Archive for May, 2012

Labour’s National Policy Forum: the continuing case for its abolition

Labour NEC candidate Pete Willsman has some proposals for internal party reform. These include changes to the National Policy Forum (NPF) to give members greater information on what’s being developed e.g. by shadow cabinet working groups, and power to the NPF to decide what goes to conference for approval.

Pete’s a good guy, properly devoted to democratising the party, but he’s in cloud cuckoo land here.

 The NPF does not need amending. It needs abolishing.

It was one of those initiatives that may have seemed like a good idea at the time but it is clear enough now that it and its (willing and often competent members) are more likely to used as a mechanism to fob the membership off with some notion of ‘being in office’ than to provide input into actual Labour party policy.

The stark reality is that the Parliamentary Labour Party and its advisers set policy, often in reaction to political opportunity, sometimes at short notice, always behind closed doors.  Anyone notice the idea of an EU referendum discussed by the NPF (not that I’m against it)?

Members and CLPs will be better off without the NPF deflecting their energies, and better served engaging with their MP/PPC to demand the policies they want, and holding the same properly to account if they don’t get them.

Of course, I’m no help to the abolitionist cause.  I sought nomination to the NPF ballot paper on just this agenda, but my own CLP declined to nominate me (although others did), instead preferring someone perhaps less likely to rock the boat.

But I’ll be back.

Why Greece will do just about anything to stay in the Euro (part 2)

May 29, 2012 10 comments

Two weeks ago I was told I was a) economically illiterate; b) talking defeatist ‘cobblers’ for arguing, against the leftie consensus, that the Left should get right behind SYRZIA and other anti-austerity parties as they do what they must do to stay in the euro. 

I argued that the pain would be just too much to bear, and that far from being a decisive act for socialism, leaving the euro could simply tear the country apart, with untold consequences.

Now the National Bank of Greece has set out in numbers what will happen to ordinary Greeks if Greece is forced out:

Per-capita income would drop by at least 55 percent in euro terms as a new currency would depreciate by about 65 percent, according to the report, emailed from the bank today. The recession would deepen by about 22 percent at stable prices, adding to the 14 percent recorded in the 2009 to 2011 period, National said, while unemployment would jump to 34 percent and inflation rise to above 30 percent, pushed up by the higher cost of imported goods.

Greeks know this.  This is why SYRZIA may not win the elections, despite being front runners.  People may feel it’s simply too dangerous.

I repeat

Better for SYRZIA to talk up the ‘nuclear option, in the knowledge that Merkel and co will most likely blink first, but to have some form of compromise lined up if need be. 

Greece will and must do what it can stay in the euro, though capital flight and bank withdrawals might just mean it’s already too late.

And we should support them in that.

Murdoch’s part in the downfall of capitalism

Am writing a piece of moderate length about Leveson for Thursday, but I just wanted to run something by this blog (and apologies for the title – nobody wins without bombast).

Before the Leveson enquiry, Ed Miliband the leader of the Labour party talked about reforming capitalism. Even Zac Goldmsith agreed, but it was largely scoffed at as unworkable. Philip Aldrick for the Telegraph said:

Reforming capitalism will be the lasting legacy of the crisis, but Miliband – for all his famed intelligence – offers nothing more than platitudes and petty politicking … Given the right incentives, the free market would put responsibility back into capitalism all on its own.

Pitching Predator against Producer capitalism was not mocked because it wasn’t necessary. Indeed the banking crisis proved it was necessary. It was chewed up and spat out because it could not be done by a moderate politician.

But perhaps the banking crisis was not the fork in the road moment, like it should have been. Perhaps Leveson is.

I heard Chris Bryant MP speak on Monday about the enquiry and about Murdoch in particular. He shared a story about how in an earlier contact with Murdoch he’d never seen staff so scared of their boss. The reason being is that he usually wears big rings on his fingers to really grab people’s attention when he is speaking.

