Zac Versus Sadiq — HONG KONG REVIEW OF BOOKS

18 Aug

Sean Mahoney reviews Dave Hill’s analysis of the London Mayoral elections and discusses how it looks now through the prism of post-Brexit. Dave Hill, Zac Versus Sadiq: The fight to become London Mayor (Double Q, 2016) 270pp There was a moment in the recent London Mayoral election at which both the main candidates were attending a […]

via Zac Versus Sadiq — HONG KONG REVIEW OF BOOKS

Ministers at War

18 Jul

You may recall when Obama was standing for US President. It became very chic amongst the pop political classes to talk of the ” Team of Rivals”. It was going to be the guidebook for his Presidency. Look the book is around 900 pages so in summary ( as it’s quite hard to read in bed ) it’s about Lincoln trying to keep his rivals in the tent. Now it became something of a buzz phrase. I was slightly worried then that ” Ministers at War” was billed as being a UK version.

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Scanner’s book however doesn’t pretend to be quad-guide book, though in some ways it is. Churchill was dealt a fairly tricky hand, Prime Minister without the full consent of his party, taking over from a disastrous Prime Minister and policy that he was partly implicated in, faced with numerous rivals for the post( or at least people who thought they could do it better than he could ).Add to this the ongoing total war and you have a fairly challenging in-tray. It’s never clear that any of his rivals really could have rolled him, Stafford Cripps for all his self-belief would have struggled to contain a Tory parliament, Beaverbrook was a Lord,and Atlee,Beverage and Morrison all had agendas but were unlikely to have challenged him, let alone succeed.

It isn’t then that Churchill was trying to manage his rivals, rather he was trying to placate the rather swollen egos within his Cabinet, and beyond. He did this with varied success. Some were dispatched, others given enough rope and some left to gain momentum. By 1945 many of his rivals found themselves on the winning side.

What is remarkable is that Churchill had to energize the internal politics of the Cabinet at a time of total war. Allegiance was not straight-forward. In politics it never is.

This book does provide something of a guide to the ego massaging successful leaders need to do, and that at times they also need to wield the axe..even if it may be a little blunted. It was a coalition united by a common purpose that he just about managed to keep on the road until 1945. Schneer notes that Churchill’s path to No 10 was not straightforward and could easily have gone against him. I don’t though agree that in falling away in 1945 we ended up with a unified,progressive government ….the 1945 Labour Government was Atlees own team of rivals with even bigger egos and jockeying for position, though that s a minor criticism of this wonderfully readable book.

 

Eight Juxtapositions

16 Jul

HONG KONG REVIEW OF BOOKS

Sean Mahoney reviews China expert Jeffrey Wasserstrom’s latest collection of essays juxtaposing Chinese history and culture with some Western counterparts. Wasserstrom’s book is revealed to be a potentially crucial one for international relations.

Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Eight Juxtapositions: China Through Imperfect Analogies from Mark Twain to Manchukuo (Penguin, 2016) 94pp.

In 2008 a China–New Zealand Joint Venture called Sanlu was found to have been distributing contaminated infant formula milk. A large number of children developed kidney stones and, tragically, six children died. Milk powder producers went into damage limitation mode. Three of the directors of the joint venture company were swiftly sentenced to death. The New Zealand Prime Minister refused to interfere to avoid creating any disturbance. Paranoid at the risk to New Zealand’s Milk exports, he saw the executions as an internal matter for the Chinese. However, at the same time he was making threatening statements to the tiny Pacific…

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Playboy of the Brexit World

13 Jul

I must get over this , but can’t help feeling Brexit is the British political event that will reset all other recent issues. A massive shake up of a snow globe.

In the play “The Playboy of the Western World”, a man appears in a small Irish town claiming to be on the run after killing his Father. The man , Christy Mahon, becomes an object of fascination and admiration. A clear and strong character. Eventually when his Father, who is clearly not dead, turns up the town turns against him. It seems they are disappointed in him, for not having committed the crime. When Christy then tries to kill his Father ( the first time or second time whose counting)  the villagers then react by trying to lynch Christy. I can’t help finding lots to consider about current British Politics in this play. Mass disappointment and support for actions that seem crazed, upset in those actions that don’t seem as crazed as you were told after all. Embellishment, lies, a desire to have those whose bad behaviours haven’t reached our poor standards punished. It’s all so simple really. We want to be mistreated, on clear black and white lines. When we are not we resent it, how else can you explain the following…

Teresa May is now the Prime Minister of the UK. Only a couple of weeks after the Brexit vote, a campaigner for Remain is now leading the Brexit Government. She was portrayed in some way as a compromise, May the pro-custodial, anti-immigration, hardline rhetorical basher of clerics, now looks like a mainstream response thanks to the wild claims and assumed rubbish rhetoric of our own Christy Mahon – in the shape of Johnson/Farage and Gove.  May appeared in a contest where the rhetoric was clear, 48% lost, 52% won. Those of us not in the 52% can clearly swing into it to maximise our opportunity. May perhaps is Christy Mahon, hoping we don’t reveal her truth when it comes down to it.

The new adventures of the great moving right show. Stuart Halls essay is just as relevant today, in  the era of far right murders of politicians, death threats to immigrants, an opposition that opposes itself. The period of crisis is presented as two versions of nationalism, a social democratic celtic version and a little Englander UKIP version. This is the new version of the great debate , the two versions being irreconcilable form a crisis. Yet the crisis is something more. Those competing versions sit across the main political parties, certainly at Westminster. UKIP takes its leadership from the old Tory elite and its votes from old Labour left behinds. Old Labour left behinds don’t support old Labour style leadership in Corbyn, nor the Blair-lite on offer in the PLP. The Conjectural as Hall and Gramsci might say is the Westminster party system holding together beliefs that run like water over a waterfall. The response it seems , sadly, is another swing to the right. Teresa May is the answer, what on earth was the question.

