Interesting display of priorities by the Conservative government here.
It has bought 100 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, enough to vaccinate 50 million people, having approved its supply with the first doses to be given on Monday.
This compares with just 40 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that was approved in early December – enough for 20 million people, with doses already supplied to nearly 700,000.
Is it a coincidence that – as revealed by the New York Times – Lord Deighton, the Tory procurement tsar whose attempts to get personal protective equipment went so badly wrong, is a shareholder in AstraZeneca?
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved for use in the UK, with the first doses due to be given on Monday amid rising coronavirus cases.
The UK has ordered 100 million doses – enough to vaccinate 50 million people.
This will cover the entire population, when combined with the full order of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.
Meanwhile, the number of new Covid-19 cases has soared again, to 53,135 on December 29. This is due to the Tories’ failure to make any real effort to control the spread of the virus.
Even in the current lockdown, schools will reopen when term begins in January – and schools are now recognised as the principle vector for the spread of the disease.
It’s almost as though someone had created an urgent need for a vaccine, in order to supply that demand.
It’s just paranoia. And I shouldn’t mind that somebody is getting very rich indeed from the suffering of millions of people.
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
This Site took a (small) degree of flak after I raised questions about the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine that Boris Johnson had touted as 90 per cent effective.
It turned out that the extra effectiveness only worked when a lower dose was administered first (of the two that were provided to test subjects).
It was enough for me to flag up concern – and that was enough for some people to complain. “Why the negative spin?”
Perhaps because there’s more to it, as the New York Times has revealed:
The regimen that appeared to be 90 percent effective was based on participants receiving a half dose of the vaccine followed a month later by a full dose; the less effective version involved a pair of full doses. AstraZeneca disclosed in its initial announcement that fewer than 2,800 participants received the smaller dosing regimen, compared with nearly 8,900 participants who received two full doses.
The biggest questions were, why was there such a large variation in the effectiveness of the vaccine at different doses, and why did a smaller dose appear to produce much better results? AstraZeneca and Oxford researchers said they did not know.
Crucial information was also missing. The company said that the early analysis was based on 131 symptomatic Covid-19 cases that had turned up in study participants. But it did not break down how many cases were found in each group of participants — those who received the half-strength initial dose, the regular-strength initial dose and the placebo.
Adding to the confusion, AstraZeneca pooled the results from two differently designed clinical trials in Britain and Brazil, a break from standard practice in reporting the results of drug and vaccine trials.
The company had not intended for any participants to receive the half dose. British researchers running the trial there had meant to give the full dose initially to volunteers, but a miscalculation meant they were mistakenly given only a half dose.
To many outside experts, that undercut the credibility of the results because the closely calibrated clinical trials had not been designed to test how well a half-strength initial dose worked.
The company’s initial announcement didn’t mention the accidental nature of the discovery.
Then… Moncef Slaoui, the head of Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. initiative to fast-track coronavirus vaccines, noted another limitation in AstraZeneca’s data. On a call with reporters, he suggested that the participants who received the half-strength initial dose had been 55 years old or younger.
Mr. Pangalos confirmed that on Wednesday, saying the participants received the half-strength dose over a matter of weeks before the error was discovered.
The fact that the initial half-strength dose wasn’t tested in older participants, who are especially vulnerable to Covid-19, could undermine AstraZeneca’s case to regulators that the vaccine should be authorized for emergency use.
So the vaccine’s 90 per cent effectiveness only works on people aged 55 or younger. For older people, it was 62 per cent effective – a significant drop, and enough to jeopardise the vaccine’s bid to be fast-tracked into use.
Johnson would have had it pressed into service straight away, if he could.
And how would that have affected older people who would then be encouraged to take it, based on a false belief?
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
How pleasing to see that the UK’s universities are turning out students who can think for themselves – even if their lecturers would rather they didn’t.
Students at Oxford University’s School of Geography were dismayed when a photograph of Theresa May was displayed as part of a series celebrating former students who were female.
