Last Thursday Woman’s Hour, the 10am slot on BBC Radio 4, had a feature on the growing trend in the UK for schools to ban girls from wearing skirts (it starts at 32:25, not where the dividing line is), after teachers have got sick of sending girls home or into isolation for wearing their skirts too short. Most recently this has included Bridlington School in Hull, whose headteacher Sarah Pashley (right) said that the behaviour of some girls was causing incidents that had made male teachers uncomfortable. Over the years schools have moved from making skirts compulsory for girls to allowing trousers and the ban on skirts has come more recently. The first I remember was Kesgrave High near Ipswich, which banned skirts in 2004 because the (female) chair of governors said she did not like girls cycling to school in short skirts which gave them what she called a “come hither” look. (The ban remains in place.) These days such bans are often justified in terms of preventing girls’ dress becoming a distraction for both boys and male teachers, and the same is true of similar rules in non-uniform dress codes in other schools, particularly in the USA. The Woman’s Hour feature included two male teachers (Vic Goddard, who has featured in Educating Essex, and Francis Gilbert), oddly given that some of those who have introduced these rules are themselves women, and a female gender studies academic, Jessica Ringrose of University College London.
The BBC reported today that Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez (right), the gunman of Kuwaiti origin who murdered five US marines in Chattanooga, Tennessee, last week, had sent what it called a “war text” to a friend the day before the shooting. The text quoted what the BBC calls “hadith 38”, which the friend “said he thought nothing of the text at the time, but now wonders if it was a hint at the attack to come”. Other friends (also not named) said that he “spoke of his anger about conflicts in the Middle East, including Israeli bombing campaigns in Gaza and the civil war in Syria, after returning from a trip to Jordan last year”, and that “his level of understanding and awareness really rose after he came back”.
Last Wednesday the BBC’s Call You and Yours programme on Radio 4 held a feature on the ‘progress’ in getting long-term residents out of assessment and treatment units (ATUs), the type of short-term mental health units for people with learning disabilities that includes Winterbourne View, where abuse was exposed in Panorama in 2011, and the Slade House STATT unit in Oxford in which Connor Sparrowhawk died because of neglect in 2013. The programme featured an interview with Phill Wills, whose son Josh has been in a residential unit in Birmingham since 2012, 260 miles from his family who live in Cornwall, and with Sir Stephen Bubb, who this week published a report which showed that thousands of people were still languishing in ATUs despite ministers’ pledging four years ago to get them out.
Yesterday the government announced that labels on drugs prescribed by the NHS in England that cost over £20 will have the cost printed on them along with the words “funded by the UK taxpayer”. According to the BBC report, the decision is part of an effort to reduce medication wastage — medicines prescribed but never used — which allegedly costs £300m a year. Quite a few of my friends online are chronically ill and rely on medications to keep them alive or at least to make some semblance of normal life possible. Personally, I’m on thyroid supplements daily, and have been since age 5, and get free prescriptions, which I suspect many of my friends don’t. The reasons this is a bad idea were obvious.
Kids in Crisis was a programme about children with severe mental health problems in the UK who are being transferred a long way from home, sometimes hundreds of miles, because there is no inpatient care anywhere near where they live. They focussed on four families (with one exception, the young people themselves did not appear in person), three of whose children were already in that situation and one who was displaying difficult behaviour including damaging property and self-harm, and who it was suggested might need inpatient care in the future, which was not available in his home area. While at least two of the young people have Asperger’s syndrome, this was about child and adolescent mental illness, not learning disability; similar cases involving children and young people with challenging behaivour stemming from severe autism (e.g. Josh Wills, who is expected to return to Cornwall from Birmingham after three years this month) were not featured. They also interviewed mental health support workers from the local NHS trust, who explained the difficulties they had in finding beds for young people during a mental health crisis. It was mentioned in the programme that the Royal College of Psychiatrists reported that nine out of ten psychiatrists surveyed said they had sent a patient a long way from home for treatment in the past year. (The programme can be viewed in the UK on the Channel 4 website for the next 29 days. More: Upside Down Chronicles.)
