Monday, 22 May 2017

General Election 2017: What a load of rubbish


My husband worked for many years on regional newspapers in Britain and he said that whenever he had to cover a council meeting, the debate would always boil down to a dispute about the bins.

Frequency of collection, quality of bins, old-school metal bins versus modern wheelie bins, too many recycling bins, not enough recycling bins, confusion over food waste disposal bins, access to biodegradable bags for food waste disposal bins...

There is no shortage of rubbish-related issues for British people to get angry about. Letters pages in regional newspapers are home to missives that run the garbage gauntlet from the grumpy old bugger who feels genuinely oppressed by having to separate the recyclables right through to the smug eco-warrior who boasts that last year, their household only produced enough waste to fill an empty jam jar. In the city of Bath right now, people are raging over unsightly wheelie bins. Oh, the humanity.

Hell, every Tuesday morning when I walk to the tube station, I find myself joining in the national chorus of harrumphing about rubbish. Monday night is bin night in my neighbourhood and this means that on Tuesday morning, I find out which people in my street are pathetically lazy when it comes to rubbish disposal.

My ire is particularly fierce for the residents of the mid-terrace houses who, I assume, either cannot be arsed to take a bin out to the footpath via the back lane, won't carry a bin through their precious house, or refuse to store a bin in their front garden as if it's the home design equivalent of having one's genitals out in public. These people instead put their rubbish out the front of their houses in black plastic bags and never seem to use the food waste bins or recycle anything. Unsurprisingly, the urban foxes love to rip open these bags so leftover dinners and pooey nappies are strewn over the footpath. Delightful.

I tut loudly as I accidentally step in someone's abandoned vindaloo.

Now rubbish has become an election issue in multiple constituencies. The local Conservatives sent out a letter a few weeks ago complaining about the prospect of Labour-controlled Merton Council changing from weekly to fortnightly bin collections and whining about providing residents with more bins for rubbish and recycling. Frankly, if these means we only have to take the bins in and out every two weeks rather than every week, I'm all for it. It's the worst job of the week. I hate it. And if it means people are more responsible with their waste and take the time to rinse out empty jars and yoghurt pots for recycling, that's even better.

Such is the local obsession with rubbish, Stephen Hammond, the Conservative MP for Wimbledon, gave the issue more prominence on his leaflet than Brexit.



Local Conservatives have managed to convince people to put posters up in their windows featuring a picture of an overflowing wheelie bin and the fuming words: "NOT ON OUR STREETS!". Of course, this is an easy PR win for them. It's easier for them to campaign on bins than cuts to health and social care in the neighbourhood because those cuts can be traced to central government and that's currently run by, you guessed it, the Conservatives. Awkward. And not something they want to talk about in the lead-up to a general election.

Just up the road from Wimbledon, in the constituency of Carshalton and Wallington, the Tory challenger to Tom Brake, the incumbent Liberal Democrat MP is one Matthew Maxwell Scott. 

Like Hammond, Maxwell Scott would sooner amble naked along the Southbank at high noon than make too big a deal about Brexit on the campaign trail. Like Hammond, he is trying to fool people that the local hospital will keep all its services under a Conservative government. He even had the hide to pose outside St Helier Hospital with Jeremy Hunt.

And like Hammond, he is all about campaigning on the bins.

Maxwell Scott even tweeted a link to a Spectator column entitled "Forget Brexit. What really matters is rubbish" in which he features prominently. This is literally what he wants people to think about as they cast their votes on 8 June in Carshalton and Wallington. Rubbish. He wants people to vote with rubbish foremost in their minds, not the biggest political, social and economic upheaval of our lifetimes.

And he could well take the seat from the Lib Dems, despite Brake's apparent if often baffling popularity. The constituency falls in the borough of Sutton, which voted heavily to leave the EU, unlike the borough of Merton next door, which was strongly pro-remain. It would appear the Daily Mail's "London metropolitan liberal elite" bubble ends in Merton.

As long as the people of Carshalton and Wallington remain convinced by Maxwell Scott that Theresa May is the best person to lead Brexit negotiations, even though she will be as effective as homeopathic brain surgery, he can win it. 

And he will really win big if he campaigns hard on the bins and waste management - the LibDem-controlled Sutton Council is inept and scandal-prone, especially in relation to a waste incinerator and the cosy relationship between local LibDems and Viridor, the company planning to build said incinerator. 

On top of all this, Maxwell Scott, like Stephen Hammond with Merton Council, is making a big deal out of Sutton Council's unpopular changes to bin collection. #SuttonBinShame is a local trend on Twitter.

Now, don't get me wrong. Waste management is important. Of course, for any waste management system to be truly effective there comes a point where local government moves back and personal responsibility moves forward - people cannot expect the council to separate their recyclables for them, hire a skip after building work or drive them to the tip to dispose of a raddled old mattress. Despite claiming to be the party of personal responsibility, there is very little talk of this radical concept whenever Conservatives bang on about bins. They are firmly on the side of those who think separating one's own rubbish and thinking about what they throw away are enormous, politically correct burdens.

Yep, that is where we're at with 17 days to go before the election. We are reduced to witnessing candidates campaigning about bins. Never mind that bins are a local government responsibility rather than a Westminster responsibility. The local Tories don't want people to think about separation of powers when they vote. They want us to think about bins, not Brexit.

With Theresa May's catastrophic "dementia tax" U-turn today, that's one more issue no Tory candidate wants you to think too hard about. That seems to be the strategy - don't think too hard about a back-of-a-fag-packet health and social care policy, don't think too hard about Brexit. Just vote for your bins. Hey, the economy might go over a cliff, the Union may come apart at the seams, but at least someone took a stand and gave the local council a jolly good talking-to about fly-tipping.

Rule Britannia...


Photography by James Grimwood/Flickr

Sunday, 14 May 2017

A few observations with 25 days to go until the election


1. Theresa May has fooled enough people with her impersonation of a competent leader to win it. The "shy Tories" phenomenon of the 2015 election is over. People don't seem to be shy anymore about it. There are optimistic Labour Party-supporter memes showing Jeremy Corbyn drawing large crowds but the people who vote Conservative don't tend to be the people who turn out to rallies and public actions. They are not placard-wavers but they are no longer afraid of saying publicly that they will be voting Tory.

