The health cost of the government’s failure to implement minimum pricing of alcohol policy

alcohol
A doctor friend described to me the ‘minimum pricing of alcohol policy’ as ‘one of the few genuinely good public health ideas of recent years’. As with most policies that are good for public health but bad for big business it was quietly dropped. The coalition government instead opted to bring in a ban on ‘below cost’ selling of alcohol.

A study published in the BMJ has, for anyone that had any doubt, put to rest any suggestion that the banning of selling below cost alcohol has any serious public health benefit and, significantly, has clearly restated the case for the introduction of minimum pricing of alcohol (as our progressive neighbours in Scotland have done – awaiting a legal challenge from the Scotch Whisky Association).

The BMJ study concludes with an unequivocal statement:

“The ban on below cost selling, implemented in the England in May 2014, is estimated to have small effects on consumption and health harm. The previously announced policy of a minimum unit price, if set at expected levels between 40p and 50p per unit, is estimated to have an approximately 40-50 times greater effect.”

The implemented policy of banning the selling of below cost alcohol was found to reduce harmful drinkers’ mean annual consumption by just 0.08%, around 3 units per year. Put another way that is just over one pint, per year, drunk less by harmful consumers of alcohol.

In contrast, the study found that a minimum pricing of alcohol set at around 45p per unit would reduce harmful drinker’s consumption of alcohol by 137 units per year. In terms of pints that is approximately 60 pints less a year.

We have known for a while now that the minimum pricing of alcohol disproportionately impacts on those of us who consume the most alcohol (in the study a harmful drinker was defined as the 5.3% of the population over 16 who on average consumer 58 units per week for females, 80 units for males).

According to the study 2.2 million of us Brits are harmful drinkers (17.3% – 7.2 million are ‘hazardous’ and 61.5% – 22.5 million – are ‘moderate’).

The study found that 30.5% of harmful drinker’s alcohol would be effected by a minimum price of 45p per unit while just 19.5% and 12.5% respectively for hazardous and moderate drinker’s alcohol would be effected.

But this policy analysis isn’t just about reducing the amount people drink for an abstract notion of it being ‘better for our health’. The study connects it closely to alcohol related deaths stating:

“Below cost selling would save an estimated 14 deaths and 500 admissions to hospital annually, compared with 624 deaths and 23 700 admissions for a 45p minimum unit price”

In short and written another way, the coalition’s decision to delay the introduction of a minimum price of alcohol is costing Brits 610 needless deaths a year and a whopping 23,200 hospital admissions.

Something worth bearing in mind next time you go into an overworked hospital.

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On Lib Dems, Greens and the selective use of polling data

Anyone with any connection to the Green Party will have probably seen the below image over the last few days. Produced by the polling company YouGov it shows the Green Party neck and neck with the Liberal Democrats on 6% of the intended vote share.

GreenLDVI

Having an external and highly respected polling company like YouGov produce such an image is extremely useful to the Green Party as they continue to try and convince voters that they are a credible option and not a ‘wasted vote’.

What I am about to write does not contradict that.

That said, any assertion that the Green Party are currently neck and neck with the Lib Dems in the polls (plural) as some Greens are claiming is flagrantly not true.

An accurate description of what has occurred would read more like, “One poll, which stands as an exception, shows the Green Party neck and neck in the polls”.

Indeed, YouGov’s latest polling which directly followed the above quoted polling has the Lib Dems on 7% (+1) and the Green Party on 4% (-2).

In addition, the previous Lord Ashcroft and Populus polling both had the Lib Dems on 9% – significantly higher than YouGov has had them for months now. YouGov represents the worst predictions for the Lib Dems.

The UK polling report average, a calculated polling average from across the polling companies, currently has Lib Dems on 8%.

Equally, the 6% vote share for the Green Party represents a (fairly consistent) high for The Green Party. They are currently averaging 5% (according to the UK polling report average).

In short, there are, on average, a clear 3 percentage points between the two parties. And there is no reason to think that this will change anytime soon. It appears that the Lib Dems have reduced their support down to its committed core and the Green Party have impressively expanded their support beyond most people’s expectations.

Looking back 5 years it is interesting to remember where these parties have come from in terms of polling data. At this time 5 years ago with half a year or so until the general election ICM/News of the World polling had the Green Party on just 2% and the Lib Dems on 17%. Some Ipsos Mori polling had the Green Party on 3% and the Lib Dems on 25% (with the day before the poll results having Lib Dems on 27% with no mention of the Green Party). Some YouGov polling (that also didn’t bother recording Green voting intention) had Lib Dems on 21%.

