Posts Tagged ‘conservatives’
The government is a quarter of the way through a 12 week consultation on its plans to extend marriage to gay partners in the UK.
As with many other of the current government’s policies to date, public support appears to be in the minority and nowhere is this highlighted better than in the number of people who have signed opposing petitions on the issue.
Since launching on February 20, the Coalition for Marriage petition, which is campaigning for the definition of marriage to remain unchanged, has attracted over 384,000 signatures. In contrast, at the time of writing just 38,353 signatures have been added to a counter petition, Coalition for Equal Marriage, which was created only two days later on February 22.
Based on those figures, those in favour of a change to the law defining marriage are outnumbered by more than ten to one.
The argument for change centres around equality, but civil partnerships were created exactly for that reason.
The Oxford Dictionary defines marriage as “the formal union of a man and a woman, typically as recognized by law, by which they become husband and wife“.
There can’t therefore be discrimination in reserving marriage for one man and one woman when that is the very definition of what marriage means. Marriage is male complementing female and becoming one. Any other definition simply doesn’t equate to marriage.
If couples who have entered into a civil partnership believe that they are lacking certain rights or privileges which are afforded to married couples, and believe that the rights of a civil partnership should closely mirror those of a marriage, then that’s the debate to be having.
To feel a need to fight for the redefinition of marriage is another thing entirely – and not only unnecessary, but it’s also unwanted by a large number of people.
The government’s controversial Health and Social Care bill has passed all of the political obstacles in its way, and is set to become law within the next month.
The whole process which has been involved in getting the bill through has given much insight into the level of power held by our politicians – power to ultimately do whatever they please.
Amongst the professional bodies that represent the frontline medical professionals working in the NHS, virtually all were against the bill.
Organisations that demanded that the bill be completely withdrawn included the British Medical Association, Royal College of General Practitioners, Royal College of Nursing, Royal College of Midwives, UK Faculty of Public Health, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Royal College of Radiologists and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.
Others raised major concerns and concluded that they couldn’t support the bill in its current form, whilst members of the Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Institute of Healthcare Management and Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists all voted for the bill to be withdrawn.
To discuss implementation of the Bill, David Cameron held a Downing Street summit last month. All of the carefully selected guests – representing a number of professional bodies within the health service – were known to have expressed some degree of support for the Bill, or had shown willingness to work with the government.
However, of the seven known bodies who were at the summit, three later called for a total withdrawal of the bill, with the others all expressing major concerns.
It’s fair to say that although there are individuals who support the bill, the many professional bodies representing every health worker in the country are strongly opposed to the reforms.
Having already been pressured into making at least one high-profile U-turn on policy, the government was never going to back down on its plans for the health service – even in the face of almost total opposition from those who, quite frankly, know far more about the running of the NHS than politicians.
Such a massive reorganisation of the health service was also contrary to the pre-election mandate of both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats and that’s one reason why the Bill needed to be pushed through so quickly, giving the government as much time as possible to implement the changes before the next general election.
Ahead of the final vote on the bill, the coalition government faced fresh calls to publish a transitional risk register, a document detailing the known risks involved in restructuring. In defiance of the Information Commissioner and the Information Tribunal – both of whom had ordered the risk register to be published – the government refused. In any case, the government hold the power to veto such a court ruling.
And that should no longer surprise any of us. Because once elected, politicians can do just as they please.
On the subject of the National Health Service, which is attracting greater media coverage as the government’s reforms near their most crucial stage, I read last night of a senior health professional who is facing disciplinary action for publicly adding his voice to the wave of criticism over the bill.
Presumably the concerns of the professional in question are, like most critics, based on fears that the planned restructure will affect the quality of treatment and care throughout the Health Service.
The action being taken against him by NHS management is based on their stance that it is “inappropriate for individuals to raise personal concerns about the government reforms” and comes just two days after David Cameron held a summit on the NHS reorganization with only the professional bodies who have offered some degree of support for the reform in attendance.
Less than two months ago, the Department of Health set up a free helpline for whistleblowers who felt it necessary to report issues of poor practice within the health service in order to help raise standards.
Of the helpline, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: “This will play an important role in creating a culture where staff will be able to raise genuine concerns in good faith, without fear of reprisal.”
Perhaps “genuine concerns” can only relate to practices currently being undertaken and cannot be raised in advance of anything which is feared to be of no benefit to patients.
If that is the case then whilst the professional at the centre of the disciplinary action may be forced into silence for the meantime – along with any other professionals who fear for the future of the NHS – the whistleblowing hotlines could be rather busy if or when the reforms do get the go-ahead.
As David Cameron holds a special summit at Downing Street today, there are fewer signs than ever that this is a government prepared to listen.
Following initial criticism of the plans for widespread NHS reform, a high profile “listening exercise” was conducted between April and July of last year in order to address some of the concerns and encourage greater support for the reforms.
Since then however, the number of professional bodies to withdraw the tentative support they originally offered the government has increased, revealing an opinion that strongly suggests there are very few professionals involved in the NHS who have any confidence in the reorganizations proposed by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley.
Neither Lansley nor Cameron appear able to convince doubters that the plans, in their current form, are necessary or will result in better quality of treatment in the NHS.
Indeed the concerns amongst professionals are that the Bill will affect patient care, with specific examples given of areas where it is felt that patients will be more at risk.
Some of those examples are believed to be detailed in the Risk Register, a publication produced by the Department of Health and originally due for release last Autumn, but held back by Andrew Lansley despite repeated calls by the Information Commissioner for the government to publish the document.
Critics argue that the Risk Register is being kept private due to its inclusion of information which would threaten the government’s chances of seeing the bill passed. A debate is set for Parliament on Wednesday to vote on its publication.
