Monday, 21 January 2013

Cold snap; more weather clichés

There is some inevitable about the laziness of the vocabulary in the coverage of the weather at this time of year. I'm sure there are cold weather bingo games out there on social media sites but just in case, here are my favourite cold weather clichés/phrases; cold snap, big freeze, blanket of snow, hazardous conditions, don't travel unless it's absolutely necessary, arctic conditions, since record began, severe weather warning, brrrrrrr, more on the way, braced for further snow, snow sweeping the country, biting cold, in the grip of, temperatures have plunged, travel disruption, and so on!

Savile; another blow to our trust in key institutions

There is clearly nothing worse about the Savile case than the unspeakable crimes he committed and the amount of lives he damaged. His depravity, his abuse of trust and the longevity of his crimes provoke feelings of nausea. But there is something else very disturbing about the case- the failure of so many public institutions to meet their most basic obligations to protect those they were meant to serve.

The Police, CPS, NHS, BBC, the prison service, the list goes on. They let down hundreds of people- many of them children- for six decades, including during the 2000s.
Criminals commit crimes and they often do it with ingenuity and stealth but rarely do they get so much help as Savile did.

Talk of "watershed moments" rings a little hollow after a year in which other issues have rocked our trust in bodies we should be able to rely on. Savile was clearly a predatory sex offender, preying on the most vulnerable. But he was only able to succeed and avoid justice for so long because of the failure of others. Their unwillingness- as that is what it must have been- to believe those who spoke out, and their willingness- as that is what it must have been- to turn a blind eye to criminality because they were putting themselves and the reputation of their organisations first is breath-taking.

Time and time again we see institutions close ranks and forget their oft-quoted values of public service, integrity, truth, respect etc for short term gain; avoiding scandal and damage to its brand.

You can often judge a country by its people and its institutions. This is the greatest country on earth to live in but as a little more shine came off these institutions over the last few weeks our country got a little less great.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Coalition mid term report; decent outcome, poor process

As I have said before, I think the PM and DPM are doing a decent job in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Not everything they had done has been good but there's far more good than bad. I would have preferred a Conservative majority government- obviously- but I still believe it was right to form the coalition and that it remains in the national interest for it to continue until 2015.

Those fellow Tories who complain about the coalition do need to remind themselves from time to time the public did not give us a majority. In those circumstances this was the best government possible for the country.

On the issue of handling of his week's mid term report. Verdict: must do better.

The press conference was fine- cheesy- but fine. The initial document was fine and a good bit of openness about progress so far and areas where more needs to be done. Less fine was the handling of the publication of the annex to the report. By moving its publication date and appearing unwilling to share it at the same time as the report and press conference made it look like there was something to hide or there was a row about its contents.

A classic process story followed which the media loves and distracts from the government's message. As we have seen before with communication from this government; good intentions but poor execution. It is tough to sell good news in such difficult times but not this tough!

TV election debates

As I suspected, the recent noises- apparently on behalf of the PM- about general election TV debates is really just positioning to get changes to the format/approach. David Cameron made his support for the debates and his intention to take part clear in his joint mid term press conference with the DPM earlier this week. He knows that the jeanie is out of the bottle- quite rightly- and that to return to being one of the few major democracies anywhere in world not giving the public a chance to see the men and women who want to run the country answering questioning and debating each other is not tenable.

It will be fascinating this time to see how much change is agreed; less debates (hopefully less shouting by Alistair Stewart!), just the leaders of the two main parties (unlikely), more audience involvement etc?

TV debates are a good thing. The more we see our leaders "unvarnished" (the word of the week) the better. It will also serve the PM well. He improved with each debate last time. I think the debates will help him gain ground on his opponents in what will be another very tight election.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Handing the most precious thing to you to total strangers

I do not normally write about health. I work for the General Medical Council and try to avoid talking about health to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest. But I am making an exception. I want to tell you about my recent experience and what it told me.

For the second time in two weeks, I handed over my wife- the love of my life and the most precious thing in the world to me- to a group of total strangers for several hours at a time. They took her away from me into a room I could not enter, put her to sleep and then took control over her body, doing things which if they went wrong carried risks which could last a lifetime. This story is the story of thousands of people a day in Britain and millions around the world. There is nothing special about our situation, except to us. We did what people do- we placed our complete trust in the people in the blue, green and white coats.