In 5 years the Green Party have gone from not being counted or receiving 1-3% of the vote to consistently polling 4-7%. The Lib Dems have gone from being ‘the next big thing’ polling 16-30% to being stripped down their bare bones of voter support (6-9%).

So, where does this leave us in terms of expected vote share for May 2015? Well, I predict the Lib Dems will still be the third largest party in the Commons (with around 30 seats) and I strongly suspect the Greens will return no more than their one current MP (the case for electoral reform is as strong as ever).

Equally in terms of vote share, I expect to see the Lib Dem 2015 vote share a bit higher than the current polling (for common sense reasons such as embarrassment in admitting you plan to vote Lib Dem and support to good local MPs) and I also expect to see the Green Party vote share marginally drop as both Lib Dems and Labour put out ‘squeeze messages’ (if you vote Green you will let the Tories in).

The Greens are growing and working hard to offer a progressive alternative to the established establishment parties but any assertion that they are polling neck and neck with the Lib Dems is, currently, simply not true.

 

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2 graphs that explain the dangers of climate change

The New Scientist yesterday published this graph under the headline ‘World on track for worst-case warming scenario’:

New Scientist

The graph shows how we, as human beings who are the primary drivers of global warming, are following the ‘worst case’ projections that the IPCC set out in their climate modelling. The article explains:

“Models predict how much the world will warm depending on how much we emit in future. Scientists typically look at four different possible futures, ranging from an uber-green society to a worst-case scenario, in which no action is taken to combat global warming. Le Quéré [the lead author] and her colleagues show how today’s emissions are near-perfectly in line with the worst-case scenario. This means that, according to scientists’ best estimates, the world will be as much as 5.4 °C warmer in 2100 than it was before the industrial revolution.”

The article goes onto talk about the ‘2 degree guard-rail’ – in other words the internationally agreed assumption that we need to keep global rise in temperature below that of 2 degrees from 1990 levels.

As I wrote back in 2009 however, this agreed guard rail is based on science that is now nearly 15 years out of date (based on work done pre-2001). As this graph from a 2009 University of Copenhagen report shows – the expected outcomes or ‘dangers’ of climate change will occur at a significantly lower temperature rise than was estimated back in 2001.

Click on the image to enlarge:

Fig 8

(Source: page 16 from here).

This report explains the significance of these findings in no uncertain terms:

“…a 2oC guardrail, which was thought in 2001 to have avoided serious risks for all five reasons for concern, is now inadequate to avoid serious risks to many unique and threatened ecosystems and to avoid a large increase in the risks associated with extreme weather events”

It goes onto conclude:

“…although a 2oC rise in temperature above pre-industrial remains the most commonly quoted guardrail for avoiding dangerous climate change, it nevertheless carries significant risks of deleterious impacts for society and the environment.”

In short, the first graph shows how we are currently on course for the worse-case projections that climate scientists have predicted. This will have disastrous consequences. The second graph then tells us that the targets that we are so woefully missing might well prove to be inadequate anyway and that the probability of these disastrous consequences start to go through the roof at approximately 2 degrees of warming.

With this in mind, riddle me this…why is this not on the front page of every newspaper, on the agenda of ‘Cobra emergency meeting’ in Downing Street, the number one priority for voters?

Is it as simple as a case of our collective head’s being buried in the sand? I don’t know, all I do know is that if we want change, we have to demand it from our decision makers.

In 2015 the UK has a general election – make sure you only lend your vote to someone who understands climate change and whose party take these risks seriously!

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On the need for radical constitutional reform

This is a guest post from Mike Assenti (yes that Mike Assenti) who writes on the need for radical constitutional reform in not just Scotland but also Wales, Northern Ireland and even England!

Geoffrey Clifton Brown MP - one of many comfortable conservative backbenchers

Geoffrey Clifton Brown MP – one of many comfortable conservative backbenchers

The votes are in and Scotland has (just about) voted against independence. This makes me feel a curious combination of relief and disappointment – relief as I think the union is the best outcome when looking at it rationally; disappointment for the Scots in that they have missed a golden opportunity to break from the dysfunctional, condescending Westminster.

Some support for the No vote came about in part because of the last minute scramble by the establishment to promise further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament. This was met with the response by many (particularly on the English right) that we should see wider constitutional reform than just Scottish devolution, with further devolution for Wales and Northern Ireland, and even some form of English devolution.

In this, I find myself in the curious position of agreeing with the likes of John Redwood and Nigel Farage.

It’s a little disconcerting.

