McDonalds – coming to English hospitals soon?

I say only in England, not because it couldn’t happen in Scotland or Wales, but because it will only happen here: no parliament, see…

Shake-up of hospitals will open door to McDonald’s sponsorship
by Colin Brown, Deputy Political Editor
Thursday, 20 March 2008

Firms such as McDonald’s and Virgin could be allowed to sponsor NHS hospital wards under radical plans announced by the Government to allow sponsorship of health services and create a new era of open competition between hospitals.

Private companies will be allowed to create some “brand awareness” such as a logo on hospital property but they would not be allowed to gain a “commercial advantage”, meaning a firm such as Durex would not be allowed to sponsor a sexual health unit, but it could sponsor another type of clinic or a hospital department.

The plans announced by Ben Bradshaw, the Health minister, came as part of a drive to give NHS patients more choice over the private or NHS hospitals in which they are treated.

Patients are to be allowed a choice of hospitals across England from 1 April, including private hospitals that are NHS approved. At the moment, the choice is limited to local providers but the NHS will be able to “shop” for health care across the country.

NHS patients who opt for treatment in a private hospital will not have to pay for their care, provided it is covered by NHS contracts.

Hospitals are also to be allowed to promote their own services to compete with each other for “custom” within the NHS. The code says there will be no official cap on how much they can spend on advertising their services to patients.

“Providers will be expected to recognise the potential effect on the reputation of the NHS of disproportionate expenditure on promotional activity.

“The cost of TV or cinema promotion is very unlikely to be justifiable.”

Hospitals could promote areas of good patient care, such as low rates of the potentially lethal hospital-acquired infection MRSA, but will not be able to indulge in discrediting their rival NHS hospitals.

“Comparative claims are permitted in the interests of vigorous competition and public information. They should neither mislead nor be likely to mislead,” says the code.

Hospitals will also be able to send direct marketing to their patients and no marketing “should cause fear or distress without good reason”. The code added: “Marketing communication addressed to, targeted at or featuring children should not exploit their credulity, loyalty, vulnerability or lack of experience.”

Hospitals will be able to use testimonials as long as people are not paid for them. Mr Bradshaw said: “Choice is fundamental to the delivery of a personalised NHS. People would like to have more control and be more involved in the decisions about their illness and treatment. More choice will also help drive up quality and standards across the NHS.”

However, many Labour MPs are hostile to creating competition within the NHS and the unions representing health workers are campaigning against what they call the “privatisation” of NHS services.

The Post Office revolt… fails

Up the rebels!

Diane Abbott (Hackney North & Stoke Newington)
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North)
John Cummings (Easington)
Andrew Dismore (Hendon)
David Drew (Stroud)
Frank Field (Birkenhead)
Paul Flynn (Newport West)
John Grogan (Selby)
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North)
John McDonnell (Hayes & Harlington)
Eric Martlew (Carlisle)
Alan Meale (Mansfield)
Gordon Prentice (Pendle)
Alan Simpson (Nottingham South)
Geraldine Smith (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester South)
David Taylor (Leicestershire North West)
Mike Wood (Batley & Spen)
Independent Labour MP Robert Wareing (Liverpool West Derby) also voted with the Tories.

Say, what’s the deal?

The government’s majority was cut to just 20 as the Conservatives lost a bid to prevent the planned closure of 2,500 sub-post offices.

A vote to suspend the closure was defeated by 268 to 288. At least 19 Labour MPs voted with the Tories.

The vote reduced Labour’s 67-strong majority by more than two-thirds and will be a warning shot to Gordon Brown. […]

Rebel MP John McDonnell said: “The government has always underestimated the strength of anger on Labour benches against the privatisation and cuts in this essential public service.

“Tonight’s vote is a huge embarrassment to the government and shows that a large number of Labour MPs are even prepared to support a Tory motion to demonstrate their concern.

“The government is the sole shareholder in Royal Mail and could stop this closure programme in its tracks.”

Here’s John McDonnell’s latest blog post:

Post Office Closures will Cost the Government Dear
Just back from Parliament where the Government’s majority was reduced to 20 votes on the issue of the closure of local post offices. 20 Labour MPs voted against the Government in favour of a motion seeking a review of the closure process. A number of MPs who have lead local campaigns against their local post office closing nevertheless still voted for the Government or went missing.