Sadly the answer doesn’t look like it will involve Corbyn. My sadness is that I anticipated Corbyn vs Leadsom as being like an episode of the good life.I need no further explanation. Those marching Leadsomettes was the oddest thing I have seen for some time.Leadsom brought a fatal blow on herself by the politics of the reproductive system. These are not straight forward times.

I read a couple of passing references post Brexit to the film Passport to Pimlico. An Ealing comedy you will recall.Charles Hawtrey on the old Joanna. The crux of the film is that a post war town in London finds itself actually part of France. It therefore leaves the UK and runs its own anti-austerity state-lette. it’s not Lords of the Flies, and of course what eventuates is a reawakening in the gawd bless the Queen mum style Englishness. Would this be a future of the independent London or Scotland ? Does this prove that Brits are really a breed apart from Europe anyway ? It seems it is a film you can take and place any Brexit political message across. My take for whats its worth is that it’s a pro-austerity propaganda film. You couldn’t take the freedom Charles, you couldn’t take it. Play your piano but with ration coupons.

 

Maybe Brexit will be the point that British politics couldn’t bend anymore. I don’t know, but the Labour party looks, well fissiparous if I am using big words.The membership and the MPs are further apart than they have ever been. One wonders if any party could survive this. And what will it look like if it does and if it doesn’t. The Bi-patrisan days have gone in every sense except the party governing system . Look busy Teresa Mays coming she doesn’t mind incarceration. Just hope shes Christy Mahon and not the Mayo town he finds himself in.

 

Breferendum

1 Jul

I have written some rambling thoughts on the campaign before Bristeria and thoughts on the whole UKIP thing ( though somewhat outdated ) UKIP a racist string of sausages..or the milosevic-isation of debate. 

A week ago the future of British politics seemed predictable if not straightforward. This week the dust doesn’t seem to know where to settle. It seems rash to predict much at the moment, though there are plenty of negatives to consider, and it seems very few positives. Negatives not just in those things that are unpalatable, but also those things we know no longer to be true, to exist or to have a future.

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Referendums are blunt instruments( yes Referendums not Referenda )

You don’t always get answers to the question you ask. Much is being made of this being about giving the elite a smack in the nose. The anti-elite can’t seriously be represented by Johnson and Farage, so lets assume it is a lumpen anti-elite on top of this high Tory caste. Are they using this as a way of getting an anti-politics message across ? I would wonder if this is too simplistic. David Cameron, who is now going home to straighten his tie, put on his proper suit and sing his national anthem , has used Referendums to avoid the short-comings of his political leadership. 3 times he adopted a negative position of “leave things alone” yet asked the people to decide. The fall out of the Scottish Independence Referendum where people felt they may have been short-changed on the promises, combined with the over zealous campaigning language probably made the EU Referendum a vote too far. He had saved his own skin last time, alas this time he failed.

Calls for a second referendum will only add to the confusion and chaos. At what point do you really decide the people have spoken ? Parliament made a mess of the Referendum by not having thresholds in it, but you can’t restart the process on that basis. To quote John Major the only way forward for a new vote would be after a process of ” negotiate and decide”

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Labour is lost

Labour is currently split in a way it hasn’t been since , well since the 1980s which isn’t that long ago. The Parliamentary group had hoped to use this result to exit the unpopular leader. However the party still support him and oddly it is the MP’s and former MP’s starting to look out of touch on this one. The opposition has decided to tear itself apart just when it is needed most. It seems Corbyn will remain Leader, so then what? I heard Jack Straw comparing it to a 1930s Trotskyite plot ! This is not language most voters would understand or warm to. What those MPs will do remains to be seen. They can’t sulk on the back benches forever…can they ?

British Politics is in a state of flux

It seems that for the past 10 years the kaleidoscope has been fractured. From the outside it looks like Britain has struggled to get to grips with its new-found pluralism. Regional assemblies and Parliaments, elected Mayors etc have created a fractured microcosm of political debate. At times it doesn’t fit a national narrative ( Zac Goldsmith anyone Zac Goldsmith and his Pint). At times it does. Mainly though it revolves around Power and a culture of centralisation rather than democracy. I can’t see through the fuzziness as to how a General Election will occur before 2020…but it may only be me. It does seem though that Brexit and its implications have become the agreed norm. The debate, ridiculous as it was ( where is the Budget Osborne promised us ? ), seems over. At least until the negotiations begin.

Don’t ever listen to anyone telling you the 70s were a crisis.

Since 2007 we have had the Global Financial Crisis, the expenses scandal, Browns leaderless Premiership, the coalition, Austerity, the Pasty Tax, Scottish Independence issues, The EU Referendum …and on and on. This is the decade of Ungovernable Britain.I don’t see the next few years receding from this. A Parliament split across a major issue and out of touch with the public, working through the implications of withdrawing from the EU…All we need is for the bin men to go on strike.

2/3 of Migration to the UK is from outside of the EU

Just saying

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The Tories leadership crisis is chaotic and clumsy. But they always are. Pick anyone at random and have a look at it, they are always the same. I’m more concerned though that in voting for the EU exit, many of those who did vote because they are suffering from the economic ill wind are going to find themselves lashed to Austerity Mark II. What positives do those left behind get to draw from this ? That they can be heard if a Toff lets them ! Too simplistic I know, but this isn’t the great awakening of the lower working class, it may be the final destruction for many of them as the regions get further decimated.When Teresa May is considered a compromise you know the future is bleak.

