Freeze on foreign nurses as NHS chiefs admit they have no idea how many lied about qualifications and experience using fake IDs
An NHS watchdog has imposed a recruitment freeze on foreign nurses amid fears that workers could have faked documents to get jobs in British hospitals.
Nursing regulators admit they do not know how many immigrant workers could have fraudulently secured frontline health positions after faking evidence of their qualifications, experience or identity.
The freeze means that around 160 nurses are being prevented from filling vacancies in already stretched NHS units, while the Nursing and Midwifery Council conducts the urgent investigation into its own failings.
The astonishing disclosure comes after a week in which the regulator was heavily criticised by MPs. It raises major concerns for patient safety and casts doubt on whether the watchdog is fit for purpose.
Officials at the NMC told The Mail on Sunday that there were concerns over whether documents submitted by job applicants could be verified as genuine, and in some cases whether they had been accurately translated into English.
The problems emerged during an internal review, which began last month. And although it has not yet found any fraudulent documents, the NMC has been unable to confirm that no false applications have been made.
A spokeswoman admitted: ‘The quality of the information supplied in some cases is not proof of fraud but does not give us the level of confidence we would want.’
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, is demanding an explanation, saying: ‘The NMC’s main job is to protect the public. It would seem that it is having problems doing this. We are naturally concerned that the NMC has felt a need to stop registering foreign nurses. They are an important addition to the NHS, but public protection is the most important issue.’
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients’ Association, said: ‘I congratulate the NMC on being transparent over this issue because it has huge implications. The public will be concerned to hear the regulator telling us they can’t guarantee foreign nurses’ paperwork is genuine. ‘If supermarkets can check these kinds of documents before employing someone, why can’t the NMC?’
The NMC regulates nurses and midwives and maintains a register of all of those who are approved to work in British clinics and hospitals. It approves around 1,000 applications a year from nurses coming from outside the European Union. It also investigates bad practice and has the power to strike nurses off the register.
However, it has recently been criticised for failing to maintain an accurate register, so some nurses were cleared to work even though they were being disciplined or investigated.
The NMC suspended the overseas register in early February and will not reopen it until at least April 2.
A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘We aware that the NMC is currently undertaking a review of its overseas registration process. We expect it to quickly identify any weaknesses in its system and take firm action to ensure patient safety is fully protected.’
Last week, the NMC was criticised by the powerful Commons Health Select Committee for ‘failing to properly prioritise patient safety’ by not enforcing enough checks that nurses had a good grasp of English.
Blame Labour for Mid-Staffs scandal… says ex-Labour Health Secretary Frank Dobson who warned Tony Blair against introducing targets and competition in hospitals
A former Labour Cabinet Minister broke ranks last night and disowned Tony Blair’s government for the ‘reckless’ NHS shake-up blamed for the Mid-Staffordshire hospitals scandal.
Frank Dobson, Health Secretary from 1997-99, said he warned Mr Blair that a ‘mad rush’ to bring in more competition and targets in hospitals could harm patients. But Mr Blair ignored him and gave his Cabinet job to a crony who agreed to force through the changes.
Mr Dobson told The Mail on Sunday: ‘I told Blair that reckless changes could undermine patient care, but he didn’t want to listen.’
Mr Dobson criticised two of his Blairite successors as Health Secretary – Alan Milburn and Patricia Hewitt.
He said: ‘They became obsessed with wanting to break up the NHS into individual units. ‘I made my views known to them but was ignored. They preferred to take the advice of management consultants to medical consultants.
‘Huge sums were diverted away from nurses, doctors and patients to lawyers, accountants and PR men.’
Mr Dobson’s comments echo David Cameron’s claim that rather than NHS boss Sir David Nicholson, past Labour Health Secretaries should take the blame for the Mid-Staffs scandal in which hundreds of patients needlessly died.
The Tories claim Labour has tried to save Sir David because many of his fateful decisions took place when the party was in power.
An official report last month said the desire of Mid-Staffs health chiefs to seek elite foundation status contributed to the scandal.
Left-winger Mr Dobson was made Health Secretary when Tony Blair won power in 1997. He was forced out when Mr Blair appointed his close ally Mr Milburn to lead the drive towards foundation hospitals, with more competition and targets.
Mr Dobson said: ‘When I became Health Secretary, a number of professors of medicine said to me, “For God’s sake, Frank, keep change to a minimum or you will distract us from looking after patients.”