However, much of the focus of how this should be achieved seems to be on answering the so-called ‘West Lothian Question’. Posed in 1977 by the anti-devolution Labour MP for West Lothian, Tam Dalyell, this issue is about whether non-English MPs should be allowed to vote on matters that only affect the English. As more and more devolution has taken place, this question has taken on more importance, with England ‘missing out’ on being able to set its own agenda.

There is no good answer to this question as it is currently posed. One proposed solution would be to bar non-English MPs from voting or debating on purely English matters. This would see the creation of two tiers of MPs – the English able to vote on everything, and the non-English who are restricted on certain matters. Where would this leave perfectly capable non-English MPs who form part of the government? Where would this leave any non-English Prime Minister? Would it have been possible for Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling to be PM and Chancellor if they were prevented from participating in ‘English only’ issues?

I cannot see how this solution is anything other than completely unworkable.

The problem is that this question is being asked with the wrong mind-set. A contributing factor the Scottish Independence movement is the perception of being ruled by the English. Historically the English conquered Wales and Ireland, and these countries were then ruled by the English. When parliament deposed James II/VII in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 for the crimes of being Catholic and promoting religious tolerance, they ended the reign of the House of Stuart that had united the Scottish and English thrones in the first place.

Throughout the history of the United Kingdom, the English have been, at best, the senior partners, and at worst, the absolute rulers of the other nations. Even within England, there is a perception (rightly or wrongly) that everything is skewed towards the South, and in particular London. If we can face up to and try to fix this mind-set, then we can have successful devolution that would leave a far greater proportion of the population feeling enfranchised, with the same powers available for all of the UK’s member nations.

Here’s my proposal of how we might achieve this.

We continue to have a Westminster based House of Commons and House of Lords. This is the British Parliament, and the seat of the British government. They are responsible for dealing with matters that affect the entirety of the UK, such as foreign policy, high level monetary policy, etc etc. The size of a constituency is made far, far larger, such that there are of the order of 25 constituencies across the UK. Each constituency elects around 10 or so members via a PR system (STV?), leading to around 250 MPs – less than half the current number.

We continue to have national assemblies for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and we create a new national assembly for England. These assemblies are responsible for dealing with matters that affect each individual nation. Each assembly is devolved the same amount of power.

No one can serve on both a national assembly and in the British parliament at the same time. Each assembly is free to choose their own electoral system based on the wishes of the electorate. I would personally favour STV for the English assembly, with around 30 constituencies electing around 150 members. The English Assembly should not be based at Westminster, and ideally shouldn’t even be in London. Choosing Manchester or Leeds would have the beneficial effects of moving some power away from its current ludicrous concentration in London, as well as providing a boost for that area and helping to close the North/South divide.

Of course, we all know none of this will happen.

Challenging the status quo is not an easy thing in this country, and those in charge have extremely vested interests in avoiding change. The hallowed, ancient systems of government currently in place are revered by the old guard, with all their pomp and tradition better suited to the 18th than 21st century.

A system of PR would drastically reduce the number of both Tory and Labour MPs, as well as removing safe seats for idle back benchers of the ilk of Geoffrey Clifton Brown. Forcing members to choose between UK politics or English politics is also unlikely to be popular with MPs used to being in charge of the whole lot. Reducing the number of MPs will obviously result in many losing their jobs, but this would be necessary to help to pay for the change. It would of course be expensive as well, but that in itself should not be a barrier to long over-due constitutional reform that would be a huge investment in the politics of the future.

Whilst we’re on the subject of constitutional reform, maybe it would be a good idea to actually write a constitution. The UK is one of very few countries worldwide without one – the others being Israel, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia.

The Scottish Independence referendum has brought the question of what our United Kingdom is and what it should be into the foreground, and perhaps now is a good time for all Brits to discuss and agree on these issues. If we really are Better Together, then let’s explicitly define our relationship, making sure that everybody is represented, that power is fairly distributed and that the restrictions and legacies of the past are not all that define our common future.

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Stroud News and Journal: ‘Couple to embark on gruelling charity run’

This is from last week’s Stroud News and Journal about my up-coming charity run aiming to raise money and awareness of the African Palliative Care Association.

It is not too late to sponsor us – just click here

Click on the article to enlarge:

Image (142)
Thanks to the SNJ for their support!

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When The Daily Mail asks to use a photograph you’ve taken this is how you respond

Very proud of my good friend and occasional Hynd’s Blog contributor, Mike Assenti, for this wonderful response to the Daily Mail when the paper approached him asking to use one of his photographs.

Mike

Follow Mike on twitter @ClipOnMike.

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Green Party membership 2002-2014 up three fold

Today, Derek Wall from the Green Party tweeted this graph showing the growth in Green Party Membership from 2002 – 2014.

