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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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: […]

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 […]

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 […]

The law students who took on the DWP

First published in the New Statesman, September 30th 2015 Law students had to help a man in debilitating pain fight being declared “fit to work” Disabled claimants are increasingly vulnerable, with justice more difficult to access, and the need to be reassessed after being declared “fit to work”, By Benedict Cooper The first Paul Crane knew of having his benefits cut off was when his landlord called up to ask where the rent was. It was the start of a harrowing time. After ten years of receiving support for debilitating pains – caused when gamma knife radiosurgery to repair a haemorrhage on his brain stem caused radiation damage to surrounding tissue – he had suddenly been declared “fit to work”. Paul’s life has never been the same since the operation, which repaired the haemorrhage but left parts of his brain and spinal cord permanently damaged. Every day he is haunted by stimuli – light, noise, crowded places – anything that sets off his “excitable nerves” will leave him in agony with migraines, cause numbness and dizziness, or leave part of his face sagging. Even sneezing or tiredness can cause a traumatic flare up. He says: “Tiredness causes pain and pain causes tiredness. I don’t socialise much, I’ve let people down too many times. I go fishing, which is my only relaxation but even that sometimes is too much”. Over a decade of suffering and being prescribed a cornucopia of drugs – none of which have fully worked – Paul has learnt to live with the pain. But a new regime at […]

Hunt thinks junior doctors lack “professionalism…

…and a sense of vocation”? Is he kidding? If Jeremy Hunt isn’t trying to rile the medical profession, he’s got a funny way of going about it. With tensions high and strike action on the cards, saying that contract reforms, the very source of the strain, will bring back “professionalism and a sense of vocation” to a career that attracts some of the most talented and dedicated people around is either a whole new level of crass or it’s designed to inflame. And inflame it has: on Saturday the BMA’s Junior Doctor Committee voted to ballot its members over strike action (or some other form of protest), which could happen within a few weeks. There could, and hopefully will be some agreement before then, but if NHS Employers are going to keep cancelling meetings with the BMA as they did Monday evening – possibly to avoid protests that were set to take place outside – it’s not looking too good. Ostensibly the reforms are about working towards a ‘7-day NHS’ service – nothing wrong with that. But let’s call this what it is: a way to pay doctors less and reduce the overall bill, plain and simple. Speaking in July at the Department of Health-sponsored procurement conference, P4H, which bills itself as the “largest event bringing buyers and sellers of the NHS together”, John Warrington, deputy director for policy and research in the procurement, investment and commercial division at the DH, said: “All the work that Lord Carter has done […]

Why didn’t Cameron give Dan Hodges a peerage?

“It’s not the professional Labourphobia and ceaseless smearing of the Left that bothers me. It’s the total unwillingness to hold the Conservatives to account”. Andrew Lansley got one, and his Health and Social Care Act has been one of the most catastrophic pieces of legislation in modern politics. It’s been condemned by the medical profession, activists, campaigners, even Conservative MPs, and given the Tories multiple headaches. If it wasn’t for such an indifferent electorate, it might have been much worse. So surely Dan Hodges, who has done more to distract the public from such sins and help the Tories back into power than almost anyone, should have been kicked something? To be a successful journalist you need a USP. It’s not enough to write well, have good ideas, even know the right people. You have to stand out, find that unique angle that nobody else has got. In the cynical arena of British political writing, there’s plenty of tribalism; plenty of exploitation of facts and words to paint your own team in a better light and more importantly, smear the other lot whenever possible. Every now and then there’s another category; the angry defector who switches over and gleefully pans his former comrades. But Dan has found even more of a specialism, a truly surreal position – as the Kevin Pieterson of political commentary. The former union man and Labour Party member-turned-ex-member-turned-member-again’s columns in the Telegraph receive rapturous applause from Conservatives and conservatives. And why wouldn’t they? I bet they […]

The Spokesman

An article I co-wrote with Zenn Athar for the Nottingham We Deserve campaigning newsletter was reproduced in The Spokesman, the publication founded by Bertrand Russell. The article is below.   The city has been on the front line of some of the most radical and, many argue, damaging reforms to the NHS since its creation. The Nottingham We Deserve investigates. by Benedict Cooper and Zenn Athar When five of the UK’s leading dermatologists quit the QMC in December, Nottingham was thrust into the middle of a gathering storm of political debate. To many their departure was the latest symbol of a health service breaking down, and a workforce under increasing pressure.The doctors wouldn’t be drawn on the issue, but sources quoted deep discomfort about a big decision that had quietly happened away from the public’s eye: the unit was to be run by Circle, a private company. Unite head of health Rachael Maskell says the case in Nottingham was a key moment for many campaigning against the growing influence of private healthcare companies like Circle in the service. “It showed the strength of feeling people have towards the NHS,” she says. “It’s not just an ideological step they took, it’s also a clinical point of view. The consultants were willing to forfeit their careers to protect care in Nottingham”. So why the strength of feeling? And what made the doctors quit? As activists in Nottingham and further afield know, the QMC case is just the tip of the iceberg. Everywhere […]

There is no closure – just grief

New Statesman, August 28th 2015 The headlines about “parity of esteem” between mental and physical health remain just that, warns Benedict Cooper. I don’t need to look very far to find the little black marks on this government’s mental health record. Just down the road, in fact. A short bus journey away from my flat in Nottingham is the Queens Medical Centre, once the largest hospital in Europe, now an embattled giant. Not only has the QMC’s formerly world-renowned dermatology service been reduced to a nub since private provider Circle took over – but that’s for another day – it has lost two whole mental health wards in the past year. Add this to the closure of two more wards on the other side of town at the City Hospital, the closure of the Enright Close rehabilitation centre in Newark, plus two more centres proposed for closure in the imminent future, and you’re left with a city already with half as many inpatient mental health beds as it had a year ago and some very concerned citizens. Not that Nottingham is alone – anything but. Over 2,100 mental health beds had been closed in England between April 2011 and last summer. Everywhere you go there are wards being shuttered; patients are being forced to travel hundreds of miles to get treatment in wards often well over-capacity, incidents of violence against mental health workers is increasing, police officers are becoming de facto frontline mental health crisis teams, and cuts to community […]

‘The triumph of Corbynism is the death rattle of New Labour’

This piece appeared in the New Statesman on August 18th 2015 Perhaps the ultimate tribute to Tony Blair is that his trademark brand of politics, the mastery of style-over-content, is alive and well in the Labour Party. For a while it wasn’t the third way: it was the only way. The ease with which New Labour swaggered onto the top table of the party, and then into Downing Street, was testament to its ability to beguile the left and the right with the same conjuring trick.  How have we come from that dazzling show to this crude spectacle of tearing our own insides out in public? All of Labour’s gory details and contradictions lie on the slab. The uncomfortable truth that this is an organism of incommensurable anatomical parts sharing a blood stream is there for all to see. I’ve been gripped by politics since my mid-teens, coincidentally, perhaps, just at the point that New Labour was at its zenith circa 1997.What I understand now, that I didn’t then, is that Blairism tried to thwart the core of the Labour Party that cares more about issues than power. Now, I understand where he and others are coming from when they talk about unelectability; I understand that you have to be in power, or at least a sizeable opposition, to make anything happen, and to do that you need broad appeal. Not that it matters, but this is not a ‘Why I’m supporting Candidate X.’ piece. What I’m certainly not shying […]