They swiftly set up a “free space” around the portrait, encouraging fellow students to share their opinions in creative ways.
And now the portrait has been removed.
It seems some of these opinions may have been a little too much for the faculty to bear.
University authorities say the portrait would be re-displayed so it could be seen as intended – by them, if not by the students.
This seems entirely undemocratic.
The students have spoken – against the celebration of Mrs May, as you can see from the following, which appeared in the Mirror:
“A Twitter account called “NotAllGeographers” was set up to protest the portrait. Students put up a “free space” asking people to share their thoughts on pieces of coloured paper surrounding the photograph of the PM who graduated with a second-class degree in 1977.
“One student wrote: “School of Geography and (Hostile????) Environment” [sic], while another message said: “Let in every refugee, throw the Tories in the sea.”
“Andrew Dwyer, a cyber security and geography student, wrote on social media: “(Not so) Great to see Theresa May placed alongside Doreen Massey in [the School of Geography], apparently one of the best alumnae we have. I don’t really wish to celebrate a hostile environment for immigrants, if I’m honest.”
“The campaigning group said on Twitter: “#NotAllGeographers have creatively intervened for geographers everywhere to challenge the installation of a Theresa May portrait in Oxford Geography without consultation of the student body (at least). This is unacceptable and does little to inspire confidence in critical thought.””
The authorities at Oxford University, it seems, aren’t keen on critical thought. And we already know they’re not keen on democracy either.
It’s no wonder they are so enthusiastic about Theresa May.
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Network Rail owns Britain’s railway tracks. When they were privately owned by Railtrack, there were several fatal crashes [Image: Jonathan Brady/PA].
The man responsible for the “slave labour” work placement schemes that made huge profits for companies by making people work for benefits has turned his talents to bringing death back to our railways.
But company bosses need not worry – Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has already ensured that nobody will be able to bring court cases against them if the worst happens, because he already made justice too expensive during his time as Lord Chancellor.
No doubt Mr Grayling is already preparing his excuses – he is, after all, the man who accused unemployed people of being scroungers after he scrounged more than £100,000 in expenses for a London flat, despite having a family home nearby.
He is already claiming that putting the new Oxford-to-Cambridge rail route in completely private hands is not a prelude to fully privatising the rail network, even though that is exactly how it appears.
And how well did that work last time?
The rail network – track, signalling, tunnels, bridges, level crossings and all but a handful of the stations – passed into the hands of a company called Railtrack for a period between 1994, when rail privatisation took place, and 2002.
We all learned very quickly that privatising the infrastructure meant the company concerned would rather forego its duty to improve the system in favour of trying to turn a profit.
Serious shortcomings were identified, there were fatal crashes at Southall and Ladbroke Grove, and then the Hatfield crash of 2000 – a metal fatigue-induced derailment that killed four people and injured 70 – exposed the extent to which the rail network had been allowed to fall into disrepair.
Railtrack had absolutely no idea how many more Hatfields were waiting to happen on its sorely-neglected stock. and after the public organisation Network Rail took over, it has been estimated that repair work cost £580 million.
Now Mr Grayling thinks we have all forgotten the darkest days of the UK’s railways.
He should think again.
But this bonehead is so stupid, another fatal accident will probably happen before he does.
The government has unveiled plans for a fully privatised railway line, with track and trains operated by the same company.
A new route linking Oxford and Cambridge will not be developed by Network Rail, the owner of Britain’s rail infrastructure. Instead, a new entity will be responsible for track and infrastructure, as well as operating train services, under proposals drawn up by the transport secretary, Chris Grayling.
In a keynote speech on Tuesday, Grayling will outline how the government plans to reunite the operation of tracks and trains, which are currently the respective responsibility of publicly owned Network Rail and private train operating companies (TOCs).
While officials at the Department for Transport have disputed reports that Grayling is seeking more immediate challenges to Network Rail, unions pledged to fight the proposed changes.
The RMT union said Grayling’s rail plans would recreate privatisation chaos that it claims he introduced in the prison system as justice secretary.
