Elderly patients squeezed into window bays on hospital wards
Elderly patients are being kept in cramped window bays on hospital wards that have no alarm bells, proper curtains or lights, according to the latest in a series of inspection reports.
The health watchdog said that the “window beds” on geriatric wards also lack vital oxygen units that most patients have access to, while staff had to drape blankets over portable screens to provide some privacy.
At the same trust, pensioners were not given the chance to wash their hands before eating while a system to identify those at risk of malnutrition was not being used.
At another hospital given a spot inspection by the Care Quality Commission, patients had to wait hours to be given something to drink.
The failures are set out in the latest weekly update published by the CQC into the care provided to elderly patients in NHS hospitals. Of the seven trusts inspected, two were found to be meeting legal requirements on dignity and nutrition, another two were told to make some improvements and three were said to be failing “essential standards of quality and safety”.
In the most serious example, the CQC found “moderate concerns” in both dignity and nutrition at Darent Valley Hospital in Kent, run by Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust. Inspectors found that although patients were kept in single-sex bays with separate bathroom facilities, in keeping with Government rules, the hospital had put extra beds under the windows in the six-bay wards so they could accommodate seven people.
“These beds compromised people’s privacy and safety. As these areas were not originally intended for this purpose we saw that they did not have call bells, proper curtains or lights and there was no suction and no oxygen allocated to this space.
“Portable screens were being used, if necessary to provide some privacy for these beds. These screens were the style that had gaps at the top, bottom and sides. Staff told us that these did not provide adequate privacy because of the gaps. We noticed that staff draped blankets over these screens to try to give more privacy.
“There were lockers and hooks provided by each bed. However we saw that, for those patients in the ‘window beds’, the space was cramped and so access to their lockers was more difficult and restricted. The limited space for the ‘window beds’ meant these patients were unable to sit by their beds. This meant that some people were not able to be as independent as they would have liked.”
At Colchester General Hospital in Essex, meanwhile, inspectors saw two people who were not offered drinks within two hours of being admitted to a ward while another patient complained he had been left waiting half an hour after calling for assistance from staff.
Britain is Europe’s top destination for permanent migrants
More immigrants settle permanently in Britain than any other country in Europe, a study revealed yesterday. The latest figures showed that 397,900 foreigners decided to live here in 2009 – second in the world only to the U.S.
The figure marked a rise of 14 per cent from the previous year. It was the largest increase in the developed world, at a time when most countries saw dramatic falls in the number of permanent settlers.
The study, from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, said the increase was largely down to family members coming to stay with those already in Britain, and the large number of foreign students living here.
The study comes just over a week after Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said a generation of Britons would be condemned to a life on benefits unless immigration rules were tightened.
He said back-to-work schemes would fail without strict controls on incomers, and called on firms to employ British-born people rather than rely on migrant labour. Business leaders responded to his plea by saying British workers had a poor work ethic compared with those from abroad.
The OECD report, Trends in International Migration, appears to back up the business leaders’ view. It found Britain is one of the few countries where migrant workers are less likely to end up unemployed than locals.
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the think-tank MigrationWatch UK, said last night the figures proved Labour had made Britain a soft touch for immigration.
‘Labour’s loss of control of immigration …. has left us with a situation where our population is growing at the fastest rate for 50 years,’ he said. ‘The pressure on housing, health and education can only be intensified at a time when Labour left no money to deal with the extra demand.’
The OECD report shows Britain is one of the only countries where the level of permanent migration increased in the years after the credit crunch.
The number of permanent migrants here is exceeded only by the U.S., where 1.1million people settled permanently – up 2 per cent on the previous year.
France had only 178,700 new settlers – down 7 per cent – and Germany 197,500, down 13 per cent. In Ireland, the total fell by 42 per cent to 38,900. The number of people settling in Britain has risen by more than 50 per cent since 2003.
The report by the OECD, which represents developed nations, said: ‘Most countries saw declines in permanent migration in 2009, almost half showing falls of 10 per cent or more.’
It said Britain actually saw a fall of more than a quarter in the number of people coming for work, but the total of permanent settlers went up because those who had moved here on temporary visas opted to stay, ‘especially but not exclusively international students’.