2. There could well be plenty of "shy Labour voters" out there too. These people may ensure Theresa May does not quite win with the landslide she clearly expects. Hell, after Trump and Brexit, I rule nothing out in politics these days. But I still think she has it in the bag with large swathes of the south-west of England and sizeable chunks of provincial Britain on her side. Enough people seem convinced that she is the right person to lead Brexit negotiations. 

Spoiler alert: she is already terrible in this regard and will continue to be terrible.

3. Another spoiler alert: The EU does not care who the PM is or how big his or her majority is. 

Theresa May's justification for calling the election so she has a Brexit mandate is bogus. Why the hell would the EU care if they have to negotiate with May, Corbyn or Basil Brush? The EU will outlive the political careers of both major party leaders.  

4. Jeremy Corbyn is not personally having a horrific campaign*, especially since the draft manifesto was leaked. If it was a malicious leak, it hasn't been quite the debacle the leaker may have expected. But the people he surrounds himself are accident-prone. When the election was called, I predicted that most days, there would be a Labour MP trending for the wrong reasons, dominating the news cycle for the wrong reasons. Dawn Butler had the first car crash interview of the season with a muddled effort in which she accused Theresa May of "trying to rig democracy in our country" and making unfounded accusations of tax avoidance against the Costa Coffee chain, for which she later apologised. 

5. Diane Abbott embarrassed herself on LBC by not having clear figures to hand on how much an ambitious police policy would cost, resulting in her sounding like a broken abacus with police officers apparently earning £30 a year under a Labour government. People are still making jokes about that one. Labour will always be asked the inevitable "how much will all this cost and where is the money coming from?" question in regard to spending plans. 

It is up to the party's media team to ensure anyone who is going to be thrown in front of an open mic or TV camera has the figures nailed down. Merely saying "We will raise corporation tax" is not enough to satisfy the baying hounds without actual figures. 

On the same token, it should not be enough for Conservatives to simply say they will pay for their manifesto pledges by "building a strong economy" or "because we have a strong economy". Again, hard figures should be provided. At least with a corporation tax increase policy, some sort of estimation of how much money that would bring into state coffers can be made. The slippery, unctuous Michael Fallon was at it again this morning on Marr with a "building a strong economy" answer to a "how will you pay for it?" question. It's just the Tory version of the stereotype of the left's magic money tree.

6. John McDonnell didn't handle a question from Andrew Marr about whether he was a Marxist well. There is a public interest justification for asking if the man who aspires to be our next chancellor still claims to be a Marxist, given the responsibility he will have for our economy in the event of a Labour win. His Who's Who entry says he is "generally fermenting the overthrow of capitalism" - with 82.8% of people in the UK working in the private sector, this is an entirely relevant question. 

McDonnell's witterings were in sharp contrast this with Theresa May who was able to answer with a crisp "No" when Andrew Marr asked her if she believed gay sex was a sin, in response to the Tim Farron religion fiasco - that is how she does a good impersonation of a competent leader and it is enough to convince people. She was prepared, she was drilled, she doesn't really do spontaneous, but so far, she hasn't had to.

7. If Theresa May refuses to do a live TV debate - and it looks like that is how it will pan out - Jeremy Corbyn would be mad to refuse as well. It would be a great chance to speak about policy uninterrupted by his opponent but it is hard to have any faith in the competence of the Labour party's media team.

8. The NHS cyber attack story should be a gift for Labour. Unfortunately, Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, did not come out with all guns blazing yesterday. He was interviewed on Sky News live, while people were being turned away from hospitals all over the country as he was speaking, but the fire in the belly just wasn't there. He even said that he was not going to score political points. Er, Jon, you seem like a nice enough chap but right now, scoring political points is precisely what you need to be doing from now until 8 June. That is a literal description of your job in an election campaign. Do you really think the Tories would keep the gloves on if this happened on a Labour government's watch?

Amber Rudd, the home secretary, was absolutely atrocious when she tried to explain away government culpability in this catastrophe. Jeremy Hunt, the failed marmalade mogul and health secretary, has been conspicuous by his absence this weekend. On top of all this, Theresa May has been prattling on about a stupid social media policy that would be about as effective as a tent pole made of croissants, so why aren't the Labour candidates pointing out that this whole calamitous weekend shows that we have a government that doesn't really understand technology?

9. Emily Thornberry was absolutely correct when she pointed out Michael Fallon was talking bollocks on Marr this morning in regard to Assad and Argentina. This is the best I've ever seen her perform - and, let us not be naive, election campaigns are all about performance.

10. There are 25 days to go before we go to the polls, I need either a giant nap or another drink...


* I may be damning with faint praise here...














Monday, 1 May 2017

Dear Mr Hammond, a few questions on behalf of Wimbledon constituents before the election...

Dear Mr Hammond,

I know that I could email you directly, as I have done so in the past, and that you would be obliged to respond as I am one of your constituents, but I'd like my questions in regard to your campaign leaflet to be asked and answered publicly in the interests of transparency. I'm sure you have no objections to such openness during this election campaign. Feel free to post your answers in the comments section at the end as I am sure plenty of constituents will be interested in what you have to stay. Let's start, shall we?

Brexit


1. Why is the bit about Brexit in hard-to-read blue-on-blue at the bottom of the page and why is it not included in the top five priorities? Leaving the EU is the biggest political, economic and social upheaval of our lifetimes, and the constituency of Wimbledon voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, so surely it deserves more than this cursory effort? You claim to have "consistently opposed a hard Brexit" yet you helped Theresa May wave through Article 50. Given that today the story has broken about Theresa May's disastrous and embarrassing dinner with Claude Juncker, it is obvious she is not competent enough to lead such complex negotiations. Why should we trust Theresa May not to send us over a hard Brexit cliff or potentially leave us with no deal and therefore calamitous WTO rules?


St Helier Hospital and local health services

 

2. In 2012, you voted for the Health and Social Care Act. This act led to the creation of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) to make decisions at a local level. It is the CCGs who will decide the future of St Helier Hospital, not the hospital chief executive, so why have you not included any reassurances from Merton CCG? While holding a public meeting is a great way to create warm, fuzzy feelings of doing something, what have your public meetings achieved? How many CCG meetings have you personally attended? If you have attended any CCG meetings, did you ask any questions about the future of local health services? If so, what questions did you ask and what responses did you receive?