Recently the healthblogosphere and Twitter has been buzzing with talk of NHS managers’ and other public health and social care bureaucrats’ love of the “non-apology” — the statement that they are sorry if we are offended by their statement, or sorry that you are not satisfied, rather than sorry causing injury or death with mistakes or negligence. This report states that “doctors, nurses and midwives” will be subject to “tough new rules designed to make the NHS more honest”, which will compel them to apologise personally for such mistakes:
The General Medical Council (GMC), which regulates doctors, and the Nursing and Midwifery Council think that genuine, personal apologies will help patients overcome their anxiety and distress.
“Patients are likely to find it more meaningful if you offer a personalised apology – for example ‘I am sorry …’ – rather than a general expression of regret about the incident on the organisation’s behalf,” says the guidance, which was prompted by the Mid Staffordshire care scandal.
“Saying ‘I am sorry’ is intuitive. You want to avoid saying, for example, ‘my trust regrets’ or ‘the organisation that I work for regrets’. These could be seen by patients as slightly weasel words. They want a personal apology and for the doctor or the team to show genuine contrition,” said Professor Terence Stephenson, an eminent paediatrician who is the GMC’s chairman.
Over the past month the BBC has been running a four-part series called Protecting Our Foster Kids, which went out late at night and featured a series of children in Dorset (a mostly rural county in southern England) who were in foster care, and their carers and some of the social workers. It did not feature any disputes (there was no argument about the chidren’s need to be in foster care and no challenges from the parents, and only one of the children — a baby — was facing adoption) but did feature two of the placements breaking down, in both cases months after they started. The first featured two sisters who had been in a number of placements, and although it was meant to be a permanent place for the younger (14-year-old) sister, it broke down after the older one entered the family. The second featured a baby whose mother had post-natal depression and could not cope, and although she maintained contact at first, she ultimately relinquished the baby. The third featured a boy who was in what was meant to be a year-long “intensive” foster placement, but this broke down after about three months. It also featured a family in which the foster carers were seeking special guardianship for the three children in their care, allowing them to make most decisions about their lives and to be without social services’ involvement, which proceeded without objection from anyone.
Last week, in a speech to a gathering of security chiefs in Bratislava, Slovakia, David Cameron accused Muslims of pointing the finger at everyone but themselves for some Muslims being attracted to ISIS. The speech, sections of which were briefed to the media in advance and which made the front pages of two Tory newspapers, claimed that the cause of western Muslim attraction to ISIS was “an Islamist extremist ideology: one that says the West is bad and democracy is wrong, that women are inferior and homosexuality is evil”, rather than Islamophobia or the failure of the security services or police to prevent them being radicalised or leaving. The speech follows an incident in which three sisters from Bradford whose brother is already in ISIS territory took, between them, nine children to join him after going on the Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, and a 17-year-old from Dewsbury carried out a suicide bombing for ISIS in Iraq. (A video of part of the speech can be found here; the Guardian’s write-up can be found here.)
Right now there are celebrations going on in Surrey and Berkshire to mark the 800th anniversary of the passing of Magna Carta, the charter sealed by King John that established the rule of law in England. A flotilla has been making its way down the Thames from Hurley, Berkshire to Runnymede (between Staines and Windsor, on the south bank of the Thames) where the document was sealed. David Cameron gave a speech about how ‘revolutionary’ the document was in its time; Ian Dunt of politics.co.uk took the speech apart, showing that David Cameron, while in office, has betrayed every principle he identifies. As has been widely noted, including here (, ), this comes at a time when the government intends to do away with the Human Rights Act, which is a fairly modern bill of rights though not as robust, in constitutional terms, as those found in written constitutions (for example, courts cannot annul statute law by finding it incompatible).