It seems odd that only a week after the Referendum, rather than looking at how Britain got into the mess where a Racist murder of an MP occurs, it is instead wondering how sinister Michael Goves wife is !

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Bristeria

22 Jun

I find that phrase “Brexit” just a little worrying. After “Grexit” you just knew it would become the new “-Gate” applied often incorrectly to as many situations as possible. Someone somewhere is trying too think of a catchy headline to reflect the removal of David Cameron and xit..ill wait for that zinger.

The Referendum on leaving the EU though has shown what UK politics might look like under Proportional Representation or maybe if the party system hadn’t stopped at 2 and 1/2. We are seeing this in some of the regional elections and it may well continue. The Social Liberal anti EU brigade, the Christian Democrat, The Blairites, The Soft Left,The Lib Dems ( I guess they are still a thing ). The Socialist Nationalists on the Celtic Fringes, the Orange blooded ( and Green ones ) as well. Even UKIP the anti-politics faction has the Welsh lump who are a law unto themselves.

The Referendum may seem entertaining, like a giant its a knock out series. But it’s also confusing. That most binary of solutions , a yes or no vote , being reflected by the most fractured and multi-polared campaign in most people’s memories.

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The campaign though, how did it end up like this. Harold Wilson, Ramsey MacDonald and even David Cameron Mark 1, managed to keep their disagreement agreements very narrow. Tariffs,Trade or the voting system. The Conservatives though are falling apart, throwing any and every issue into the mix. Many of them combustible. Its like the mid 90s again. Cameron Mark 2 will probably end earlier than anticipated or limp along. And that Campaign, the master strategist of Conservative campaigns wrote ” concern about immigration remains the leave campaigns strongest suit…” Don’t we know it. Don’t we know it.

Did it all get too much, jousting celebrities on barges on the Thames. I am not sure what this was meant to achieve. They weren’t even famous. In 1975 we had a picture of Richard Briers and Arthur Lowe backing the Yes campaign. The idea was to keep angry anti-politicians from succeeding ( as in Norway in 1972). Just one of many ways this is fundamentally not like 1975.

And how does a Government propose risking a referendum on the issue and then campaign that it might start Wars or ruin the economy to do so.If the issue is so risky why are we even going to have a chance ? It’s not because of democracy , we could be allowed to vote on many things. It was Cameron’s concession to save his 2015 skin, only to lose it in 2016. The Zombie Government of John Major is returning, held to ransom between Osborne and Gove, egged on by Johnson and the ever resilient Farage. He seems to have no Far-Exit plan of his own.

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For a brief moment I thought there was something humorous in a Pub chain providing campaign beer mats. Wetherspoons printed 200,000 vote leave beer mats. In fact they printed a second mat. They sell beer and coffee, apparently, and hot meals, oh and “facts” about the EU. The “fact” they are printed on beer mats , something I had forgotten even existed, perhaps tells you that the core demographic for them, is , well is not me.

If only it had stayed at unhinged drinks mats(disposable ones)and meaningless opinion polls. If only this had been about trade, even the NHS discussion was interesting. Watching 2 wings of the Government accuse each other of putting the NHS at risk. How will they ever come back together ( answer easier than we all think …for now ). If only they hadn’t started to claim that entire nations were about to take over your living rooms. Turkey or Iraq or the Moon. It didn’t matter . They were coming. They are not like you. The UK, who have assimilated immigrants remarkably well for ever is now frightened of ancient religions. Though not Protestants it seems. ( Not frightened of them, it seems they are frightened though.) They are taking your job, your way of life,your beer mats, your Boris Johnson. They may even take Field Marshall Guthrie, who apparently defected during the campaign. A very unmilitary thing to do.It took me some time to recall who he was , a bit like Gordon Brown and John Major …does anyone really take note.

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And then against a backdrop of hysteria over immigrants and foreigners and Political parties tearing into each other of debates that misunderstand immigrants and refugees a Woman was shot dead. She happened to be an MP who had spoken out in empathy for the plight of refugees. Some will assume no link with this turgid TV spectacle of a campaign and the death. I find it hard not to. When we have had a good 10 years or so of Howard,Kilroy-Silk.Boris and Farage making us hide behind the settee. Farage felt that he was being victimized, its hard to comprehend. His supporters no doubt did so. The murder will never be comprehended without an understanding of the campaign. Was this what UKIPS people’s army was about ?

I have thought before about Farages Toxicity.The Milosovisation of British politics. He’s not gone away, and despite the likelihood of a Remain vote, he is unlikely to. Now we have had a debate at Wembley Arena ( sadly reported as Stadium on New Zealand Radio ) its hard to see where the spectacle of Politics goes.

Even the Queen is joining in. She wants 3 reasons to stay in Europe. Well Ill try your Majesty.

  1. You’re an Unelected Monarch, so you should shut up.
  2. Refer to 1.
  3. And again point 1.

I have never been hugely exorcised by “Europe” I accept it like I accept Local Government. It does not threaten Sovereignty anymore than the Welsh Assembly does. There was always an acceptance that it requires co-operation, that is not a negative. There are bigger and better issues and gains to be made. Leaving would only add to the UKs problems, the Bristeria of a Leave vote would not even satisfy the Tory Right wing. (I can never recall a member of the Government claiming they wouldn’t feel safe on public transport near another Government Minister.) I doubt it would create better environmental politics, social conditions, workers rights or well anything. Yes it is cumbersome and needs reform, but it provides for something more than isolation.