3. Why have you referred to the Nelson Health Centre as the Nelson Hospital? It has not been functioning as a hospital for quite some time now. It is not exactly a busy facility. Are you campaigning for the centre, or the Raynes Park health centre, to include a walk-in clinic to relieve pressure on local GPs and A&E departments? Our area has lost a walk-in clinic with the closure of the Wilson Health Centre in Mitcham. This means our nearest walk-in clinic is in Teddington, a six-mile drive or public transport nightmare from Wimbledon. Do you think this is acceptable?

Morden town centre (Disclaimer: I live in Morden)

 

4. Did you press the previous Mayor of London, one Boris Johnson (Conservative), on the planned regeneration of Morden town centre or are you just pressing Sadiq Khan, the new, Labour mayor? Boris Johnson's 2015 plan achieved nothing. Indeed, Boris wasn't even interested in Morden tube station being rezoned as Zone 3 rather than Zone 4, which would have saved commuters money. Is this something you're interested in campaigning for on behalf of cash-strapped constituents? 

You have been the MP for Wimbledon since 2005 - you have had 12 years to campaign on behalf of Morden, and in five years I've lived here, the town centre still looks much the same. Can you please furnish us with some details of your tireless campaigning for Morden and any achievements?

Wimbledon town centre


5. Again, you have had 12 years as MP to improve the Wimbledon town centre. What have you been doing during all that time in regard to improving the area? I lived in Wimbledon in 2011 and, like the Morden town centre, it still looks much the same now as it did then, save for the moving of a statue. What is taking you so long? Exactly what does your pro-Wimbledon town centre campaigning involve and what results have you achieved since 2005?

Transport: Tramlink
 

6. The Rail Accident Investigation Bureau has found that in last November's Croydon tram crash, in which seven people were killed, the tram was travelling at 46mph in a 13mph zone. Is it worth trumpeting about 50 per cent more services when there has been a fatal accident on a Tramlink tram? Where is your concern for the victims, or do they not matter because they all lived outside the constituency? Is the push for more frequent tram services compromising passenger safety along the entire Tramlink lines?

Transport: Raynes Park station


7. OK, it's nice that the litter has been cleaned up from the embankment but, again, Raynes Park station has not changed one iota since I moved to the area in 2011. It is still terrible for disabled people, the platform still makes the train really hard for people to get on and off safely, the toilets are still terrible, there is still nowhere to change a baby's nappy. And, again, you've been the MP for 12 years. So I ask you, what have you been doing all this time in regard to improving Raynes Park station?

Transport: Crossrail 2 and the tube


8. Crossrail 2 will benefit the area as it means we will have another form of transport. It is impossible for such a major project to be undertaken without any disruption. Indeed, if Crossrail 2 results in a complete rebuilding of the Wimbledon Centre Court shopping centre, that would be a good thing. Do you not agree it is currently cumbersomely laid out? Do you not agree that the food court is now just an embarrassment? It has been reduced to a McDonalds, a defunct yoghurt stand and a photo booth. Would an overhaul of the shopping centre not draw in new businesses to the town centre?

9. While Wimbledon is undergoing work in regard to Crossrail 2, whenever that may be, will you campaign for businesses to consider relocating to Morden temporarily? This could give Morden the shot in the arm it needs to regenerate and improve the diversity of businesses on the high street.

10. Do you have any costings on extending the Northern Line to St Helier or is this merely a belief? The Northern Line extension to Nine Elms and Battersea Power Station from Kennington will cost £1.2 billion so that might help you come to some sort of realistic figure. Where will this money come from?

Employment and local businesses

 

11. My questions are about to come full circle... 

As per one of my Crossrail 2 questions, will you be encouraging more businesses to set up shop in Morden town centre? This is not just about temporary shops during Crossrail 2 construction but also long-term businesses on a high street that has not changed on your watch in at least six years.

12. Are you confident that Theresa May will negotiate a Brexit deal with the EU that will not adversely affect local businesses? What evidence do you have for your answer?

Thank you for your time and consideration, Mr Hammond. I look forward to your responses to my questions as a concerned constituent.

Kind regards,

Georgia Lewis

(You have my address, I have written to you before and I am obviously not going to publish it here)











Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Oh God, we're voting again... *opens wine*



Way to kill the long weekend buzz, Theresa! There we all were, eating chocolate and hot cross buns, getting drunk, and generally enjoying a four-day weekend when - BOOM! - the Prime Minister calls another sodding election.

Theresa May strode out the front of 10 Downing Street looking for all the world like she was about to declare the Hunger Games open, and took on an increasingly megalomaniacal tone as she announced that on 8 June, Britain is again going to the polls. Whoop-de-doo! She won't give a flying fuck if there is a low turnout due to sheer voter fatigue as long as she can shore up her majority and continue to drive us over the hard Brexit cliff.

It has been said already that she is gambling on an increased majority to quell the noisy Eurosceptic Tories but that would depend on how many Eurosceptics end up getting elected. She may well find herself with more hard Brexiters to contend with on her side of the house.

Her delusional rhetoric about how the country is united behind Brexit but Westminster is not is laughable. Or it would be if it wasn't so damn effective. For weeks now, she has been implying that if you are not 100 per cent behind her car crash of a Brexit, you hate this country and you are an unpatriotic scoundrel who probably uses bunting for bog roll.

Of course this is some serious short-termism on the part of Theresa May. She can bang on until she is blue in the face about how a Conservative victory will give her a strong Brexit mandate but basically she is pouncing on her 20-point poll lead. She knows she can win this thing in the next few weeks. She is out-UKIPping UKIP so those votes are hers, except for a few hardcore racists, there are the safe Tory seats that she can still count on, there will be Labour seats that will fall to the Conservatives - and she knows there are plenty of ardent remainers who cannot vote for Corbyn and won't vote Tory, but she is banking on there not being enough of these people to topple her.

The simple fact is that  Corbyn has never been pro-EU, has so far enabled Theresa May's hard Brexit, and he has outed himself as drinking the moronic lefty Brexit Kool-Aid. His recent comments on how great a post-EU Britain will be show he is trying to scoop up UKIP votes by being the third choice for UKIP voters after UKIP and the Tories. He has all the political acumen of a slow-learning kitten and, as such, he is a gift for the Tories.

If Labour lose the election in the predicted landslide, one can only assume that will be the end of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. Or will he be the party's unflushable turd? If he does step down after an electoral annihilation and someone who is not a Russia-and-Iran-and-Venezuela-and-Cuba-dictatorship apologist nor an overgrown student protester is put in charge of Labour, that may well give Theresa May something to lose sleep over. But not for now. And "for now" is her focus.

