Parents of meningococcal baby sent home with Calpol demand doctor is struck off
The parents of a nine-month-old girl who died after being sent home with Calpol have demanded the doctor involved is struck off. Aleesha Evans died after Dr Salawati Abdul Salam failed to diagnose the baby was suffering from blood poisoning. Instead, the doctor said Aleesha had a viral infection and discharged the baby, from Newport, South Wales.
Aleesha’s parents, Craig Evans and Shiree Hanbury, said they were told that Aleesha had a viral infection and needed rest and Calpol, the popular pain and fever relief for children.
Less than 24 hours later, Aleesha died at Cardiff’s University Hospital from multiple organ failure, triggered by blood poisoning from a meningococcal infection.
Following the baby’s death in August 2006, the General Medical Council launched an investigation and in March this year found Dr Abdul Salam’s care of Aleesha “demonstrated a complete lack of attention to detail and a serious degree of carelessness”.
But despite the damning criticism, the doctor was suspended from practising for only four months, a decision which angered Aleesha’s parents.
On Friday, Mr Evans and Miss Hanbury were joined by 47 supporters outside the GMC’s offices in London as they handed in a petition of nearly 8,000 signatures demanding the doctor be struck off. Wearing yellow T-shirts claiming “Justice 4 Aleesha”, they chanted “Dr Salawati out”. They then handed Ben Jones, assistant director of strategy and planning at the GMC, the petition signed by supporters in Newport.
In a statement read outside the GMC, the unemployed couple, both 24, said: “It has been nearly four years since the tragic death of our beautiful, irreplaceable and only daughter Aleesha Evans. “We have spent each and every day tormented by the coroner’s verdict that Aleesha’s death was a completely preventable one. “We need closure and we need justice so we can sleep peacefully and try and find a way out of this dark existence.”
The protest was organised by mother-of-three Stacie Routley, a friend of Aleesha’s parents. Miss Routley, 25, said: “This wasn’t just a case of misjudgment, this was a doctor who failed to comply with hospital protocol. “The GMC are there to protect patients, not doctors, and we feel that a four-month suspension is an insult to Aleesha’s memory.”
A spokeswoman for the GMC said a review hearing of Dr Abdul Salam’s case was scheduled for July 15 and 16 in Manchester.
NHS loses 800 patients’ private files every day
More than 800 patient records are lost by the NHS every day, startling figures revealed last night. The scale of breaches emerged in exclusive Daily Mail research into the scandal of sensitive data that is lost or stolen.
The missing information includes personal health records, diagnoses or details of treatment.
Often electronic data is carelessly left unencrypted and without proper password protection, while documents have been left in skips or stolen from unlocked cars and offices.
Critics said the figures raised questions over the new NHS database of medical records, which is now being constructed.
Alex Deane, director of Big Brother Watch, said: ‘The level of incompetence revealed by these data breaches is staggering. The NHS is clearly incapable of treating our private data with the necessary respect.
‘It goes to show that the NHS should not be building the enormous electronic database of everyone’s medical records.’
Earlier this week, the data protection watchdog issued an unprecedented rebuke to the NHS, warning of the lack of safeguards, after two trusts breached data rules.
Some 2,000 physiotherapy records were not properly filed by staff at NHS Stoke- on-Trent, while staff at Basingstoke and North Hampshire emailed 917 patients’ pathology results to another department from an unsecured email address without password protection.
Mick Gorrill, head of enforcement at the Information Commissioner’s Office, said: ‘Everyone makes mistakes, but regrettably there are far too many within the NHS.
‘Health bodies must implement the appropriate procedures when storing and transferring patients’ sensitive personal information.’
Analysis of reports of data losses shows that at least 305,000 individual patients were victims of data loss in the 12 months from April 2009.
That is around 835 every single day, and the true figure is likely to be even higher because many trusts had no idea how many patients were affected.
Incidents included an Accident and Emergency register found in a garden in August last year. It included sensitive personal data on patients’ physical and mental health.
In April last year, a memory stick containing information on 741 patients was left in a car and found by a car wash attendant.
In another case, 6,360 prisoner health records were lost on a memory stick which had the password stuck on it with an adhesive note.
Patients’ Association director Katherine Murphy said: ‘How many more times will the Information Commissioner need to single out the NHS for criticism before every trust starts taking its obligations seriously?
‘The commissioner has issued repeated warnings, and wrote a letter to the previous Secretary of State to highlight his concerns.
‘Cases like this illustrate why our helpline hears from lots of patients who are concerned about the prospect of a national database of records. If the NHS is failing to protect data at a local level, can it be trusted to ensure the security of a national database?’
The nastiness of NICE: The addled tyranny of the anti-junk food crusade
The idea that thousands of lives could be saved if people stopped eating the ‘wrong’ food is pie in the sky
‘Forty thousand deaths a year due to junk food’, declared the UK Daily Telegraph yesterday, reporting on new policy recommendations produced by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE). But the evidence on which this claim is made is highly dubious. What the report really represents is the coming together of the same-old NGOs and health policy wonks to tell us – for the umpteenth time – how we must live our lives.