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In years to come I wonder what  narrative will be remembered for the 2016 Referendum. Lets hope that the murder of an MP is not forgotten. Lets hope that it is the tipping point for UKIP and divisive politics.

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Sugar Sweetened “Beveridges”

9 Jun

I wrote a slightly different version of this paper recently for Massey. I am posting it here as a gateway to a second post I am writing, the left overs so to speak. What fascinates me about this is that the role of Jamie Oliver as policy pioneer creates some interesting issues around our politicians, our celebrities, what gap are Oliver and others filling ? and why one version of socialised neoliberal statist health in the UK is different to the nozickean neoliberal statist health in New Zealand ?…but that’s to follow.

Sugar Sweetened “Beveridges”

“A profound move that will ripple around the world.” – Television Chef Jamie Oliver on the introduction of a “Sugar Tax “in the UK (Horton, 2016)

“There is no simple answer otherwise people would have tried it “Jonathan Coleman, New Zealand Minister of Health on the same “Sugar Tax” (Plumb, 2016)

“ Human behaviour became …a problem to be analysed and resolved “Michael Foucault (Foucault, 1988)

“Until a law is passed to imprison fat people, gluttons of Britain are free to roam our streets and attend special diet classes like this one ..” – Television Comedy Little Britain (Little Britain, 2003)

In March 2016 the United Kingdom’s Conservative Government announced plans for a “Sugar Tax” (a levy raised on the production of soft drinks which contain above a certain level of sugar). This news caught many observers by surprise. How did a right leaning and anti-interventionist Government introduce a tax, which had not been mentioned in their manifesto some 10 months earlier? Within hours of the announcement the New Zealand Government, who share many ideological and organisational similarities with their United Kingdom (UK) counterparts were emphatically ruling it out. So how does this occur? Two Governments with similar worldviews on many policy issues, running health systems that operate within similar limits and constraints. One however has decided on a Sugar Tax, the other won’t even entertain it. What does it say of their comparative health systems? What does it say of their comparative views of regulation, individual choice and the role of the state? And has New Zealand really ruled it out forever?

Health systems the world over have been under increasing pressures from a number of factors. An ageing and growing population, the development of expensive technologies, increasing user expectations and access to knowledge and growing demand with a rise in a number of chronic disease states. How health systems respond to funding, delivering and governing these issues is a contentious and significant political issue. (Blank & Burau, 2014) As demand grows it becomes harder for Governments to fund existing services and operations, and the focus shifts to either raising additional revenue streams (private payment or taxation increases for example), improving service efficiency or rationing service delivery. In many countries combinations of all of these seem to be tried to varying degrees. And yet in many countries these prove challenging to deliver. (Gauld, 2009)There has been a significantly rise in Adult obesity and every region of the world has seen a doubling (at least) in obesity rates between 1980 and 2000. (Blank & Burau, 2014). This contributes to many other life threatening and costly disorders, Cardio-vascular disease rates and Diabetes type 2 for example. The UK and New Zealand have similar rates of adult obesity 23% in the UK compared to 20.9% in New Zealand. The desire to respond and reduce this growing social phenomena especially with the increases in youth obesity rates and the inequitable distribution of obesity amongst those of lower socio-economic status and lower educational achievement sits high on the list of most health systems. (Blank & Burau, 2014).

To the users of the UK and New Zealand health delivery system the systems may look and feel remarkably similar. Both would be defined as “Beveridge “health delivery systems. Beveridge systems are funded through the state and general taxation and result in universal delivery, free, or with minimal cost, at the point of service. The delivery model is often centralised and bureaucratic. (Van der zee & Kroneman, 2007) This is in contrast to so called “Bismarck” systems where the population are mandatory subscribed to an “insurance” premium model which allows them to fund care at a variety of competing providers with less central government control of care models. These systems result in a more pluralistic and devolved delivery of service and provision. The former are found in the UK, New Zealand and also Italy and the Nordic countries while the latter can be found in France, Germany and Japan. In addition to these two models is the third more market based private insurance model found in the USA where coverage is neither universal nor compulsory and care provision is not only competitive but at a cost to the end user. Both New Zealand and the UK have experienced some changes and challenges over the last 30 years which have seen more and more features of free market systems and incentives creep into the system. At heart though they remain Beveridge systems. (Gauld, 2009)As Beveridge systems New Zealand and the UK have similar health care outcomes as well.

Health systems focus much of their interaction with the population through the policy process. When applying policy, particularly in a centralised Beveridge system, there are three potential avenues open to them. Regulatory policies, distributive policies or redistributive policies. Regulatory policies limit people’s available actions and decisions. Distributive policies allocate provision of service to individuals or groups that are considered beneficial but may not materialise without state intervention. Redistributive policies allocate resource from one individual or groups and allocate it to others. (Blank & Burau, 2014)

In a health context regulatory policies might be the restriction or availability of certain pharmaceuticals or vaccine schedules. Distributive policies could include the provision of inpatient hospital services throughout the country even in sparsely populated areas. Redistributive policies may well include those targeted services, for example the free provision of dental care to under 18s is funded through taxation on those over 18.