"For now" means that not only can she capitalise on Corbyn's terrible polling but she can also nip the threat to the Tories by Arron Banks in the bud. I'm sure she will pull something out of her craven bag of tricks to appeal to the worst racists.

For the remainers who would not trust Corbyn to lead Brexit negotiations any more than they'd trust May and her incompetent clown car of Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davis on such a massive task, this election is quite the pickle. (Disclaimer: I count myself to be in that pickle).

There will be plenty of voters willing to overlook Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron's religious conservatism on abortion - after all, he has not shown any signs that he would override the pro-choice views that prevail within the party. He abstained on the same-sex marriage vote and now says he regrets that decision and would now vote in favour. People seem to be forgiving of him on these two issues. Whether there will be enough voters to forgive the party as a whole for the 2010-2015 coalition with Conservatives remains to be seen. It is on that issue that the potential success of the Liberal Democrats will hinge in this election.

Will the Greens gain any traction or are they a step too far to the left for many of those who will vote to oppose - or at least soften - Brexit? Brexit casts such a long shadow over pretty much every aspect of policy-making that for many, it will be impossible not to vote with this as the foremost issue. For those who voted remain, there will be some serious nose-holding in polling booths across the country on 8 June.

In any case, on any given day between now and 8 June, it will never be too early to start drinking. What a time to be alive!










Photography by Wojtek Szkutnik

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Nuance: the first casualty of war


Nuance is in very short supply at the moment. All over the place, sledgehammers are being used to crack walnuts. Binary thinking is commonplace. Seeking a sensible middle ground is out of fashion. Extremists at either end of the political spectrum gain traction. We are truly living in pathetic times.

And this brings us to the disgusting spectacle of Assad gassing his own people once again in Syria. This was followed by Donald Trump ordering airstrikes without the permission of Congress, although this latest intervention has now received conditional bipartisan support. This is in sharp contrast to Trump's campaign rhetoric about not dragging the US deeper into war in the Middle East. But apparently he saw some distressing footage of gassed "children of God" on telly and now it's bombs away!

This, in turn, caused further astounding spectacles. Trumpian cheerleaders, such as Milo Yiannopolis, Paul Joseph Watson and Ann Coulter, all felt betrayed by their phlegm-haired father figure and swiftly announced their disappointment to the world. They seem genuinely stunned that Trump changes policy like he changes his socks, even though it was clear before the election that his foreign policy was always going to be a hot mess. The poor little snowflakes.

Then there was Friday's Stop The War debacle. Stop The War should perhaps be named Stop The War If It Is Waged By The West But Let's Never Call Out The Crap From Tyrants We Cravenly Apologise For Particularly As Our Chairman From 2011 Until 2015 Is Happy To Cash Cheques from Iranian State TV And Russia Today, but honesty is seldom catchy. @STWIIIWBTWBLNCOTCFTWCAFPAOCFTUTIHTCCFISTART is a rubbish Twitter handle,

For an organisation that professes to believe in dialogue instead of bombs and guns, and claims to support the rights of refugees, they were shockingly disinterested in constructively engaging with Hassan Akkad. He approached the protesters to ask them why they weren't protesting against the Assad regime but he was shouted down.

It was a disgrace. Megaphone-wielding, placard-waving fools, the lot of them. Some tosser yelled: "Keep chanting!". Because that is all these people have. They are part of a particularly loud but pointless element of left, and they are as devoid of nuance as Trump's one-eyed fanatics. And, just like Trump's disciples, they hate constructive discussion and seek to silence anyone who might have a different take on things. They are ferociously pro-censorship unless it's something they agree with, something else they have in common with alt-right lunatics.

Hassan Akkad is a Syrian refugee living in the UK. He has been imprisoned and tortured under the Assad regime. He knows first-hand that Syria is not a triumph of secularism, an offensive and ludicrous claim made by many an Assad apologist.

Akkad is an intelligent man who is worth listening to. Here he is sharing the story of his escape from Syria:


Everyone who howled him down at the Stop The War fiasco should watch that video, hang their heads in shame, and personally apologise to him for failing to engage in dialogue or to even try and understand the story of a refugee. Everyone there was a hypocrite.

The protesters refused to listen to a word he had to say. Akkad knows that Trump has no great affection for the Syrian people. He knows that Trump has his own agenda. He also knows that to oppose Assad is to not be an automatic jihadist. And he understands that destroying the airbase in Syria from above is not necessarily a bad thing. Unlike the Stop The War protesters, he is capable of nuance.

Click here to watch the video he tweeted, where he articulately explains his version of events from the protest.

The simple truths are that Assad and Daesh both need to be stopped. A military campaign solely made up of airstrikes will not achieve this. I am not going to pretend that I am sitting here at home in London holding all the answers to the appalling situation in Syria. War is awful but I do think boots on the ground are needed to wipe out Daesh and quite possibly to help the oppressed people of Syria overthrow Assad. Indeed, it has been reported today that US-supported rebels in Syria, with Jordanian and US support, fended off a Daesh assault. The very nature of the conflict, of the geography, of the joint enemies of Assad and Daesh, mean any military action will be long and grinding.

A humane solution for the people displaced by the conflict is also essential. Syria has degenerated into a place where it is hard to tell who the bad guys are and anyone who whines about young, able-bodied men fleeing the conflict would do well to remember this before shooting their damn fool mouths off from the comfort of countries that are not currently war zones.

Boris Johnson has done the right thing by cancelling a trip to Moscow and attending a G7 meeting instead. Anyone who thinks Putin is not in bed with Assad is either naive or stupid. Johnson is in no way suited to the job of foreign secretary, although at least this means he is not behaving like Basil Fawlty in Brexit negotiations. Whether the G7 meeting will lead to a ceasefire and whether any ceasefire will last longer than a New York minute remains to be seen, but it is better than kissing Putin's arse.

Dialogue is essential, military intervention will be a necessary evil, nothing will happen quickly. And if we listen to the experiences of people like Hassan Akkad, people who have lived through the long-term horrors of life under Assad, it might become clear that removing Assad from power and neutering the outrageous influence of Russia are essential to this tragic, horrific process.





  

Image by zio fabio/Flickr

Sunday, 2 April 2017

NHS reform for dummies


Amid this week's entirely justified furore about the Daily Mail's "legsit" front page in which Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon's Brexit/Scottish independence discussions were reduced to body parts, there lurked another steaming turd that demanded closer inspection.