Indeed as Mr Murdoch addressed the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, James Murdoch had to take control of his Father’s hand a few times, instinctively inclined – as the elder Murdoch is – to beat his fist on the table to demand authority.

Murdoch, it is said, runs a tight ship. Or at least that’s how it appears. Of course when it comes to answering many of the questions from Robert Jay QC, the stock answer received is “I cannot recall” (or indeed the now-famous retort “it was not top-of-mind” from James Murdoch).

Murdoch’s only fall-back is incompetence.

So perhaps we should take pity on him.

Tom Watson MP, at the same event as the one Chris Bryant MP spoke at, said that the Labour party will be returning to debate the question of ownership. This must be on the grounds that one person or group can own too much.

This will be a very interesting debate, one I think which reaches into the producer/predator debate and renthuses it in light of Leveson.

Ed Miliband wasn’t simply in the right place at the right time, what he has been talking about for a while now on capitalism directly squares with a problem that has seen an unprecedented reemergence – on which the Labour party has to, and is, acting upon.

Categories: General Politics

Really, Ms Brierley

May 29, 2012 2 comments

This is an open letter to Sally Brierley, the Chair of the Nursing & Care Quality Forum, the creation of which was announced by David Cameron in January. 

It concerns her letter of ‘initial recommendations’ sent to Cameron on 18th May.

Dear Ms Brierley

I wish to offer my comments on nursing and care quality to the forum, and I do so in the context of your letter of initial recommendations to the Prime Minister of 18th May.  I will cover three specific issues: membership of the forum; staffing levels; and intentional rounding.

Membership of the forum

In your opening preamble you say:

When you announced your intention to set up the Forum, this was against a backdrop of high-profile failures in the quality of care, from isolated cases reported in the media, to systemic problems at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust and Winterbourne View. These cases have demonstrated that there are problems with the quality of some nursing care, and some of these problems are very serious.

Given your concern about Winterbourne View, it seems odd that your forum contains no members from the private care industry. 

While you might wish to argue that some quality of care issues are generic to both the NHS and private sector, it would surely be remiss of the Forum not to examine whether there are any factors specific to private care which create the risk of patient abuse of the type seen at Winterbourne View.  Surely, therefore, the Forum needs someone on it with an understanding of the private care industry.

I recommend that you take early action on this point, so that issues relating to private sector care are adequately addressed by your forum.

Staffing levels

The professional press has picked up quickly on your initial finding that:

We heard overwhelmingly that staff are concerned about staffing levels and skill mix within their teams and the subsequent impact that this has on the quality and safety of care, and people’s overall experience of the care they receive.

You go on to make the central recommendation that Boards or their equivalent should conduct bi-annual reviews of staffing levels and skill mixes, and that the Care Quality Commission should seek assurances that these are being conducted.

This is fine in itself, but it is not enough.  Managerialism is fine when there are sufficient resources to manage; managerialism becomes part of the problem when there are not.

I am therefore most concerned that you feel able to say to the Prime Minister, in your opening statement:

Of course, more money and more staff would always help, but we need to ensure we use the resources we have available to deliver more effective and efficient high quality care. Nurses need to rise to this challenge, backed by strong leadership at every level.

This reads to me like an early abdication of responsibility on the part of the forum, and yourself as its chairperson. 

I see nothing in the remit of the forum which requires that it offer recommendations only within the constraints of existing funding to NHS Trusts and private sector organisations.  If it transpires that, ultimately, there are simply not enough resources being made available to ensure good quality care – and this is what your early findings do suggest – then it your forum’s responsibility to bring this to the attention of the Prime Minister (assuming you keep up your correspondence to him), and argue for more resources.

You will, I am sure, have seen Monitor’s most recent set of financial assumptions, setting out the eye-watering level of ‘savings’ that Trusts in both the acute and non-acute sector are being expected to make over the next five years, and further to the massive reductions in resources they have already suffered.    The staffing level/skill mix problem is only going to get worse, and if your forum chooses not to engage with this reality, then I am afraid it will become part of the problem itself, rather than part of the solution that both you and I hope it will be.