It added: ‘This, along with increases in family migration and in movements for other reasons, more than offset what would have otherwise been a demand-induced decline.’
Last night Mr Duncan Smith said: ‘This report confirms that even during the recession, jobs in the UK were going to migrant workers while other countries saw a decline in migrant labour.’
British “health & safety” regulations badly burn schoolgirl
A ten-year-old girl was badly sunburned during a sports day practice after the school banned sun cream in case other children were allergic to it.
Parents Andrew and Victoria Bowen were furious when their daughter Aimee returned home bright red and covered in blisters. Blonde and fair-skinned Aimee had been taking part in a practice for the upcoming sportsday at Pennard Primary School, near Swansea, South Wales.
Mr and Mrs Bowen said they had raised the issue of sun cream with the school beforehand and were told pupils were not allowed to bring it in with them in case any children had an allergic reaction. The school said it followed guidelines on sun safety.
But Mr Bowen, 44, said: ‘We always send her with sun cream on but it needs to be reapplied. ‘I can understand the situation where teachers cannot apply sun cream to children but for a child not be able to bring their own in when they are ten years old seems to me to be totally ludicrous. ‘We are told about the increase in skin cancer and how it is becoming more common in young people and then this happens.
‘I picked her up from school and her shoulders were very, very red. Aimee said it didn’t hurt at the time but when she woke up the following day the burns were very raw.
Mrs Bowen said: ‘Aimee was feeling sick the following day and I thought she had sun stroke. ‘We have raised the issue many times before and we have asked the governors about it and we have been told the children are not allowed to take sun cream to school. ‘Aimee is ten now and is perfectly capable of applying sun cream herself.’
Head teacher of Pennard Primary School, Sharon Freeguard, said: ‘We follow guidelines issued in 2006 which are for the children to cover up, wear a hat and put cream on before they come to school. ‘Parents are welcome at lunch-time to come to school and reapply cream if they feel it is necessary. ‘It would not be appropriate for the staff to put cream on 200 children.’
Bevis Man, from the British Skin Foundation said: ‘When it comes to children, we need to be extra vigilant when it comes to protecting them from the harmful effects of the sun. ‘Children should never be allowed to burn in the sun.
‘By their very nature, children will spend a huge amount of time playing outdoors, so we need to make sure they don’t burn during this time outdoors, whether it’s at school playtime or at home in the garden. ‘Sunscreen ought to be used to cover the areas that aren’t covered by clothing, along with a hat to protect the ears and the back of the neck.’
A Swansea Council spokesman said: ‘We are available to offer general advice on sun safety for schoolchildren during summer months, but day-to-day issues such as this are a matter for the schools themselves.’
Violent crime rife in British schools as police record 65 serious assaults EVERY DAY
Violent crime is rife in schools as police record 65 cases of grievous or actual bodily harm every single school day, figures reveal.
Shocking data disclosed under Freedom of Information laws shows 12,688 acts of extreme violence – either GBH or ABH – were recorded in schools across England last year. The record level does not include playground scuffles, assault without injury, attempted assault or assault recorded as a public order offence.
One in ten cases of GBH or ABH – 1,280 – were carried out by pupils younger than 12 – equivalent to one pupil in every 13 primary schools. The remaining 11,420 violent crimes took place in the 3,127 secondary schools in England – a rate of nearly four per school.
A youngster under the age of 14 at one school in Leicestershire was convicted of carrying a gun.
The level of violence, for 2010, is believed to be a record high and has increased since 2008, when some 11,405 violent crimes were recorded. The true level of violence could be much higher as many bullied victims fear revealing the identity of their attacker.
It follows yesterday’s disclosure in the Daily Mail that nearly 1,000 pupils are suspended or expelled from school for abuse or assault every school day.
The number of incidents discredits claims that behaviour is not a problem in some of our schools. It also shows that the last Labour government failed to tackle violence. Fifteen children aged between four and six are excluded from school for attacking their teacher every school day. And a record 5,200 schools have signed up to a scheme which places a police officer on their grounds. Some 29 out of 43 police forces now put officers in schools.
