Tag Archives: The News Quiz

Our entertainers give us facts while our politicians have nothing to say

Speaking their mind: Rufus Hound and Kate Nash had the courage to speak their mind about the NHS and education - but they don't have enough influence to change government policy. What will it take?

Speaking their mind: Rufus Hound and Kate Nash had the courage to voice their opinions about the NHS and education – but they don’t have enough influence to change government policy. What will it take to make that happen?

This could have been designed to follow my rant about politics being about perception: In response to a news report that NHS doctors’ surgeries have been found to be filthy, radio listeners were treated to a lengthy monologue on why the media are running down the health service to make it easier for the government to sell it out from under us.

This lesson was delivered, not by an eminent politician, but by the comedian Rufus Hound. He was speaking on Radio 4’s The News Quiz.

And he said: “Does this not scare anyone, though?

“There are a lot of stories coming out at the moment about all the ways that the NHS is failing. At the same time there is privatisation by stealth. Now, if you’re a conspiracy theorist, maybe those two things just resolve themselves. If you’re a normal person, you’ve got to become a conspiracy theorist, haven’t you?

“The number of contracts being put out to private companies has gone up through the roof. All of the pre-election promises of no privatisation of the NHS, and that the budget would be ring-fenced – it was ring-fenced but not in real terms, so it is a cut in the truest sense…

“The NHS is being sold out from under us, and yet all the stories that come out from the powerful oligarchs who run the media are either about how it’s failing and how much better off we’d be if it was privatised, or why privatisation can’t happen quickly enough for any one of a number of other reasons.

“The reason those surgeries are filthy is, there’s not enough investment to keep them clean and tidy. The argument isn’t ‘privatise’; the argument is ‘invest more’.

“In the Olympics, there was that big moment where they had ‘NHS’ and everybody stood up and applauded, and I think it was Norman Lamont who said, ‘The nearest thing the British people have to a religion is the NHS’ – and we’re just letting it go.

People should be on the streets.

“And I realise that, for this to make the edit, it should have a punchline.”

He knew, you see. He knew that this great speech was in danger of being lost if it wasn’t sufficiently entertaining.

Thank goodness producer Sam Michell kept it in, but it should not be up to an entertainer like Rufus to tell us these things. Such matters are the province of politicians. The simple fact that our representatives aren’t “on the streets” with us about this says everything we need to know about them.

Here’s another example: Education. I was in the unfortunate position of having to sit through Andrew Neil’s This Week on Thursday evening. I’m not a fan of that show, but it meant I was lucky enough to see former pop starlet Kate Nash, there to talk about her film (The Powder Room) and modern manners, slip in a quick observation about education that undermines everything ever said by Michael ‘rote-learning-is-the-only-way’ Gove.

She said, “There are certain things we need to be addressing, that are being completely missed – and that’s to do with education being inspiring and interesting for young people, rather than just about purely passing tests and pressure.”

She hit the nail on the head without even looking; Gove couldn’t find it with a map and a guide.

Again, she is an entertainer; she should not be having to say these things, but we should be glad that she did. The moment was glossed over entirely in the BBC News website report of the debate. Perhaps we should be happy that they didn’t edit the comment out altogether (it starts around two minutes, 15 seconds into the video clip).

We are left with politicians who refuse to do their duty and defend our services from those who would destroy them, and celebrities who are left to pick up the slack – if, with a biased media, they can find a way to keep their words from ending up on the cutting-room floor.

What hope can we possibly have that anyone with any clout will defend our beloved, but beleaguered, taxpayer-funded services?

Worst of all is the fact that it falls to people like myself to even write about these matters, and we all have lives of our own. Rufus and Kate made their speeches on Thursday; it is now Sunday, and I could not have written this article any sooner.

We’ve all heard that a lie can travel around the world several times before the truth has got its boots on. This is because the liars own the media, and those of us who are interested in the truth have small voices, are easily ignored, or can be dismissed because “it’s only entertainment”.

At least high-profile figures have a better chance of being heard. There will be those telling Rufus and Kate and who knows who else to get back in their box and shut up, but I won’t be one of them. I think we should be “on the streets” with them.

I’m wondering if any more members of ‘The Great And The Good’ will have the bottle to speak their mind.

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Lies, lobbying, Lynton – and a last insult before the long summer break

Taking instructions: Who's on the line, Lynton? Your boss David Cameron, your bosses at Philip Morris, or one of your many other clients?

