system: healthcare commissioned, from a variety of providers, by a series of consortia, ostensibly controlled by local GPs.  This detail is a little bit of PR genius.  The public in general like and trust GPs, who currently work well as independent providers within the NHS.  The reality of course, is that most GPs will not have the time, skills or inclination to take on a whole new range of administrative functions and many, if not most, will outsource the commissioning functions to outside bodies, and plenty of private companies are waiting in the wings to take up this role.  The services “bought in” by consortia, will not be limited to those provided by the NHS.  In fact legal advice, obtained by the campaigning organisation 38 Degrees, suggests that the new arrangement will be subject to EU competition law with multiple providers competing for contracts on the basis of commercial law.  Both commissioning and provision will thus be transferred, on a large scale, to the private sector.

Let’s be clear, this country will continue to have universal, free at the point of use healthcare, and it may be that most patients won’t really notice the difference, a slight degradation of services here, where providers are dictated by competition not by expertise, a loss of provision there, where private companies skim off profitable services leaving unprofitable ones like, mental health, and emergency care, with depleted funds.  Nevertheless, the bill represents a further encroachment of profiteering businesses into the NHS.  Health care policy, over the past 30 years, has been driven by the big lie that publicly provided healthcare services are intrinsically less efficient and less effective.  In fact the British NHS is one of the leanest systems in the world, doing more for less than anywhere else. This has lead to the internal market and various other “choice” and “competition” initiatives, each one adding a new layer of bureaucracy, diverting scarce funds away from patients and towards political vanity projects.  This latest bill provides allows Andrew Lansley’s associates in the healthcare industry to profit at the expense of patients and the taxpayer and that is the greatest tragedy.

All is not lost, however.  The bill may have passed through the Commons, but it still has to go through the House of Lords.  With that in mind, the TUC has created an initiative called “Adopt a Peer,” whereby you are assigned a member of the House of Lords to write to.  I was assigned Lord Collins, of Highbury, and wrote him the following letter:

Dear Lord Collins

I’m writing to you about the Health and Social Care Bill, which is currently being considered in the House of Lords. As you are probably already aware, it makes a number of substantial and possibly irreversible changes to the fabric of the NHS. In particular the bill makes changes in its very first section, removing the duty of the Secretary of State for Health to facilitate the provision of healthcare as codified in the 2006 NHS act and prior legislation. It also fragments commissioning roles amongst a number of bodies from where it will almost certainly end up in the private sector. This fundamentally compromises the principles of the NHS as well as being detrimental to service users, diverting scarce funds to profit making companies.

As a Labour Peer, I imagine that you will be opposing the bill. What measures can be taken by the Lords to oppose its passage? Neither of the Governing parties have a mandate to make changes this radical, with the Liberal Democrats having campaigned on a platform diametrically opposed and the Conservatives not having been upfront about these plans prior to the election, with their leader promising “no more top-down reorganisations of the NHS” and that the NHS was safe in their hands.


Hannah Dadd.

To which he replied, with impressive promptness the very next day:

Dear Hannah,

Many thanks for your email regarding the Government’s Health and Social Care Bill which has now commenced its journey through the Lords stages of parliamentary procedure. I apologies for the delay in responding but I was heavily involved in the Labour Party Conference which took place in Liverpool last week.

Labour has always been clear that the proposed changes to the NHS envisaged by David Cameron, Andrew Lansley, and the coalition government are unnecessary, reckless, wasteful and bureaucratic. On top of this, the Bill goes against the coalition’s own promise, of only last year, for there to be “no more top-down reorganisation of the NHS”. They have no mandate for the changes they are planning.

Despite the pause and the Future Forum’s report, the Bill still contains the essential elements of the Tories’ long-term plan to set the NHS up as a full-scale market based on the model of the privatised utilities. That’s why so many experts still oppose the Bill.

I can assure you that Labour members of the House of Lords are committed to doing whatever we can to protect the NHS from the proposals in this Bill. Firstly we will try to stop the Bill in its tracks by voting against it at its Second Reading. Sadly, because the Lib Dems and Conservatives will vote together to keep the Bill, we are unlikely to succeed.

Over the next weeks and months, I and my colleagues will endeavour to make changes to the Bill in order to limit its damage to the NHS and improve the Bill. But we can’t do it on our own. We can only do this by building our own coalition. That means persuading independent crossbenchers, Lib Dems and Tories to vote with us on those key amendments. For that we need 80 peers from other benches to vote with us.

That’s where we need your help. Please contact crossbenchers and Lib Dems in particular to ask for their support. Without them Labour peers cannot limit the damage that this Government will do to the NHS. Please visit for full details of these Peers including email addresses.

Best wishes,

Ray Collins
Lord Collins of Highbury

What more encouragement could be needed?  Sign up to “Adopt a Peer” and pay particular attention to Lib Dem and crossbench peers.  Also, those who are enclined, can come along to the protest, on Westminster Bridge, on Sunday.