Directly below the calf-obsessed photo of our two most senior politicians, there was a deafening headline about NHS reforms that will apparently fix everything and save billions of pounds. The Daily Mail was selling the story as if the reforms are a good thing, the Daily Mirror was taking the opposite view, pointing out longer waiting times and no extra money being spent on the NHS by the current government.

But without an electable opposition, this does not really amount to a hill of beans. That said, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth did a solid job when he was interviewed by Sophy Ridge on Ridge on Sunday this morning. Whenever Jeremy Corbyn quits hanging around the Labour Party leadership like a fart in a car, I'd urge his replacement to keep him on.

In the meantime, however, people continue to prove the notion I put forward last time I blogged on the NHS which is that there is still plenty people will tolerate in terms of stupid healthcare reforms before they will get angry.

The Tories currently own the "free at the point of use" rhetoric - as long as people are not noticing any real difference to the healthcare they receive, it is very hard to get people to care about issues such as taxpayer money going to private companies to provide services formerly provided by the NHS, or private companies getting away with all manner of crap because they are exempt from Freedom of Information laws. The cost of administration of NHS contracts, which renders any cost savings meaningless, is not being discussed especially widely and the billions that are sucked into the PFI debt vortex each year is a problem consigned to the too-hard basket.

The cold reality is that stories such as the Daily Mail's splash about a "blueprint to save the NHS" are swallowed en masse without too much thought. If only more people got their news about the NHS from Private Eye instead.

"Dramatic drive to cut costs unveiled that will see dolling [sic] out of painkillers scrapped and GPs ordered to crack down on health tourists" is the online headline that sets the tone and the agenda.

The health tourism line is routinely trotted out because it appeals to xenophobes. Sure, there is an argument for ensuring that those who are not entitled to NHS care pay up but it is delusional to expect that to magically fill a funding hole - it makes up around 0.3% of NHS spending. Additionally, since 2015, non-EEA citizens who come to the UK for more than six months as students or temporary migrants have paid a health surcharge as part of the visa process. But because the figure is estimated at £300 million, the outrage ensues. Daily Mail readers are held in utter contempt by the paper with the editor and his acolytes assuming they will be dazzled by a big number, the kind of figure very few of us will ever see in our bank accounts.

And the Daily Mail is at it again in this week's report, dazzling its readers with the claim that Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, has a plan that will "save the Health Service up to £1 billion in two years". So all these plans might save around half a billion per year out of an annual budget of around £120 billion. Meanwhile, PFI has left the country £222 billion in debt.

As ever, people are getting excited over plans for the NHS that are the equivalent of getting 20 plumbers over to fix a leaking toilet while nobody is being called on to look at the house's crumbling foundations.

As for the painkillers crackdown, if the NHS simply used its enormous purchasing power better, it would be procuring painkillers far more cheaply. In any case, painkillers will still be given to patients in hospital and the whole "make people pay for their own Panadol" rhetoric is pretty lame. Don't tell Simon Stevens this, but most of us already do buy painkillers for ourselves.

The plan also includes making people pay for their own indigestion and hayfever remedies. Again, millions of us across the country already do this. Even the most die-hard NHS defender probably just pops a pill from the bathroom cabinet in the event of a hangover, a springtime sneezing fit or a growling stomach after too much curry.

The move by Stevens to crack down on GPs prescribing gluten-free food is another pretty stupid distraction. At a cost of £25 million a year, it is far from the NHS's biggest cost pressure but the NHS does get ripped off by suppliers charging it more than supermarkets, but a voucher system for supermarkets would solve that problem - or, once again, better procurement.

In any case, prevention is better than cure, for patients' wellbeing and in terms of cost-efficiency, and ensuring coealics have access to gluten-free food is a good example of this. But it's another easy, lazy headline if people think the NHS has become a gluten-free outpost of Greggs.

Then there is the scandal of the NHS funding unscientific, non-evidence-based homeopathic treatments. It is hard to come by exact figures on how much of our money is spent on woo and bunkum but the excellent Good Thinking Society estimates it at around £5 million per year. Again, it is a drop in the ocean - although still a dazzlingly large sum of money in Daily Mail land - but any plans to entirely scrap this bullshit from the NHS is absent from Stevens' plans. At least the funding of gluten-free food and painkillers is based in science. But with Jeremy Hunt being a homeopathy-loving health secretary and Jeremy Corbyn being a homeopathy-loving ageing student protester, this won't change any time soon.

Unsurprising to anyone who has been paying attention, Brexit will cast a long shadow over any attempts to fix the NHS, including this latest blueprint from Simon Stevens. It is all well and good to desperately tweet "FORGET ABOUT BREXIT! THE NHS IS BEING DESTROYED!" but the harsh reality is that Brexit is now inextricably tied to the future fortunes of healthcare in this country.

The plan includes trying to ensure NHS managers don't hire expensive locum doctors but we are facing a Brexit-induced doctor shortage. A British Medical Association study found that 42% European doctors are considering leaving the UK following the Brexit vote and another 23% are unsure. Out of 10,000 EU-trained doctors, that is a significant number we could lose.

On top of this, from July GP surgeries will be acting as border control when they will be obliged to check if all patients registering have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). These are issued by one's home country and entitle EU citizens to NHS care on the proviso that their government pays back the costs. If someone is turned away from a surgery for not having the EHIC, they can simply go away and obtain one and then register. But this alleged reform sounds like it's going to be punitive for EU citizens so it holds appeal for Brexiters.

Additionally, we in the UK are entitled to the EHIC so we can receive medical treatment in Europe. It is a wonderful thing because it works both ways - but once we leave the EU, we will probably lose that entitlement. Possibly. When the blisteringly incompetent Brexit secretary David Davis was quizzed on this by Hilary Benn at the Brexit Select Committee this month, he said he did not know what would happen to our access to the EHIC. He admitted that his department had not looked into this not-insignificant matter.

So there you have it, kids. A blueprint to save the NHS that merely tinkers around the edges, with bonus features that will probably be rendered pointless thanks to the idiocy of Brexit, all brought to you by the Department of Smoke and Mirrors.









Photography by Elliott Brown/Flickr

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Sexist legsit for Brexit...


Women MEPs are concerned about the impact of Donald Trump bringing back the global gag rule.