The report puts forward 12 recommendations, including:
* Introducing policies designed to cut our consumption of Bad Stuff (salt, saturated fats and trans-fats);
* restricting marketing of ‘junk’ food to children;
* introducing the ‘traffic light’ labelling of foods – green for good, amber for warning and red for unhealthy;
* assessing all government policy for its impact on cardiovascular disease;
* ensuring that EU farm spending promotes healthy foods;
* encouraging ‘physically active travel’ – for example, by scrapping subsidised car parking;
* providing ‘healthy’ meals in public-sector workplaces, schools, hospitals, etc;
* discouraging, via local authorities, the opening of takeaway food outlets near schools and in other sensitive areas.
This mish-mash of different recommendations simply reflects the wide range of groups that want to get their noses in the health trough or foist their particular hare-brained schemes upon us. The evidence that any of these policies would make any serious difference to our life expectancies – never mind save tens of thousands of lives – is flimsy to say the least.
First of all, we need to examine the claim that such measures could save the 40,000 lives apparently being destroyed by junk food. The report says: ‘Most premature deaths from CVD (cardiovascular disease) – that is, among people aged less than 75 – are preventable. In 2006, CVD accounted for around 30 per cent of premature deaths among men and 21 per cent among women, accounting for just over 40,000 premature deaths in that year.’ So actually, even on this basis, it is only most of the 40,000 premature deaths that could be prevented. But even this seems implausible. Genetics, old age, sheer luck, the quality of healthcare available, and environmental factors that aren’t preventable by lifestyle change – like air pollution – would seem to be at the very least as important as what people eat.
Above all, being a man rather than a woman makes a very substantial difference to life expectancy. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest life expectancy in the UK at birth is now 77.5 years for men and 81.8 years for women. Is this ‘preventable’? Perhaps all men over 50 should be forced to have their balls chopped off. Strangely, this policy recommendation is absent from NICE’s report.
But when we dig a little further into the various recommendations, the suggestion that the policies put forward could have any substantial impact on life expectancy is quickly revealed to be illusory. Let’s look at the evidence for the idea that if we avoid eating the wrong things we will live longer.
Poster campaigns and health professionals are forever telling us that we should reduce salt intake to lower our blood pressure and, in turn, cut cases of CVD. Yet while there may be some benefit in cutting salt intake in those who are already being medicated for high blood pressure or who have kidney disease, for most people there is no evidence that cutting salt is of any benefit at all. Indeed for some people it could be harmful.
There is a certain arrogance about the idea, repeated in the new report, that we should cut salt intake from an average of 8.5 grammes per day to six grammes per day by 2015, and then to three grammes per day by 2050. Firstly, the idea that high salt automatically equates to shortened lives is wrong: the Japanese have a very high-salt diet and enjoy longer lives than anyone else.
Secondly, our bodies are incredibly sensitive to the appropriate balance of salt and water in our blood, regulating it on a minute-by-minute basis to keep it within a very narrow range. Yet the groups and researchers proposing radical changes to our diet seem to believe that salt intake should be regulated by diktat from Whitehall rather than by our internal biology evolved over millions of years.
There is no consensus that such salt-reduction policies would be beneficial. A review in the British Medical Journal on the evidence connecting salt with high blood pressure, published in 2002, concluded: ‘Intensive interventions, unsuited to primary care or population prevention programmes, provide only small reductions in blood pressure and sodium excretion, and effects on deaths and cardiovascular events are unclear.’
There has been plenty of evidence for a very long time that attempts to reduce saturated fat consumption have no effect on cardiovascular disease. For example, the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial (MRFIT), which reported its findings in the early 1980s, encouraged a large number of middle-aged American men with high cholesterol to change their diet in an effort to reduce their saturated-fat intake and, therefore, their cholesterol. These test subjects were also encouraged to quit smoking and to treat their high blood pressure. Meanwhile, another large group of middle-aged men were left to their own devices. The result? Slightly more men in the low-fat diet group died than in the control group, but in reality there was no practical difference in outcomes.
As for trans-fats, the evidence that reducing our intake will ‘save lives’ is once again weak. Trans-fats are a by-product of adding hydrogen to vegetable fats to make them stable at room temperature and give them a longer shelf-life, particularly in things like baked goods. While they’ve been around for decades, they became particularly popular among food manufacturers as an alternative to saturated fats.
So what’s the risk from trans-fats? A review in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2006 says: ‘In a meta-analysis of four prospective cohort studies involving nearly 140,000 subjects, including updated analyses from the two largest studies, a two per cent increase in energy intake from trans fatty acids was associated with a 23 per cent increase in the incidence of [coronary heart disease].’ That figure of 23 per cent sounds impressively high, but epidemiological studies are very blunt instruments.
As the US National Cancer Institute noted in 1994, ‘in epidemiological research, [increases in risk of less than 100 per cent] are considered small and are usually difficult to interpret. Such increases may be due to chance, statistical bias, or the effects of confounding factors that are sometimes not evident.’ As a comparison, the risk of getting lung cancer from being a regular smoker (over the course of decades, usually) is in the order of 2,000 per cent compared to non-smokers. While we can be pretty confident that active smoking significantly increases your risk of a variety of diseases, the small relative risk associated with trans-fats is much more ambiguous.
The other recommendations in the NICE report are a bunch of lame old hobbyhorses or, in the case of demanding that all government policy be assessed for its effect on CVD, they add up to a demand for a health-lobby veto on all lawmaking. Thanks, but no thanks.