It is unclear whether the outcome will affect the government from forcing through its deeply unpopular plans.
What is certain is that unlike the forestry issue, there will be no last minute U-turn by David Cameron on the NHS despite his continued difficulties in reassuring MPs, medical professionals and voters that the reforms proposed by his government – and in some cases already underway – will benefit the health service.
If the bill does go through, there will be huge pressure on NHS staff to meet the extra demands placed on them at the same time as they are expected to make massive financial savings within a tightening budget.
But after avoiding answering questions by MPs when pressed on some of the problems with the bill, and having failed to listen to or address the serious concerns expressed by the likes of the British Medical Association, who have now been left out of discussions held by David Cameron over the implementation of key aspects detailed in the reforms, it could be the Prime Minister himself who will feel the most pressure to ensure that public confidence in the health system remains strong.
As with any situation involving the unions, it’s always difficult to know who is telling the truth when there are two contradictory stories being told.
Regarding the public sector pension scheme, which the government has made a number of changes to, we are told by the unions that the government haven’t been negotiating properly while the government have insisted that negotiations are ongoing and labelled their offer as “generous”.
But the conduct of the government in recent days gives some indication as to how seriously they’re treating the issue. David Cameron has been accused by Labour of “spoiling for a fight” and did little to disprove such an accusation with a quite dismissive remark labelling the strikes as “a damp squib”
The pension strike has appeared to be the last thing on the David Cameron’s mind in recent weeks, with very little intent shown by the prime minister to agree on a deal.
In the meantime, random figures have been conjured up by Danny Alexander in attempts to reduce support for those taking industrial action by predicting its effect on the economy. Judging by the huge increase in the number of shoppers in cities throughout the country, he needn’t have worried.
It seemed to be yet another method of belittling hundreds of thousands of hard-working people in important jobs who will be severely impacted when the government’s new public sector pension plans kick in next spring, and the contempt shown to those workers by fellow government members highlight exactly how the likes of teachers and health professionals are viewed by the coalition.
Going back to the “generous” offer, it remains a mystery how an offer which involves paying significantly more money for a longer period of time in order to get less out of it is “generous”. When all of that is on top of pay cuts and/or pay freezes, high taxes and a cost of living which is constantly rising, and low interest rates that affect any ability to save for retirement through alternative plans, is it any wonder that the unions are in complete unity in fighting against the governments revised pension terms?
On top of the rhetoric coming from cabinet ministers, Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat Party president claimed that most workers’ pensions would be “better, or certainly no worse” under the new plans. How such a conclusion is reached, who knows?
And that is the problem. In all of the government’s claims over their generosity, they have released no details of exactly what their generous offer is, which make it hard to believe that there even is one.
Many people’s perceptions of the coalition are of a government who cannot be trusted.
The way in which they’ve handled the pensions situation is unlikely alter any such perceptions.
The government’s ‘estimate’ that tomorrow’s strikes would cost Britain up to £500million was widely criticised by Union representatives.
Danny Alexander came up with the amount, saying: “£500 million is a realistic worst-case estimate of the impact of this day of strike action on the economy, assuming that everyone the unions balloted goes on strike. That’s a very significant hit to the economy at what is an incredibly challenging time for the UK and for economies all round the world. That’s one of the reasons why this strike action is so irresponsible.”
The response by trade union officials describe the figure as “fantasy economics”.
There is certain to be much disruption caused by the industrial action, but it’s baffling that any sort financial cost can be put on the strikes.
For a start, those involved will lose a day’s pay. Even worked out at the national average wage, it would result in a public sector saving of nearly £100 per person, and over £192million in total, based on the expected number of two million workers striking.
More important for the economy is that with Christmas less than a month away, and thousands of school closures throughout the country, the day of action may be used by many to get some of those all important presents sorted. A welcome midweek boost for the nation’s retailers.
So amongst all the doom, gloom, and disruption, there are some positives, after all.
The recent news that the government has scrapped a news NHS IT system has unsurprisingly caused a lot of anger.
Not anger caused as a result of abandoning a project which has been doomed to fail for some time, but anger at the amount of money thrown away on the scheme already.
Of the £12bn total cost of the system, at least £2.7bn of public money had been spent as of last month.
It’s a huge amount of money under any circumstances, but particularly so when the economy is struggling and when a process of cutting NHS staff is already underway.
To illustrate the scale of the waste, it would be enough to pay a £25,000-a-year salary to 21,000 NHS workers. For five years.
In most sectors of employment, the people most responsible for making such catastrophic decisions would find themselves looking for work, probably nursing a severely damaged reputation. Something which seems not to apply to those running the country.
Sure, we’re all capable of making mistakes, and we can’t expect our MPs to be perfect. They have difficult jobs, despite half of the country believing they could do better.
But when mistakes are made by a government on such a scale, is it not right that those at fault are held to account rather than carrying on regardless, taking no responsibility?
It was a similar story with the failed FireControl project which intended to replace local rescue control rooms with nine regional control centres across the country.
Only one has been used, with the rest lying empty but still costing £4m a month to maintain. Almost £500m will have been wasted on the project in total.
Again there is no-one being held accountable for the disastrous outcome, and highlights how utterly untouchable those in government currently are.
Parliament endorsed prison sentences for looters involved in the rioting, though when many MPs themselves were guilty of theft – though obviously not officially described as such – they offered a quiet apology, gave back some of what they had taken, and then hoped for the fuss to die down. Which it duly did. Only two MPs found themselves jailed.
It’s time that our MPs were treated the same way as any regular person on the street when they get things so badly wrong.
And not many of us would stand a chance of getting away with explaining to the boss that we’d just wasted £3bn of company money.