Grayling denied he was intent on privatisation. “I don’t intend to sell off the existing rail network. I don’t intend to privatise Network Rail again,” he told Today. He said the Oxford and Cambridge rail link would be developed by a separate company outside Network Rail in the same way that the Crossrail link had been developed in London.
Cameron and cannabis: It is said that the Prime Minister smoked ‘wacky baccy’ at Eton (or maybe in Oxford), but that’ doesn’t mean he’s ready to legalise it! What about other MPs? The debate is today (October 12).
Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party will receive its first test today (Monday) with an adjournment debate to be launched by one of his own MPs, who supports military action in Syria – against the wishes of her boss.
Jo Cox should know her proposal for “a three-pronged strategy in which military intervention by UK forces would complement fresh humanitarian and diplomatic initiatives” doesn’t have enough detail to be persuasive, but she’s probably hoping this won’t matter.
As the Graun stated, “it would be a huge blow to the leader’s authority if a vote was passed with the backing of a sizable number of Labour MPs”.
It would also be a huge blow to the credibility of the Parliamentary Labour Party as a whole if a large number of its MPs rebelled against the wishes of the 59 per cent of the party who want to see Mr Corbyn’s policies supported in the Commons.
Ms Cox must be aware of this, so it is difficult to fathom the reasoning behind her actions. Let us hope she will illuminate us all during the debate.
Another kind of illumination is enjoyed by people who partake of the cannabis plant for recreational amusement.
An e-petition calling for Parliament to legalise the controversial recreational drug has achieved more than the required 100,000 signatures needed for it to be considered for debate – and is to get that debate in the Westminster Hall, between 4.30 and 7.30pm.
It has been said that cannabis has many medicinal uses, not least in pain relief, but some doctors say it can cause serious mental health issues also. Attempts to refine the drug, emphasising its beneficial effects, are taking place.
Will that be a feature of the debate? We’ll soon find out.
The Conservatives’ latest negative campaign advert: The Tories seem to think they are the only party who should be allowed to steal the cash from poor people.
Twice, in a matter of days, Vox Political‘s findings on political issues have been supported by the evidence of a scholar.
Today, the Mainly Macroblog written by Professor Simon Wren-Lewis, who teaches Economics at Oxford University, supports This Writer’s argument that the so-called economic recovery, that began in 2013, had little or nothing positive to do with the Coalition Government or George Osborne’s policies.
“The idea that austerity during the first two years of the coalition government was vindicated by the 2013 recovery is so ludicrous that it is almost embarrassing to have to explain why,” he writes.
“Imagine that a government on a whim decided to close down half the economy for a year. That would be a crazy thing to do, and with only half as much produced everyone would be a lot poorer. However a year later when that half of the economy started up again, economic growth would be around 100%. The government could claim that this miraculous recovery vindicated its decision to close half the economy down the year before. That would be absurd, but it is a pretty good analogy with claiming that the 2013 recovery vindicated 2010 austerity.”
That’s right. George Osborne did huge harm to the economy when he imposed austerity in 2010, choking off Labour’s recovery. It is senseless for him to claim that easing off on that policy has created an economic miracle. As this blog has repeatedly stated, any economic recovery enjoyed by the UK has had nothing to do with the actions of the Coalition Government.
It is important to remember that the Tories intend to impose even deeper austerity if they win the election next month, causing catastrophic harm to anyone who isn’t in the richest 10 per cent of the population.
But why do this at all? What was the point of it?
A commenter to this blog’s Facebook page put it very well only today. Tracey Wilkinson Clarke wrote: “Corporations and capitalism [were]crashing…the banking crisis was created … as a reason to bring in austerity measures to feed the money back up to the few.” This opinion is supported by an article on this blog at the time.
It is also supported by the Conservative Party’s most recent anti-SNP campaign advert. Following on from David Cameron’s overheard comment on television last week, that Alex Salmond was a pickpocket, the advert has an image of the SNP candidate reaching towards a member of the public’s pocket, with the tagline, “Don’t let the SNP grab your cash.”