But regardless of the evidence, there is a more principled basis on which we should object to these kind of policy proposals – namely, that we, and not NICE or anybody else, should have control over our own lives and our own, sometimes bad habits. Let us eat our junk, slob out on our sofas, smoke our fags and drink our booze. If these things turn out to shorten our lives, so be it (though the evidence that they will is usually as feeble as an old codger who’s avoided a ‘premature’ death). That’s surely a better way to live than to be endlessly subjected to the high-fibre, low-fat, salt-free dictatorship of Those Who Know What’s Good For Us.
The myth of the smokefree health miracle
The evidence that bans on public smoking reduce the number of heart attacks is still woefully thin
Recent reports of a ‘dramatic’ fall in the number of heart attacks in England after July 2007 represented the latest in a long line of attempts to find immediate health benefits from smoking bans. But a serious examination of this body of evidence suggests that the effect of smoking bans is either tiny or non-existent.
The worldwide search began in 2004, when the British Medical Journal reported a 40 per cent decline in ‘acute myocardial infarction’ (AMI), the medical term for heart attack, in the small town of Helena, Montana. Subsequent ‘heart miracles’ claimed drops in AMI of 47 per cent (Bowling Green, Ohio), 27 per cent (Pueblo, Colorado) and 17 per cent (Scotland).
As previously reported on spiked, the widely touted Scottish figure of 17 per cent was at odds with hospital admissions data showing an eight per cent drop in the first year of the ban followed by an eight per cent rise in the second year. When this inconclusive evidence is combined with hospital admissions data from Wales, Denmark, New Zealand and Australia showing smoking bans having no effect on the heart attack rate (1), the most striking aspect of this field of research is the tendency to find dramatic results in small communities and practically nonexistent effects over large populations.
The counterintuitive conclusion was that secondhand smoke was ferociously lethal in one-horse towns in the mid-West, but strangely benign in whole nations. The alternative, if more cynical, explanation was that obscure destinations like Helena and Bowling Green were brought to the world’s attention because anti-smoking campaigners had dredged the data for unusual blips that roughly coincided with provincial smoking bans.
That question seemed set to be resolved when The Sunday Times announced in September 2009 that the smoking ban in England (population 49million) ‘caused a fall in heart attack rates of about 10 per cent’. The source of this claim was never disclosed and the anti-smoking campaign Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) quickly downplayed it, insisting that the 10 per cent figure was ‘not based on any research conducted to date’ (2). Nevertheless, the research was underway and it finally bore fruit a fortnight ago in the form of another British Medical Journal study.
Led by Dr Anna Gilmore, a member of ASH and the director of the Tobacco Control Research Group, the study found a post-ban drop in AMI of not 10 per cent, let alone the 40 per cent found in Helena, but of just 4.3 per cent. A welcome decline, to be sure, but since the final years of ‘smoky’ England saw similar declines of 3.2 per cent and 5.2 per cent, the evidence for a heart miracle in the most populous nation yet studied was less than compelling (11).
heart attack rates in England before and after smoking ban
Faced with data that unequivocally showed heart attacks falling at the same pedestrian rate as before the ban, Gilmore and her team turned to computer modelling. After making adjustments to the data, they concluded that, despite appearances, the smoking ban had a profound effect on the nation’s hearts. Of the 4.3 per cent drop in AMI admissions, Gilmore attributed more than half (2.4 per cent) to the smoking ban. The study concluded that ‘the implementation of smoke-free public places is associated with significant reductions in hospital admissions for myocardial infarction’. A press release was then issued, headlined ‘Smokefree legislation linked to drop in admissions for heart attacks’.
To make life simpler for busy journalists, the press release chose not to mention that this was a computer-generated estimate, instead flatly stating: ‘A 2.4 per cent drop in the number of emergency admissions to hospital for a heart attack has been observed following the implementation of smokefree legislation in England.’ As was helpfully pointed out, this 2.4 per cent drop equated to 1,200 heart attacks being ‘prevented’ by the 2007 legislation. There was no mention of the downward trend in AMI that long predated the smoking ban.
Since the 2.4 per cent figure exists only on a laptop at Bath University, the calculations that led to it can be neither verified nor debunked. The possibility that the smoking ban contributed to part of the drop in AMI admissions after July 2007 cannot be ruled out, particularly if it led to a significant drop in the number of smokers (the jury is still out on whether this happened). But since the number of heart attacks fell at a similar rate after July 2005 and July 2006, the burden of proof rests on Gilmore & Co. Without it, it is as if they were doing a rain dance in the middle of a thunderstorm and demanding credit for the rain. The onus is on them to convince us that the skies would have cleared if they hadn’t showed up, not the other way round.
Gilmore’s case rests on making adjustments for three relevant but hardly decisive confounding factors that might disguise the effect of the smoking ban: surface air temperature, population size and Christmas holidays. This is all good practice, but more significant risk factors such as smoking status, diet, statin use, exercise and stress go unaddressed. It could not be otherwise. Hospital admissions data reveal no personal information about any of the patients beyond their age and gender. This only highlights the immense difficulty of making specific assumptions from a mass of nameless aggregate data.
The only thing that can be said with any confidence is that there were 2,300 fewer heart attacks in 2007/08 than in the year before. With heart attacks and heart disease having hundreds of risk factors interacting with each other in complex and unpredictable ways, using raw data to single out any one of them is like listening out for a kazoo in a stadium full of vuvuzuelas. Any estimate made against this noisy statistical background can only be speculative to the point of wishful thinking.