I recommend therefore that at your next forum meeting your lead agenda item should be a revisiting the parameters you have set yourself for your work, in light of your key early findings of resources constraints, and that subsequently you write to the Prime Minister to inform him of the outcome of your decisions.

Intentional rounding

I note that the forum wants to:

accelerate the implementation of person centred approaches such as ‘rounding with intention to care’ – where every individual receiving care knows they will have at least hourly contact with staff – and we believe that wherever possible, handovers should be done alongside and involving those we care for. Therefore, we will identify and work with demonstrator sites in a range of care settings (including hospitals, care homes, mental health and community settings) and use the lessons learnt to support others on their implementation.

Clearly you will be aware of the issues relating to patient confidentiality with bedside handovers, and I am sure you will be addressing those. 

However, I wish to raise a much more fundamental concern about ‘intentional rounding’ which I feel has been insufficiently explored to date, and which governmental/prime ministerial pressure to be seen ‘to do something’ about care quality risks being wholly set to one side, with serious negative impacts on that care quality in the medium to longer term.

At his visit to a Salford Hospital on 6th January, the Prime Minister announced the creation of the forum you now lead.  At the same time he made the pronouncement that he was in favour of ‘hourly intentional rounding’ and that he wanted to see it rolled out across hospitals nationwide.

This was, frankly, an insult to the nursing profession.  Imagine, by way of comparison. if the Prime Minister had visited an operating theatre on the same day, heard from an anaesthetist that he was now using a new anaesthetic drug which appeared to offer less post-operative  side effects, and then announced on the spur of the moment that he [the PM] now wished to see the use of this drug rolled out nationwide.  Imagine, then, the uproar that would have ensued from the medical profession.

Yet the nursing profession appears to be expected simply to say ‘Yes, Prime Minister’, and get on with ‘rolling out’ a method of nursing which is a) unproven in terms of its medium-to-longterm effectiveness;  b) despite the addition of ‘intention to care’, still bears some of the hallmarks of the ‘back round’ that both you and I were  subjected to as young nurses, and which a newly confident nursing profession moved on from in the 1970s and 1980s towards models of care which did not depend on mindless routines, but which took individual patient needs into account.

I note that the forum is wary of intentional rounding becoming an exercise in box-ticking.  Yet I fail to see how it can realistically be anything other than that (though it will be box initialling rather than ticking). Daily rounding sheets that I have seen have between 120 and 150 different boxes where an initial must be placed to prove that the care has been provided, or the question asked.   That is 120 boxes every 24 hours for every patient. How can that not become an exercise in itself?

There is a rich body of research literature – sadly apparently  untouched by the nursing profession – known as implementation studies, which looks at the way in which policy is implemented ‘on the ground’, largely beginning with the groundbreaking work by Michael Lipksy in the 1970s (Street Level Bureaucrats: Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Services).

This research studies the way in which policy imposed from above is inevitably interpreted by those tasked with implementing it, and how in situations where both resources are constrained AND worker initiative is restricted, the outcome is often one of  ‘alienation’ and degraded public service.

You can see this process of alienation and degraded service on hospital wards today. Where resources are scarce, and staff are undervalued, you get the inevitable result of staff  ‘shutting down’ their empathy as a coping mechanism, and the results are all too clear: nurses ignoring patient needs, huddling at the desk in a mixture of resentment and guilt, unwittingly part of a downward spiral of the type seen at Mid-Staffordshire.

The introduction of intentional  nurse rounding will – I can guarantee – lead, perhaps after initial improvements, to worse care in settings which are already under staffing pressure.  Excellent nurse leadership may slow up the downward spiral in some cases, but in most cases even that will not help. From there, mangerialism will again kick in, with the blame attached to staff when it turns out that intentional rounding did in fact become a giant, cynical box-ticking exercise, and that patients in their care become even more dehumanized.