The Coalition’s behaviour tsar Charlie Taylor, admitted violence is still a problem. He said: ‘Behaviour is good at most schools but these figures demonstrate concerning levels of violence that exist in a small number. It is a major factor in deterring good people from becoming teachers and is a common reason for experienced teachers to leave the profession.’
The Coalition is seeking to combat bad behaviour in schools by giving teachers more powers to search pupils and the ability to impose no-notice detention. At present they must give 24 hours’ warning. Ministers are also strengthening guidance on the use of force so that teachers are more confident with dealing with violence.
They are also changing the current exclusions system so that pupils who have committed a serious offence cannot be re-instated by an appeal panel.
The punch in the face that taught me giving pupils rights is turning schools into war zones
Muttering profanities and puffing out his chest, the teenage pupil squared up to me as I asked him to leave the classroom. Striding forward, his temper evidently out of control, he swung a fist that struck me across the face. This thug then marched out of the room, leaving me shaken and smarting.
Had this unprovoked attack taken place on the High Street, it would have been a criminal assault which would have been handled by the police. But since I’m a teacher working in one of our state secondary schools, this abuse is more or less regarded as par for the course. In our modern climate of leniency, it usually goes unpunished.
Don’t believe me? Well, nothing happened to the pupil who hit me. He was taken to the headteacher’s office, but was given only a lecture. Effectively, he got away with this attack scot-free.
As a science and maths teacher in a major northern city, I’m sorry to say that I’m used to this sort of violence. I know from experience that aggression, brutality and disrespect are integral parts of life in the classroom today.
A combustible atmosphere of tension now prevails among pupils who have ben taught neither manners nor boundaries of behaviour.
The news, revealed in today’s Mail, that police record 26 cases of Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH) or Actual Bodily Harm (ABH) in our schools every day will come as a shock to many — but not to those working in schools.
Other figures published by the Government this week revealed the true depths of this crisis in our schools. Almost 1,000 pupils are excluded for abuse or assault every single school day, more than double the rate of last year. Serious attacks on teaching staff are at their highest level for five years. Astonishingly, 44 teachers were hospitalised in classroom assaults in 2010.
A tidal wave of ill-discipline continues to sweep across our schools. Behaviour that once would have been regarded as outrageous is now common.
In another incident I experienced, I was walking out of the school gates at lunchtime when I passed a gang of pupils with whom I’d had a run-in during my class that morning. As the gang passed me, one of the boys shoved me right into the brick wall. ‘Sorry,’ he said with a mocking sneer, as the rest of the gang laughed.
I reported the incident to the police, but because I hadn’t suffered serious injury, they showed no interest in pursuing the matter. They said that if they took action, it might be construed by the boy’s family as harassment. That just shows how far the balance of power has swung against the teaching profession and in favour of even the most recalcitrant pupils.
There is no doubt that part of the blame for this trend lies with some pupils’ parents, who set no boundaries for their child but treat them as spoilt little emperors.
It is also a problem that has been exacerbated by modern technology, for as soon as a pupil is punished — by, for instance, being told that he will have to do detention — he is calling home on his mobile, pouring out his tale of woe. Often, the seething parent will then turn up at the school, furious at the treatment of his offspring.
I once kept back a boy who had been causing trouble in my class earlier in the day. As I was supervising his detention and marking schoolbooks in the classroom, his father suddenly turned up, threatening me and telling me I had ‘no right’ to take any action against his son. It was quite an intimidating situation, but not as serious as the experience a colleague of mine endured when he ended up in a scuffle with the father of a child he tried to discipline.
Parents are partly responsible for the creation of the narcissistic ‘me-me’ mentality among pupils that has caused such damaged to schools.
But a host of other factors are involved. One is the fashionable emphasis on children’s rights, which makes it so difficult to enforce any discipline and can put teachers in the middle of a legal minefield.
As the Government report showed this week, a quarter of all teachers have been subjected to false allegations of assault or inappropriate conduct. While teachers’ rights are ignored, even the most frivolous charge from pupils can lead to a suspension.
This happened to one of my fellow teachers, a superb science master with 25 years’ experience. During one lesson in the lab, he instructed pupils to push their stools under their desks to create more space.