Perhaps this underestimates the power of the team’s computer model, but if they have truly devised a formula that can predict the number of heart attacks by taking the temperature and seeing what day Christmas falls on, it is not one they are prepared to share with us. Effectively, the reader is told: ‘We know it doesn’t look like the smoking ban had any effect on AMI admissions but we’ve run it through a computer model and it has. Take it or leave it.’ In the context of the dubious and frequently bizarre history of ‘heart miracle’ studies, the reader could be forgiven for leaving it.
If it does nothing else, the English study confirms that the wilder claims of heart miracles in Helena and elsewhere were way off base. In the course of six years, the ‘smoking ban effect’ on heart attacks has fallen from over 40 per cent to less than five per cent. And since the heart attack rate was known to fall by more than five per cent in some years before smokefree legislation was introduced, attributing any part of the secular decline to the smoking ban becomes a matter of interpretation and conjecture.
Not that the hypothetical nature of Gilmore’s study ever impinged on the news coverage devoted to it. No one reading the newspapers two weeks ago could have gone away thinking anything other than that there were 1,200 fewer heart attacks after the smoking ban and that this decline in numbers was an unusual and remarkable event.
As was the case in Scotland two years ago, the statisticians who painstakingly collected admissions data from English hospitals might as well not have bothered. The true figures vanished, replaced by unseen adjustments and unspoken assumptions from the gatekeepers of knowledge at the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies. Once again we had findings erroneously leaked to the media months in advance, a press release which failed to get the most basic facts straight, and a study with no verifiable evidence to support its central conclusion. And all published just in time for the government’s review of the smoking ban. If this doesn’t warrant a little scepticism, what does?
British Conservatives grappling with immigration control
Businesses and universities will be asked to help set the Government’s planned cap on immigration amid Cabinet worries about the impact of the policy.
The Coalition is planning to implement a Conservative election promise to put a ceiling on the number of migrants allowed to enter the UK from outside the European Union each year.
The plan has been criticised by some business leaders, who say it will make it harder for them to recruit the staff they need for their companies.
In private Cabinet talks, Michael Gove, the schools secretary, David Willetts, the universities minister and Oliver Letwin are all understood to have raised similar concerns about the impact of a cap.
They argued that too low a ceiling could hurt British businesses and universities by stopping the entry of talented foreigners.
Following those talks, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is set to announce a wide-ranging consultation over the planned cap. She will ask business lobby groups, company executives and university leaders for detailed recommendations on how many people should enter the UK each year.
But Home Office sources were last night adamant that even though the Government is prepared to listen to concerns about immigration, the total number of new arrivals will still be capped. “There will be a cap on immigration. This is what the British people voted for and this is what we will do,” said one source last night.
The Conservatives have never said what level they would set for the immigration cap, promising to base their final figure on the wider needs of the economy.
During the general election campaign, David Cameron said the cap would mean net immigration to the UK is in the “tens of thousands” instead of the hundreds of thousands as it has been in recent years.
However, the plan to restrict the arrival of new workers from overseas has raised concerns about the long-term impact on the UK economy, especially since a falling British birthrate is set to reduce the number of British-born people of working age in future years.
Last week, the Office for Budget Responsibility, the new independent Government economic forecaster, said that Britain’s long-term economic growth will be lower after 2014 partly because of the fall in the number of economic migrants entering the UK.
The OBR predicted that “trend growth”, the underlying rate of economic expansion, will fall from 2.25 per cent to 2 per cent after 2014 as the UK supply of new labour falls.
Business leaders have echoed those concerns and called on ministers to consult companies in detail before setting any limit on immigration. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development last month said a cap could “leave many employers struggling to hire the talented performers they need”.
Some good advice that the Oxburgh inquiry ignored
Michael Kelly is Professor of Electronics at Cambridge. The paper records Professor Kelly’s impressions as he reads through some CRU papers, the papers that Oxburgh was supposed to evaluate
Andrew Montford has succeeded in prying some important documents from the Oxburgh “inquiry”. These raise several important issues. The attachments here include Michael Kelly’s notes – see page 81 on.
These offer a few glimpses of sanity that were suppressed by Oxburgh in the “report”. Here is an interesting comment about IPCC (leaving aside, for now, the lack of “humility” in Jones’ exchanges with Mann):
Up to and throughout this exercise, I have remained puzzled how the real humility of the scientists in this area, as evident in their papers, including all these here, and the talks I have heard them give, is morphed into statements of confidence at the 95% level for public consumption through the IPCC process. This does not happen in other subjects of equal importance to humanity, e.g. energy futures or environmental degradation or resource depletion. I can only think it is the ‘authority’ appropriated by the IPCC itself that is the root cause.
Good question. How does this “morphing” take place, especially when the scientists in question act as Lead Authors and Coordinating Lead Authors of IPCC. Kelly continues:
(4) Our review takes place in a very febrile atmosphere. If we give a clean bill of health to what we regard as sound science without qualifying that very narrowly, we will be on the receiving end of justifiable criticism for exonerating what many people see as indefensible behaviour. Three of the five MIT scientists who commented in the week before Copenhagen on the leaked emails, (see http://mitworld.mit.edu!video/730) thought that they saw prima facie evidence of unprofessional activity.