 I urge the forum to get a grip of the implementation studies literature to which I refer, and to look back in history to see why routinised care was dispensed with by the nursing profession first time round.

The forum should then think again about its ‘demonstrator sites'; the evidence base for intentional rounding simply does not exist, especially in terms of its longer term effects, to justify ‘demonstration’ over ‘pilot’, and as noted the move towards national rollout in compliance with the Prime Minister’s uninformed wishes will not just be dangerous for patient care; it will be an expression of abject acquiescence on the part of the nursing profession, with your forum as key representatives, and a massive step back for the profession in terms both of its credibility and self-confidence.

Yours sincerely


Paul Cotterill, ex-RGN (registration now lapsed as result of ubiquitous 1980s nursing back injury)





Policy rubbish

Sadly, I must inform TCF readers that I did not make it to the ballot paper for the National Policy Forum.  This is because I was not nominated by my home CLP, although I did receive nominations from other places.

I must assume this is because I have a very weak grasp of policy matters and how they pertain to the Labour party’s development of a coherent programme.

In other news, here’s an interesting post from Mark Ferguson at Labour list, suggesting that the Labour party may be addicted to ‘fixing’.

Categories: Labour Party News

Why are Labour MPs letting ‘Open Europe’ set the anti-Europe agenda?

May 28, 2012 1 comment

Matthew Barrett has an interesting piece up at Conservative Home introducing the work of Fresh Start, the initiative of three Eurosceptic Tory MPs, including one Chris Heaton-Harris:

The Fresh Start Project is in the process of comprehensively researching the different options for renegotiating and reforming – ie taking back – the areas of competency Britain currently cedes to the EU.

So far, so normal. Studying how best the UK can freeload on Europe as-it-is-now, rather than contribute to ‘research’ into how European institutions might be reformed/renegotiated so it benefits the whole of Europe, is a traditional Tory stance.

But then we get this :

The wider campaign for a new relationship with the EU takes the form of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for European Reform, which is open to all MPs, and which was set up in order to ensure that pro-reform voices from across the parties could be heard…… The pro-reform European think tank Open Europe acts as the APPG’s secretariat (my emphasis).

Regular TCF readers will remember Open Europe, and its relationship to Chris Heaton-Harris:

He [Chris H-H] doesn’t like regulation.  Especially EU regulation.  Especially things to do with workers’ rights.  His main source of evidence is the not-entirely-unbiased Open Europe:

“Based on over 2,300 of the government’s own impact assessments, an Open Europe study (2010) found that regulation has cost the UK economy £176 billion since 1998, a sum roughly equivalent to the UK’s entire budget deficit.”

It looks like Chris H-H may have got as far as the press release on this report. Otherwise he might have seen that this is a study of benefits/costs, not just costs:

“We estimate the benefit/cost ratio of the regulations we studied at 1.58. In other words, for every £1 of cost introduced by a regulation since 1998, it has delivered £1.58 of benefits” (p. 1).

Put simply, Open Europe is a rightwing attack job, happy to send out misleading press releases on the basis of twisted reports.   Just look at the website.

Why, then, would a solid leftwing MP like Kelvin Hopkins agree not just to sit on this All Parliamentary Working Group (alongside the odious Frank Field, naturally), but also accede to Open Europe as its ‘secretariat';  surely Labour MPs sitting on this group simply legitimises Open Europe’s pernicious policy influence within Westminster.

There is a whole leftwing rationale out there for the reform of the European Union: rebalancing power between the Council of Ministers and Parliament, challenging neoliberal assumptions built in the EU treaties, ensuring that free trade development takes human rights into account, and so on.  In advance of any EU Referendum, it is vital that the left rises to this challenge.  

Unless I’m missing something, allowing Open Europe free reign in parliament is the opposite of seeking to achieve this.