The imposition of a “Sugar Tax” as advocated during current debates is clearly a regulatory policy. It cuts to the heart of a serious and contentious issue, that of an individual’s rights versus benefits they receive. Am I free to ingest high doses of Sugar, undertake minimal physical activity and then rely on the state to treat my health issues as a consequence of that? Or can the state regulate my behaviours or at least receive some compensatory transfer through taxation? Both New Zealand and the UK have historically had taxes on sugar but these have been pure customs and excise levies and often to provoke consumers not to utilise a healthier choice but to utilise a more economically favoured option (such as the sugar from a Jamaican plantation rather than a Louisiana slave trade supply). (Pinny, 2010) Sugar was first taxed in the UK in 1850 and British Sugars were taxed in New Zealand in the 1860’s, though presumable from British companies not grown in Britain.
Taxing as a way of reducing actions considered socially unacceptable is often referred to as a “Sin Tax”. The imposition of Sin Taxes are double edged, they look to break perceived bad behaviour but also to fund infrastructure to meet growing demand. (Blank & Burau, 2014). Some have even argued that these regulatory policies are nothing more than an additional way to “discipline” those citizens who are behaving unsatisfactorily in their lifestyle choices (Henderson, 2015)This even creates the risk of scapegoating a “fat” underclass being financially punished for their poor choices and requiring corrective action, often when they are the more vulnerable and least able to deal with the issues in hand. (Evans A, 2010)

In October 2015 the UK Government published as part of its childhood obesity programme a long awaited report into the effects of sugar. The report by Public Health England is titled simply “Sugar Reduction: the Evidence for Action” (Public Health England, 2015). The report followed on from an earlier report into the need for action on sugar reduction. It highlighted that 25% of adults, 10% of 4 to 5 year olds and 19% of 10 to 11 year olds were obese. The cost of obesity is claimed to be over 5 billion pounds for the NHS each year. While the report raises a number of concerns, including the role of media marketing to influence behaviour, the need for knowledge for consumers making decisions and the impact of price promotions on sugar intake (an estimated 6% increase in sugar intake was linked to price promotions) it was the sugar tax idea that caught the media attention. (Campbell, 2015). Tax can reduce the consumption of sugar sweets drinks and products. Of the 8 recommendations one was to introduce a price increase of 10 to 20% on high sugar products through a tax or levy. The report also notes that the food and drink industry has been an opponent of these changes in many of the countries they have been introduced, notably France, Finland, Hungary and Denmark. (Public Health England, 2015). Within a short space of time the Prime Minister ruled out such a levy whilst the British Medical Association and Royal Society for Public Health were amongst those favouring the idea. (Campbell, 2015). The perceived hero of the narrative of getting this policy on the agenda, Jamie Oliver, expressed concern that the financial might of the food and drink industry was hampering progress, while the Government insisted, despite raising the fears of campaigners, that they would not make any decisions on a tax until they agreed on a childhood obesity strategy. The timeframe for doing this was unclear. (Jones, 2016) (Griffiths, 2016). Oliver had used a TV documentary “Sugar Rush” to outline the effects of sugar on children, the advantages of a tax and of advertising changes. He even introduced a surcharge on certain drinks in his own restaurants. (Griffiths, 2016). Oliver had previously played the role of hero in another policy narrative, this was around the role of nutrition in school dinners. A similar tactic of documentary, individual action, political pressure and media attention had been used then though the outcome was less clear. (Naik, 2008). Whilst it’s unclear what changed for the Government in the few weeks following as the mid-March budget outlined the introduction of a Sugar Tax and the legislation to enforce it from 2018 has now been presented to Parliament, outlining two bands of levy depending on the rate of Sugar per 100ml, although there is still no sign of the Childhood Obesity Strategy previously thought so central to any tax decisions. (Elliot, 2016)

Whilst there was surprise in the UK, the New Zealand Government was quick to dampen any expectations of a tax or levy on sugared drinks. The Government has a childhood obesity strategy comprising over 20 issues and it did not wish to add a Sugar Tax to them. They were waiting for further research and the Health Minister felt there was no definitive evidence to support the change. The opposition were not clambering to advocate for the change either as they announced they would prefer sales regulations rather than tax. (New Zealand Herald, 2016). This position seems to have left them at odds with many health professionals and advocates. Professor Rod Jackson argued that waiting for definitive evidence would mean no action on most health interventions and that the question should be on balance will this reduce or increase harm? Jackson clearly falls into the reduce camp. (Jackson, 2016). Countering this view was the powerful Grocery lobby who saw the proposal as merely an excise tax and one with no impact on consumer behavior. They were advocating for “nudges” to behavioral health drinks initiatives. (Rich, 2016). Jackson and other academics had in 2014 produced a paper arguing for much of the same landscape as the Public Health England report. It noted that while some local initiatives had taken place encouraging Schools in some areas to replace high sugar drinks, and the lets beat diabetes initiative Counties Manukau ( which saw drink providers replace higher sugared drinks for lower sugared ones in their restaurants) there has been no coordinated approach from Government ( despite being a centralized Beveridge system) (Sunborn, Merriman, Thornley, Metcalf, & R, 2014) The authors recommended a national approach including a tax on Sugar Sweetened Beverages (SSB) and an end date for consumption of SSB in the same way that the smoke free 2025 target has been set for Tobacco eradication.
This emphasis was again followed up by a group of over 70 leading academics and specialists, after the UK announcement, urged the Government to introduce a Sugar Tax as a quicker way of gaining action on childhood obesity. (Plumb, 2016).

But will it work?