“Receiving end of justifiable criticism”. I presume that Kelly is staying pretty quiet these days.
Kelly previously made a complaint that would not be opposed by the severest IPCC critic:
(i) I take real exception to having simulation runs described as experiments (without at least the qualification of ‘computer’ experiments). It does a disservice to centuries of real experimentation and allows simulations output to be considered as real data. This last is a very serious matter, as it can lead to the idea that real ‘real data’ might be wrong simply because it disagrees with the models! That is turning centuries of science on its head.
(ii) I think it is easy to see how peer review within tight networks can allow new orthodoxies to appear and get established that would not happen if papers were wrtten for and peer reviewed by a wider audience. I have seen it happen elsewhere. This finding may indeed be an important outcome of the present review.
It would have been an “important outcome of the present review” had this finding appeared in the Oxburgh “report”. Or here;
My overriding impression that this is a continuing and valiant attempt via a variety of statistical methods to find possible signals in very noisy and patchy data when several confounding factors may be at play in varying ways throughout the data. It would take an expert in statistics to comment on the appropriateness of the various techniques as they are used. The descriptions are couched within an internal language of dendrochronology, and require some patience to try and understand.
I find no evidence of blatant malpractice. That is not to say that, working within the current paradigm, choices of data and analysis approach might be made in order to strain to get more out of the data than a dispassionate analysis might permit.
The line between positive conclusions and the null hypothesis is very fine in my book.
I worry about the sheer range and the ad hoc/subjective nature of all the adjustments, homogenisations etc of the raw data from different places
Return of REAL school sports: British Tories to revive competitive games in bid to turn nation back into champions
Competitive games are to be revived in schools in a bid to turn Britain back into a nation of sporting champions. As the country holds its breath over the World Cup and Wimbledon, ministers want their new ‘School Olympics’ programme to end the culture of ‘prizes for all’.
The sports championships are intended to give every child experience of hard-fought competition. They will reverse a decline in competitive sport brought about by Left-wing councils that scorned it as ‘elitist’ and insisted on politically correct activities with no winners or losers.
The competitions will involve a wide range of sports including football, rugby, netball, golf, cricket, tennis, athletics, judo, gymnastics, swimming, table tennis, cycling and volleyball. Schools will be able to nominate any sport in any age group as long as they can find opponents.
Details of the championships will be unveiled on Monday, hard on the heels of a weekend of sporting drama with England playing old rivals Germany in the World Cup tomorrow and Andy Murray today vying for a spot in Wimbledon’s fourth round.
As they launch the initiative, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Education Secretary Michael Gove will say it is intended to ensure the 2012 London Olympics leave a lasting sporting legacy.
The first championship will take place in the run-up to the 2012 Games with further competitions planned beyond that. Paralympic-style events will be staged in parallel for youngsters with disabilities.
Mr Hunt said: ‘I want to give a real boost to competitive sport in schools using the power of hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games to encourage young people – whatever age or ability – to take part in this new competition. ‘Sport – whether you win or lose – teaches young people great lessons for life. It encourages teamwork, dedication and striving to be the best that you can be.’
Steve Grainger, chief executive of the Youth Sport Trust, said: ‘Competition has been happening on an ad hoc school to school basis since the demise of district-level sport. ‘It was down to schools to sort something out with another school which is maybe a utopian view of how it might happen.
‘We have built up a network of 450 school sport partnerships with every school locked in so we now have a really solid base from which to develop competitive sport up to 2012 and lever off the back of 2012 to enable every kid in the country to have a suitable competitive experience in a whole range of sports.’
Schools will compete against each other in district leagues from 2011 with winning athletes and teams qualifying for up to 60 county finals. The most talented budding sports stars will then be selected for national finals – although this currently covers England only.
The pc spoilsports
Lottery funding of up to £10million a year, distributed by Sport England, will be used to create a new sports league structure for primary and secondary schools, culminating in the 2012 finals.
But ministers also hope the championships will reinvigorate PE lessons, within-school tournaments and local leagues. Schools will be expected to host in-house Olympic-style sports days so that children of all abilities have the opportunity to compete and join teams.
The coalition government plans to publish information about schools’ sporting facilities and the amount of sport and competitive sport they provide for pupils.
There would also be school sports league tables, so parents can track the success of their children’s schools’ sports results.
Mr Gove said: ‘We need to revive competitive sport in our schools. Fewer than a third of school pupils take part in regular competitive sport within schools, and fewer than one in five take part in regular competition between schools. ‘The School Olympics give us a chance to change that for good.’
Ministers hope the initiative will finally end a culture that has seen schools refuse to pit youngsters directly against each other.
In one directive to schools during the last Labour government, schools were encouraged to replace competitive races with ‘problem-solving’ exercises for their sports days. Teams were also encouraged to perform tasks in rotation rather than compete directly with each other.
A series of Labour initiatives aimed at reviving competitive sport were undermined by the continued sell-off of school playing fields.
The shallow socialism of hating Michael O’Leary
As evidenced in a new collection of his ‘wit and wisdom’, the cocky Ryanair boss both embarrasses his fellow capitalists and annoys the hell out of anti-capitalists
by Brendan O’Neill
‘For years flying has been the preserve of rich f*ckers. Now everyone can afford to fly.’ At a time when capitalists have had every drop of character wrung out of them by being forced to learn managementspeak and to rebrand themselves as ‘socially responsible’ in order not to upset the likes of Naomi Klein, Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair, sticks out like *** in a punch bowl. Or like a pope on a Ryanair flight. (O’Leary dressed up as the pope to preach about the wondrousness of low air fares on Ryanair’s first flight from Dublin to Rome.)
