Mourning isn’t enough

This comment piece appeared in the i newspaper in the wake of the Manchester attacks We should be angry about the Manchester attack How inevitable it is, that at times like this all the sordid clichés and false apprehensions come out. That if it weren’t for a “reckless foreign policy” the Salman Abedis of this world would wish only peace upon the West. That without an innately Islamophobic British population forcing disenfranchised young men into the arms of the radicalisers, the Salman Abedis would not exist. That love and unity alone will protect our children from people who see them as fair game for nail-bombs. ‘People like Salman Abedi don’t want to “divide us”. They want to kill us’ Or perhaps the most flawed interpretation of all, that people like Salman Abedi simply “want to divide us”. After a day when the emergency services have been through the unspeakable task of picking up children’s limbs from the floor of an arena, how can you think that the main motive at work is social division? This isn’t about an ‘atmosphere’ The view that it’s better to internalise these things and turn the guilt and responsibility onto ourselves is an inherent lineament of the Left. Take Novara Media founder Aaron Bastani, who just over 12 hours after the attack put someone to rights on Twitter by edifyingly pointing out that “the point of these attacks is literally to create atmosphere of mistrust between Muslims and non-Muslims in Europe”. ‘People like Salman Abedi […]

Nottinghamshire guidebook

I was commissioned to write a guide book of my home county, Nottinghamshire, by Kingfisher Publishing. This covered all aspects of life in Nottinghamshire, from shopping to sports to where to dine out. You can view an e-version of this here.

Yes Mr Hunt, this is unacceptable

One of the few positives to note about Jeremy Hunt’s perennial tenure at the Department of Health, is that he’s actually been there long enough to witness his own policies, and rhetoric, unravel. Take the decision last year to scrap bursaries for student nurses. At the time it was obvious to seemingly everyone outside of the Cabinet that encumbering future nursing students with huge private debts would harm applications and jeopardise recruitment, not free up 10,000 new places as was spun at the time. Now the figures are bearing those warnings out – applications for nursing and midwifery training places for September are down 23% year on year. Of course, it wasn’t entirely down to Hunt – if anyone could pluck David Cameron out of the cosy lifestyle in which he’s now ensconced, we could ask him too. Then there’s A&E. Countless warnings over the years have been largely dismissed with casuistry and creative number-play. It takes a leak to the BBC to reveal that January’s A&E figures are likely to be the worst ever, with emergency departments falling dramatically short of their targets throughout England. Take your pick from the horror stories: the 500,000 hours spent by paramedics waiting to get into A&E; 12-hour waits for beds; photos of chaotic corridors reminiscent of, well, the last time the Conservatives were in power. In short: with each year that passes with Jeremy Hunt in charge of the NHS, A&E departments in England get steadily worse. With each year that passes […]

Welcome to the left

The thing about momentum, is that it has to be sustained. You can’t restart momentum; if something is slowing down it’s decelerating, with inertia the ultimate conclusion. The thing about Momentum, is that there’s absolutely no surprise it is decelerating. It was at best a bad idea, at worst a malevolent ploy, from the offing. There are those who say that Jeremy Corbyn’s doubters – yes, plotters before you scream it at me – had it in for him from day one. Well, they’re right, but I think they might have the wrong day in mind. From the day Momentum was set up, he lost all hope of ever winning some people back. Because they could foresee precisely what is now happening. The wisdom – and motivation – to allow to thrive a movement fundamentally at odds with the Labour Party in Parliament was questionable to say the very least.  The fact that Corbyn gave his blessing to an organisation which set itself up on an ‘Us vs Them’ platform, with ‘Them’ being the Labour Party, didn’t fill us with much hope. Nor did a rival event held at the same time as Conference,  designed to physically sort the ‘them’ from the ‘us’. But most reckless of all, was to willingly open the door to the sectarianism of the hard left tribes. Who, liberated from the task of having to even fight an election, have spent years tearing each other down over largely miniscule differences and individual mistrusts. Just look […]