Taking instructions: What’s that on the line, Lynton? Your boss David Cameron, your bosses at Philip Morris, or one of your many other clients? Or maybe your job?

How nice to see that concerns raised on this blog about the undue influence exerted on MPs by their other interests have been raised in Parliament, along with a Bill to publicise attempts to influence MPs by lobbying organisations.

What a shame that the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill was introduced on the last day before the Parliamentary summer recess in order to prevent anyone complaining about what it contains, is a load of self-serving rubbish that isn’t worth the paper it has been written on – and as such is a symptom, not only of the state of the current government, but of modern UK politics in general (I blame whoever runs the Politics, Philosophy and Economics course at Oxford).

As Unlock Democracy – the campaigning group for democracy, rights and freedoms – puts it, the new bill “is not a statutory register of lobbyists, which the government committed itself to in its coalition agreement; it is a statutory register of lobbying consultants. That simple change has, at a stroke, exempted more than 80 per cent of the £2 billion lobbying industry from having to comply with the register.”

This means the bill does not address the problem of lobbying at all. UD director Alexandra Runswick said: “The problem with lobbying is not the respectable lobbying consultants who abide by a code of practice and already work in a relatively transparent way; the problem is the more underhand activity, whether it is employed by consultants, think tanks, law firms, in-house lobbyists or private individuals.

“By establishing such a gaping loophole, the government will simply drive business away from lobbying consultants and into the arms of less reputable agencies.

“This bill is the next big scandal waiting to happen.”

The organisation has published its own draft bill, that seeks, in the words of Green MP Caroline Lucas, “to deliver real transparency over who is lobbying whom, what’s being spent and who lobbyists are working for – if a special adviser is also working for a tobacco company we need to know about it.” Step forward, Lynton Crosby – the next big scandal.

Mr Crosby, who is David Cameron’s election strategist, works for a company of ‘campaign specialists’ called Crosby Textor, that advised private healthcare providers on how to exploit perceived “failings” in the NHS, according to The Guardian, and of course also works for tobacco giant Philip Morris International.

This is, of course, a huge conflict of interest and Messrs Cameron and Crosby had only themselves to blame when a political row erupted after the government suddenly dropped its much-publicised plans to remove all branding from cigarette packets.

Hugo Rifkind sent up the situation on Radio 4’s The News Quiz (Friday, July 19): “Lynton Crosby… is a strategist for the Conservative Party, and also a lobbyist on behalf of tobacco companies, and there’s an outrageous suggestion that this whole thing about plain packaging on cigarette packets could be somehow linked to his other role… Lynton Crosby is obviously a fine, upstanding man, he has obviously done nothing wrong. Obviously he has completely compartmentalised these two parts of his life and I’m really amazed we’re even talking about it.”

In an interview, David Cameron said he made the decision to U-turn on cigarette packaging at the kitchen table in his Downing Street flat.

But the flat is accepted as being territory that is not recognised as a place for meetings with anybody – lobbyists included – and the comedy Prime Minister did not say whether Mr Crosby was in the room (or had been) when he made that decision.

So what we see is a weak show of willingness to legislate, completely undermined by a strong demonstration of the hold that corporate lobbyists have over their servants in politics – including, in this case, the British Prime Minister. It seems he is working for them, not you.

Michael Meacher’s blog provides a handy list of other inadequacies in the Lobbying Bill:

It allows professional lobbying firms to keep their clients secret, provided they limit their meetings to special advisers and mid-rank officials; they will only have to reveal their clients if they meet ministers or permanent secretaries.

The register of lobbyists it will set up will exclude companies whose lobbying activities constitutes only a small part of the business.

It also discriminates against trade unions even though they are campaigning organisations, not lobbyists.

The bill limits the amount trade unions and other registered ‘third parties’ can contribute directly to general election campaigns by three-fifths, from £988,000 to £390,000. And it proposes that unions will be forced to undergo annual audits on the size of their membership.

Neither measure has anything to do with the bill’s main purpose and both should be struck from it before it is allowed onto the statute book.

And, as Mr Meacher notes, there is “not a word about the £25bn a year the Tory party get from hedge funds and the banks which makes them the biggest lobbyists of all”.

Perhaps those who drafted this nonsense (it is sponsored by Andrew Lansley, who was responsible for that other great travesty, the Health and Social Care Act 2012), should take time during the summer recess to consider withdrawing it altogether and replacing it with something fit for purpose.

With this government, that would be a refreshing change.

The petition for REAL MP accountability – proposing that they be banned from voting on matters in which they have a financial interest – is at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/44971

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