Some of them were, predictably, being a little slow about this so he went round the room, shoving in the stools himself, only for one female pupil later to make a complaint that he had touched her bottom. We all thought it ridiculous, yet he was suspended. With the parents of the girl also threatening him with prosecution through the courts, my colleague could not cope with the stress — and resigned.
What made this incident all the more sickening is that the girl later admitted there was no truth to her complaint. Thanks to this culture of ‘children’s rights’, her malicious prank brought an honourable career to an untimely end.
Just as damaging to our schools is the ideology of so-called ‘child-centric learning’ which is promoted by teacher-training colleges and by the official inspection body Ofsted. Child-centric learning holds that teachers should be nothing more than ‘facilitators’ of learning, and that pupils should be allowed to study at their own pace.
Not only does this creed disastrously weaken the authority of the teacher, but it also means that pupils inhabit an environment where they are rarely challenged or stretched.
I have always preferred teaching a class where the pupils are seated in rows alphabetically, facing the front, because that way it is easier to keep an eye on them.
But the teaching establishment, through its fixation with ‘child-centred’ methods, prefers group work, where pupils sit around tables, with half of them not even facing the teacher and all too often chatting among themselves. It is a recipe for chaos, not learning.
Also of concern is the growing absence of men from the teaching profession, a situation which has worrying consequences for the millions of young boys growing up without fathers at home. Endemic family breakdown means that nearly half of children born today will be living in broken homes by the age of 16 — most residing with their mothers — a situation which is far worse in deprived areas.
It is vital that these children have male teachers, both to act as role models and to provide discipline for young men who are often tough and troubled.
But new figures revealed last week that a quarter of all primary schools don’t have a single male teacher. With just 25,500 men teaching children, compared with 139,500 women, the profession is becoming almost exclusively female. Even in secondaries, the vast majority of professionals are women.
So is there a solution to the explosion in misbehaviour we are seeing in our classrooms? My view is that you have to start with the little things if you are going to curb the major acts of violence and disobedience.
As things stand, a lack of disciplinary rigour extends right through the schools system. Minor misdemeanours, such as swearing at a teacher or refusing to obey an instruction, continually go unpunished, helping to create an atmosphere of indiscipline.
Such laxity is partly because schools cannot be bothered to reprimand pupils, yet they should pay heed to the famous ‘broken window’ theory from 1980s America, which revolutionised crime prevention.
The ‘broken window’ approach held that if petty vandalism goes unpunished, then far worse crime will follow in a neighbourhood. But if minor crimes — such as smashing a window — are dealt with rigorously, then the criminal justice system demonstrates its robustness and the overall crime rate starts to fall.
That is what happened in New York under Mayor Rudolf Giuliani, where crime fell to levels not seen since the 1940s. That is precisely the approach we need in our schools today.
Teachers must be allowed to have a measure of control in schools — and it’s promising that measures being introduced in September will scrap the ‘no-touch’ rule and thus allow them to restrain or eject pupils. Otherwise the anarchy, the bullying and violence will continue to spiral out of control. The teacher must once again be a figure of authority, not a totem of contempt.
British Families face £1,000 bill for green energy: Huge annual levy to appease the climate lobby
Families face punishing increases in energy bills of up to £1,000 a year to fund a switch to green energy and build new nuclear power stations.
Energy Secretary Chris Huhne yesterday outlined a new regime that will encourage firms to build thousands of wind turbines, tidal power stations and nuclear plants. The scheme is part of a government plan to shift away from fossil fuels, particularly coal, and so dramatically cut carbon emissions to meet UK and EU targets.
There is a fierce dispute between the Government, green campaigners, academics and industry analysts over the true cost of the programme.
Ministers claim the impact on bills will be £160 a year by 2030, based on the need to spend £110billion on the complete transformation of Britain’s power network. However, this relies on an assumption that families will cut their annual energy use in the home by 30 per cent over the same period.
Industry regulator Ofgem calculates that the work will cost more than £200billion by 2020. It has also talked of a rise of 52 per cent in bills – which equates to around £600 a year.
But analysts at the UniCredit bank believe the true cost will be even higher, with energy bills set to rise by around £1,000 a year – to £2,000.
Billions will be spent on wind farms and wave power, while there will also be massive investment to replace existing nuclear power stations, which are coming to the end of their useful life.