The Daily Mail - at least for England and Wales - reduced Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon to their pins yesterday. Accompanying a rather leg-oriented front page picture, the eternally asinine Sarah "Don't you dare accuse me of feminism" Vine felt the need to write a piece about how the legs of the Prime Minister and Scotland's First Minister were their greatest weapons in their ongoing wrangling over Scottish independence and Brexit. A "light-hearted" take on it all, according to the Daily Mail

"Never mind Brexit, who won legs-it?" was emblazoned across the front page.

Nothing screams "serious journalism" like a line that is basically the world's creepiest Dad joke. 

It was just like the time the Mail reported on the peace agreement between Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak back in 2000 and Sarah Vine wrote that hilarious piece about who had the firmest arse in the Middle East. Or her witty ode to Putin and Obama after their awkward handshake in Lima last year in which she declared each man's biceps would be used to forge a bold new relationship between their countries.

Except that never bloody happened. Instead, Sarah Vine wrote a parody-defying load of tripe for yesterday's paper, the journalistic equivalent of taking upskirt photos on a tube station escalator. She came across like a sex pest. Well played, sister!

The Daily Mail issued an explanation. It was just a joke and, anyway, we did loads of serious coverage on Brexit! Bags of it! The crazy feminists clearly need to lighten up! 

Except that every time female politicians are belittled, reduced to their body parts, when their legs or their tits or their clothes or their hair or their faces are the focus, not their policies or ideas, it makes it that little bit harder to encourage smart women to enter politics. And it makes it that little bit harder for women in general to be taken seriously.

The Mail's explanation also pointed out that they're an equal opportunity body snarker - they've also run photos of David Cameron looking a bit portly while on holiday, that sort of thing. Er, yeah. Two things, Dacre. Firstly, it's still gross to reduce male politicians to their body parts too. Secondly, even when the Mail runs such nonsense, it's not usually tied to the biggest political story of the week. The coverage when men do politics is far more respectful.

Of course, plenty of right-wing anti-feminist apologists piped up with their latest lame zinger. "Why are women angry about this when there is FGM and IS is making Yazidi girls and women sex slaves?". Er yeah. Two things, dickheads. Firstly, IT IS POSSIBLE TO CARE ABOUT MORE THAN ONE THING AT A TIME EVEN WITH OUR LITTLE LADY-BRAINS! Secondly, when you are the same people who would deny foreign aid to help stop FGM or to offer shelter, healthcare and employment training to Yazidi girls and women, you are monstrous hypocrites with zero right to tell women how to do feminism.

And when women are belittled out of putting themselves forward as leaders because of the constant sexist noise over which they must shout to be heard, there won't be as many women in positions of real power who are able to stand up for oppressed women everywhere.

In any case, the "Never mind Brexit, who won legs-it?" debacle, it really is a microcosm of the Daily Mail/Daily Express/Sun mentality on the issue of leaving the European Union. The one-liner encapsulates perfectly the simplistic Brexiter mentality, the one where self-serving con artists like Nigel Farage convince people that there is nothing to worry about, that the process of making trade deals and sifting through EU law will be a piece of cake. These people say without irony that it could all be sorted out in a month. These people are irresponsible idiots who make Britain a dumber place. 

Worse, it reflects the mentality of the right-leaning Brexiter of not wanting to take any actual responsibility for the whole shit-show - they do not want to acknowledge the inevitable problems it has caused and will cause and they do not want to do any of the tedious dirty work involved in ensuring leaving the EU doesn't reduce Britain to a joke nation.

Nope, these pathetic dinosaurs are the deluded fools who voted to leave because of some misguided notion that it was better in the good, old days, even though the good, old days were, frankly, a bit shit. But, hey, at least back then, we could all could openly ogle a woman's legs in peace without those feminazis getting upset, am I right...




Image: European Parliament/Flickr








Friday, 24 March 2017

It's OK to be a bit scared


I'm not scared. This week, some loser in a Hyundai senselessly murdered four innocent people about a mile from where I work but I'm not scared. Sad, yes. Appalled, yes. Sickened, yes. But not scared. I simply don't see the point in being scared, I don't see what being scared will achieve. 

But this does not make me a superior London resident. Some people here are scared and that's OK too. 

Amid the usual bluster about how we won't be cowed, about how we got through the hideous era of IRA terrorism and the Blitz, this week's awful events, and others like it, have spooked some people. Not everyone is walking around London singing jaunty wartime ditties and behaving like a "Keep Calm And Carry On" poster that has come to life.

The people who are scared are not necessarily massive racists or inane bigots. They are not idiots who freak out because a mosque has been built in their borough or change tube carriages because a woman in a hijab has got on board.

They are people who are simply scared because none of us know when terrorism will strike again. Will it impact on us? Will we lose friends or family members? What if some twat kills our kids? 

And that is why terrorism is effective - it is all about the grotesque element of surprise. 

The people who died in London this week were not expecting an inadequate dickhead would kill them. Equally, people do not expect to be killed when they go to a concert in Paris, have a boozy holiday in Bali, pop out for a coffee in Sydney's business district, go to work in New York, do their job as an MP in Yorkshire or any number of things for which death should never be the penalty.

It might be true that cancer or heart disease or the pollution of London is more likely to claim our lives than a terrorist but fear is not always rational. Hell, I am scared of entering a public toilet and discovering it is a pull-chain loo. My rational brain tells me the toilet probably won't hurt me but, after one such toilet in Turkey juddered away from the wall when I pulled the chain, my fearful fearful brain tells me I should hold on until I can find a low-level loo with a button or lever.

Within hours of the attack, it was indeed business as usual in London. That is the way it should be. Last night as I was on my way to the tube after work, a Spanish couple asked me for directions to the Houses of Parliament so they could pay their respects. It was a properly moving London moment and I hope my directions made sense to them. 

If anyone is scared, they deserve compassion and reassurance, not scorn. If anyone marks themselves as safe on Facebook, they are simply using a modern form of communication to reassure others who might be worried. Now is not the time to tell people how to react to a tragic event. We all react to tragic events in our own ways. You only need to look at the varied faces of people at any given funeral to work that out.

Predictably, Daesh has claimed responsibility for this week's fuckery even though they probably had no idea who the murderous thug was before the news broke on Wednesday. They don't need to know him personally because anyone with an internet connection can be disgracefully inspired by the acts and warped messages of Daesh. 