In my constituency I am faced with the closure of three post offices. I have already lost my main post office, which has been relocated into the back of W H Smiths, reducing both the range of the shop’s services and the size and accessability of the post office.

The post office is seen by most of us as an essential element of our local community. Closure of our local post office takes another slice out of the quality of local community life, just as the Tories did when they closed our local cottage hospital. Next under threat is the local job centre.

In 2000 the New Labour Government introduced legislation in Parliament to liberalise Britain’s postal services. This was even in advance of European Union’s moves to open up postal services across Europe to the market and privatisation.

I attempted to amend the Government’s legislation to prevent this liberalisation policy because it was obvious what would happen. Liberalisation would innevitably allow the multi-nationals like TNT and DHL to cream off the lucrative contracts and thus prevent the subsidy of the less profitable community postal services. We predicted then that this would lead to post office closures. The vast majority of Labour MPs refused to support the amendments.

Everything we predicted has come true and this valuable public service is being destroyed bit by bit. Is it any wonder that New Labour’s poll ratings are at a 24 year low?

An average worker’s wage for MPs?

I have long known that MPs received expenses on top of their wage, but I thought this meant computer equipment, stationary, and postage costs.

I would never have guessed that Members of Parliament could open up the public purse and have their gaffe done up, new bathroom, kitchen, and all the mod cons such as posh rugs, a top of the range stereo and the blender that does the lot. Empathising with MPs as fellow human beings (though zombies), I thought them too honest (to fearful of exposure, actually) to claim for such luxuries.

After all, if a police or prison officer officer, a fire-fighter or a refuse collector, a teacher or a nurse, or a member of the armed forces wanted to get a rug or a blender or have the bathroom decorated or the kitchen renovated – if one of the less affluent public servants wants things for their home they pay for these goods and services out of their wages, or else get a loan (not as easy these days, mind).

So now we know why MPs haven’t kicked up a fuss when the government tried to impose pay cuts on the rest of the public sector, why allowed the Prison Officers Association to be banned from taking strike action, why they have failed to restore workers’ rights and have allowed so-called “anti-terror” legislation to be passed which erodes other rights won over centuries of struggle.

A few principled parliamentarians exist, but for every good egg there are a dozen rotten eggs. The Westminster parties, funded mostly by big business, are filled with careerists and egomaniacs unwilling or unable to cross the party line but eager and able to cross a picket line. The ideological divisions have gone – all three are about the same in terms of policy. continued European integration, joining the US on wars, privatising public services, strengthening the secret state, and denying rights to working people.

Here’s The Socialist‘s view:

Remote MPs’ privileged lifestyle
WHILE LOW-PAID civil servants have to strike against a 0% ‘pay rise’ this year, MPs can claim up to £22,000 for kitting out their homes with luxury items.

Not content with ‘earning’ £67,000 a year, a backbench MP also claims, on average, £135,000 in allowances. They can claim £10,000 on a new kitchen, £6,000 for a bathroom and even £300 for a free-standing mirror – perhaps to reflect on their privileged lifestyle!

These latest revelations – coming on top of the recent exposé of MPs like Tory Derek Conway who claimed salaries for his two sons and a family friend, even though they did little or no work – is making an angry public even more outraged.

Socialists believe that being an MP should be an opportunity to represent people and not to feather their own nests. From 1983 to 1992 Dave Nellist, now leader of Coventry council’s Socialist Party group, was a Labour MP.

He and two other MPs supporting Militant (the Socialist Party’s predecessor) stood for parliament as a ‘workers’ MP on a worker’s wage’, receiving the average wage of the working-class people they represented and donating the rest to workers’ campaigns and working-class appeals. All expenses were legitimate, reasonable and accountable to their constituents.

That meant these MPs were not insulated from the lives and hardships of other working-class families. Other MPs, in contrast, because they benefit financially from their position, are remote from their constituents’ needs and problems.
Dave Carr

White: the BBC’s Pim Fortuyn moment

Here’s the World Socialist Web Site‘s view on that season of programmes:

The “White Season”: The British Broadcasting Corporation’s Pim Fortuyn moment
By Julie Hyland
19 March 2008

Last week, the BBC ran its “White Season”—a series as puerile as it was offensive.