Last Sunday I mentioned that there was to be a “tweet storm” in support of the “Get Maisie Home” campaign, which was really about re-opening a children’s mental health unit in Hull which was closed in 2013, requiring anyone needing inpatient care in Hull to go to other cities, often to highly unsuitable units. The focus was Maisie Shaw, a 13-year-old girl from Hull with Asperger’s syndrome and a history of self-harming, who was sent to a unit in Sheffield last December, then a private secure unit in Bury in April after running away several times. Early last week, she was suddenly released; her mother went to the hospital to pick her up for a one-night home visit and was told she did not have to bring Maisie back as it was agreed the unit was unsuitable for her. However, as her mother pointed out, she was still very much not well, and while the local paper has printed the good news, they also mentioned that Maisie has gone missing twice since being released.
Last Thursday, the Guardian carried a lengthy feature (the “big read” in their comment section) as well as a front-page article on how prominent members of al-Qa’ida have come out against ISIS. The long piece, written by Shiv Malik, Ali Younes, Spencer Ackerman and Mustafa Khalili, features an interview with Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, a leader of al-Qa’ida in Jordan who spent many years in jail, as well as Abu Qatada (Omar Mahmoud Othman, right), a Palestinian preacher and scholar who operated in London from 1993 to 2002 and who some claim was a leading ideologue for al-Qa’ida. He was arrested in 2002 and spent much of the next 11 years in prison fighting deportation to Jordan, where he had been convicted of terrorism offences; he was acquitted of those in 2014.
Today would have been Thomas Rawnsley’s 21st birthday. Thomas was a man with Down’s syndrome and autism, who was in a succession of care homes and NHS hospital units from 2013 until he died of pneumonia earlier this year. His mother had been fighting to get him individual provision in his home town, but a Court of Protection judge last year sided with those who wanted to keep him institutionalised. Thomas’s family were planning a protest outside Downing Street to mark his birthday, but had to cancel it because of a planned rail strike (which was itself, in the event, cancelled). Bringing Us Together have a collection of blog posts about Thomas and you may like to read my post from the week after he died. There is still an appeal for Thomas’s family’s costs, which have raised £4,345 (of a target of £20,000) at the time of writing. (More: Justice for Nico.)
There is a story going around that the NUS recently passed a motion to align itself with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, while a year ago having rejected a motion to boycott ISIS. The Jerusalem Post reported the Israeli PM’s reaction to the vote, which in another story it claimed was passed 19-14. JPost put it in the context of all the forces ranged against Israel worldwide, such as how “in the UN, Turkey and Iran voted in favor of recognizing as an NGO a group linked to Hamas which fires missiles on Israeli cities, while hiding behind civilians”, also quoting a dissenting NEC member, Joe Vinson, who “tweeted later that anti-Semitism is like a virus, it mutates and infects everything it touches, it has mutated into BDS and the NUS is infected”. (There is a response from Electronic Intifada here.) Nobody passing the story around seems to have considered why one vote passed and the other didn’t: what on earth is there to boycott about ISIS?
Yesterday a story started circulating on social media in which an American female Muslim chaplain named Tahera Ahmad, who was travelling on a United Airlines flight (run by a partner, Shuttle America), asked for a Diet Coke and was given a can which had already been opened. The stewardess refused to give her one that was unopened because it could be used as a weapon, and her behaviour made it clear that this was because of her religion (she gave an unopened beer can to the white male passenger next to her, although when she challenged this, the stewardess took it and opened it for him). The incident, which she reported on Facebook and the screenshot from which has been shared thousands of times, has led to a call to boycott United until they apologise. I think there needs to be more pressure on airlines, and it has to come from above as well as from below. (United published a response to the story; Tahera Ahmad has published her response to that on Facebook, saying she is “truly disappointed”.)
Last week I got a letter printed in the New Statesman, in response to their leader column which, without naming names (although elsewhere in the edition, the criticism was levelled at Len McCluskey, the general secretary of the Unite union), claimed that some on the left preferred futile opposition to power. I responded that people who believe in social justice will not campaign enthusiastically for someone who promises to do no more than mind the shop for the Tories and take the edge off one or two of their worst policies. It would be hard to get people out to vote for such a man either, and Labour risk losing more of their core vote to nationalist parties (right now, UKIP, but who knows what parties will be on the scene by 2020). Andy Burnham, the front-runner for the Labour leadership, exposed himself as another shop-minder in a speech to ‘workers’ at Ernst and Young in London reported in the Western Daily Press today (also on the BBC website): that “Labour cannot win the next election while voters believe it gives the workshy an ‘easy ride’”, that “society’s wealth-creators must be valued as highly as NHS staff” and that Labour mismanaged the economy before the credit crunch, allowing a significant deficit to grow.