Mr Huhne has outlined plans to guarantee a minimum price for the electricity produced in this way. This inflated figure would ensure the companies involved get a good profit.
Separately, there will be a carbon tax regime to raise the minimum price for power generated from gas and coal to ensure it is not cheaper than wind and nuclear power. Money raised from this regime, estimated at £1.4billion a year by 2014, would go straight into Treasury coffers.
Billions of pounds will also have to be spent on a vast new network of cables, pylons and sub-stations to connect the wind farms and other power stations to the National Grid.
There are also plans to spend more than £11billion on installing so-called ‘smart meters’ in every home. It is claimed people will ration energy use when they can see exactly how much they are using – as they are using it.
The official customer body Consumer Focus described the Government’s claims of an increase in annual bills of £160 a year as ‘optimistic’.
Mike O’Connor, its chief executive, said: ‘We recognise the need for reform. However, consumers can’t be expected to write a blank cheque to decarbonise electricity generation.’ The Climate Change Act requires the UK to reduce its carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, compared with 1990 levels.
The Government also has to meet EU targets, under which 15 per cent of the UK’s energy demand must be supplied from renewable sources by 2020.
The rise in bills will result in a dramatic increase in ‘fuel poverty’, which is when a household spends more than 10 per cent of its income on energy bills to stay comfortably warm. It used to affect mainly pensioners and single parents, but official figures show 4.5million households are now in fuel poverty in the UK – compared with just 2million in 2004.
Consumer Focus says the true current figure is a shocking 6.3million households – equal to almost one in four – and could soon rise to 12million.
Critics say the expensive shift to green energy is based on a false premise of man-made global warming. Dr Benny Peiser, of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, rejected the Coalition’s figure of a £160 rise in bills, saying: ‘This is fanciful, it has just been plucked out of the air.’
Dr Peiser said there is no global shortage of gas and that Britain itself could be sitting on a gas gold mine, which would power homes for decades.
Justifying the proposals, Mr Huhne said they are all that stands between the country and power cuts. He insisted bills would rise substantially even if ministers did nothing. ‘This is the best possible solution for the British consumer,’ he said. ‘We have had 25 years of dithering on energy investment. Decision day is coming. ‘You can have blackouts or you can have investment. Which do you want?’
Dr Robert Gross, director of the Centre for Energy Policy and Technology at Imperial College, rejected the warnings of a £1,000 rise in energy bills, saying: ‘I have not seen any credible analysis that suggests bills will double unless a complete mess is made of the financing.’
Breast-feeding British mother ‘told to leave council headquarters because she would offend Muslim visitors’
A mother was ordered not to breastfeed her baby in public because she was in a ‘multicultural building’. Emma Mitchell, 32, was about to feed 19-week-old son Aaron when a receptionist at a town hall warned her to stop.
Last night Mrs Mitchell condemned council staff, saying it was time people recognised the law which allows nursing mothers to breastfeed in public.
‘It was just awful. I felt humiliated, intimidated and guilty through the whole thing,’ she said. ‘What I was doing was one of the most natural things a mother can do. You hear everywhere that breast is best for your baby, so why wouldn’t I be allowed to do that?’
The incident occurred when Mrs Mitchell, from Oldham, was in the Citizens’ Advice Bureau in Oldham Civic Centre. The mother of two was asking about hiring a babysitter for her two boys when Aaron became hungry and started crying. She then asked the receptionist if she could use a corner of the room to feed him, but she refused, saying it was a ‘multicultural building’.
Mrs Mitchell, who is married to Neil, 43, a lorry driver, said: ‘She then rang the manager who told me that I couldn’t breastfeed here and to go into the shopping centre’s public toilets instead.
‘A member of the complaints department came down and spoke to the receptionist. ‘But she then told me that I had caused an uproar. I just asked to be allowed a place to feed my crying baby.’
Michelle Booth, 38, a friend who was at the civic centre, said: ‘I don’t understand. It’s political correctness gone mad when they’re worried about offending people of other cultures over something so natural.’
Under UK law, mothers can breastfeed in public under the provision of goods, services and facilities section of the Sexual Discrimination Act, whatever the age of the baby, in places such as council buildings, cafes, restaurants, libraries and doctors’ surgeries.