Billed as an exploration of “what it means to be white and working-class in 21st century Britain,” the trailer summed up the central message. A close-up facial shot of a white, bald and obviously working class male was shown. As the hymn “Jerusalem” played, brown hands appeared, writing one after another in foreign languages in black pen across his face. Eventually his entire face—bar the whites of his eyes—was coloured black. As he closed his eyes, the words “Is white working-class Britain becoming invisible?” appeared.

Writing in the Daily Mail, under the heading “White and working class…the one ethnic group the BBC has ignored,” Richard Klein, the broadcaster’s Head of Independent Commissioning for Knowledge asserted that “Over the past two decades, Britain has been through a revolution.”

“Globalisation, mass immigration and economic upheaval have helped to transform the fabric of our nation,” he continued. “These changes have been the subject of noisy debate within the media, politics and academia, yet it is a curious irony that, in all the heated discussion about the consequences of this revolution, one voice has been largely absent: that of the white working class.”

Whereas once “the white working class were seen as an integral and respected part of our national life,” now, “The voice of the white working-class is barely allowed to intrude into British politics or culture. In metropolitan circles, where sneering at any minority ethnic group would be regarded as an outrage, this white working-class opinion is all too often treated with suspicion or contempt.”

With its “White Season,” Klein went on, the BBC was “determined to redress the balance by commissioning a new season of programmes looking at the attitudes of the white working class.”

Klein’s claims are an invention. Just when was it that the working class was considered the “backbone” of the country and treated with “respect”? Britain is a country in which every social advance—from healthcare, education, trade union rights and universal suffrage—had to be fought for tooth and nail in the face of fierce hostility from the ruling establishment. And once the working class had established these gains, over the past 30 years or so the ruling elite has done its utmost to dismantle them one after the other.

But it is the prefix “white” that really counts here. In preparation for the series, BBC Newsnight commissioned a survey amongst 1,000 or so “white” people. Blacks and Asians were excluded. So presumably were all non-British “whites.

And what of the results of this survey? It found that those designated as “white working class” were slightly more pessimistic about the future than those designated as the “white middle class.”

To anyone outside the rarefied environs of BBC executives and their political paymasters, this will hardly come as a revelation. Britain has indeed been through a “revolution” over the last decades. It is one in which the expunging of “class”—or more particularly, the interests and concerns of the working class—from every aspect of social and political life has been the central concern of the ruling establishment, and most especially the Labour Party, as it sought to implement a massive transfer of wealth away from working people to the super-rich and major corporations, making Britain one of the most socially unequal countries in the world.

Globalisation, job insecurity, crime and political marginalisation all featured strongly in the listed concerns of “white workers” and only slightly less-so amongst those decreed to be “white middle class.” Had the BBC not engaged in its own brand of racial profiling, one would have found that similar concerns find equal expression amongst black and Asian working people.

But none of these were explored in the BBC’s “White Season.” Its sole concern was to assert that the sense of political alienation and insecurity amongst white workers was bound up with race, and the economic and social impact of immigration and the sense of betrayal produced by the “liberal nostrums” of multiculturalism and “political correctness.”

From the Wibsey Working Men’s Club, just outside Bradford, where “With high unemployment and a perception that recent Asian immigrants receive the lion’s share of Government benefits, members feel that their very community is under threat and that racial tensions could erupt at any time,” to Peterborough where an influx of Polish immigrants is said to have raised tensions, to Barking in east London, the message was the same: “White, working class Britain” is being submerged beneath a sea of blacks and foreigners.

The great significance given to the small percentage points revealed in the survey between the views of working class and middle class people to the “loaded” questions they were asked was meant to hammer home the message.

In the same article, Klein insinuated that immigration was wholly for the “middle classes” who benefited from a “Polish plumber or a Ukrainian nanny.”