In recent decades CEOs around the world have been forced to wash their gobs out with the soap of corporate responsibility, giving rise to a generation of fat capitalist bosses who are not fat, not openly capitalistic, and not particularly bossy. Yet O’Leary, as evidenced in this new collection of his ‘wit and wisdom’, talks openly about wanting to make as much moolah as possible as quickly as possible. ‘If the drink sales are falling off, we get the pilots to engineer a bit of air turbulence. That usually spikes up the drink sales’, he says. And that’s the thing with leery O’Leary – you don’t know if he’s joking or not.
I feel torn about O’Leary, not knowing whether to like him or loathe him, mainly because I’m a Marxist. But – and this is absolutely true – I first felt the tingling of Marxist thought in the nerve endings of my brain while on one of those vomit-inducing, wailing-baby-packed ferry crossings between Britain and Ireland. I was 18 and sailing from Dublin to Holyhead, devouring Lenin’s State and Revolution in one of the ship’s corridors (because it was the only place on the godforsaken vessel where there wasn’t a drunk person singing ‘The Fields of Athenrye’) in preparation for a discussion about the book back in London. ‘The working class must break up, smash the “readymade state machinery”, and not confine itself merely to laying hold of it’, Lenin said, making me wish the ship would hurry up so that I could get back to London and start rousing for a revolution.
Yet now, courtesy of O’Leary’s exploitation of airline workers, I can get to Ireland, puke-free and feeling fresh, in two hours rather than twenty and for a tenner (if I’m lucky) rather than £100. As O’Leary himself says: ‘The alternative to progress is Thomas Hardy’s Wessex: horse-drawn carts, people living below the poverty line, and only the very rich going on Italian tours. Now we make it possible for everybody to go on Italian tours.’ What’s a modern Marxist to do?
It’s easy to see why O’Leary, who since 1985 has turned Ryanair from a tiny Irish airline with one plane flying between Gatwick and Waterford into the largest airline in Europe, winds people up. He irritates his fellow capitalists because he refuses to follow the PC rules of the new Caring Capitalism and thus exists as a constant reminder (a constant reminder known to dress as Santa for press conferences) of what capitalists are primarily motivated by: maximising profit. And he annoys the hell out of what passes for radical anti-capitalists these days because he refuses to play their game: to be meek, to apologise for making money, to make ads featuring black kids and white kids running through deserts to a soundtrack of Kiri Te Kanawa (he prefers ads featuring sexy women dressed as schoolgirls under the banner ‘HOTTEST back-to-school air fares’).
What other CEO could have a collection of his quotations published? O’Leary is un-PC. ‘Germans will crawl bollock-naked over broken glass to get low fares’, he says. He’s confrontational. On greens he says: ‘We want to annoy the f*ckers whenever we can. The best thing to do with environmentalists is shoot them.’ He’s unapologetic. On Ryanair’s ‘No Refund’ policy, he has said: ‘You are not getting a refund so f*ck off.’ And: ‘We are not interested in your sob stories.’ And: ‘People will say, “As the Founding Fathers wrote down in the American Constitution, we have the inalienable right to bear arms and send in our complaints by email.” No you bloody don’t. So go away.’ And: ‘We don’t fall over ourselves if you say “My granny fell ill”. What part of “No Refund” don’t you understand?’
Unlike Lord Alan Sugar, he doesn’t cosy up to politicians. ‘If I were David Cameron I would stop competing over who is better at riding a bicycle and call for a serious debate on the next generation of nuclear power stations. Sticking a windmill on top of your house is not the answer.’ He hates the EU oligarchy. ‘Sometimes it’s good to show Brussels the two fingers’, he has said. ‘Yes I have read the Lisbon Treaty. It’s a f*cking pain-in-the-arse document. I nearly died of boredom’, he said in the run-up to the first Irish referendum on Lisbon in 2008, before telling Irish voters that they should say ‘Yes’ to it anyway because that would be in his – ie, a European-based capitalist’s – interests. In a recent newspaper interview he said: ‘I’m disrespectful towards what is perceived to be authority. Like, I think the prime minister of Ireland is a gobshite.’
He saves his hottest ire for environmentalists. There is not a businessman on Earth (well, none that I know of) who isn’t currently bending over backwards to appease his green critics by drafting emission-reduction strategies etczzz – except, that is, O’Leary. ‘The BBC runs green week, ITV runs greener week, Sky runs even greener week, Channel 4 runs even bloody greener week, and each time they use a picture of aircraft taking off’, he complains (quite accurately as it happens).
When the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, said in 2006 that flying is a sin, O’Leary accused the man of God of spouting the ‘usual cliched horseshit that he obviously heard at some dinner party with the chatterati’. Most eco-criminally of all, O’Leary has said: ‘The fact that our tea and coffee supplier is a Fairtrade brand is a welcome bonus, but the decision was based on lowering costs. We’d change to a non-Fairtrade brand in the morning if it was cheaper.’ And his vision for the future? ‘Let’s go nuclear… and then watch the eco-nuts go crazy.’