I'm not going to name the terrorist. He does not deserve the attention or the posthumous fame. He was last seen by us all as a bloated, middle-aged turd dying on a road. He is not a hero or a martyr. He is nothing. Instead, we should remember PC Keith Palmer, Aysha Frade, Leslie Rhodes and Kurt Cochran. We should honour the paramedics, the police, the doctors and nurses who ran towards the incident from a nearby hospital to help, and, yes, we should honour the journalists who were on the scene reporting responsibly.

And if you're still a bit scared, that's OK. We've got your back, we are with you.






Monday, 20 March 2017

No ifs, no buts, no excuses, there is a global problem with rape


"No punishment for man who raped girl, 12" was the stark headline on the BBC News site on Friday. Never mind that since 2009 under British law, anyone under the 13 is deemed unable to give informed consent to sexual intercourse. This negates the defence of consent in such cases, except the judge Lady Scott decided it was not in the pubic interest to punish Daniel Cieslak, who pleaded guilty to rape, saying it would be "disproportionate given the nature of the criminal culpability here". 

The girl in question said she was 16 and CCTV footage confirmed to Lady Scott that it was reasonable for Cieslak to assume this was the case. He procured alcohol for her even though he knew she was, at the very least, too young to legally consume it.

Well, if that decision isn't a goddamn gift for paedophiles as well as rapists in general, I don't know what is. What is the bloody point of even having age of consent laws when the line in the sand can be easily washed away on the strength of CCTV footage and a tearful defendant?

Still, the same judge has form here. In 2013, she sentenced Hamadache Hamza to just six years for weekend-long rape ordeal that took place in the victim's flat, despite the Crown Prosecution Service guidelines suggesting five years as the starting point for a single offence rape sentence, eight years for rape with aggravating factor, and life imprisonment as the maximum sentence. Lady Scott's reasoning was that Hamza had come to the UK from Algeria, overcome a difficult background, and set up a successful hairdressing business and this had to be taken into account.

Never mind that most people who are either immigrants or have come from a difficult background, or both, manage not to rape people. In the world of Lady Scott, these two factors lessen the severity of the crime of depriving a woman of her liberty and her right to personal safety and bodily autonomy for 48 awful hours - and she insults every law-abiding immigrant and every law-abiding person who has come from a disadvantaged background in one fell swoop.

These are just two of the endless cavalcade of examples of rape-related bullshit from all over the world. They are examples are from Britain but Britain is not unique in the ways it fails women and girls.

Rape is not unique to any particular race or religion or social class or profession. That is what makes the problem seem so insurmountable. To single out any one group is to throw the bodies of women under countless other buses. It is a grotesque game of whack-a-mole - while we villify one group based on the example of a few, women are still being raped by other men in other places and in other circumstances, whether it is at the hands of a stranger, as a weapon of war, or in the depressingly likely scenario of being raped by someone she knows.

What is particularly tiresome is the constant minimising of women's anger by men. Just today, a friend of mine from India posted an opinion piece on her Facebook page which advised women not to come to India. It was written by an Indian woman, it was an agonising cry from a woman who does not feel safe in her home country. Pathetically, a man jumped on the page to tell us that there was no use in getting angry.

With all due respect, sir, fuck off. When you are not feeling threatened on a daily basis, it is easy to wonder what all the fuss is about. But it is something women live with every day of their lives in every country in the world. I completely understand why millions of American women choose to take advantage of the second amendment and carry a gun.

The reason why women collectively roll their eyes when they are told to be careful when they leave the house, is not because we are obstinate little flakes. It is because we know already. We bloody know. We make a habit of being careful all the damn time. We carry our keys in a position that is suitable for jabbing an assailant as we walk from the bus stop to the house. We install sensor lights near our front doors so we're not fumbling about in the dark for too long. We tell each other to text as soon as we get home safely. We help each other into taxis. We feed each other water and kebabs and paracetamol when we've had too much to drink. When Judge Kushner said that we are entitled to "drink ourselves into the ground" but our "disinhibited behaviour" could put us in danger, she was not saying anything new.

Still, at least Judge Kushner didn't compare women to cars or houses by using the horrible "You don't leave your car or house unlocked when you go out" rape analogy. Reducing our bodies to a comparison with the contents of a glove compartment or a jewellery box is appalling, reductive nonsense. And if you do get burgled because you forgot to lock a door, you might just get more sympathy than a rape victim who was drunk or wore a short skirt or wore a long skirt or only drank water or left the house or caught a bus or went to work or had the temerity to leave the house in possession of a vagina.

"You silly bugger; leaving the house with the door open!" is hardly on par with the disdainful spite of "Well, you were asking for it, walking around that part of town at that time of day..." when you've just had your body violated in the worst possible way, shy of actually being murdered.

And then if something horrific does happen to us, we'd better hope and pray our assailants aren't wealthy, privileged, or have a great future as an athlete or a city trader because they may just get a sweet deal from a judge.

That is if you report the crime at all. I know plenty of women who have not reported rapes. This is usually because of fear: fear of being disbelieved, fear of ending up on the wrong side of the law in countries where premarital sex is illegal, fear of spending a lot of time being humiliated and reliving a repulsive experience for no justice to be done, fear of bringing shame to the family, fear of the reaction of one's partner, fear of simply making a fuss...

Please do not start with the "But men get raped too!" line. Yes, they do. They do not get raped in quite the same numbers as women but male rape is no myth. And guess what? They are usually raped by other men.

And male rape is, like female rape, drastically under-reported. Oh Lord, I wonder why that might be? When men see what crap women are put through when they attempt to get justice for being raped, where is the incentive for them to report the crime when they are raped?

If more women are confident to come forward without being accused of "asking for it" when reporting a rape, perhaps it will follow that more men who are raped will come forward too. This is a prime example of how achieving justice for women and girls has the potential to help men and boys.

Indeed, the eternal pit of dick-driven ignorance was fed by the unctuous Philip Davies MP recently when he tried to derail the passing of a bill to recognise the Istanbul Convention in a bid to prevent violence against women and girls.

Predictably, all the douchebros came out of the woodwork to cheer Davies on because men get attacked too. Except clearly none of these intellectual bankrupts bothered to look into the finer points of the Istanbul Convention which quite plainly recognises that men and boys are victims of violence too. But that would require doing some research, becoming informed, not simply believing everything a pig of an MP tells you because it suits your hateful little narrative.

These are the same men who disbelieve the low rates of false accusation and see nothing wrong with someone who admits to grabbing women by the genitals, someone who feels so permanently entitled to access women's bodies, is now the president of the United States. Indeed, yesterday it emerged that Theresa May thought Donald Trump was "a gentleman". Brilliant. Britain's second woman Prime Minister has been gaslit by a self-confessed sex pest.