Last night councillor Shoab Akhtar, of Oldham Council, said: ‘We fully support the right of mothers to breastfeed their children and actively encourage it due to the long-term health benefits it provides. ‘Mrs Mitchell’s disappointing experience has highlighted the need to make all our staff fully aware of our policy and our legal requirements.
‘Staff will be trained in the coming days to ensure this never happens again, and we will be contacting Mrs Mitchell to apologise. ‘Staff should make every reasonable effort to assist a mother’s need to breastfeed, whether she requests the use of a private room or otherwise.’
Outraged cultural elites name and shame the evil tabloid hackers
THE furore that surrounds the demise of the News of the World has little to do with the specific morally corrupt practices at that tabloid.
Rather, as with other highly stylised outbursts of outrage in recent years from the MPs’ expenses scandal to bankers’ bonuses, this is a media-constructed and media-led furore. The main reason the sordid phone-hacking affair has become the mother of all scandals is because the media assume that anything which affects them is far more important than the troubles facing normal human beings.
Outrage-mongering, an accomplishment of the media, is parasitical on today’s depoliticised public life. In the absence of political conviction, strongly held views have been replaced by expressions of outrage. The cultural elite substitutes its agenda for that of the public and an outraged media reality becomes the reality.
In the past week, many journalists have claimed the News of the World’s phone-hacking practices have offended the British public. Even a sensible columnist such as Matthew d’Ancona argues that “David Cameron and Rupert Murdoch are swept up in a public fit of morality”. In truth, this public fit of morality is confined to a relatively narrow stratum of society. People in the pub are not having animated debates about the News of the World’s heinous behaviour. Rather it is the Twitterati and those most influenced by the cultural elite who are drawn to the anti-Murdoch crusade.
Take Justine Roberts. She runs the parenting website Mumsnet and is the partner of Ian Katz, deputy editor of The Guardian. She claims Mumsnet users’ outrage about the phone-hacking scandal is the most intense she has ever witnessed on the website. No doubt intense outrage is exactly what she and her mates feel. Yet those who run the competing website Netmums report that, while many of their users were angry about phone hacking, a far larger number were interested in the online discussion about sports. Netmums attributes the difference to the fact that their participants are likely to be less cosmopolitan.
Often, when people speak on behalf of public opinion, what they are expressing are their own views.
Since its discovery in the 18th century, public opinion has tended to be represented in a way that flatters those who claim to represent it.
In one of the first English-language studies of public opinion, William Mackinnon wrote in 1828: “Public opinion may be said to be that sentiment on any given subject which is entertained by the best informed, most intelligent, and most moral persons in the community.” Mackinnon’s definition was more candid than those who now try to present elite views as the opinion of the masses.
Of course, all of us have a tendency to project our beliefs on to other people and no doubt the vanguard of the anti-Murdoch camp has convinced itself that it is the authentic voice of Britain. So Labour Party leader Ed Miliband can refer to the demise of the News of the World as the result of a heroic display of people power. Well, of course it is, if by “the people” Miliband is referring to the metropolitan cultural oligarchy. Depicting a media insider-led coup as an expression of people power is a self-serving fantasy. Will history characterise a campaign from above that involved a few hundred people and succeeded in shutting down a newspaper read by millions as an expression of people power? I think not.
My argument is not that the views of the media do not matter. They do, and are frequently successful in their attempts to influence people’s attitudes. Indeed, the News of the World itself was very effective at transforming its readers’ insecurities into a kind of morally disorienting outrage.
The News of the World’s name-and-shame campaign against pedophiles in 2000 demonstrated how quickly vigilante journalism can turn people’s anxieties into outrage.
Readers’ responses to the News of the World’s name-and-shame campaign expressed, if not Miliband’s people power, then certainly a form of public outrage. But this was the outrage of people living on council estates, who are often dismissed as brainless tabloid readers. There were some very good reasons to be appalled by the somewhat frenzied atmosphere created by the campaign. But the main reason members of the metropolitan elite tended to be hostile to it was because this was an expression of outrage from below, representing the malevolent universe of the tabloid reader.