O’Leary’s verbal assaults on the sandal-wearing brigade (as he refers to them) captures why he is so hated, why some greens and anti-capitalists are more agitated by his capitalist company than by almost any other (apart, of course, from BP). Ours is an age of capitalism-in-denial, when capitalists are encouraged to present themselves as ethical actors rather than profit-makers and to hold back from doing too much R&D in case it leads to the further dirtying of the planet by mankind’s greedy, grubby hand. Indeed, there has been a wacky meeting of minds between capitalists and anti-capitalists in recent years, as both have reoriented themselves around the project of Making Capitalism Nicer – the bosses by investing billions into corporate social responsibility projects, and their critics by staging carnivalesque protests whose main demand can be summed up as: ‘You need to be even more corporately socially responsible and stuff!’
This bizarre political union between the fat cats and the skinny anti-caps is best captured by the fact that, in the words of Reason magazine, Naomi Klein’s anti-capitalist bible No Logo has ‘inadvertently served as the most influential marketing manual of the decade’, as big companies have incorporated its anti-branding, pro-caring message into the big consensual mission to make capitalism less fat, ugly and cocky.
And the problem with O’Leary – ‘jumped-up Paddy’ that he is (his words) – is that he’s pissing on the parade. His refusal to bend the knee to the social and responsible and green agendas serves to remind us that, actually, capitalism is still about exploitation, division, conflict. Asked how he keeps his staff motivated and happy, he said: ‘Fear.’ He doesn’t play the ‘I love my staff’ game played by other bosses (who then think nothing of sacking people), instead saying: ‘MBA students come out with, “My staff is my most important asset.” Bullshit. Staff is usually your biggest cost.’
He reminds us that the relationship between state regulation and capitalist enterprise is still often a fraught one. On the European Commission’s introduction of new rules in relation to low-fare airlines, he said: ‘There are f*cking Kim Il-Jungs in the Commission. You cannot have civil servants trying to design rules that make everything a level playing field. That’s called North f*cking Korea and everybody is starving there.’ And his loudmouthness reminds us that capitalists are more than happy to f*ck (to use O’Learyspeak) the workers when they need to: ‘I don’t give a damn about labour laws in France. We’ll break the laws in France if that’s what needs to be done.’
With his unguarded utterances, O’Leary reveals that capitalism is not – and never will be – a hunky-dory arena in which floppy-haired bosses and their ping-pong-playing workforce gather together to make the world a better place. Instead there’s tension, there’s competition, there’s self-interest, there’s fear, there’s conflict, there’s angst.
The capitalists hate him for this because he is giving voice to the kind of deep-seated issues that they have worked hard to rebrand. And because – with his undoubted impact of changing many people’s lives for the better by opening up virtually the whole of Europe to the less well-off – he reminds today’s undynamic, conservative, regulation-inviting capitalists what their class used to do as a byproduct of their drive to maximise profits: break down barriers and drive the economy and society into new areas.
And the ‘anti-capitalists’ hate O’Leary’s outspokenness because for them – obsessed as they are with the surface of capitalism rather than its inner workings and relations – there is nothing worse than an arrogant, foul-mouthed, money-making man. Indeed, the anti-O’Leary outlook in radical circles captures how shallow contemporary anti-capitalism is. Today’s rads are less concerned with the exploitation of workers and the hampering of human progress than they are with the logos and wording and cockiness levels of contemporary capitalism. Which is why they hate Ryanair but love Whole Foods.
Indeed, such is the backward-looking nature of ‘anti-capitalism’ today that O’Leary, simply by being an anti-green blusterer and wind-up merchant of epic proportions, can come across as more progressive than his anti-capitalist critics. Where they want to ground flights, or at least make them more expensive in order to make them less frequent and thus help ‘save the planet’, O’Leary says: ‘[In the past], nobody moved more than three miles from where they were born. Young people now want to go to Ibiza on bonking holidays. Let them. Ask them in downtown Afghanistan if they would like the M25 and they would bite your hand off.’ At the very least, the rise of Ryanair has allowed me and millions of others to get off those bloody ferries and into the skies, which gives us far more free time to do other things – even to continue reading Lenin and to dream of that revolution.
Boo to the Rooney-bashers
England’s finest footballer needs to be let off the leash, not lectured about his anger, language and beliefs
In England’s dismal start to the World Cup, the most depressing thing ‘for me’ (as all pundits must say these days) was seeing Wayne Rooney forced to apologise to the nation for ‘any offence caused’ by his criticism of the England fans who booed the team at the end of the Algeria debacle.
Of course the disappointed fans in South Africa have the right to boo, barrack or bollock as they see fit – free speech is the least you should expect for such an expensive trip. But then the frustrated Rooney should also be free to reply in kind. Surely the football fans of today are not so pathetic as to be mortally offended by Rooney’s rather restrained riposte, to the TV cameras, ‘Nice to see your own fans booing you’. Yet the media and self-appointed fans’ spokespersons decided this was, in the words of the BBC’s normally opinion-free Alan Shearer, ‘totally unacceptable’, with many apparently more upset about Rooney’s momentary ejaculation than by the load of wank he and his team mates served up for 180 minutes on the pitch.