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My podcast debut…

If you want to hear my dulcett dones on the Pod Delusion discussing House of Lords reform, I’m featured on their latest show here. It starts about 29 minutes in.

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“The noises of destruction, flying all around…”

Over the past three days, two different types of rioting has been going on. The first, and far more serious, looting has been the smashing, looting and burning of scores of businesses across London. The second type is people pilfering these events and projecting onto them their own particular prejudices and causes. This has happened on both left and right, but particularly the left.

What these riots have done is show just how authoritarian the instincts of some of the British public can be. This is not just from the “usual suspects”: even supposedly bleeding-heart Liberal Democrats like Simon Hughes and Evan Harris have advocated the use of water cannon and sending in the army respectively. We’ve even had a contribution from Roger Helmer, everyone’s favourite Tory MEP. When he’s not arguing that homophobia doesn’t exist, or that women are responsible for their own rape, he’s tweeting this:!/RogerHelmerMEP/status/100813764512845824

Because, of course, the only proper response to mindless violence is more mindless violence.

None of these options seems particularly wise. I’ve written before about why using water cannon would be a dangerous and bad move, whilst David Allen Green has a good post on why the army should not be called in: they do not have the relevant training, and it didn’t exactly work out in Northern Ireland (Bloody Sunday, anyone?). The solution now seems to be that we’ll arm police with plastic bullets. They are “non-fatal”, apparently, but using them just doesn’t seem sensible. One stray bullet and we’ll have riots for another week at least.

We also have a large section of the left which seems perfectly happy to drop any notion of personal responsibility and go instead for political points-scoring and anti-cuts rhetoric. Ken Livingstone has been one of the more egregious examples of this, especially on Newsnight yesterday.

Much of the response has blamed these riots on cuts or poverty. These explanations don’t quite stack up with the available evidence. The Guardian has reported that many of these rioters are organising on Blackberrys. Rioters who can afford Blackberrys doesn’t sound like the urban poor rising up to me. Not in a country where people are starting to turn of fridges because they cannot afford the electricity.

Also, the cuts haven’t happened yet, so it’s not as if these protests were about service provision specifically. There’s been a lot of looting but nothing about Sure Start, Youth Centres or Citizens Advice Bureaus.

From the reports that have been coming in, it seems that there are three kinds of people participating in the riots, so it’s slightly more complicated than is suggested at first sight.

The first, and by far the smallest, group are the only ones to whom you could ascribe any “political” motivation. It includes people like this:

[H]ere’s a sad truth, expressed by a Londoner when asked by a television reporter: Is rioting the correct way to express your discontent?

“Yes,” said the young man. “You wouldn’t be talking to me now if we didn’t riot, would you?”

The TV reporter from Britain’s ITV had no response. So the young man pressed his advantage. “Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard,  more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you.”

Eavesdropping from among the onlookers, I looked around. A dozen TV crews and newspaper reporters interviewing the young men everywhere.

Concerns over police tactics, for instance, was an issue even before Mark Duggan was shot in what is becoming ever-muddier circumstances. It may perhaps have started over that, but what has followed has shown that, at root, most of these rioters aren’t “political”.

Others will argue otherwise. Adam Ramsay for instance wrote that these riots were political because “every act is a political act”.

I disagree. If everything is political, then nothing is political. The aims of the majority of rioters were not political.

Compare this violence to the rioting that started during the student fees protest in November. Then, the smashing up of Millbank and only contained to that one building. Which was at least relevant on a fees protest, as it was the  Conservative Party HQ, even if the violence itself was unjustified.

Contrast this to the rioting that has happened over the past few days. It’s not establishment buildings that have been targeted, but businesses. Even small family businesses, such as House of Reeves in Croydon. The shop was owned by the same family for five generations, survived two world wars, but did not survive a gang of out-of-control youngsters.

This brings us to the second group of rioters: violent thugs. I don’t know if “mindless” is the right word. How do you describe people who will help an injured, dazed teenager to his feet and then steal from his bag?

If “mindless” is not the word, perhaps “endemic” is. Evil maybe.

What seems to be happening is that violence that is generally confined to a few no-go areas around the city has spilled out across London and elsewhere. Probably because people can – the police are in many cases not able to stop them, and this only gives them motivation to continue.

The third, and final category, is people who want free stuff. I hope you’ve all seen by now the pictures of people who’ve been looting for, er, Tesco Value Basmati Rice, or tweeting about how they won’t get caught for stealing tracksuits, because they’re pathetically amusing. Some people seem to have used the opportunity to go and do a spot of opportunistic stealing. As was said yesterday by a friend, “Young people in the Arab Spring fought for freedom, democracy and the right to self determination. Our young people loot and destroy for Ipads and Blackberrys.”

So the roots of the riots were not political. Some of the responses are not political either. I have been greatly heartened by, and do not want to politicise, the amount of people who went out with brooms to reclaim their city:

or who served tea to police on riot shields:

This was not political; this was people just being nice and caring for others.

Part of the response, however, has to be political. Riots do not happen in a vacuum. There are obviously myriad social problems to address, and countless ways in which they can be tackled.

