Monthly Archives: June 2011

Prince Harry

Prince Harry is a lad after my own heart. His is a likeable personality, rather naughty and inclined to live it up.

His choice of women may not always be considered suitable by the establishment, but are the envy of every hot-blooded male in the land. They are good looking, sexy and sometimes unsuitable – which makes them all the more fun.

The Scandal of Care

If a country is judged by the quality of care it gives its older and more vulnerable citizens, then the UK is not scoring well.

Back in February this year a report from the NHS ombudsman, Ann Abraham, sounded a warning that the NHS is failing the elderly, with 18 per cent of complaints reaching her being about care.

The cases cited included failures in providing clean, comfortable surroundings, assistance with eating, adequate pain control, efficient discharge arrangements or communication with patients and their relatives.

Half those mentioned had not consumed adequate food or water during their stay in hospital, and there were examples among the more elderly of people left unwashed and in soiled clothing.

One elderly woman, transferred by ambulance from a hospital in Birmingham to a care home at Tyneside, arrived ‘strapped to a stretcher’, soaked in urine, dressed in clothes that were not hers, and accompanied by bags of laundry, much of which was not hers either.

It seems unimaginable that such things can happen in our country today.

They indicate a staff that’s either inadequately trained, unsuitable for the job, trying to work under impossible pressures or made indifferent and callous by their circumstances.

Depressingly, there is nothing new about this; and nothing new either about the apparent failures to learn from the past.

‘Underlying such acts of carelessness and neglect is a casual indifference to the dignity and welfare of older patients,’ said Ms Abraham.  ‘That this should happen anywhere must cause concern – that it should take place in a setting intended to deliver care is indefensible.’

As we all know, we are living longer and the numbers of us in need of specialised geriatric care is only going to rise in the future. We may wish for a fit and productive old age, but whether or not we achieve it is beyond our control.

There is, therefore, an urgent need to address these issues and the related one of what the age charities see as a negative attitude to the old that stretches right across society.

It is something that must and will change as people remain active for longer.

Simon Bottery of the charity Independent Age told Channel 4 News that there is ‘definitely a wider issue about how we treat older people’; they tend to be seen as ‘having passed their point of use’ in a society ‘obsessed with being young and appearing young …  People are often really surprised to discover that old people are happier. The statistics show that we are most miserable at age 46’.

A situation unlikely to add to the happiness, security or serenity of its elderly residents is the one at present beleaguering Southern Cross, the giant care-home provider, of which we will hear much more as this summer progresses.

Southern Cross operates 753 care homes across the country, containing 31,000 residents, and is now in turmoil. The way this has happened is an abject lesson in how not to go about providing a secure future for a growing elderly population.

One of the cornerstones of monetarist theory since the days of Mrs Thatcher has been that the private sector can manage these things perfectly efficiently without government interference.

We therefore have the right to ask how the situation has become so unravelled in this case.

Southern Cross has traced a root cause back to the time, five years ago, when it was owned by Blackstone, a private equity group, which saw the chance of a rich lode of ore to be mined through a sale-and-leaseback model, by which private landlords bought leaseholds on the care homes and then received rent from Southern Cross as the administrator.

Blackstone has naturally denied any responsibility for what has happened subsequently, and claims it left the company in a healthy working state.

Nevertheless, it walked away from the sale with profits of over £1 billion and laid itself open to accusations of operating as an asset-stripper.

Whatever the rights or wrongs involved, the weakness in the assumptions has been exposed by recession and cut-backs. To save on expenditure, local authorities have slowed down on their rate of referrals to care homes and have instead strengthened the policy of keeping the elderly in their own homes and familiar surroundings for as long as possible.

This is a desirable policy in itself, but the consequences for Southern Cross have been a lowering of income at a time when the costs of utilities have been rising  sharply and there are dramatic losses in the value of their shares on the Stock Exchange.

The shadow of insolvency looms for Southern Cross as they attempt to retrench by renegotiating rents to landlords, meanwhile withholding 30 per cent of rents due and putting in place plans to sell off 200 of their homes.

If Southern Cross fails to save its core situation and goes down, it is likely to take several of its landlords with it, unleashing the spectre of many care homes not only being sold on the open market but actually being closed, with all the consequent uncertainty for their residents and staff.

The City can only comment that all would have been well if it hadn’t been for the recession, which no one could have foreseen. One looks in vain for words of regret or compassion for the anxieties and fear of disruption in the lives of many hundreds of senior citizens, whose first priority in their well-being is to feel settled and unthreatened.