‘I never forgot their words. When people go to hospital they want to be in the hands of someone trained at a London medical school, not the London Business School.
‘Mid-Staffs was desperate to become a foundation hospital but only looked at the money aspect. Forcing hospitals to compete with one another is not a good idea.’
Both Mr Milburn and Ms Hewitt were unavailable for comment.
University professor, 37, dies from lung cancer after string of doctors dismissed symptoms as ‘anxiety and depression’
A university professor died of lung cancer aged 37 after doctors repeatedly dismissed her illness as ‘purely psychological’.
Lisa Smirl, 37, saw three different doctors with a range of symptoms over a year-long period but they were dismissed as anxiety and depression.
By the time cancer was finally diagnosed it had spread throughout her body and was terminal.
Dr Smirl, who was married to a medical doctor and lived in Leeds and Brighton, kept a heartbreaking online blog about her treatment.
Shortly after her diagnosis, she wrote: ‘How is it possible that a 36-year-old, health [obsessed] conscious, occasionally social smoking, middle class, fiance of a doctor can develop metastatic lung cancer unnoticed. How?!?
‘What the consultant told us was that not only was it the c-word, but that it was everywhere. ‘My brain, my bones, my liver. While in some ways this was a terrible surprise, in another it was a huge relief.
‘For the last year I’d been battling a range of bizarre and seemingly disparate symptoms that had forced me in September 2011 to go on sick leave from my job as a lecturer (assistant professor).
‘The diagnosis at the time was anxiety and/or depression. And while I was both anxious and depressed, this was due to the increasingly disabling symptoms that my doctor kept insisting were purely psychological. ‘So I was actually grateful for a medical diagnosis that confirmed there were objective, physical reasons behind my illness.’
Cambridge-educated Dr Smirl, who was originally from Canada, wrote how she first experienced shortness of breath and wheezing in late 2010, which was wrongly diagnosed as asthma.
In spring 2011, she was referred to a physiotherapist for shoulder and arm pain and started experiencing ‘visual migraines’ – losing her vision for half an hour – in June.
By September 2011, Dr Smirl was so sick she was forced to leave work, having been diagnosed with depression and anxiety and put on anti-depressants.
But despite a dramatic weight loss, she claimed three different family doctors refused to consider her symptoms in connection with each other.
She wrote: ‘Still, despite my pleas, and a dramatic weight loss, none of my doctors (and I saw three different family practitioners) would consider my symptoms in conjunction with one another – insisting that they were all common, unrelated problems (migraines, asthma, depression, back pain).’
In November 2011, she misread her asthma prescription and took ten times the recommended amount – but the drug made no difference to a violent cough.
Her doctor finally sent her for a routine X-ray and within hours, she was given the devastating news that she had cancer.
On her blog, called Stage V – as stage IV of cancer is considered terminal – she describes her journey from ‘a woman diagnosed with “anxiety” to one with metastatic cancer’.
Dr Smirl wrote: ‘I can’t prove it, and this is just my opinion, but I have no doubt in my own mind that my misdiagnosis was in large part due to the fact that I was a middle aged female and that my male doctors were preconceived towards a psychological rather than a physiological diagnosis.
‘It is so easy to say that someone’s symptoms are “anxiety” related if they are a little bit complicated, unclear or unusual.
‘You know when something is wrong. Find another doctor that you connect with and who takes your concerns seriously. Get referrals. Get tested. Refuse to be dismissed.’
Dr Smirl worked in the global studies department at the University of Sussex between 2009 and 2012, but took early retirement.
Despite battling the disease, she maintained an honorary lectureship in the department until her death on February 21.
She also completed a Great North Run to raise funds for the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation in November 2012.
Professor Richard Black, head of the school of global studies at the University of Sussex, led tributes. He said: ‘Lisa was a fantastic colleague and friend, a great teacher and researcher and truly inspirational in the way she dealt with her illness.’
Professor Justin Rosenberg, head of international relations, added: ‘Lisa was an outstanding colleague who shared her intellectual and personal vivacity with academics and students alike.’
West Sussex PCT and the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals Trust were unable to confirm that they were involved with Lisa’s treatment.
British primary school bans cops and robbers because of the ‘harmful effects of imaginary weapons on young minds’
A primary school has come under fire after banning its pupils from playing cops and robbers or any playground game which involves ‘imaginary weapons’.