It is Conservative Party policy to do exactly that – and hand it over to the very rich in the form of tax breaks (both personal and business-orientated), tax avoidance, lucrative public ‘service’ contracts, and shares in privatised utilities.
Iain Duncan Smith: He’s proud of the sanctions regime he introduced, in which Job Centre staff are expected to use possibly-fraudulent means to push people off benefits – and he doesn’t care how many people they harm.
The Coalition government will be crowing about the latest drop in unemployment today – according to official statistics. What a shame it’s all a load of bunk.
New research by Oxford University and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine has shown that only around one-fifth (20 per cent) of people who have been sanctioned off of Jobseekers’ Allowance have actually found work, leaving 1.6 million in limbo; they’re off the benefits system but researchers can only surmise that they are relying on food banks.
(Isn’t the Coalition government desperate to discredit food banks? Are ministers determined to drive the out-of-work population to starvation?)
This suggests that official Office for National Statistics figures are inaccurate. The latest batch – out today (January 21, 2015) – claim that unemployment dropped by 58,000 in the three months to November last year, when it totalled 1.91 million.
How can we trust these figures when it has been claimed there’s a sanction-based stitch-up going on?
The new figures are from the same ONS that is claiming wages are rising above inflation. Oh really? The figures show average earnings (excluding bonuses) rose by 1.8 per cent, which is more than the CPI rate of inflation – but not more than RPI, which is a more accurate measure of the costs affecting households.
What happens to those figures when executive pay is taken out of them? What’s the average for employees?
The revelation that sanctions have created a huge underclass of people – who have been refused benefits by Iain Duncan Smith’s homicidal system – casts all the ONS statistics into doubt.
If 1.6 million people are being denied benefits, that doesn’t stop them being unemployed.
Therefore the true unemployment figure should be almost twice as high as stated, at a massive 3.51 million.
That’s before other elements, such as the Work Programme, have been taken into account!
And what about the hidden cost of sanctions – to other taxpayer-funded services?
Professor David Stuckler of Oxford University explained this to The Guardian: “If, as we’re finding, people are out of work but without support – disappeared from view – there’s a real danger that other services will absorb the costs, like the NHS, possibly jails and food support systems, to name a few. Sanctions could be costing taxpayers more.”
Debbie Abrahams is a member of the House of Commons Work and Pensions committee, which was due to take evidence on benefit sanctions today. She told the paper: “This government has developed a culture in which Jobcentre Plus advisers are expected to sanction claimants using unjust, and potentially fraudulent, reasons in order get people ‘off-flow’. This creates the illusion the government is bringing down unemployment.”
[Image: The Void.]
Finally, there is the revelation that “physical punishment is now built into the benefit system, with sanctions both known and intended to cause a deterioration in health, says the DWP rule book”. Visit the Void blog for further details.
The evidence is stacking up, and shows that the Coalition government has falsified the figures to a shocking extent.
Any new government entering office after the general election will face an uphill struggle simply to uncover the depth of the depravity currently taking place.
You see, Mr Brown is MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath – in Scotland.
Labour is extremely unpopular in Scotland at the moment, where the SNP has whipped up a belief (rightly or wrongly) that the party betrayed the people by siding with the Conservatives – even though, as a supporter of the union, Labour could not do anything else. Mr Brown, who raised concerns over the future of state pensions in an independent Scotland, has been singled out for special criticism.
In these circumstances, will Labour’s London-based leadership really be so insensitive as to ‘parachute’ an ally of the leader’s office into the constituency? This would be someone who is unlikely to bear any resemblance to a traditional Labour candidate, and is more likely to be a privately-educated Oxbridge graduate who has spent their entire career at a thinktank or working as a SPAD (special adviser) for a sitting MP.
Such an appointment would be entirely inappropriate and would signal that Labour is not interested in retaining the seat; the mood in Scotland means voters would take it as an incentive to support another party, most probably the SNP.
It is possible that Labour would leave the selection open to the constituency party, as its declared intent was to take over selections from the middle of next month; again, the course of action that is chosen will determine the response from the local electorate.
Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath would be far better-off with a Labour candidate chosen from local residents, with a deep knowledge and understanding of the area and what it needs, having lived and worked there for his or her entire life.
This strategy succeeded with Liz Mckinnes, the newly-elected MP for Heywood and Middleton and should offer the best chance of success elsewhere.
Postscript: Readers are reminded that Gordon Brown is the other recent prime minister who has had a disabled child.
We all know how David Cameron rose to the challenge of his late son Ivan’s cerebral palsy and epilepsy – he used it in a series of photo opportunities and then, after Ivan’s death at a tragically young age, went on to use his memory as a shield whenever his ill-treatment of the National Health Service or disability benefits were raised in Parliamentary debate.
In contrast, Mr Brown chose to suffer in comparative silence. His daughter, Jennifer Jane, died after suffering a brain haemorrhage, on January 7, 2002, just 10 days after her birth. His son James Fraser (born in 2006) was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, but Mr Brown would have kept this information private if The Sun had not published an intrusive report. Years later, he said the publication had left him “in tears“.
Whose behaviour would you describe as more dignified; more prime ministerial; more statesmanlike?
A day out with their minders: If you have ever sat amazed at decisions made by criminal court judges, rest easy in the knowledge that they come from deeply sheltered backgrounds and simply don’t know any better.
If you have ever wondered why you couldn’t get on in life, despite all the talent anyone should ever need… now you know the truth. It’s because you didn’t go to a private school and you didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge University.
According to the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, 71 per cent of senior judges, 62 per cent of senior armed forces officers, 55 per cent of top civil servants, 43 per cent of newspaper columnists and 36 per cent of the Cabinet are members of a deeply elitist “cosy club” who were educated at private schools (Owen Jones, writing in The Guardian, commented: “It is quite something when the ‘cabinet of millionaires’ is one of the less unrepresentative pillars of power”).
Also privately-educated were 45 per cent of chairmen/women of public bodies, 44 per cent of the Sunday Times Rich List, and 26 per cent of BBC executives. Where are the naysayers who claim the BBC is a Leftie haven now?
When it comes to Oxbridge graduates, the situation worsens – they have a “stranglehold” on top jobs, according to The Guardian, which adds: “They comprise less than one per cent of the public as a whole, but 75 per cent of senior judges, 59 per cent of cabinet ministers, 57 per cent of permanent secretaries, 50 per cent of diplomats, 47 per cent of newspaper columnists, 44 per cent of public body chairs, 38 per cent of members of the House of Lords, 33 per cent of BBC executives, 33 per cent of shadow cabinet ministers, 24 per cent of MPs and 12 per cent of those on the Sunday Times Rich List.
My personal belief is that this should be no surprise to anybody – I’ve known it ever since the then-headteacher at my high school proudly announced that the only sixth-former on their way to Oxford, one year back in the 1980s, was his own daughter. Even then it wasn’t about what you knew but who Daddy was.
At least it is official now.
The person who should be least surprised by these findings is Commission chairman and Labour turncoat Alan Milburn. He does not come from a nobby background but has been absorbed into the group – possibly in gratitude for a series of betrayals of his own kind that began when he entered government.
Milburn was one of the Labour MPs who embraced neoliberalism in the 1990s. His reward was a place in the Cabinet as Minister of State for Health, then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and then Health Secretary. He was also honorary president of the neoliberal thinktank Progress, which works hard to foist right-wing ideas onto the Labour Party.
It is no wonder, then, that Milburn subsequently became the darling of David Cameron’s Coalition government, being offered a role as ‘social mobility tsar’. It is in this role that he has delivered the current report on elitism.
According to that great source of knowledge Wikipedia, Milburn’s role was about “advising the government on how to break down social barriers for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and help[ing] people who feel they are barred from top jobs on grounds of race, religion, gender or disability”.