The best left-wing soundbite on crime remains Tony Blair’s “tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime”. We can focus on the causes of crime soon enough in the months and years ahead. For now, let’s concentrate on ridding the cities of rioters and cleaning up the mess they’ve left. Only then can we focus on how to rebuild them.

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The Murdochs at the Select Committee: what you missed

Committee member: What is your name?

James Murdoch: That’s a very good question, and I intend to answer it in full. I’m afraid I don’t have the full answer to hand at the moment. You must remember that my name is one of a many number of names that I have to remember at any given time. I was given my name soon after my birth in December 1972, but I have no direct knowledge of what name may or may not have been given to myself. News International have set up an internal investigation to ascertain exactly what the name on my birth certificate was, and I am afraid that I am unable to give a fuller answer to that question until that investigation has reported back to me.

Member: What is your favourite colour?

James Murdoch: I do not have any direct knowledge of what colours I prefer to others. I may have given the Committee the impression that I preferred blue to green, but that was a statement given without full knowledge of the facts. When I gave that answer I was relying on assurances given to me by a police investigation, and I think it would be inappropriate for me to comment more at this stage.

Member: What is your quest?

James Murdoch: I have no direct knowledge of that. There is no evidence that I, or anyone else at News International, knew anything about the nature of the quest. We are presently fully engaged with the police to find out exactly what our quest is, and will of course fully co-operate with them in their enquiries to find out this information.

Member: Thank you James Murdoch. You may pass. If I may, I’d like to talk to your father. What is your name?

Rupert Murdoch: I’d just like to say that this is the most humble day of my life.

Member: Thank you for that, sir. Now would you please answer the question?

Rupert Murdoch: (Pause) What?

Member: What is your name?

Rupert Murdoch: (thumps table) I wasn’t told that information by my senior colleagues at News Corp!

Member: What is your favourite colour?

Rupert Murdoch: How was I supposed to know? Thinking about colours only takes up 1% of my time. I had no idea such categorising of colours was going on. I wasn’t told anything about any colours.

Member:  What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?

Rupert Murdoch: That’s the first I’ve heard of swallows. I wasn’t told anything about the velocity of swallows at the time. Now, of course, I know all about the velocity of unladen swallows. We are co-operating with the police on this matter and any swallows found to have committed any serious crime should face the full force of the law.

Member: I’m afraid that’s the wrong answer.

*trapdoor opens, Rupert Murdoch falls off bridge, only to have his fall broken by a pie-wielding idiot from a prominent group of pie-wielding idiots*

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Guest post by God: His resignation statement over phone hacking

God called a Press Conference in Heaven today, in which he resigned over his role in the phone hacking scandal. Paperback Rioter reproduces the full text of the statement below. You can read more from God here.

It is with deep regret and a heavy heart that I resign from my position as God and Supreme Being over life on Earth.

I am very proud of my achievements in my role, which I have held for about 5000 years (but who’s counting?). I created the universe. Saw it through some tough times (like the Bodyline controversy). There are many things I will look back proudly on.

However, I must accept responsibility for the phone hacking scandal that happened on my watch.

I can honestly say, though, that I had no idea of the scale of the phone hacking that was going on at News International.

I know I am meant to be an omnipotent being, all-seeing and all-knowing, and therefore it is right to ask me why I had no knowledge of the scale of the abuses at the News of the World and other newspapers. The fact is that the Metropolitan police conducted an investigation and concluded that the phone hacking was merely the work of one rogue reporter. There was no reason for me to disregard their professional opinion.

What I find particularly distressing is the link between myself and Andy Coulson. People keep saying that I should have done more to warn David Cameron about appointing Andy Coulson as his Director of Communications.

Yet I am not sure what more I was supposed to do. I sent three wise men to warn him of the dangers of hiring Coulson. Nick Clegg, Alan Rusbridger and Paddy Ashdown.

All of whom were sent by Me to warn Cameron. But he took no heed of My warnings. I accept My responsibility, but it seems that Cameron does not accept his.

Nevertheless, I must accept my role in this affair and must therefore reluctantly resign. I do not wish to comment on the rumours that a News International paper hacked into my voicemail.

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Hackgate: When Life Imitates Yes, Minister

Events are unfolding too quickly for them to be written about. At the moment all I can think to do is to post this from Yes, Minister. It’s from The Whiskey Priest. If you don’t have it on DVD I’m sure you can find some dark corner of the internet where you can watch it:

Bernard Woolley: So what do we believe in?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: At this moment, Bernard, we believe in stopping the minister from informing the Prime Minister.
Bernard Woolley: But why?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Because once the Prime Minister knows, there will have to be an enquiry, like Watergate. The investigation of a trivial break-in led to one ghastly revelation after another and finally the downfall of a President. The golden rule is: Don’t lift lids off cans of worms. Everything is connected to everything else. Who said that?
Bernard Woolley: The Cabinet Secretary?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Nearly right. Actually, it was Lenin.

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