School chiefs at Worcesters Primary School in Enfield, north London, outlawed the games over a fear that they will upset other children.
But parents at the 470-pupil school have reacted with outrage, saying that playing cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians was ‘part of growing up’.
Father Mark Ayers said his seven-year-old son came home last week after being told off for playing with a pretend gun.
The 38-year-old, of Enfield, said today: ‘This is just completely over the top. We all grew up playing cops and robbers and my son loves playing pretend army games – all kids do. ‘This just seems like a huge overreaction.’
Mr Ayers also spoke out after his son had a fun-size pack of Maltesers confiscated by teachers after it was spotted in his lunch box.
My Ayers said: ‘I put the Maltesers in as a weekly treat, but the school confiscated them for some reason.
‘The school should be concentrating on other things rather than banning children playing games and taking their chocolate away.’
Another parent, who asked not to be named, said: ‘My son was told that he was not allowed to play with imaginary guns or weapons in the playground by his teacher.
‘He’s nine years old and plays cops and robbers at home with his brothers, so he finds it quite strange to be told it’s not allowed to do the same at playtime with his friends.’
Headteacher Karen Jaeggi defended the policy this week, saying: ‘We actively discourage children from playing violent games or games involving imaginary weapons in the playground by explaining to them what it represents.
‘Some children can be easily frightened by violent play which is often influenced by computer games and we feel that such games can have a harmful effect on young minds.’
Speaking about the ban on chocolate snacks, the headteacher added: ‘At Worcesters we promote healthy eating habits since we recognise the problems of childhood obesity in the borough and want to do our best for the children attending this school.’
Eco madness and how Britain’s future is going up in smoke as we pay billions to switch from burning coal to wood chips at Britain’s biggest power station
Back to the third world. Enough to give any Greenie an orgasm
There could be no better symbol of the madness of Britain’s energy policy than what is happening at the giant Drax power station in Yorkshire, easily the largest in Britain.
Indeed, it is one of the biggest and most efficiently run coal-fired power stations in the world. Its almost 1,000ft-tall flue chimney is the highest in the country, and its 12 monster cooling towers (each taller than St Paul’s Cathedral) dominate the flat countryside of eastern Yorkshire for miles around.
Every day, Drax burns 36,000 tons of coal, brought to its vast site by 140 coal trains every week — and it supplies seven per cent of all the electricity used in Britain. That’s enough to light up a good many of our major cities.
But as a result of a change in Government policy, triggered by EU rules, Drax is about to undergo a major change that would have astonished those who built it in the Seventies and Eighties right next to Selby coalfield, which was then highly productive but has since closed.
As from next month, Drax will embark on a £700 million switch away from burning coal for which it was designed, in order to convert its six colossal boilers to burn millions of tons a year of wood chips instead.
Most of these chips will come from trees felled in forests covering a staggering 4,600 square miles in the USA, from where they will be shipped 3,000 miles across the Atlantic to Britain.
The reason for this hugely costly decision is that Drax has become a key component in the so-called ‘green revolution’ which is now at the heart of the Government’s energy policy.
Because it burns so much coal, Drax is the biggest single emitter in Britain of carbon dioxide (CO2), the gas supposedly responsible for global warming.
The theory is that, by gradually switching to wood — or ‘biomass’ as it is officially known — Drax will eventually save millions of tons of CO2 from going every year into the atmosphere, thereby helping to prevent climate change and save the planet.
Unlike coal, which is now demonised as a filthy, planet-threatening pollutant, biomass is considered ‘sustainable’, because it supposedly only returns back to the atmosphere the amount of CO2 it drew out of the air while the original tree it came from was growing.
The truth remains, though, that coal is still by far the cheapest means of creating electricity. But the Government is so committed to meeting its own and the EU’s targets for reducing Britain’s ‘carbon emissions’ that it is now going flat out to tackle the problem on two fronts — both of which forced the changes at Drax.
First, the Government wants to use a carbon tax to make burning fossil fuels such as coal so expensive that, before too long, it will become prohibitive for power companies to use them.
A new carbon tax will be introduced in three weeks’ time, and applied to every ton of carbon dioxide produced during electricity production. The tax will start at a comparatively low level, but rise steeply every year so that, within 20 years, the cost of generating electricity from coal will have doubled and it will no longer be economical.