The New Zealand Government is reluctant to assess the proposal other than with a long bow. The report published by the Ministry of Health reflects only on the Mexican example and finds that there is insufficient evidence of its impact and that while sugar taxes have a role there are “difficult and detailed design issues” to overcome. (Ministry of Health, 2015). In some ways this also shows a reluctance to be seen as a Government that will increase costs on users of recreational goods. The New Zealand Treasury and Government took a similar view for a number of years on taxation increases on tobacco users. The Treasury were unconvinced that the effects of reducing smoking rates outweighed the economic hardship that would be added to existing users, particularly those who had lower rates of disposable income. (Thomson & Wilson, 2001) Public Health England however had taken a wider view on the evidence and pointed to reduced SSB intake in a variety of Countries that had introduced taxes of some description, including Norway, Finland and Hungary. (Public Health England, 2015) Whilst New Zealand may want to wait for definitive evidence, there are many research studies that show that an increase in the price of SSB will result in lower intake of sugar, improvements in obesity related diseases and cost savings to the state. (Lennert Veerman, Sacks, Antonopoulus, & Martin, 2016). Or as Professor Jackson commented “don’t wait for the unobtainable definitive evidence, act on the best available evidence.” (Jackson, 2016)
Even having taken the bold decision to introduce the tax though the UK Government may still find resistance. Although the Sugary Drinks Portion Cap Rule introduced in New York City in 2012 was not a tax but a regulation its aim was similar, to reduce the negative impacts of sugary drinks, and its resistance was forcefully led by the retail grocery lobby. New York had tried and failed to introduce a Sugar Tax in 2009 and in 2012 the Mayor of New York introduced a ban on large servings of sugary drinks (defined as 25 calories per 8 ounces). The ban also reduced the size of cups in restaurant self-service establishments. (Min, 2014)The ban known as the “Soda Ban” was never fully enacted due to extensive lobbying that led to several legal challenges. The leading Industries in the UK have already signaled a strong intent to pursue legal challenges to the Sugar Tax claiming it is discriminatory. (Evans & Smith, 2016)

The UK health sector is moving into new territory. The Sugar Tax that will start in 2018 will create a number of new challenges and opportunities. It is above all though a clear signal that the Government will respond to childhood obesity in new policy ways which may make a difference. The research study undertaken in Mexico suggested a 12 % decline in SSB and a 17% decline amongst lower socio-economic groups. At the same time non SSB drinks have increased 4%. There is no reason that this kind of impact can’t be made in the UK or New Zealand. (Colchero, Popkin, Rivera, & Ng, 2016). What however does this tell us about the health systems? As Beveridge systems national priorities remain firmly centralized and dictated by Government. In the UK it is of note that the change has come when the Chancellor (Finance Minister) has led the charge and it is not driven purely by the Health Minister. This perhaps reflects the fact that it is a Tax, but also reflects that key [policy in a Beveridge system needs to be owned by the Treasury. This was certainly the case with the Tobacco control policy in New Zealand. (Thomson & Wilson, 2001). There is also a reality that Beveridge systems although similar in outline have some remarkable differences. In the case of New Zealand and the UK this might include provision of service such as dentistry. It also though recognizes the political reality within these two countries. Although the Governments are remarkably similar, the NHS is now reflective of what one commentator observed as “Socialized Neoliberalism” (Gauld, 2009, p. 152). This confirms others views of the agenda pursued by Jamie Oliver, within a neoliberal or capitalist framework there is a well intentioned corrective action agenda- making smarter consumers. (Evans A. , 2010). By framing the debate in terms of the product and production rather than the outcome (Sugar Taxes over Fat Taxes) there is a softening of public perception and acceptability. (Min, 2014) Enabling people to live independently. (Gauld, 2009). Perhaps this is the reason why New Zealand is set against looking at the merits of the Sugar Tax? The National Government came to office campaigning against the “Nanny State” those policies and regulations that it felt were encroaching on people’s freedoms. They have been hyper-sensitive since 2008 to reflect any policy support that was or could be seen as nanny state and it is a criticism thrown, often with little evidence but able to halt action. (Rudman, 2016) . Or maybe it is the reality that Sugar allows the masses an escape from reality? Sugar has been seen as one of the first consumer goods that’s use allowed people to create different versions of themselves (Mintz, 1985)
What we do know though is that the centralized Beveridge system, once the will and momentum becomes apparent, possibly with a more charismatic leadership outside of the political arena, direction and implementation will be forth write and forthcoming.

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Colchero, M. A., Popkin, B. M., Rivera, J. A., & Ng, S. W. (2016). Beverage purchases from stores in Mexico under the excise tax on sugar sweetened beverages:observational study. British Medical Jourmal, 352.
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Evans, P., & Smith, D. (2016, March 20). The Sunday Times. Retrieved from http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk: Soft drink giants prepare to sue over sugar tax
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Min, H. (2014). Large-Sized Soda Ban As An Alternative To Soda Tax. Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, 23, 187-232.
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Plumb, S. (2016, April 02). New Zealand Herald. Retrieved from http://www.nzherald.co.nz: Medical Experts push for Sugar Tax
Public Health England. (2015). Sugar Reduction: the Evidence for Action. London: Public Health England.
Rich, K. (2016, March 24). New Zealand Herald. Retrieved from http://www.nzherald.co.nz: Realistic support more effective than sugar tax
Rudman, B. (2016, April 13). New Zealand Herald. Retrieved from http://www.nzherald.co.nz: Sugar obesity link plain for all but Govt to see
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Sunborn, G., Merriman, T. R., Thornley, S., Metcalf, P., & R, J. (2014, March). An ‘End-Game’ for sugar sweetened beverages ? Pacific Health Dialog, 20(1), 22-30.
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Van der zee, J., & Kroneman, M. W. (2007). Bismarck or Beveridge : a beauty contest between dinosaurs. BMC Health Services Research, 7(94).