The trust we place in doctors is immense. Nothing in my experience of the last two weeks tell me that trust is not well-placed. In fact, the opposite. As well as being technical specialists of great skill, the doctors we have met have been compassionate, caring and supportive. They have been supported incredibly well by their nursing colleagues- a profession which has received a bad press in recent times- some of it deserved- some deeply unfair. Between them, these groups of professionals have made my wife better and held our hands through an emotional, confusing and frightening time.

But none of that experience of our NHS- GP, A&E and hospital specialists- hugely reassuring though it has been- takes away the gut wrenching awfulness of watching your loved one going into surgery or leaving them in hospital alone whilst you go home. This is not my first time leaving someone I love in hospital or waiting from news from a surgery but- perhaps as I have got older and my understanding of risk and loss have become more acute- this time it was the worst feeling of my life. I now know first-hand that there is something extraordinarily unbearably difficult about being involuntarily separated- albeit for a few hours- from the person you live for and want to spend every minute of every day with.

My recent experience has told me three things, reaffirming and underlining things I already knew but perhaps didn't fully understand. Firstly, doctors and nurses do the most amazing things and they do it under the most incredible pressure whilst dealing with unimaginable complexity; not just of the conditions of their patients, but in the environments they work. Secondly, no matter how often you look at your phone time does not move any faster. No matter how many times you press it on and off, it does not ring any faster. No matter how much you will a phone call to say everything is fine with your wife the phone call will only come when it comes. Thirdly, even though you think you already love someone completely, you realise how completely when the prospect of not seeing them again comes into your mind.

Our story is thankfully (and hopefully!) over and, except for a visit to thank the team at the Chelsea and Westminster hospital, we do not plan to return. At the end of it I am reflective (and v tired). They are definitely things that happen in hospitals that you think could be improved; communication between colleagues, handover between shifts and faster lifts in the hospital! But overall it is rewarding to feel that you get a good return on your investment of trust. That not every hospitals fits the media stereotype of "failing". But the most important thing is that you leave the hospital together to take your loved one home, safe and sound.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Hilary Clinton

After nearly four years of outstanding service as US Secretary of State it has been a worrying few days with Hilary Clinton being in hospital. I can't help but think we have been made to worry too much because of some poor early communications from the State Department and Team Clinton.

With an eye on 2016 and a desire to play down her recent illness they issued a vague early statement which begged more questions than answers. It led to speculation and a the adding of two and two and the inevitable double-digit result.

As so often, full disclosure on issues such as health is the best policy. Had we all known straight away exactly what was wrong with Mrs Clinton we would have been told it was a routine course of treatment, no lasting physical damage and (politically importantly) no risk to her possible run for the Presidency in 2016.

I hope the lesson is well-learned for the future by her team (the race for 2016 needs Hilary); always control your own bad news, get it our early and in full.

Racism in football; time for real action

Today's events at Pro Patria and Kevin-Prince Boateng's and Italian football's response were sickening and inspiring in equal measure.

The despicable behaviour of parts of the crowd today are sadly not isolated to Pro Patria or to Italy. Yes, these vermin are a small minority but they exist in too many places across Europe and have time and again stained the name of a sport that so many of us love.

No more about these low-lives; our breath is wasted on them. Let's talk about the response.

Kevin-Prince Boateng's (KPB) actions were brave and absolutely right. He is rightly being applauded on social media and across the world. But for too long the football powers that be (including Uefa president Michel Platini- who in June said that any players who walked off the pitch at Euro 2012 because of racist abuse would be booked- as the BBC reminded us today) have talked tough and acted weak.

KPB and AC Milan voting with their feet today brought this disgrace on the world's most popular sport to the attention of fans in living rooms across the world. The response of Italy's governing body deserves praise too. The strength of FIGC president Giancarlo Abete words, describing the incident as "unspeakable and intolerable" and going on to say "We must react with force and without silence to isolate the few criminals that transformed a friendly match into an uproar that offends all of Italian football." is spot on.

We now need good deeds to match these good words. Enough of the weak response we have seen to date (including to the shame brought on the game when England were in Slovakia over ten years ago). It is time to start throwing clubs and nations out of competitions and docking them points. Time to hit them where it hurts. Fines, being made to play games behind closed doors and suspended sentences have not worked. It is time for real action. Kicking racism out of football means kicking out the clubs and nations who harbour the racists. At least until they kick the racists out of the game.