The real Lisbon Treaty: Tsipras, May and Eurogeddon realpolitik

May 26, 2012 7 comments

A short while ago, I mentioned the possibility of a Greek ‘fix’ involving artificial devaluation via (temporary) import duties and export subsidies, and noted:

Of course there is a reluctance even to think about tinkering with the fundamentals of the Single Market in this way, but as ‘eurogeddon’ approaches for both Greece and the rest of Europe, a temporary fix like this may start to seem an awful lot more attractive.

I was, as expected, pilloried for such left-field (borrowed) thinking , especially in the comments on the Liberal Conspiracy Sunny horror-edit, which failed to notice that I’d already acknowledged the issue, e.g.:

Providing subsidies for exports to the EU would be clearly illegal also as there’s no realistic prospect of it being approved by the EU Commission under the State Aid rules.

This is of course, true.  Up to a point…….

Article 30 of the Lisbon Treaty does indeed say:

Customs duties on imports and exports and charges having equivalent effect shall be prohibited between Member States. This prohibition shall also apply to customs duties of a fiscal nature.

But then Article 32 goes on to say:

In carrying out the tasks entrusted to it under this Chapter the Commission shall be guided by………(d) the need to avoid serious disturbances in the economies of Member States and to ensure rational development of production and an expansion of consumption within the Union.

This might easily enough be interpreted, if the political will is there, as meaning the Commission doesn’t have to enforce Article 30 if it’s going to create havoc, which then opens the door to precisely what I/Duncan have in mind.

 We’ll see.  It is only one option. 

In any event, the SYRZIA leader seems to be adopting a strategy of brinkmanship on pretty well exactly the same lines as I was supporting in that piece – refusing externally imposed austerity while at the same time refusing the option of leaving the Euro,  in the knowledge that both side have the ‘nuclear option’, and that it’s Merkel who will most likely blink first; that’s why IMF boss Lagarde has been sent in to play tough cop; SYRZIA will, I hope, see that as a demonstration of increasing desperation rather than one of bargaining strength. 

Cleverly, Alexis Tsipras also refers to the “structural reforms” that a SYRZIA-led government would undertake.  This might include some kind of unilateral export subsidy (import duties will of course be much harder to implement effectively, and a holidaymaker-focused sales tax may be another partial route). I suspect ‘structural reform’ is more code for reforming the tax system so that taxes from the wealthy are a) increased; b) actually collected.  The code may be about dampening capital flight for the time being.

Alongside this,  it’s interesting to see the Tories now in the UK making plans to restrict intra-EU immigration.  This is, like duties/subvention, apparently outside the spirit of the Single Market, as set out in Article 21 of the Lisbon Treaty, but open to exception:

Every citizen of the Union shall have the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States, subject to the limitations and conditions laid down in the Treaties and by the measures adopted to give them effect.

It will be interesting to see, if Sunny decides to hack this article up and post random excerpts of it at Liberal Conspiracy, whether those accusing me of crass stupidity in understanding the fundamentals of the Single Market also think Theresa May’s plans are beyond the pale.

For myself, I suspect Alexis Tsipiras and his comrades understand the real politik of the European crisis rather better than Theresa May, though I may be wrong – May might be on to an incredibly cunning way for the UK to leave the EU without the bother of a referendum, thus outflanking Labour from so far to the right that even Ed’s brilliant Euro-team won’t see it coming.

Grant Shapps – all talk and no trousers

Political Scrapbook have today written that Grant Shapps has flip-flopped over the chance to do something about payday lenders, even though he wrote a report slamming extortionate APRs just three years ago.

That’s true he did, but he didn’t say in the report that price caps were something he supported; instead he felt flooding the market with players would price out extortionate lenders, drive down costs and provide borrowers with value-for-money. In other words the market solution.

Elsewhere I have written about Shapps’ report:

In 2009 the then Shadow Housing Minister Grant Shapps opined that the lack of competition in the home credit market has meant that exorbitant rates of interest can be justified on the grounds that only very few businesses control the market. As Shapps puts it, 90 per cent of the Home Credit Market is dominated by just six companies.

So rather than through legislation, Shapps felt that six companies were keeping prices up, and that the real solution was to open up the Home Credit Market (which, actually, is also different from the payday loan market).