Everything in the vocabulary of the City pundits has to do with the market, leaving no space for any discussion of moral values.

The fact of the matter is that all this has been taking place against a background where the regulation of care homes is practically non-existent.

As Dr Ros Altmann of Saga forcefully told Channel 4 News recently: ‘It’s like the banks. There is nothing to put in place should Southern Cross fail. There is no mechanism for the care sector. I would argue that it’s even more important to regulate the care sector than the banking sector. We urgently need a mechanism to rescue failed homes.’

We also need to consider the proportion of our GDP that we devote to our pensioners, research having revealed that we spend less on their social care than almost any other European country. In the league table we are 17th with 5.8 per cent, while Italy and France stand at the top of the table, both contributing over 11 per cent.

This in itself is a matter for national shame.

Vince Cable should have it in mind during any investigation he conducts into the private equity ownership of public service providers. Certainly something has to change.

George Soros, the American economic guru and philanthropist, makes a strong point in The New York Review’s current issue where he writes on the free market v. government control debate: ‘We must come to terms with the fact that we live in an inherently imperfect society in which both market and government regulations are bound to fall short of perfection. The task is to reduce the imperfections and make both private enterprise and government work better.’

Mr Soros is writing about the present situation in the USA, where hard-line Republican conservatives disingenuously seek to shift the whole blame for the current breakdown in the economy on to government.

But his words have relevance for us here in the UK as well.

Robin Birley vs. Richard Caring

I have some sympathy with Robin Birley in his fight with Richard Caring.

To lose your name in such a manner is too painful to digest.

His father Mark was a very close friend of mine. So was his late brother Rupert, who died tragically while swimming off the African coast.

Robin I hardly know, but since he’s carrying on with the family tradition I wish him well in his new venture in Mayfair.

Richard Caring should take heed.

A little generosity of spirit in this particular case goes a long way in gaining the respect of one’s peers.

The Ruling Barbarians

Government’s prime role is to protect its citizens, and not to shoot them.

What’s happening in the Arab world is beyond comprehension. It goes to show that the main preoccupation of the regimes in the Middle East is to remain in power, using every dirty means at their disposal.

They torture and murder their own people with such ferocity and total disregard for the sanctity of human life.

The wind of change must ultimately triumph and those ruling barbarians who commit crimes again humanity should be tried and condemned to eternal damnation.

The sooner this happens, the better – for the Arab nations in particular, and for the civilised world in general.

The Trend in Husband-Bashing

Eleonora Bekova, a world-class pianist, was arrested recently after allegedly beating up her husband at her home near Clapham Common.

It is a shame, and rather worrying, that the number of women convicted for domestic violence in England and Wales has risen sharply in the last five years.

The data suggests that the gentle sex is no longer as gentle as we have been led to believe.

Far from it, according to the CPS. Nearly 4,000 women were successfully prosecuted last year, against less than 1,500 in 2005.

Do these figures mean that battering men has now become the new fashionable sport for the opposite sex? Or is it the latest trend for women to totally control their partners with whatever means they have at their disposal?

The war of the sexes, as with much else these days, has taken an ugly face.

Throughout history, women were loved and admired for their nurturing qualities and their caring attitudes. It was always men whose boorish behaviour made them the perpetrators of violence in the home.

Such a reversal of roles would be a tragedy if we now see women adopting the most negative aspects of male behaviour.

Can Britain Be Great Again?

The other day Channel 4 News gave serious scrutiny to Private Eye’s contention that, while 0.13 per cent of the population is currently in prison, the percentage for members of the last House of Commons in the same situation now stands at 0.16 per cent.

The report came up with a few quibbles over who had completed their sentence and who was still inside. But once the Conservative Lord Taylor and his more recent court judgment were taken into account, they concluded, it was indeed true that parliamentarians from both Houses are more than twice as likely to go to prison than the man in the street.

How things have changed since I first landed on Britain’s shores in October 1949, sixty-two years ago. I was a boy of eighteen, arriving as a student, hungry for learning and determined to make a success of my life.

The picture of Britain that I had then was very different from what I see around me today. The aftermath of the Blitz and the ravages of war were evident everywhere, particularly in London and other major cities. As the British dealt with continuing shortages and post-war rationing, the indomitable spirit and camaraderie that could be found in society at every level were a joy to behold.