Turkey is at a crossroads between democracy and dictatorship

In November the European Parliament voted to freeze Turkey’s bid to join the EU, with dire warnings over human rights violations, the systematic abuse of women and children, daily arrests of MPs and journalists, and a brutal campaign against the Kurdish minority. With a referendum in April likely to hand President Erdogan almost total executive power over Parliament, Turkey stands poised at the crossroads. The world needs to watch carefully to see which way it goes. “The police are at my door”, tweeted Selahattin Demirtas, in a last desperate message to his followers. Seconds later, officers forced their way in, arrested the MP, and dragged him off into the night. Demirtas hasn’t been heard from on Twitter since – that was three months ago. Somewhere during those same chaotic hours, his colleague and co-chair of the main Kurdish political party HDP, Figen Yuksekdag, was taken from her home, as were nine other MPs; Twitter, Facebook Whatsapp even YouTube all mysteriously shut down across Turkey. By morning it was confirmed 11 MPs from HDP- the third largest party in the Turkish parliament, with 6 million votes in the Turkish general election a year ago – had been arrested for alleged connections with proscribed Kurdish militant group the PKK. Since then, arrest warrants for four more HDP MPs have been issued and yet more Kurdish MPs – from other parties – have been targeted. Including Sebahat Tuncel, co-leader of the Democratic Unity Party (DBP), who was dragged away by police as she […]

Let’s drop the myth that Corbyn is the Messiah, then maybe we can make some progress

This article was posted on the Huffington Post in the week of Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election as Labour leader Let’s drop the myth that Corbyn is the Messiah, then maybe we can make some progress I take precisely zero pleasure in this. I’m actually quite depressed. If it weren’t for the private messages I receive on social media, or the frank conversations over a beer or two, with Corbynistas doubting their own Corbynianity (while still publicly whooping his name), I might not have the confidence to say all this. I’ve been to two Corbyn rallies now, with almost exactly a year in between, and the same thing has happened on both occasions. A ferment of excitement builds for days on end before; social media reaches meltdown; the big day finally arrives; the crowd swells, whipped up by speaker after speaker after speaker all praising the leader and detailing how Jeremy’s going to save the world (rarely any mention of him doing this from Downing Street by the way); the energy rises into a huge wave, climbing and towering and roaring towards the beach, and just as it is ready to peak and it feels like we’re all about to go surfing, something happens. It all fades away. Somewhere around 30 seconds into Jeremy’s speech: a sort of hush descends as the Leader starts off on a rather odd oratory journey, broken up by nervous swallowing, breathless unwieldy sentences that are hard to follow and sometimes impossible to establish as having ended, […]

The Corbynite legions have become the Tories’ most valuable allies

This comment piece originally appeared on The Huffington Post UK Politics section in July 2016 The Corbynite legions have become the Tories’ most valuable allies In a less surreal political era the sudden forced resignation of the Conservative Prime Minister would be a moment of panic for the Tories, and a golden opportunity that Labour would have jumped on. But nothing is quite as it should be now we’re through the political looking-glass. On one bizarre Friday morning alone we witnessed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. A little over a week later the UK is poised to leave the European Union; the faction of the Conservative Party which prompted the divorce is in the ascendancy both in the party and the country; and with victory in an almost inevitable early general election, the hard-right will dictate our future relationship with Europe and the shape of a post-EU Britain. There’s a part of me which suspects that, in some ways, the Labour leadership is secretly celebrating Brexit. There’s an even more uncomfortable notion lingering in my mind that Corbyn and his supporters don’t actually want to win power back from the Tories; that Labour now has a leader who doesn’t even want to be Prime Minister, backed up by a movement that would rather exist in perpetual, demonstrative opposition than bear the responsibility of government. But assuming I’m wrong and Jeremy Corbyn dreams of one day standing statesmanlike outside No.10, of facing down Putin and Merkel in heated […]

Humanity took a backward step on Thursday

Humanity took a backward step on Thursday One day, in December 1995, astronomers pointed the Hubble telescope at a black spot in the sky. It made no sense – this was a black spot in the sky the size of a tennis ball viewed from 100 metres away, containing no visible stars, dots, blobs or, well, anything. After 10 days of exposure, they took a look at the picture that emerged. A picture that’s now considered the most important image ever taken. They gazed in universal wonder at 3,000 swirling galaxies crammed into a space one 24-millionth the size of the sky, each containing, if our own galaxy the Milky Way is anything to go by, some 500 billion stars. From this image and subsequent Hubble Deep Field exposures, we have been able to calculate that the Universe is far, far larger than had previously been believed; some 47 billion light years across. The scale of the universe is beyond what we can comprehend. Its mind-boggling size makes the distances in our own life incomprehensibly small. The distances between what we choose to call countries, even continents an ocean apart, are beyond any definition of tiny. In fact between most countries there is literally zero physical distance – merely an imaginary line on a map. Yet look at the misery those infinitesimally small distinctions can cause. Rage, murder, fear, ignorance. Every day on this planet people are slaughtered; whole races denigrated; cultures resented and suffering ignored, over distances and differences […]

How can retailers generate revenue from Snapchat?