Others were still more explicit in deriding the “middle class” and their “liberal” values for being oblivious to the real cost of immigration. Caitlin Moran in the Times railed that immigration was “very useful” for the “liberal left-wing” who could use the “Ukrainian carpenters on £2 an hour.” Meanwhile, Moran continued with a palpable sense of horror, it was the working classes “who are actually living this multicultural life, and sharing their shops, schools, hospitals, pubs and streets with dozens of different nationalities, cultures and beliefs.”

Author Tim Lott, in an article entitled “White, working class—and threatened with extinction,” also claimed that “it’s the do-gooding liberal middle classes that have betrayed those ‘beneath’ them.” This “betrayal” apparently consists of the abolition of selective grammar schools, implementing policies of “multiculturalism” while deriding “the host white indigenous culture,” suppressing English nationalism and building council houses—in that order.

Lott at least acknowledged that “there is also a large liberal working class” that is, “rarely mentioned by the WLMC [white liberal middle class] who like to keep a monopoly on morals.” But it is not the views of this “white, working class” that concerns him and others. As Lott explained, their fascination is rather with those layers of the “white working class” who are “wilfully ignorant, hedonistic, angry, often racist,” and even “verging on the crooked,” tending “toward the philistine” and mistrustful of “education.”

Not that the BBC’s programme makers and its supporters claim to represent this working class. Klein remarked somewhat loftily, “Most people at the BBC don’t live lives like this, but these are our licence payers,” while Lott, answering his own rhetorical question as to whether he looks down on the white working class “now that I am middle class myself? Probably.”

The BBC claimed that its aim was to allow the “authentic voice of the traditional white working class” to be heard. Given the parameters set, this “voice” turned out almost universally to consist of right-wing commentators, overt racists and even fascists.

The BBC’s series of programmes were obsessed with the British National Party. Two of the areas chosen are where the BNP had scored small successes in local council elections. In Wibsey, a young white male—a Union Jack flag disfigured by a swastika hanging behind him—boasted, “If I saw a young Paki getting kicked and knocked over, I would not blink an eyelid, I hate them so much.” In Barking, the documentary focused on the campaigning activities of a local BNP officer.

Initiating the series, BBC Newsnight invited BNP leader Nick Griffin on to a roundtable discussion where he blamed “Islam and particularly Pakistani immigration” for the hard drugs trade in Britain.

“Impartiality” in the service of reactionMany have noted that such a programme could not have been shown 10 or even 5 years ago. For the programme makers and their supporters it is evidence of a refreshing air of openness, “objectivity” and “impartiality.”

The BBC’s supposed “liberal” bias has long been the focus of attacks by media opponents, such as Rupert Murdoch, and those with a political axe to grind—from the Conservative Party (which views the BBC as Britain’s last “nationalised” institution), to the Blair government for its coverage of the Iraq war and its aftermath, and Zionists over its very occasional critical treatment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But over the last period, these complaints have also been raised from within the BBC.

Klein himself made a speech in 2006 in which he said that the BBC was “out of touch” and ignoring “mainstream” opinion.

His remarks followed an “impartiality” summit involving BBC executives and leading presenters where, according to the right-wing Daily Mail’s gloating report, “BBC executives admitted the corporation is dominated by homosexuals and people from ethnic minorities, deliberately promotes multiculturalism, is anti-American, anti-countryside and more sensitive to the feelings of Muslims than Christians.”

In June 2007, a BBC-commissioned report found that the corporation existed in a “left-leaning comfort zone,” and that it had an “innate liberal bias.” The 80-page summary found that its broadcasting output was dominated by a liberal consensus that failed to give voice to a wide range of views.

Commenting favourably on the “White Season” in the Financial Times under the headline “White men unburdened,” John Lloyd noted that “A cultural movement is happening within liberal opinion. It no longer greets immigrants with open arms. They are welcome—but with tighter conditions, aimed at encouraging, even mandating, integration…. All these orotund concepts—assimilation, cultural diversity and mutual tolerance—are now in contest….

“This political shift has now spilled into Britain’s most important cultural institution, the BBC.”