If Mackinnon had been alive, he would have described the frenzied atmosphere surrounding the name-and-shame campaign as a form of “popular clamour”. He made a clear moral contrast between the “clamour” of those who do not reflect on things and the “opinion” of those who do. Today, this has been recast as the outrage of those who matter (outrage from above) against the outrage of those who do not matter (outrage from below).
The News of the World turned the cultivation of outrage from below into an art form. And paradoxically, its demise is largely due to the outrage from above directed against it by its opponents. The group-think, group-speak moralising of the crusade against the Evil Murdoch Empire is the cultural elite’s equivalent of the anti-pedophile name-and-shame campaign.
These two campaigns have far more in common than they would ever admit. In the case of the vigilante mob, the hysterical search for perverts became a way of evading the routine problems that face people in difficult circumstances.
And the moral outrage directed at News International is also motivated by the impulse of evasion. It is a displacement activity for those bereft of political imagination, who prefer moral condemnation to the project of coming up with an alternative.
What both these campaigns indicate is that the politicisation of outrage renders public life utterly simplistic. Such outrage offers us scapegoats, but never any solutions.
A powerful mood of cultural dissonance prevails in British society today. Under the surface, there is an increasingly uneasy relationship between conflicting values and lifestyles. Sometimes it appears as if the cultural elite and “the rest” live in entirely different worlds. Such dissonance is particularly striking in relation to how the tabloids are perceived.
For the cosmopolitan elites, the tabloid is a lowlife and degenerate form of media, which could only possibly be considered satisfying or interesting by morally inferior people. For the millions of people who buy these papers, they are merely sources of news and entertainment.
Revenge of the political class — on journalists who expose them
The travails of the Italian economy threaten Europe’s, and our, prosperity. Our war in Libya is unwinnable, according to a senior French minister. The British economy splutters along with little sign of recovery.
But none of this is of the remotest importance. All that matters is the phone-hacking scandal. I can’t recall a story that has so obsessed politicians and the media. Being a journalist, I am naturally agog, though I wonder whether the wider nation is as convulsed with shock and rage as David Cameron appears to believe.
The general turbulence among the political class is reminiscent of Revolutionary France before Robespierre got it in the neck. Would it be out of place to ask whether all this hysteria is not a touch overdone?
I am as loud as the next man in my condemnations of the behaviour of News International, and ardently hope that senior figures in the company walk the plank. I admit I have enjoyed the spectacle of Rupert Murdoch, the so-called ‘Sun King’, being chopped down to size, though it is ridiculous to pretend he is wholly evil.
And I am glad — though I admit I had not at first thought it important — that he has now withdrawn his bid to acquire the 61 per cent of BSkyB he does not already own. This is a dreadful humiliation. He has lost a newspaper, the News of the World, which he recklessly sacrificed in the hope that it would help his bid, and now the bid itself has collapsed.
What a setback! Photographs of Murdoch reveal him as a shell-shocked old man who cannot quite understand what is happening. Even his stewardship of the media empire he has built up is now in question. As for his son, James, ever succeeding him — forget it. Murdoch’s critics have achieved far more than they could have dreamt of only a week ago.
And yet, though the once invincible media mogul has been worsted, and although the now properly diligent police investigation is certain to lead to more arrests and some prosecutions, there is a sense that this story is only beginning.
The two inquiries under Lord Justice Leveson unveiled yesterday by Mr Cameron will spawn huge debate over the coming months. I can’t help wondering whether the inquiry on media ethics is justifiable.
A newspaper group behaved appallingly, and many leading politicians, including Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron, became far too close to Rupert Murdoch, who has duly been wrung, trussed and roasted. Why should all other newspapers, many of which are losing money, now be led into the dock, where — unlike in other recent inquiries — witnesses will be cross-examined under oath?
Compare what happened after Tony Blair led us into what I believe was an illegal war in Iraq. Very reluctantly he set up the Hutton inquiry, while his successor, Gordon Brown, asked Sir John Chilcot to conduct a second investigation, which has yet to report.
Even though they were not conducted under oath, at least we’ve had two inquiries into the Iraq War. But there has been no official examination of the scandal of MPs’ expenses, though there have been a handful of court cases.
Equally, the bankers who brought this country to within an inch of financial ruin have not been required to give a public account of themselves.