This article originally appeared in Retail Week magazine Anaylsis: How can retailers generate revenue from Snapchat and other social media? Snapchat has millions of users worldwide and the business recently announced that ecommerce functions might be just around the corner. Hours before the catwalk launch of its Spring/Summer 2016 collection, as last-minute finishing touches were still being made, Burberry gave its fans a peek behind the curtain. In what chief executive Christopher Bailey described as a “unique, real-time view of the creation of our show”, the retailer posted dozens of photos from behind the scenes, live to its millions of followers on Snapchat. A month later came another first – a full Snapchat advertising campaign, featuring product shots by famed fashion photographer Mario Testino, months ahead of the full print launch. Burberry was breaking new ground. And with more than 200 million views of the SS16 collection on Snapchat alone, breaking records as well. Burberry has also become the first brand to use Snapchat’s ‘Snapcode’ QR-code style feature that when scanned takes shoppers to the social networking app and delivers them exclusive content in store. That content includes a director’s cut of the new advert for the Mr Burberry fragrance. Throwing out the rulebook Social media has already made the old marketing rulebook virtually redundant. Within a few seconds a product shot can be seen, liked, posted and shared by millions of users. Within a few hours a trend can be born. And there’s a race to develop ecommerce functions now […]

In pictures: Paris

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Vaccine “free for all” market

This article  first appeared on the newstatesman.com in March 2016 Take a look at the World Health Assembly’s action plan on tackling the barriers to global vaccination, and time and time again, the almighty dollar comes up. The resolution, passed by all 193 countries present at the Assembly last summer, raises deep concerns about the “increased financial burden of new vaccines”; that “many low- and middle-income countries may not have the opportunity to access newer and improved vaccines, particularly because of the costs related to the procurement and introduction of these vaccines”; and that “globally immunization coverage has increased only marginally since the late 2000s”. Behind the resolution, on the floor of the Assembly, apparently the language wasn’t so polite. Delegates from almost 60 countries spoke out vituperatively against the high prices of vaccines as being the main culprits for the sickening lingering of killer diseases, and urged the global community to act. Take pneumonia. It is the biggest cause of childhood death under the age of five globally, claiming the lives of almost one million children each year – one every 35 seconds – yet in 2016 70 per cent of all the world’s children remain unprotected. The reasons why are complex and many, but humanitarian agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) says that it can name one for sure: the cost of vaccinations is prohibitively high. The life-saving pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) is big business. And the entire market, worth $30bn to date, is sewn up by just two companies: […]

Photography: head in the clouds
Whistleblowing doctors

How the government is leaving whistleblowing doctors to twist in the wind By Benedict Cooper To the untrained mind the sheer incomprehensibility of legal talk can make courtroom proceedings seem like a thick layer of cloud: featureless and unremarkable. But every now and then, a thunderbolt darts down and catches you by surprise. Sitting in Courtroom One of the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) two weeks ago, on the second floor of Fleetbank House, Salisbury Square – in the heart of the legal establishment – I had one of those moments. I was there to report on the latest stage in the legal odyssey of whistleblowing junior doctor Dr Chris Day, and frankly a lot of it was going over my head. That is until the barrister representing Health Education England (HEE) made a startling admission. It’s pretty remarkable that I was even there. Day is a rare species of doctor – perhaps an endangered species, if the judgement doesn’t go his way – who has held his nerve through two years of pressure since he ‘blew the whistle’ one night. Most never get half as far as he has, and it’s not hard to see why. The fulcrum of the case is a gap – or “lacuna”, to get into the legalese – in the laws protecting junior doctors when they blow the whistle. A gap which exists because of an ambiguity as to who is ultimately responsible for their career, and which Day’s case has revealed. The status quo […]