Indeed it has become open season on Rooney, who has apparently gone from national hero to zero overnight, accused of insulting the nation, misleading the youth and embodying What’s Wrong With Football. You surely know you are in trouble when the execrable Piers ‘Moron’ Morgan not only demands that you be dropped from the England team but also feels free to describe you as an ‘overblown, overpaid, overhyped halfwit’ who has ‘committed that hideously self-defeating crime of starting to believe his own bulls**t’, in a contender for the pots-and-kettles remark of the year.
What’s going on? The shock-horror headlines about Rooney ought to be no more than ‘Very good footballer has couple of very bad games’. And given the goldfish-like attention span of much of the media, should he score against Slovenia on Wednesday afternoon and England scrape through to the knockout stages, no doubt he will be lauded once again.
Yet much of the recent Rooney-bashing has relatively little to do with events on the field. It shows another side of what is really ‘wrong with the game today’. Football has become so over-inflated in importance that somebody such as Rooney is now expected to carry not only the nation’s sporting dreams but also its moral welfare. Brought on as a substitute for society’s crocked public life, football has in effect become a receptacle for all of the cultural crap of the twenty-first century, from ‘role models’ and thin-skinned syndrome to political correctness and therapy culture. Rooney now finds himself in the firing line of all that.
Since he exploded on to the football stage aged 16, there has always been an ambivalence about Rooney, the brilliant Scouse ‘rough diamond’ from the streets of Croxteth – especially among the New Football crowd. He was mocked for supposedly being thick and uncultured, from a fighting Irish background – and then mocked again for going ‘posh’ when it was reported that he was studying for a couple of GCSEs (his childhood sweetheart and wife, Coleen, already has a hatful) and following the lead of his Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, by taking an interest in what Fergie no doubt calls ‘feen weens’.
The recent Rooney hullabaloo shows that he has become so elevated in the football firmament, however, that his every word and deed must be subjected to serious analysis and portentous meaning. The player who stands out for his combination of being an ordinary man with an extraordinary talent is no longer, it seems, allowed to be normal, with the normal emotions and beliefs of other people.
So when Rooney answered a press conference question about the large crucifix he wears in training by saying straightforwardly ‘It’s my religion’, he was immediately cut short by a Football Association PR man stating, Ali Campbell-like, ‘We don’t do religion’. Why? Presumably they were worried that Rooney might offend and alienate all non-Catholic England fans.
And when Rooney complained to those TV cameras while being booed off at the end of the Algeria game, it was not considered enough for the management to tell him to ‘calm down’ in the style of Harry Enfield’s Scousers. Instead he had to be put both in the stocks and on a couch by the national media, with pundits condemning him for setting a bad example while experts lined up to express their fears that Rooney is a ‘timebomb’ waiting to explode England’s campaign. The therapy culture that has forced footballers such as Tony Adams and Paul Merson to go through the public confessional in the past was now homing in on Rooney. It was sad to see the player who refused to apologise after being sent off in the last World Cup being browbeaten into bending the knee so quickly this time.
But why should Rooney or any other footballer be expected to act as a role model for anybody else? What on earth is wrong with being angry and frustrated and kicking holes in the wall when your whole World Cup appears to be going down the drain?
Some of us could not care less about the drone of the self-righteous media moralisers and the self-appointed spokesman for England fandom on the websites and radio phone-ins. Rooney is a footballer. What matters is how he performs on the pitch. He has been playing badly under the weight of expectations (and possibly of injury). And all of the excess baggage he has been loaded down with in recent weeks is hardly going to help.
As I have noted before, ‘for me’ Rooney is the finest England footballer seen in 40 years since the golden generation of Booby Moore, Bobby Charlton and Jimmy Greaves (only Paul Gascoigne in his short-lived pomp comes close). Rooney has the talent to take on the world, as he showed as a teenager in Euro 2004. There is surely a danger however of some of the spirit being knocked out of him. He has already been hobbled by being messed about by Ferguson at United, who made him act like a water-carrier for Ronaldo before finally giving him his head last season. In the first two World Cup games he seemed hidebound playing for Capello’s England, where he has so far been denied the freedom to rampage around as he does like nobody else. When your world-class striker starts coming back to the halfway line looking for the ball, you are in serious trouble.
Instead of letting Rooney loose, however, we seem intent on tying him up in yet more rules and etiquette and analysing the life out of him. Enough.
Sport is perhaps the one area of life where it is still possible for grown men and women to have heroes. If so, Rooney is my hero – a truly remarkable thing for a Manchester United fan ever to say about a Scouser. Like many others, I could not care less about his religious beliefs or language skills or his anger management issues or whatever. I do not want him to teach my children how to behave – that is my job. His is to show us things with a football that we could never dream of doing.
The boy-man wonder may be seen by some just now as, in the words of one headline ‘Rooney the loony’. But he is our loony. That is football, whether those who treat it as a national moral crusade/therapy session understand it or not.
Should England mess up again versus Slovenia on Wednesday and be eliminated from the World Cup that some foolhardily claimed they would win, no doubt Rooney will be crucified again by erstwhile worshippers in the media for his mistakes and faux pas. The same thing happened to David Beckham of course after he was sent off in the 1998 World Cup. When he was subsequently booed by some opposition supporters around the country, United fans responded with a rousing chorus of ‘You can stick your fucking England up your arse’. I would not blame Rooney if he responded in similarly unrestrained terms next time.