Today the Guardian published an interview with Britain’s “most senior Muslim police officer”, Scotland Yard commander Mak Chishty, head of community engagement for the Metropolitan police, in which he claimed that earlier and more intrusive intervention is needed to counter radicalisation at younger ages and earlier stages, that there is Islamist propaganda so powerful that he fears his own children could be radicalised and that children as young as five are being influenced, and that the state should intervene in “private spaces”, including what people read on their mobile phones or computers or talk about in a “shisha cafe”. Needless to say, the judgement on (mainstream) Muslim social media, and even from some outside the community, is pretty damning: “batshit crazy”, intrusive, “house Muslim”, “thought police”.
This bit of self-serving liberal Zionist guff was in yesterday’s Guardian — actually, it was the most prominent opinion piece on the tablet edition (I don’t get the print anymore), despite being more or less a rehash of another piece Pogrund wrote for the Guardian several years ago in which he claimed that whatever you could call Israel’s stranglehold over Palestinian life was, it wasn’t Apartheid. In this case “the A-word” raised its head when Israel’s defence minister, Moshe Ya’alon, approved a scheme which would involve the segregation of buses in the occupied territories, with Arabs banned from using Israeli-run services. As someone who really knows what Apartheid is, having spent 26 years as a journalist in South Africa and having been the first non-family visitor to Nelson Mandela while he was in prison, he claims that “there are few charges more grave” and that there is no comparison. The piece boils down to a criticism of tone and presents technical details as if they were fundamental differences, with a fair element of arguing from authority and a touch of The Color Purple’s Miss Millie (“ain’t I always been good to you people?”).
So, in today’s Telegraph there’s an interview with Prince Harry (right), who is set to leave the Army next month after ten years of service, in which he calls for the return of National Service because being in the Army kept him out of trouble and helped some of the men in his command turn their lives around. While Harry the Spare doesn’t have any political role, clearly when he speaks, the Establishment media listens, and while in opposition David Cameron proposed some kind of “school leaver programme” which might entail some kind of community service for a year but, as I pointed out at the time, could default to military conscription where no such civilian options were available.
As anyone who reads the news will know, last Thursday there was a general election here and on Friday morning we learned that the Tories had gained an absolute majority of the seats, which means we have a Tory-only government without a Lib Dem coalition. The Lib Dems lost all but 8 of their seats (there is a full list of MPs who lost their seats at Wikipedia here); they are left with only one seat in London (Carshalton and Wallington) and none in their former south-western heartland. The Scottish National Party won all but three seats in Scotland, the Lib Dems, Labour and Tories being left with one seat each. The Tories now intend another £12m of public service cuts and have already earmarked the Access to Work scheme, which assists disabled people in finding work (so, it’s not an out-of-work benefit), for cuts; they also intend to press ahead with boundary changes which, according to the Telegraph, could “lock Labour out of power for a decades (sic)”, and to extending state surveillance powers, both of which they were unable to do while in coalition. They are also committed to a referendum on leaving the EU by 2017 and to abolishing the Human Rights Act. (More: Looking for Blue Sky, Lenin’s Tomb, Islamicate.)
Today the Sun put that picture of Ed Miliband trying to eat a bacon butty and getting it all down his shirt, suggesting that if he can’t even eat without making a
mess, he’ll do the same to the country if elected as Prime Minister tomorrow. A few people on Twitter have suggested that the picture is a reference to his Jewish background, because anti-Semites have a history of depicting Jews as pigs and because people will make the link if they see a Jew and pork together, even though the association is negative. I’m not so sure - if there’s one thing you can’t accuse the Sun of, it’s anti-Semitism, given that Rupert Murdoch is a noted Zionist. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t subliminal messages in the use of the picture.