Second, the Government is determined to boost all those ‘carbon neutral’ — but currently much more expensive — means of making electricity, such as wind farms, nuclear power and burning biomass. It hopes to achieve this by offering a host of subsidies, paid for by every household and business through electricity bills.
What forced Drax to embark on the switch from coal to ‘biomass’ was ministers’ decision last year to give any coal-fired power station which switched to ‘biomass’ the same, near-100 per cent ‘renewable subsidy’ that it already gives to the owners of onshore wind farms.
When the experts at Drax did their sums, they could see how, if they stayed with coal, they would gradually be priced out of business by a carbon tax which will eventually make their electricity become twice as expensive.
In terms of hard-headed realism, the Government was giving them little choice.
But it is hard to overstate the lunacy of this Drax deal. To start with, some of those environmentalists who are normally most fanatically in favour of ‘renewable’ power are among those most strongly opposed to the burning of wood as a means of producing electricity.
Campaigning groups, such as Friends of the Earth, scorn the idea that wood chips are ‘carbon neutral’ or that felling millions of acres of American forests, to turn trees into chips and then transporting those chips thousands of miles to Yorkshire, will end up making any significant net reduction in ‘carbon’ emissions.
Their criticism chimes with the view of Sir David King, formerly the Government’s chief scientific adviser, who this week told Radio 4’s Today programme that when the full ‘life cycle’ of these wood chips is factored in, he doubted there would be any real saving in carbon dioxide emissions.
Drax disagrees with this, although what King had in mind was all the additional emissions arising from the laborious processes required between the growing of those millions of trees in America and the moment they go up in smoke.
The trees must first be felled, then turned into wood chips in two dedicated plants that Drax is building in America. The chips have to be transported in huge ships thousands of miles across the ocean to Yorkshire ports, then ferried in huge railway trucks to the power station.
Even then, before being pulverised into powder ready for use, the wood chips must be stored in giant purpose-built domes, where they need to be humidified in order to prevent spontaneous combustion — to which wood is 1,000 times more prone than coal.
This has already given rise to disastrous fires in other power plants that have converted to biomass, such as one which recently caused millions of pounds’ worth of damage to Tilbury power station in London.
As Drax admits, all this means that to generate nearly the same amount of power from wood as it does from coal will cost between two and three times as much, meaning that its fuel costs will double or treble — so that the only thing to make this possible will be that massive subsidy, which will eventually be worth over £1 billion a year.
This is hardly good news for us electricity users. We have already seen bills go up by over £1 billion a year because we are being forced to subsidise the use of wind farms. In the years to come, with these vast subsidies going to Drax, they will soar ever higher.
Yet while consumers are being hammered, government ministers are delighted by Drax’s decision to convert to wood chips. This is because it will result in a significant contribution towards meeting an EU-imposed target, which commits Britain to producing nearly a third of our electricity from ‘renewables’ within seven years.
At the moment, we produce only a fraction of that figure, way behind almost every other country in the EU.
Despite the huge subsidies that have been spent on wind farms, their contribution is negligible. On one windless day this week, for example, the combined output of the UK’s 4,300 wind turbines was just one thousandth — a mere 29 megawatts — of the electricity we need.
But when Drax has completed its conversion to biomass, it will be capable on its own of generating 3,500 megawatts, reliably and continuously, and contributing more than a quarter of our entire EU target for the use of renewable energy.
Yet the very fact that the Government is so desperate for this switch away from CO2-emitting fossil fuels brings us face to face with another devastating and much more immediate consequence of its energy policy.
This month sees the closure of several of our remaining major coal-fired power stations. Plants such as Kingsnorth in Kent, Didcot A in Oxfordshire and Cockenzie in Scotland (capable of generating nearly 6,000 megawatts a year — a seventh of our average needs) will stop production as a result of an EU anti-pollution directive. This means that, to keep Britain’s lights lit, we’ll soon be more dependent than ever on expensive gas-fired power stations.
The trouble is that our gas supplies are becoming ever more precarious. Only this week we were told that Britain has just two weeks’ worth of gas left in storage — the lowest amount ever.
So quickly have our once-abundant supplies of gas from the North Sea dwindled that we are increasingly dependent on expensive imports from countries such as Qatar and Algeria and, to a lesser extent, Russia — supplies on which we cannot necessarily rely at a time when world demand for gas is rising fast.