And so we continue, the women and girls of the world, to constantly take precautions against rape, to be constantly on our guard, because that is our normal. For some, normal means regular rape by a partner. For others, normal means rape at the hands of terrorists. For some, it just means never quite feeling safe.

If you have never felt that fear, you are automatically privileged. It is your duty to stand alongside those who are not so fortunate, the women and girls of the world.



  

"Nightmare of a Gang Rape Victim" image by Syed Ali Wasif/Flickr

Sunday, 19 March 2017

George Osborne insults us all



George Osborne's appointment as editor of the London Evening Standard while refusing to stand down as a member of parliament is ridiculous, offensive, corrupt and insulting. It has already been said over the last couple of days that it is impossible to be an effective MP and newspaper editor at the same time. They are both demanding full-time jobs and the people served by both jobs deserve so much more than a part-timer. It has already been said that doing these two jobs represents a massive conflict of interest. His appointment demeans the role of an MP as well as the role of a newspaper editor.

Of course there are inane apologists for this steaming truckload of bullshit.  

"But he'll just be a figurehead editor!"

Great. Super. Wonderful. So he'll be on an inflated salary to waft in and out of the office when he can be arsed, doing the bits of the job that amuse him, while the rest of the Evening Standard staff have to do the real work? Will he be there for boring parts of the editor's job? For the negotiations with the sales team that require decisions about balancing revenue with editorial credibility? For refereeing a dispute over the style guide? For the inevitable staff member who appears at the editor's desk in tears?

As well as propping up the notion that only the privileged get the top British media jobs, Osborne's appointment reinforces the myth that journalism is an easy job that anyone can do. 

"It's all about his great connections!"

When he first aspired to be a journalist many moons ago, his rampant privilege and connections could not get him entry-level positions on The Times or The Economist. He did a freelance stint writing the Peterborough diary for the Telegraph. This means anyone who has done a competent enough job on more than one publication has more experience as a journalist than George Osborne. And in a city the size of London with its large media market, there are plenty of well-connected journalists with genuine runs on the board. 

It should not be beyond the wit of Evgeny Lebedev to find someone who has a full contacts book and the ability to run the daily news conference without having to refer to Journalism For Dummies or surreptitiously Google "what is the splash?" on his phone.

"But Boris Johnson did a great job as a journalist!"

Yeah, that'd be Boris Johnson, the same irresponsible spoiled flake of a journalist who got a bit bored trying to report accurately on the European parliament so he started simply making shit up instead. He is largely responsible for starting the "bonkers Brussels" myths that so many leave voters fell for in the EU referendum. He wrote stories about the EU declaring snails as fish, and EU directives to standardise the smell of manure, ban prawn cocktail crisps and standardise condom sizes. This nonsense was published unchecked and people believed it. Boris Johnson was a purveyor of fake news. 

"But Michael Gove is a Times columnist!"

Yeah, that'd be Michael Gove, the man responsible for an embarrassingly sycophantic interview with Donald Trump that was about as hard-hitting as a headbutt from a sea-monkey.

And perhaps most inane of all...

"Oh, it is just delicious that George Osborne can make mischief by trolling Theresa May in the pages of the Evening Standard!"

This is not what a newspaper is for. No newspaper should exist for a self-serving editor, particularly one who already has plenty of opportunities to publicly air his views, to settle scores, to use it for his own personal vendettas. This is not the same as holding the government to account. It is all about George Osborne's ego. It is about him being arrogant enough to assume he can do some newspaper editing in the morning and a spot of parliament in the afternoon and do justice to both jobs.

There is no way George Osborne can do a credible job of editing a newspaper for London. It was bad enough reading the Evening Standard on the commute home when Boris Johnson was mayor. The level of arse-kissing was off the chain. I honestly don't know what Boris would have had to do to be criticised by the Evening Standard in that grim era. Deep-fry a few live kittens outside Buckingham Palace,  perhaps? Then the paper backed Zac Goldsmith even as the wheels fell off his mayoral campaign, Sadiq Khan won the election convincingly and ever since, the coverage of his time in City Hall has been very fair and balanced.

Whether fair and balanced coverage of City Hall will continue when Osborne takes the reins remains to be seen. But it is impossible for him to be an objective editor overseeing the stories that affect Londoners when he has been responsible for votes in parliament that affect Londoners. He is a mess of conflicting ideologies and competing priorities.

He is arrogant enough to think he can remain as MP for Tatton, in England's north-west while editing a London paper. George Osborne has been the mouthpiece for the largely vacuous Tory policy of creating a "Northern powerhouse", of developing the north of England and moving away from a London-centric economy. This is at odds with the unabashedly pro-London stance of the Evening Standard. Can readers expect to be urged to leave the capital for the north? 

He voted for the Health and Social Care Act 2012, an act which led to the creation of Clinical Commissioning Groups, which are putting health services and, in some areas, entire hospitals under threat in London. Will he ensure the government is held to account in the coming months and years if and when London loses essential health services?

Despite being pro-remain, he voted against seeking to protect the residence rights of EU citizens lawfully resident in the UK post-Brexit, despite London being a city that will be seriously depleted in multiple professions if we cannot guarantee the rights of EU citizens to stay on here after the negotiations to leave the EU are complete. Osborne can claim all he likes that he is offering resistance to a hard Brexit but on this issue, he is on the same page as Theresa May. There were two votes on the same issue last year and he was absent for both, hardly the actions of a man committed to wanting the best for London. Yet he is set to edit a paper in a largely pro-remain city where plenty of readers will be uncertain of their own fate or that of friends, lovers, colleagues and neighbours.

He has voted consistently for a reduction in spending on welfare and for a reduction in housing benefit for council tenants with a spare bedroom (the so-called bedroom tax). Unsurprisingly, these laws have done nothing to alleviate poverty in London or address the shortage of affordable housing in the capital, particularly for workers in essential services and low-income earners. 

Will he as editor of the Evening Standard be able to look such tough issues squarely in the eye and ensure they are covered properly? Or will be simply play-act at editing a newspaper, leave the hard work to the rest of the staff and return each night to one of his lovely, warm houses, secure in the knowledge that there will be people on the streets of London using copies of the Evening Standard as bedlinen? 





Photography: duncan c/Flickr