The World Socialist Web Site has commented previously on the social and political evolution of a significant layer of the former liberal intelligentsia. From the Labour Party’s role as the chief ally of the Bush administration in the US and its doctrine of pre-emptive war, to the campaign by supporters of the New Statesman and the Euston Manifesto group against the “appeasement” of Islamic fundamentalism, former pacifists and leftists have become transformed into political apologists for free market capitalism and so-called liberal imperialism.

Domestically, faced with growing social inequality, a global economic recession and competition between rival nation states for control of vital markets and resources, the former liberals argue that it is no longer possible to sustain universal provision of health, education, housing and democratic rights. Rather these rights should be afforded, in general, to those born in Britain who have paid into the system. David Goodhart, editor of the pro-Blair Prospect magazine (for which Lloyd also writes), most famously propounded this view in the pages of the Guardian in 2004, accompanied by measures to “close the door” on immigration “before it’s too late.” “To put it bluntly, most of us prefer our own kind,” he declared.

Far from being “impartial,” the BBC’s “White Season” is a major attempt to encourage and legitimise this embrace of racial and ethnic politics as a justification for all manner of right-wing social and politic nostrums.

The highlight of the BBC’s efforts and by far the most politically revealing of the various programmes was Denys Blakeway’s revisiting of Conservative politician Enoch Powell’s infamous speech on immigration in 1968. Speaking before an audience of Conservative businessmen in Birmingham, Powell had warned of the dangers of racial integration in apocalyptic terms. Citing an unnamed Wolverhampton constituent, who was harassed by “wide-grinning piccaninnies” and “excreta pushed through her letterbox,” Powell—paraphrasing the Roman poet Virgil—foretold an imminent race war and “the Tiber foaming with much blood.”

In the documentary, Powell was portrayed as a “maverick” who “outraged the political establishment,” but “struck a chord with the public who wrote to him in their thousands, and London’s dockers came out on strike in support.” Its underlying thrust was that Powell’s sacking from the shadow cabinet the day after his speech meant that it was no longer possible to openly debate the dangers of unchecked immigration. Forty years on, the documentary suggested, Powell had been proven correct. Immigration and the policies of “multiculturalism” were jointly responsible directly for everything from the inner-city riots of the 1980s and 1990s to the July 7 London bombings.

A monetarist and free marketer when it was still considered socially inadvisable, Powell was in all essentials a forerunner of the Thatcherite Conservative Party. His economic proscriptions combined with his hostility to Britain joining the European Economic Community meant that he was a political opponent of then Conservative leader Edward Heath.

His speech was intended as a challenge to Heath by the Tory right. Deliberately inflammatory, it was directed against the Labour government’s planned introduction of the Race Relations Act prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of race in matters such as jobs and housing allocation—the notorious “no blacks, no Irish, no dogs” signs. Powell’s little white lady—whose existence was never proven—was a landlord who, he suggested, should be free to discriminate as she pleased.

Powell went on to leave the Conservative Party and joined the Ulster Unionist Party in 1974. By the end of Thatcher’s leadership, however, he was largely reconciled with the party.

None of this dealt was dealt with in the documentary. Nor was there any mention of inner-city poverty and police racism and harassment that actually sparked the riots in 1980 and 1990, much less the Iraq war that has done so much to fuel the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.

Diehard reactionaries such as Powell’s biographer and champion of a specifically English nationalism, Simon Heffer, and philosopher Conservative Roger Scruton were featured in the documentary, which began by stating that “in the wake of riots and terror attacks, many are now asking, was Enoch Powell right to predict disaster in his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech?” Juxtaposing negative comments on “multiculturalism” with scenes of the London bombings, it concluded, “ten years after his death, many believe that Powell’s arguments were often prescient.”

Here it is worth noting Blakeway’s remarks on television’s treatment of history at the Imperial War Museum in London in October 2004, in which he highlighted the importance of “revisionist” historians, able to put “the past in a different light, and whose views have often changed the way the past is perceived.”

The “reinterpretation”—or rather rehabilitation—of Powell is only the latest mea culpa offered by former liberals who have now embraced the ideas of the right. Following on from their support for pre-emptive war and the “war on terror,” they have now ditched their old policies of multiculturalism in favour of a repackaging of the neoconservative theory of the “Clash of Civilisations”—masquerading as a defence of the “white, working class.”