This instilled in me the view that the British were a civilised and sympathetic nation. It was a corrective to my former experience of them as a colonial power under pressure in Palestine, attempting with little success to extract themselves smoothly from deteriorating hostilities between Jewish and Arab interests and sometimes seeming to strike out arbitrarily in all directions.

Clearly the colonisation policies of the British government did not reflect the characteristics of the British as individuals in their own country.

In politics there was an expectation that those who entered into public service, whatever their party affiliations, were people of integrity. Of course, there was always the odd rogue trying to milk the system, but there was never any assumption that it was somehow within their unwritten rights to do so.

The extent to which this has changed was beyond imagining from the earlier perspective. Today there is a public suspicion that those politicians who go to prison also represent a good few others who have got away with it. Lord Taylor is reported as having said he was advised by fellow peers that he would be mad not to make the fraudulent expenses claims that led to his conviction.

This is just one example of how I have seen many of the things I admired about Britain slowly erode in recent years, and those qualities that made us the envy of the world undergo a transformation. Often these changes have been justified as steps in the right direction, but many of them have turned out to be quite the reverse through being open to abuse.

Along with our moral standing in the world, our cultural heritage has been sacrificed on the alter of greed, with the closure of libraries and an education system under attack from cuts when it is already producing alarmingly high rates of illiteracy among the country’s youth.

Money and the getting of it has become an obsession that excludes all other values. Mrs Thatcher unleashed this particular ethos, and New Labour, under Tony Blair, not only emulated her policies, but took them even further.

The divide between rich and poor has continued to widen, with no sign of abatement.

Free speech has been curtailed, with ‘political correctness’ becoming an insidious influence in legislation that has turned the nation into a ‘Big Brother’ regime. The privacy laws in the UK seem to have given judges the right to gag the press and support those with wealth and celebrity status who can use the law to buy privileged protection to prevent their misdeeds and peccadilloes being publicly aired.

A first principle seems to have been lost sight of; namely, that all should be equal under the eye of the law.

Are some of our judges getting too soft in the head in their old age, losing the knack of differentiating between right and wrong? International celebrities are using the English courts as a recourse to stifle debate about their lives. Even multinational companies are able to use them to bend scientific arguments about certain products in their favour, so that researchers are inhibited from speaking out if they have doubts over the claims being made for fear they could face a crippling lawsuit.

Under our libel laws, people with wealth are able to stifle free speech. How can it be right for a rich individual to take proceedings in the United Kingdom against a publisher for a book he has published, while the same publication is available in the United States, where it is immune from any such action?

A major reform in our judiciary is certainly badly needed, along with a rethink of certain elements of political correctness. We need to educate the nation to become more tolerant, rather than force it to accept a mishmash of legislation that restricts or represses free discourse instead of working by persuasion.

Sexual freedom is another area worth reflecting on. It should not compel compliance from those whose religious convictions make an aspect of legislation unacceptable.

Tolerance and respect should work both ways.

There is a pressure now on everyone to be wary of giving honest expression to their inner thoughts, for fear they be unjustly labelled. To make a genuine and valid criticism of Israel, for instance, is to unleash a storm of abuse and accusations of anti-Semitism; the consequence being that the whole subject becomes taboo and starved of the openness of debate it needs if the problems in the Holy Land are ever to move towards resolution.

The aspect I continue to find most preposterous in all of this, however, is the way the establishment rewards failure. In business those who have caused great harm to the economy, and bankrupted many an individual as a result, are given higher jobs than they had previously. In some cases, including those of politicians, they are rewarded with a seat in the House of Lords.

Stuffing the Lords with mediocrities can only demean it as an institution. Honours should be given according to merit, but if we look behind appointments to the Lords in recent years we all too often find that there has been a generous donation made to the funds of one party or another somewhere along the line.

It seems typical of the oblique moral corruption that underlies so many levels in our public life. No wonder our sense of humour has steadily seemed to desert us.

I love living in Britain, and would not live anywhere else by choice. But I am nervous for the future.

We must revert to the old, august traditions of fair play and free speech, and cease rewarding those who are not worthy of it. The best legacy we can leave to future generations will be to make Britain great again, and a role model for the world at large. This does not mean a return to old imperialist attitudes, but it does mean outlasting the long shadows of Mrs Thatcher’s politics of doing the unthinkable, which proved to be such a Pandora’s box of unwanted consequences.

A Britain that is great in the future must also be a caring Britain. To try to claim this is a luxury we cannot afford in the present stringent economic climate would be the biggest mistake possible.