Do you know Hanif Kureshi ?

31 May

“he asked me if I knew the novelist and screenwriter Hanif Kureshi. I was slightly surprised but replied that I knew who he was but did not think I had ever met him. Neil seemed to accept this and then explained that it had been reported that a Shadow Cabinet member had been heard to opine that Neil was ‘no good on television”.Inquiries had been made,the report had been traced to Hanif Kureshi, and he had in turn apparently said that he heard the comment from me. This was a ridiculous assertion,…”

So does Bryan Gould sum up a conversation between himself and Neil Kinnock which probably summarises everything that was wrong with Labour in the 80s/90s. Kureshi a playwright and author of some distinction becomes the symbol of Labour Lovies , whether he was or not, Pinnock constantly sniping,constantly paranoid and constantly moaning and Gould constantly believing himself to be right.

In some ways that Gould even wrote an autobiography is vainglorious, he was the defeated leadership candidate for the Labour Party. Although his comments on the Labour party campaign machine in the 87 and 92 election are interesting he was clearly getting his retaliation in first. And to some extent his bubble is pricked by Mandelson being very complementary about him in his own book.

Gould it appeared was always right, and always alone in thinking so. He’s not alone in that, but self reflection doesn’t come across at all.

You might wonder why I am noting a book written 20 years ago, well I bought it recently for a $1, a fair exchange I reckon and just read it. Well worth a dollar.

Neil Hamilton Light entertainer as Politician

14 May

The return of Neil Hamilton to the political world , a phrase many never thought would be seen, has left us looking to remember why Neil was never a good idea. Michael White captured much of this in a blog article on the Guardian website this week. Titled ” Why Neil Hamilton’s return should trouble us” White captures perfectly what was wrong with Neil in his incarnation as a Tory MP. He was the man whose tale led to the frontage of the guardian ” a liar and a cheat “He had always been anti-EU/Immigartion/Unions and Pro-free market/privatisation. All standard Tory fare , but with some twists. The brown envelopes full of cash, the speeches to Fascists organisations in Europe..the ongoing court cases.
Hamilton, according to White will play the anti-elite card well without ever giving away his eliteness!Hamilton will play to the gallery and prey on their fears. His first action was a coup against the presumed UKIP leader in the Welsh Assembly – who knows where this will end, but I would be surprised if the same 7 UKIP assembly members are sitting in the same seats in 5 years time.

But Neil Hamilton, Im not sure his old politics are the point. The fascinating issue is what he has been up to since 1997. He’s a celebrity and an entertainer. Pantomime, check. Comedy Song, check. Embarrassing TV fly on the wall film, check. The now obligatory accusation of sexual assault, check.
As a character Neil no longer exists. Its Christine and Neil Hamilton, a “formidable” pair. A double headed entertainment spectacle. It is very rare that you don’t see them together. Neil has been interviewed many times as a UKIP politician and his “battle-axe ” head is swirling around the back. It was this head that attacked Martin Bell, and probably still does. It may awake at night and talk of the battle of Knutsford Heath, it may.
Neil though does do something as a mono head. On the internet there is a grainy video from some TV show. I don’t know the show or the purpose of it. It features the wonderful comedian Jonny Vegas ( who understands he is a character on screen ) and a lady from the public throwing fish into a chamber where Neil Hamilton is contained dancing to ” get down on it” and catching the fish. I do not wish to know why. It tells me everything I need to know about Neil Hamilton. He is a court gesture and always was, a light entertainer, a tax barrister,a friend of Barbara Cartland ( the last two are true and not euphemisms). What are his values as he leads the Welsh UKIPs ? Does anyone really care? He dances for fish, like a Dr Seuss character, he contorts our mind and takes our collective money. Maybe that is our expectation of former disgraced Politicians ? John Profumo went to clean toilets and raised money for charity. Im not saying this is the model, but he also kept a low profile. Neil decided to cash in on his lying and cheating by dancing for fish and dancing to the Welsh Assembly. Hang in Wales I don’t think it will last.

UK local elections on the radio …

6 May

I managed to listen to the radio ( via the wonders of the internet)whilst in the drizzle at work today. Its an electoral smorgasbord all those devolved things. Jim Naughtie told us that theres only one Police Commissioner result due tonight so don’t get your hopes up …but my hopes were up !

I got slightly excited when I heard the first Scottish result come in – Orkney Lib Dem hold ( surprise ) it was an SNP target , as though anywhere in Scotland isn’t.
Keep calm , UKIP think they have done well. They would wouldn’t they- Hartlepool/ Portsmouth/Wales – even though the party is a shambles in Wales. Neil Hamilton ! Neil Fuckin Hamilton !!The guy who looks like Peter Baynham and hates foreigners ( ok thats not helping) The other ex MP. Neil Hamilton !! Shameless. Mark Reckless that was him. 2 ex-tories indeed. Apparently the Referendum is helping them. Oh well.
11.55(to me ) they are reading the East Kilbride result live, theres some static over the result and the returning officer reads out spoilt ballots before the Tories- to much laughter. SNP with a 9% swing from labour. Krankiegeddon looms.
Its going to be a ” nationalist” night.
What are UKIP up to in Northern Ireland , they expect to win seats ? Will that help anyone !