Given this fact, it is hardly surprising that Alistair Buchanan, the retiring head of our energy regulator Ofgem, recently warned that our electricity supplies are now running so low and close to ‘danger point’ that we may face major power cuts. Some of us have been warning about this for years, having watched the reckless hi-jacking of our energy policy by the environmentalists’ hostility to fossil fuels.
Crucially, what many people forget is that if we do have major power cuts, this will not be like the ‘three-day weeks’ Britain had to endure in the early Seventies.
Back then, the country managed to get by, as people lived and worked by candlelight or huddled over coal fires. But, today, 40 years on, we live in a world almost wholly dependent on constant supplies of electricity.
Computers power everything from our offices and factories, to cash machines, to the tills and freezers in our supermarkets, to the traffic lights and signalling systems which keep our roads and railways running.
It is all very well for Government ministers to be obsessed with wind farms and other ‘renewable’ energy sources, but the fact is that the wind is often not blowing — so we need the constantly available back-up that will soon only now be available from gas-fired power stations.
And the great irony on top of all this is that gas itself will be subject to that rapidly escalating new carbon tax because, like coal, it is a fossil fuel — although, admittedly, it produces less carbon dioxide when burned.
The result of this dog’s dinner of an energy policy is that, on the one hand we can look forward to ever-soaring energy bills, while on the other hand we will have crippling power cuts.
The tragedy is that, listening to our politicians such as Ed Davey, the Lib Dem Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, it is only too obvious that they haven’t the faintest idea of what they are talking about.
They live in such a la-la land of green make-believe that they no longer connect with reality — and seem unable to comprehend the national energy crisis now heading our way with the speed of a bullet train.
The fact that Drax, our largest and most efficient power station, is having to go through these ridiculous contortions to stay in business is a perfect symbol of the catastrophic mess our politicians of all parties have got us into — all in the name of trying to save the planet by cutting down our emissions of carbon dioxide further and faster than any other country in the world.
Germany, which already has five times as many wind turbines as Britain, is now desperately building 20 new coal-fired stations in the hope of keeping its lights on. The first, opened last September, is already generating 2,200 megawatts; nearly as much as the average output of all of Britain’s wind farms combined.
China, already the world’s largest CO2 emitter, is planning to build 363 more coal-fired power stations, without any heed of the vast amount of emissions they’ll produce.
India is ready to build 455 new coal-fired power stations to fuel an economy growing so fast that it could soon overtake our own.
If these countries deigned to notice what we are up to in Britain, where this week we lost yet another of our handful of remaining coal mines, they might find it difficult to stifle a disbelieving smile.
But the sad truth is that we ourselves should be neither laughing nor crying. We should be rising up to protest, in real anger, at those politicians whose collective flight from reality is fast dragging us towards as damaging a crisis as this country has ever faced.
Conservationists beat Greenies — after plans to build 430ft wind turbines near historic estate are thrown out
Conservationists scored a major victory over the wind farm lobby yesterday after plans to build giant turbines near one of the nation’s finest surviving Elizabethan gardens were halted.
A High Court judge ruled preserving historic settings was of greater importance than renewable energy targets.
Mrs Justice Lang said the bid to build four 430ft high turbines on farmland owned by the Queen’s cousin the Duke of Gloucester was legally flawed.
She ruled the planning inspector had failed to ‘accord ‘special weight’ or considerable importance to ‘the desirability of preserving the setting’, and said the case must now be reconsidered in light of her judgement.
The case, which was brought by the National Trust and English Heritage, alongside East Northamptonshire Council, was hailed as a significant victory by conservationists, who had warned approval would undermine protection of other historic sites.
The giant turbines at Barnwell Manor, would have overshadowed the historic gardens at Lyveden New Bield in Northamptonshire. It is described as one of England’s oldest garden landscapes and features an unfinished 17th-century Tudor garden lodge, ‘steeped in Catholic symbolism’.
National Trust director of conservation Peter Nixon, said: ‘Of course we are pleased. The National Trust’s mission is to preserve what is very special to so many people. It is a huge judgement in favour of conserving of our historic landscapes.’ The charity is currently opposing or monitoring around 25 applications for wind farms due to concerns over their impact on the surrounding countryside or heritage sites.
Mr Nixon said yesterday’s ruling would strengthen the Trust’s hand when it came to future opposition. ‘It sends an important signal that area of outstanding beauty or national significance need protecting and are unsuitable for these types of developments,’ he said. ‘Although it is not a legal precedent, this can only help in the context of preservation.’