Photography: London Zone 1
Junior doctors are warning us

This article first appeared in the New Statesman on January 15 2016 Junior doctors aren’t just going on strike. They’re trying to warn us There’s a bigger story than just pay and conditions, warns Benedict Cooper. By Benedict Cooper On a bitterly cold afternoon in Nottingham’s Old Market Square, a group of junior doctors stood shivering together, banners in hand, pleading with the people hurrying by in thick winter coats and scarves to listen to their reasons for why they and colleagues throughout England are on strike. A few stopped, tapping their feet in the chill air; some even signed their petition. On the surface it’s about pay. But there’s something more serious going on – a lesson we ignore at our peril. Doctors are deeply concerned about safety on the wards. Why do they feel they have to take to the streets to tell people, rather than going through the official channels? Because that’s a dangerous game as well. Take the case of Dr Chris Day. When Day qualified in 2009, the idea that he was destined to cross swords with the Secretary of State for Health would have seemed ludicrous. Now he is embroiled in a dispute with the highest levels that has implications for the future of the controversial, and often misunderstood practice of ‘whistleblowing’. It all started one night back in January 2014. Day was working through the night on ICU at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, part of Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Trust. When two locum doctors […]

The refugee crisis/medical angle

With winter fast approaching the refugee crisis could become a medical disaster This article first appeared on OpenDemocracy As temperatures drop in eastern Europe, western attitudes to refugees cool. The Paris attacks have hardened many hearts, yet still the migrants arrive, at medical camps and aid agencies. When ISIS arrived in Mosul, Fatima knew that her son, a policeman, was in mortal danger. With his children they fled to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, a safer place for now but with little future to offer a displaced family. So Fatima set off on her own, on a tortuous journey in search of a better life for the family. She flew to Istanbul, then made her way to the Turkish coast, straight into the hands of people smugglers. When the boat she was on reached the Isle of Lesbos there was no beach to land on so she and the other passengers were slung overboard to swim to shore. If it wasn’t for two younger men supporting her as they swam Fatima, in her mid 60s and overweight, says she would surely have drowned. “I had nothing to lose when I left Iraq”, said Fatima, as she waited anxiously for the ambulance to arrive to take her to hospital. “I am old. I took the risk so that my family can live”. … While arriving in Europe, into the arms of volunteer doctors, is a moment of salvation in the eyes of those who have survived that far, what they […]

The attack on Kunduz Trauma Centre

This article was first published on OpenDemocracy in November OUT OF THE DARKNESS of the Afghan night, in the skies over the Kunduz Trauma Centre, the faint drone of propellers could be heard. Then, the bombing began. The intensive care unit (ICU), where the most critically ill adults and children silently lay, kept  alive only by ventilators, was first to be hit. For the next hour the American AC-130 gunship circled its target, unleashing “concentrated volleys” of rockets on the medical centre. As staff escaped the building and fled, they were cut down by machine gun fire from above. What they saw in that terrible hour on October 3, and in the grim aftermath, was enough to test the most conflict-hardened medic. Patients burning to death in their beds in ICU; two killed while lying on the operating table; the decapitated body of a colleague; the charred remains of children lying in the blood and the dust. Frantic efforts to temper the chaos followed: a desk in the undamaged administrative building was converted into an operating theatre to perform emergency operations on staff and patients left dismembered, with open chest wounds, ruptured abdominal blood vessels and severe shock. While the sun came up, the hell continued. As the wounded were rushed out to ambulances dispatched by the Ministry of Public Health to take them to hospital, fresh clashes erupted outside the compound leaving one ambulance riddled with bullet holes as it took patients away. _ What isn’t up for question […]

Debunking the government’s NHS conference spin

It was David Cameron’s birthday last week. The big day was actually Friday, but the gifts began pouring in much sooner. An hour of conference-talk was enough to convince seemingly most of the political commentariat that the Conservatives are now the true guardians of left wing politics. Including the Blairite right, that is pursuing vengeance on the new leadership with such venom that it happily cheers Tory spin over anything Labour now says or does. Exactly how a party which is working away at, say, the Trade Union Bill – a legislative two fingers up to everything the Left stands for – can possibly be described as left-wing, I don’t know. Birthday treat perhaps. But if you want to see just how well David did last week, you need to look no further than the speech by his Secretary of State for Health. The fact that Jeremy Hunt could stand up and with a straight face say that the Conservatives want to be “the party of the NHS” is one thing; that so much of the press believed him and, more importantly, didn’t check that statement against the reality, is something else. I wonder if it occurred to him that there are currently 13 trusts in special measures, and 33 without chief executives, when he said “there is no greater privilege in government than being responsible for our NHS”. Even if the Department of Health didn’t lean on Monitor to delay a hideous set of financial figures until after the […]