The joy of council elections ” Leaders are prowling across the sports hall floor” Plymouth Council – oh I Love Radio 4.
Welsh labour are talking things down , its UKIPS night. ” The current vehicle of protest”. Shit its 12.28 ( 1.28 in the uk). What about the Bristol Mayor , the marmite Mayor any news ?
UKIP have gained a seat on Dudley Council they think they could win Thurrock. Labour losing badly in Bury apparently its the Jewish – Livingstone thing.
1.45 I return Labour doing ok in the South and Midlands.
John Curtice thinks the SNP party vote is off such a high its impossible to gain. Philip Cowley agrees – have we reached the tartan ceiling ? A rumour that the Lib Dems have won East Fife seems to have been started by the Lib Dems. There was a reasonably personable SNP female MP on the radio , didn’t get her name.
The woman who won the Sheffield by-election is on, she was the wife of the deceased MP. She was very coy about her support for Corbyn. Oh shit they are interviewing Neil Hamilton, unfortunately I have to do some work. He’s all immigration, steel EU and China.
North East Fife, its Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party by the way. The winning Lib Dem says he’s had the time of his life but misses singing it ” booooosting mental health services” is his thing.
Jim Naughtie interrupts to say in Cowdenbeath the SNP beat the Labour deputy leader. A significant result.
Oh John Manns on the radio, what will he say. He can’t hear the questions and sounds pretty weedy ( a grumble weed )” Cataclysmic if they come third in Scotland,Unthinkable ( not really its easy to imagine ) Does he wish Corbyn hadn’t said they wouldn’t lose seats ? mixed bag result but mainly lost Jewish populations. Corbyn now has to define his leadership, but there shouldn’t be a challenge.
Im back again at 2.50/3.50 SNP winning something, Labour losing something else. something about the Lord Provost of Edinburgh its all a bit confusing.
Labour leader of Redditch council ( remember Kevin Turvey red ditches full of blood – oh well I do) Compares them to Leicester ( at last ) we fought on local issues ‘ Im the leader of Redditch Council ” like he won the lottery! Oh but they are losing Dudley.
Labour and Cons neck and neck in Scottish vote.
Philip Cowley is eating a fudge during a result, this is major. Edinburgh West. The Norwich Labour MP Clive Lewis comes on but says nothing then sounds like the smash men. Shut up or get out he says.

Wales has its first openly Gay MWA , then another. Come in Matt Lucas !
Jim Naughtie is riffing on how significant the Cons vote in Scotland is.
Oliver someone has won Dumfries, his dad according to prof Cowley was dead set against it . Why asks Jim ? , oh well being a politician and he’s young . Its a Tory gain.
Edinburgh central and Jim is talking over the top like a Jamaican Toaster. ” yes” “she’s here” he says over Ruth Davidsons return. Is it Dickie Allison or Allison Dickie ? who cares ? Jim thinks its someone else anyway. She thanks the Police but tells the SNP this is a message.

The were in Wales , Brecon, the winner is thanking the campaign team as a second family- thanks her Husband and Mother in Law, opponents, the people of Brecon. She has held it since 1999, the amazing and well known constituency- especially its people. It turns out she’s the leader of the Lib Dems. Jim thinks the mother in law reference is the first time he’s heard it in a speech by a victorious candidate. Im doing a Les Dawson face at this point. Labour may be able to govern on their own in Wales, who knows.
Lab have held somewhere in Wales, I didn’t hear but lost Glasgow Pollock ( not the artist ) Jim is loving the Scottish results. Prof Cowley thinks Lab have lost 8 to SNP, SNP have lost 4 ( 3 Lib Dem 1 Cons). Are the SNP underperforming- its an astonishing performance under the current system so say Alec Salmond and Philip Cowley. SNP have taken either Mary or Merry hill it may be a kidnapping or a constituency. They do what they like at 4.30 in the morning.

” Im sat on a bench in Stourbridge near the crown shopping centre but no one has the crown in Dudley” – Its not Alan Partridge but the radio reporter. Dudley has lost its Green and Independent and is No overall Control. ” Whose going to get into bed with who ” Not Partridge ponders..Jim seems speechless. The Labour leader thinks the glass is half full- they defended 17 seats, one had 5 recounts and they lost it by 3 votes ( id ask for a 6th count to be honest )- Of the 3 parties on Council – Lab Con and UKIP no one wants a coalition- so thats sorted. Except the ex-Conservative leader whose suggesting a Con-Lab arrangement. Jim does a Grand Coalition in Dudley Comment – then were off.
Another result Edinburgh South, theres a lady saying ” Can you turn it up ” and ” I can’t hear the program ” Jim is telling the story ( perhaps to the noisy lady ) The SNP have lost a seat to Labour, the Lib Dem vote has gone AWOL.

UKIP at 13% in Wales, Reckless Mark is confident. 8 seats ? Would be spectacular he says , is that what Neil said well 5 is the target,then he counts from 5 to 8. UKIP are going to shake ups the Cardiff Bay establishment, a fresh approach – devolved policy , something about grammar schools. UKIP campaigned to abolish the Assembly in 2011, in 2016 they are looking to make gains in 2020 they may invade Wales.
The Liverpool Mayoral result is coming in – Roger bannister ( the 4 minute mile man isn’t he dead ) but no party labels being read out but its all cut off to go to Glasgow and Nicola Sturgeon/ So sod off Liverpool mayor. The Lib Dem vote in Glasgow gets hysterical cheers, the SNP sincere ones.
She thanks the Police ( creep) the team and agents the voters, and Glasgow ( not her in-laws ). She claims the 3rd SNP Government is in the bag. Will she mention the referendum? She wants to make a pledge – is this it ? No its to govern in the interests of everyone …really ? I wonder if that includes Ruth Davidson.

Then I went home, and theres so much more still to be counted.
Thank you BBC radio

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