Earlier this week, the Trust’s chairman Sir Simon Jenkins said communities were complaining on an almost daily basis of a wind farm or housing development proposed in a sensitive landscape.
He said that far from stimulating the economy, the reforms ‘will produce not more housing, but more conflict’ and spark ‘warfare’ in Britain’s countryside.
Plans for the Barnwell Manor wind farm were rejected by the district council in the first instance in 2010, after strong local opposition. But the developers appealed and in March last year public inquiry inspector Paul Griffiths allowed its construction.
The inspector said he recognised the case had wide implications for listed buildings and conservation areas, but said the Government’s green targets – to produce 15 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2020 – must come first.
Yesterday, Mrs Justice Lang ruled the inspector had failed to ‘properly interpret and apply the relevant planning policies on the effect of development on the setting of heritage sites’ and quashed the decision.
She said the planning inspector was wrong to treat the ‘”harm” to the setting and the wider benefit of the wind farm proposal as if those two factors were of equal importance.’
Reacting to the ruling, English Heritage chief executive Simon Thurley said: ‘We are very pleased with the judgment. We brought our joint challenge because we felt the planning inspector’s decision did not strike a proper balance between the conservation of outstandingly important historic sites and wind energy.
‘The effect of the proposed turbines on one of the most important, beautiful and unspoilt Elizabethan landscapes in England would be appalling.’
Don’t break the bonds of Britishness
By Andrew Alexander
When immigration becomes the great issue of the day, remember this: a common cultural heritage is a pearl beyond price. It is not lightly to be tampered with.
Our heritage, or what remains of it, is under threat from Romania and Bulgaria. We already have so many classrooms where English is not the first language. Or indeed whole communities where English is rare. This will get worse.
One of the inestimable merits of a common heritage is that it tells you what your neighbours will be like, for good or ill, even before you meet them. You know what to expect and what they will expect of you. It makes for stability. It enables people to live with their differences.
Certain things can be assumed in what we think of as Britishness, a clumsy word with many meanings. At one level, it signifies a tolerably uncorrupt public life, a centuries old tradition of parliamentary government, a largely unchanged and unchanging constitution. In short, we like to stick with our old institutions. When we do make changes, it is by peaceful means, not by the violent overthrow which has been so common across the Channel.
Britishness at a personal level encompasses a variety of values: the stiff upper lip (another name for self-control), a strong sense of fair play and a (lingering) sense that how you play the game is as important as whether you win. Tolerance is a key virtue. Good manners and even the instinct to queue matter.
Apology comes easily, even obsessively. Was there ever such a people for saying ‘sorry’? We are not as hard-working and diligent as the Germans, but neither are we as excitable as the French or the Italians.
We are insular, unsurprisingly, as is our religion. The casual Church of England suits us, the Catholic Church with its rigidities and its urge for power does not.
Our quiet way of life was expressed in George Orwell’s words, which John Major borrowed so shamelessly as he thrust us further into the EU. Britain would always be a land of maiden ladies bicycling to church, of lengthening shadows on long lawns and cricket matches and warm beer.
Orwell himself devoted much effort to observing and living down his own Britishness — Eton and the Colonial Service. It was another characteristic of our race, that instinct to apologise.
When we made the error of joining what was slyly called the Common Market, I was intrigued by the foreign-sounding names of those who, like me, campaigned against it.
Their roots may have lain across the Channel, but in Britishness they had found the model of tolerance and moderation they admired. UK citizens simply took it for granted. But that is, after all, what you often do with a common heritage.
‘The English have something special,’ a politician of foreign descent once told me, ‘and only the English seem not to understand that.’
You may say that the virtues I described in Britishness exist largely or only in the imagination. But that is where we spend much of our lives.
One day Ed Miliband may be our prime minister, though I would prefer not. His father battled to get to Britain from Belgium. He knew enough about Britain to assume, correctly, that his Marxist passions would be endured in some leading British university.
Orwell saw huge importance in language. Would you, could you, understand Britishness with all its fault and virtues without the English language? Yet here we are with large areas where foreign tongues prevail.
You do not know what your neighbours are likely to think or do. The means by which we live with our differences have been seriously curtailed.
We are now told that, American-style, we must have Polish areas, Muslim areas, Indian areas, West Indian areas. Have we then lost our once-so-valuable common cultural heritage? Probably. Can we regain it? Probably not. And that is before we even get round to the Romanians and Bulgarians expected to swarm onto our hospitable shores.