The problem of course is that this solution is bollocks. Shapps’ own, more considered, colleagues are only too aware of this. When I met Damian Hinds, MP for East Hampshire, he told me that even as a free-market economics advocate himself ‘Normal market rules do not apply here [in the Home Credit market]‘ – and that the rational consumer finds other motivations for paying over-the-odds for credit, such as being able to take out loans from their doorstep, which might otherwise look irrational to most.

Shapps has missed a trick with Stella Creasy’s amendment to the financial services bill, voting against her, but his naivety on the subject has been forthcoming.

Categories: General Politics

Social care – an appeal

During a recent event on social care, Barbara Keeley MP, Chair, All Party Parliamentary Group for Social Care, addressed an audience saying that the issue of social care, particularly funding, was a known issue among MPs, but nothing is being heard about it.

Further, they know it is an issue among the public themselves, particularly those who are often left caring for elderly relatives and juggling employment as well. Or even those who have to leave employment altogether.

Though, even in the age of internet campaigns, which really do work, not much is coming through on this subject. This is perhaps reflected in the weak plans by government to draw up a mere draft bill, which is rumoured not to even touch upon the glaring issue of funding – something which even with a cost cap, through the Dilnot review, will still see people spending a lot of money on the care they or their relatives receive.

There is another implication, that so often gets forgotten. That of the cost implications to unpaid, full-time carers. Dr Linda Pickard of the LSE put it in the following way:

Providing unpaid care to older people and people with disabilities is costly. Many unpaid carers leave employment and experience costs to themselves in terms of foregone earnings. However, initial findings from a new study at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) now show that carers leaving employment also involves high costs to the public purse. The study shows that the public expenditure costs of carers leaving employment in England amount to around £1.3 billion a year.

The implication thus being that if more money was put into social care, this would provide a counterbalance to the amount that is lost in tax receipts through people leaving their jobs to take up full-time care; not to mention the amount of money it costs employers to re-train other staff members on the back of this.

But sadly this is just another example of where short-term spending worries are given primacy over long-term savings and efficiency – or the spend to save model as it’s popularly known.

My ambitious appeal to readers is in tweeting this post to MPs, councillors and interested charities, social enterprises, private companies etc, to try and feed this issue back onto the desks of our elected senior representatives. Also it is an appeal to the Avaaz / 38 degrees-type campaigns that can engage the already-concerned public and raise this extremely important issue back to the top of the agenda again – before the problem only gets worse for social care.

Categories: Local Democracy

The perversion of science and the chavification of Scotland’s alcohol laws

May 24, 2012 6 comments

Today the Scottish government is passing legislation leading to a 50p minimum price per unit of alcohol.  The legal provisions have the support of all parties.  The UK government is set to follow suit, though at the moment 45p per unit is the figure being bandied around.

All this would be fine, except that the research on which the legislation is singularly dependent doesn’t actually say what the legislators in England and Scotland say it does.  I do wonder if any of the legislators have actually bothered to read the research. If they had, and if they’d appraised it honestly, the legislation would not have been passed in Scotland, and would not be in hand in England.

The research both governments depend on is from the University of Sheffield Alchohol Research Group.  The Scottish Government commissioned research and “modelling” from the Group, with its most recent report delivered in January 2012, and research for England in 2009.  The England report contains a more detailed methodology, but both studies are similar in design and the data used.

Here the crucial bit of the England report:

The elasticity matrices [the method used in the research] on their own are not sufficient to reveal the likely behaviour of the population to price changes, since these also depend on the preferences for beverage, drinking location and price point that the different sub-groups exhibit. However they do form a useful starting point for analysis, and can be compared with existing results from the literature. (p. 50)

My rough (and I admit slightly mean-spirited) translation:

The researchers don’t know whether the results the legislators want will be achieved or not through a minimum unit price, but they’ve gone out of their way to provide some mathematical modelling which suggests it might because, after all, that’s what the legislators want and they paid for the research.