Nearly four-and-a-half years into a five-year Parliament, Milburn came out with this report, and I’m willing to bet that, if a similar document had been compiled before Labour left office, evidence would show that the situation has worsened, not improved.
Even now, David Cameron is probably congratulating Milburn on what a great job he has done – achieving nothing.
In fairness, even a man like Milburn could not ignore such clear findings and the report describes the situation as “elitism so stark that it could be called social engineering“.
What is more interesting about the situation is the fact that it has been described as a ‘closed shop’, a term more readily-associated with those bitter opponents of privilege – the trade unions.
A closed shop is an agreement under which an employer agrees to hire union members only, and employees must remain members of the union at all times in order to remain employed. That is definitely what the report is demonstrating and, considering the elite’s antipathy to the unions, it is further demonstration of the high-handed and corrupt attitude of these types – their belief that they should be a law unto themselves.
This in fact provides us with the only positive element to come out of this report. It gives jobseekers a decent reason for being unable to secure work – all the best jobs are being hogged by overprivileged twits!
Owen Jones’s Guardian article suggests of the situation: “In the case of the media this has much to do with the decline of the local newspapers that offered a way in for the aspiring journalist with a non-gilded background; the growing importance of costly post-graduate qualifications that are beyond the bank accounts of most; and the explosion of unpaid internships, which discriminate on the basis of whether you are prosperous enough to work for free, rather than whether you are talented.”
That is not my experience.
I did my post-graduate journalism course with help from a training scheme run by the Tory government of the time – the Department of Social Security paid for my education in that respect. My recollection is that I was one of the highest-achievers on that course; considering my future career, this indicates that there is truth behind the ‘closed shop’ claim of the new report.
My experience on local newspapers is that they are more likely to offer a way in for aspiring “non-gilded” reporters now than when I entered. While I was fully-qualified when I was hired by my first employer in Bristol, here in Mid Wales the papers have seemed happy to hire people with no qualifications at all, and train them up. There are no unpaid internships here, to my knowledge.
That being said, management practices in the press are so bad that I am constantly amazed anybody bothers trying to work for these idiots at all.
My first paper was passed from one company to another in a “gentleman’s agreement” on a golf course. It meant that I took an effective pay cut, being forced to travel 30 miles further to work and receiving a lower-than-normal pay rise when I became a senior reporter.
Another paper was doing quite well when I joined, offering healthy bonuses for all employees at Christmas. I never got to benefit from this, though, because bosses foolishly took on at great cost a ‘general manager’ who managed all our profits away and then persuaded them to sell up to a much larger firm that stripped the operation to the bone and hoovered up all the profits. Quality plummeted and (after I left) so did sales.
A third paper’s solution to declining sales was a plan to cut back the number of reporters while keeping the management structure intact. That’s right – they reduced the number of people writing the stories that sold the papers. Then they attacked the remaining reporters for the continued drop in sales and absolutely refused to entertain any notion that they might have got the situation arse-backward.
That is why I agree with the UK Commission for Education and Skills, which said that “poor management hinders UK competitiveness”, and with the comment on that report in Flip Chart Fairy Tales, that “poorly managed firms drag a country’s score down and Britain has more than its fair share of them”.
The Milburn report puts the seal on the problem: Firms are poorly-managed because the people at the top are over-privileged fools who got into their position thanks to Daddy’s money rather than any talent of their own.
As the banking crisis – caused by these very people – and the subsequent, slowest economic recovery in UK history demonstrate starkly for all to see, these private-school, Oxford and Cambridge ignoramuses are worse than useless when it comes to managing an economy.
There is nothing you can do about it while a Conservative-led government is in power because that is exactly how David Cameron and his cronies like it.
(What am I saying? Of course they like it – they and their friends are the private-school, Oxford and Cambridge ignoramuses who are cocking up the system!)
You only need to read the ‘Revolving Doors’ column in Private Eye to see how these goons lurch from one failure to another – always finding a new job after each disaster because of the Old School Tie.
It is long past time we saw a few highly-prejudicial sackings but our sad, fat ‘captains of industry’ just don’t have the guts.
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