The Government flounders as it studies ways of curbing this influx. Cameron is confused: ‘Yes’ to Indian students but ‘No’ to benefit-hungry Eastern Europeans?
We know that many of the changes suggested to discourage immigrants would fall foul of the EU rules for free movement. No 10 concedes this.
Now Cameron knows what powerlessness feels like. Britishness he never understood anyway.
Royal Navy girl who fought in Afghanistan told to cover up uniform on Virgin flight in case it offended other passengers
For 15 years she has proudly served her country as a Royal Navy engineer, risking her life in Afghanistan when she fought against the Taliban.
But far from showing Nicky Howse the respect she deserved as she flew back to her latest posting, Virgin Atlantic staff chose to humiliate her – by demanding that she remove her uniform because it was ‘offensive’.
They warned the 32-year-old helicopter technician she would not be allowed to fly unless she took off her combat fatigues and wore a sleep suit instead.
Petty Officer Howse is on a three-month deployment with a helicopter unit in the US, but had been home on compassionate leave to attend her grandfather’s funeral. She had worn her uniform without any problems on a Virgin flight from America to Britain the week before.
The incident happened as she waited for her return flight to Los Angeles from Heathrow on Monday.
She was confronted by a G4S security guard and Virgin Atlantic staff, who ordered her to change into pyjamas before boarding the jet.
They told her – wrongly – that it was the company’s policy not to allow military personnel to travel in uniform.
In emails sent to a civilian friend, Petty Officer Howse, from Ipswich, Suffolk, said: ‘It was horrific. I was made to feel uncomfortable in my own country for wearing the uniform I wear to defend the place. It made me ashamed of my country that a British serviceman can’t travel in uniform. I was so distressed.’
She told her friend: ‘It started at check-in. Some G4S security guy gave me the third degree about travelling in uniform. I was fuming. He was rude, he wouldn’t let the check-in girl give me my passport.
‘I was shaking with rage. I thought it was all done. But when I got to the departure gate I was taken to the side by the flight supervisor and they said I wasn’t allowed to fly in uniform and had to wear a sleep suit. I then stood feeling completely humiliated with other passengers, clearly curious as to what was going on, staring at me, waiting for him to come back with the black pyjamas.
‘I asked if it was Virgin policy, they said “Yes”. I refused to wear it until after I was on board then still refused but basically got told I’d be asked to leave the flight if I didn’t take it off or cover it up.’
She told her friend: ‘I was basically told it was because “We don’t only fly British passengers” and told it was seen as a threat. I went ballistic. I said “In the country I defend I can’t wear my uniform?”
‘They then said it was for my own safety to stop abuse to which I replied I can deal with that myself if it arises as I did in Afghanistan.
‘Honestly, I was gobsmacked and horrified. I was so distressed, particularly since the whole reason I was travelling was for a funeral.
‘To clarify, a British airline who claims to be Britain’s flag carrier won’t allow a member of Britain’s armed forces to travel on their airline in uniform.’ Armed Forces rules state that a serviceman or woman can wear their uniforms voluntarily from their ‘residence to place of duty, irrespective of whether they travel by public or private transport, or on foot.’
Colonel Richard Kemp, who led British forces in Afghanistan, said: ‘This is an insult to the Royal Navy and to the British armed forces who the Queen’s uniform represents.
‘This naval engineer has volunteered to serve and to fight for her country. How dare Virgin Atlantic and G4S treat her like dirt?’
Tory MP Patrick Mercer, a former infantry officer, said: ‘Our soldiers, sailors and airmen risk their lives so that firms like Virgin Atlantic can operate and make money.
‘It is nothing short of disgraceful that they don’t receive the proper respect due to their uniform.’
A Virgin Atlantic spokesman said it did not have a policy against passengers travelling in uniform. He added: ‘This was a completely isolated case in which our staff were incorrectly advised by a security agent … We have made contact with the passenger in question to express our deep regret for any upset caused.’
G4S declined to comment, claiming it had not received a complaint.
British Liberals are a bunch of ‘nutters and cockroaches’, says the party’s OWN president
The Liberal Democrats are a ‘bunch of nutters and cockroaches’, the party’s president Tim Farron has claimed in an astonishingly frank interview about their future prospects.
Mr Farron admitted the Lib Dems are in a ‘critical state’ but he was trying to ‘breed and train a bunch of nutters’ willing to work tirelessly to defy the opinion polls and win elections.