The research depends for its findings on a complex set of mathematical modelling, with log-log analysis of the relationship between price and consumption, changing over time, at the heart of this.  The data comes from five years of the annual Expenditure and Food Survey and, in the case of the more recent Scotland report, the Scottish Health Survey.  This is sample data based on respondent completing diaries of what they purchase and consume over a two week period.

The principal outcome of the modelling is a set of  “elasticity matrices” in which the relationship between increase in minimum unit price and change in consumption is modelled for various population types, including moderate and heavy drinkers.  The model suggests that a 50p minimum unit might decrease overall consumption by 5.7% (Scotland research, Jan 2012).

It’s an impressive piece of work in its own terms, but it simply doesn’t find what those desperate to find a ‘solution’ to people drinking too much say it does.  Indeed, there is a strong indication that the real rationale for the mathematical modelling is to provide a fit with other research into the relationship between alcohol price/tax and consumption (not, note, minimum unit pricing):

Recent systematic reviews and meta-analyses by Gallet (2007) and Wagenaar et al (2008) found, respectively, a median elasticity for alcohol of -0.535 and a mean elasticity for alcohol of -0.51. By comparison, our elasticity matrix for all of England shows broadly similar results, with own-price elasticities ranging from a least elastic estimate of -0.2350 for on-trade higher-priced spirits to a most elastic estimate of -2.9386 for on-trade low-priced spirits.

The problem is that these meta-analyses don’t really show what the researchers and legislators want them to show either, even though they are meta-analyses of the general relationship between price and consumption (where you might well expect an inverse relationship)

Take the Wagenaar et al. study:

Price/tax also affects heavy drinking significantly (mean reported elasticity = -0.28, individual-level r = -0.01, P < 0.01), but the magnitude of effect is smaller than effects on overall drinking.

This is the opposite of what the legislation is aimed at: heavy drinking leads to anti-social behaviour and increased health problems.

The Wagenaar report also recgonises that not all may be as it seems from the 112 studies it analyses:

[P]ublication bias(or, more generally, small-study bias) is always a threat to the validity of a meta-analysis. Statistically significant findings are more likely to be published than those that are not significant with one estimate suggesting that the odds of publication are 2–4 times greater when results are statistically significant. Thus, it is possible that a substantial number of studies with non-significant effects remain unpublished.

So what’s going on?  Why are the English and Scottish governments apparently so keen to push through legislation which is wholly based on wholly spurious evidence?

Why, on the other hand, is the Scottish government apparently so keen to overlook the research ‘findings’ that a 70p per unit price would lead (p.5 of report) to a 16.9% reduction in consumption, while the 50p price actually adopted will read to a 5.7% one? Does it not have the courage of its public health convictions? Or is is, perchance,  that a 70p unit price would put the price of ‘decent’ wine up, while the 50p one only affects the really cheap alcohol that the poor people drink?

The answer to these rhetorical questions is simple enough.

There is a problem-drinking problem – that can’t and shouldn’t be denied.   The respective governments are desperate to be seen to be doing something.

Doing something genuinely effective about it is beyond them, because that would mean putting in place policies (and government spending) which lead to people having realstic choices other than blotting out – at least for the night – what they have to live with.  That’s not a new, or British cultural problem – re-read the Paris bit of George Orwell’s Down and in London and Paris to remind yourself of that.

So the easy option is to put in place legislation aimed (almost certainly ineffectively) at a certain type of person most in the public eye.  Owen Jones calls them ‘chavs’. They’re probably called something else in Scotland.

And when the minimum price measure fails – and it will fail – at least the problem-drinking problem will be set out clearly in terms of the ‘target population’ (those chavs who got round the law by spending more on booze/buying it illegally), and the need to control it more effectively.  That’s even written into the ‘sunset clause’ provisions of the new Scottish Act.

The Scottish and UK governments perverting the role of science for short-term political ends at the expense of  social cohesion. Who’d have thought it?


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