In all these instances enormous mistakes were made, and there were countless identifiable victims. There are, it is true, some unfortunate victims of the News of the World phone hacking, though no one has died or lost any money. Other newspapers, not owned by Murdoch, are being dragged into this process without having been accused of having done anybody any harm.
Politicians, in other words, are giving the Press a harder time than they have ever given themselves, or the bankers.
True, part of the remit given to the inquiry by Mr Cameron seems absurdly vague (how can you usefully investigate ‘the contacts made and discussions between national newspapers and politicians’?) and the purpose of the ethics tribunal may simply be to kick these issues into the long grass.
But it is more likely that the intention is to shackle the Press with new regulations, and bring it partly under the control of politicians.
If only there were a single leading politician who had displayed statesmanship and a sense of balance over recent days I would be more optimistic.
Mr Cameron has turned on his good friend Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International; virtually disowned his former spin doctor, Andy Coulson, whom he recruited against much good advice; and even told Rupert Murdoch, whose support he moved heaven and earth to obtain, to get his act together.
Whatever the truth of Gordon Brown’s new allegations of dirty tricks on the part of The Sun and its then editor, Mrs Brooks, no one can dispute that between the time he took over as Prime Minister in June 2007 and his dumping by the Murdoch papers in September 2009 he was on friendly terms with Mr Murdoch, saw much of Mrs Brooks socially, and did not betray any of the contempt for News International he now expresses.
There is much score-settling going on. Another example was the savage treatment of Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates by the Commons Home Affairs select committee on Tuesday. Mr Yates was at fault in dismissing calls to re-open the phone hacking inquiry in 2009, but he is a honest and hard-working policeman who should not have been treated like a common criminal.
Some of the Labour members on the committee, including its chairman Keith Vaz, appeared to be punishing Mr Yates for causing their party embarrassment by leading the ‘cash-for-honours’ investigation, which culminated in Tony Blair being interviewed by the police. Mr Vaz’s career has been dogged by allegations of sleaze. Between him and Mr Yates, I know which man I would rather have by my side in a trench.
This rampant score-settling has spread much wider than News International and the police to encompass the whole of the Press. It is hard not to think that some MPs, stung by media coverage of the expenses scandal, are trying to get their own back. David Davis, the Tory former leadership candidate, has nobly spoken up on behalf of a free Press, but such voices are worryingly scarce.
I long for someone on either front bench with a sense of proportionality, someone who is not intent on covering his tracks or getting even, someone who can rise above the hysteria and does not fuel the spookily unifying feeding frenzy that has seemingly possessed the House of Commons. Ed Miliband, who has been riding at the head of the posse shooting his rifle into the air, is not my man.
Can’t we get this scandal in perspective? Rupert Murdoch is on the way out, and on the whole I’m pleased about that. Others working for News International will follow, some of them in handcuffs.
The Metropolitan Police have some explaining to do. An inquiry into all that seems a good idea.
But, believe it or not, there are actually some more important issues in the world than phone hacking. Moreover, this country does still have pretty good newspapers, and a wide variety of them, too, which our political class must not be allowed to destroy in its Robespierrean fervour.
British Grade School pupils must not criticize their schools’s slack administration
“Police visited an 11-year-old’s home after her school complained about a Facebook group she set up criticising her headmistress.
Her parents Andrew and Joy Bagguley said they feared one of their daughters had been involved in an accident when they saw the Police Community Support Officer on their doorstep.
But the officer was in fact there about the page set up by their daughter Leah, in protest at what she believed was head Georgina Frost’s failure to deal with a boy of five who the family say had threatened her younger sister, Libby, six.
The group, called Hate Mrs Frost, attracted 16 members before it was taken down by her parents when the school then attended by both the girls – Park Hall Primary in Stoke-on-Trent – told them about it.
The couple, who also have a 13-year-old daughter, admit Leah was wrong to set up the page, but said it would never have been posted if the school had properly dealt with the boy who they claim threatened to stab Libby. The boy was admonished by a learning mentor, but they say the school informed his parents only when pushed to do so.
The Bagguleys have since removed Libby from Parkhall and she now attends Moorside Primary School nearby.