Despite being rocked by sex and court scandals, he claimed the party had the resilience and ability to survive of ‘cockroaches’ but warned: ‘One day someone will stand on us if we are not careful.
As the Lib Dems prepare for their spring conference in Brighton, starting tonight, Mr Farron warned the party faithful that they cannot take their future survival for granted.
It comes as a new poll shows fewer than a third of Liberal Democrat voters at the last election plan to back the party again, a major poll reveals today.
A survey commissioned by former Tory deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft suggests there is little room for complacency for Nick Clegg despite the by-election victory in Eastleigh last week.
Mr Farron told parliamentary journal The House: ‘We are a bit like cockroaches after a nuclear war, just a bit less smelly, we are made of sterner stuff.
‘The party is in a critical state. We may well be cockroach-ish, but we shouldn’t take that for granted. One day someone will stand on us if we are not careful. We shouldn’t assume our survival is guaranteed.’
He said the party could not depend on safe seats, so anyone who chose to stand for election needed to be a ‘nutter.
‘Essentially we are trying to breed and train a bunch of nutters, absolutely dedicated and who have the skill set and understanding that what it takes is not just doing a good hustings, it’s not just about being able to do a nice TV interview, it’s actually about having the immense fighting spirit.’
In recent weeks the party has been rocked by groping allegations – strongly denied by Lord Rennard – that women activists were sexually harassed by the former chief exeuctive.
Mr Farron – who previously appeared to make life difficult for the Deputy Prime Minister by suggesting the party had ‘screwed up’ – said the Lib Dems ‘certainly appear to have let people down’ but insisted it was crucial that they did not now go into ‘institutional self-defence mode’.
He added: ‘I think 99 per cent of the people out there just don’t care, it’s not been raised. I’ve done a lot of door knocking both in Eastleigh and in my patch this last week. It was mentioned to me once, and that was in sympathy.’
However, the Lord Ashcroft poll reveals the Lib Dems have a real fight for survival.
While many left-leaning former Lib Dem voters want the party to be more vocal in opposing the Tories, such a move would put off more moderate, Conservative-leaning voters who might otherwise stay with the party or even switch to it.
Lord Ashcroft’s research, based on a poll of more than 20,000 voters, finds that only 29 per cent of those who voted Lib Dem in 2010 say they would do so again tomorrow – just 5 per cent of the electorate.
The other 71 per cent say they would vote for another party, or don’t know.
However, nearly a quarter of those who say they would vote Lib Dem in an election tomorrow did not vote for the party in 2010 – indicating the party has picked up significant support since entering government.
The party’s reputation for scandal has also been bolstered by both the Rennard scandal and the resignation of Cabinet minister Chris Huhne, who now faces jail after admitting perverting the course of justice over his wife Vicky Pryce taking his speeding points.
Today Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Lib Dem leader said: ‘Obviously we’d have much preferred that neither of these things should have arisen.’ But he told BBC Radio 4: ‘Rumours of our death are grossly exaggerated.’
According to the Ashcroft poll, some 29 per cent of Lib Dem voters in 2010 now say they would vote Labour or Green – with many angry that the party joined the Coalition. Another 8 per cent of 2010 Lib Dem voters would now vote Conservative, with 7 per cent backing UKIP.
More than a fifth – 22 per cent – of those who voted Lib Dem in 2010 do not know how they would vote tomorrow. Though many have lost confidence in the Lib Dems, they are resistant to Labour and do not know who to trust on the economy.
The Lib Dems’ flagship economic policy – raising the income tax threshold to £10,000 – is backed by an overwhelming 85 per cent of voters, but four in ten think it was a Tory proposal. The most recognisable Lib Dem policy is an amnesty for illegal migrants, which only 25 per cent of voters support and has not been implemented in government.
Lord Ashcroft, who is now a leading pollster, said: ‘After the Eastleigh by-election Lib Dem activists will be relieved to think that despite the polls, strong local government and an invincible leaflet-dropping network will see most of their MPs safely back to Westminster.
‘But that is not the whole story. Localness matters, but a general election decides who walks up Downing Street. Clegg must have something to say about the Liberal Democrats and government.’
Lord Ashcroft warned the Tories would learn the ‘wrong lessons’ from the Eastleigh by-election if they chased the UKIP vote as this would leave moderate and centre-right voters ‘wide open to the Lib Dems’.