Greens 2002-2013

Two interesting points to draw out from the graph:

  • How low the membership was 10 years ago (I joined when the party had just 6,280 other members).
  • How consistently the membership has grown over the last 12 years (with obvious spikes).

In contrast when we look at membership figures (source: House of Commons briefing Sept 2014) of the three largest political parties in the UK we can see the exact opposite occurring:

  • Membership that used to be quite big but…
  • Now the membership is consistently slipping away.

party members hip

For the sake of comparison, if we look at the Conservatives compared to the Greens we can see that the Tory membership fell by more than half between 2000 and 2013 while the Green Party grew by three fold.

It is worth highlighting though that other smaller parties are also seeing a growth (the BNP serving as the exception).

party members hip 2

Perhaps what is most interesting however is to look at the percentage increase or decrease over the last 10 years to examine where the momentum is in British politics:

party members hip 3This one crass measure doesn’t tell you much but it does suggest that both UKIP and Greens are currently riding high.

The pertinent question though is will this trend continue and will all these small parties become bigger players in British politics or will we see some of them drop off like we did the BNP?

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Why I will be running for the African Palliative Care Association

APCA_logo final_NEW STRAPIt is important to state from the start, I don’t like running and nor am I any good at it. You would be right then to comment that it seems just a smidgen odd to decide to run 21 kilometres, out of my own free will, however good a cause it is for.

Well let me assure you that it is for an exceptionally good cause. I am fundraising for the African Palliative Care Association (APCA). APCA has been my employer now for the last 18 months. I am not too proud to say though that when I started working for them I knew little about palliative care – let alone palliative care in Africa.

I guess I was a little naive but I never expected the raw reality that I was met with on day one of my job. Literally millions of people suffering the most debilitating of pain because they don’t even have access to basic elements of palliative care such as access to pain medication.

I started to grasp the magnitude of what this actually meant when I went with staff from Hospice Africa Uganda on home visits. I met patients and their family who benefited from having access to oral morphine and who had grappled back a sense of normality in their life.

I remember meeting Bruno on the outskirts of Kampala. I remember how he had said to me that “You cannot be happy to see your dad suffering”. But most of all, I remember how deeply sincere he was when he thanked the hospice staff for coming, for caring and for bringing his monthly does or oral morphine.

This realisation though of how important palliative care services are only truly sunk in when I met someone who, like most Ugandans, did not have access to this service.

That person asked me not to publish her name and I can understand why. She spent 6 months nursing her mother who died of cancer as the rest of the family refused to let her seek medical help because of the financial implications. She watched her mother everyday lie in bed unable to move because of the pain she was in. With tears in her eyes she said to me one of the most powerful sentences that I have ever heard: “When I die, I don’t want to go like that.”

This is what APCA campaigns for. To ensure that no-one in Africa dies without access to palliative care.

Over the last 18 months of working for APCA I have almost every day had a realisation of some sort. Sometimes it is still about how dire the situation is in many parts of Africa. Other times it is about these faceless numbers impact on people lives. But increasingly these realisations come through meeting the varied and wonderful volunteers and staff who working to change all this.

Because of a small band of committed people there are now policies, projects and pain killers popping up all over Africa. The staff and volunteers I have met have at times humbled me but more often than not, they have inspired me.

In South Africa the national association is supporting the training of traditional healers in palliative care. In Uganda they have been training journalists and editors. In Zambia they are engaging the HIV AIDS community. All people who used to see themselves as separate to palliative care all now working to ensure everyone has access to these services.

When the palliative care community reaches out – others cannot help but to respond seeking out what they can do, how they can contribute to helping to end this perfectly preventable humanitarian disaster of untreated pain.

It is a natural response that I too felt.

But what can I, as a non-medical professional, contribute? And that’s when it struck me that even if I was already over stretched professionally, I could always do something that anyone of us could do…run a half marathon to raise money and awareness for APCA’s work.

And so, not only do I want you, if you can afford to, donate to APCA through my ‘Just Giving’ page. I would also love you to help me raise awareness of palliative care in Africa. Can you share this article on facebook, visit APCA’s website, or share this video?

Together I know we can do this – there are already hundreds of talented wonderful people out there doing the most amazing work. It might not be obvious how you can help but believe me, just by reading this article you have taken your first step.

There is a long-way to go and my half-marathon is really just the first few steps but together we can make a real difference.

You don’t have to believe me, just go and listen to patients both with and without access to palliative care and you will soon see the difference it can make.

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The satire of Downing Street trying to fly the saltire

saltire
With the news that the ‘Yes to Independence’ campaign had overtaken the ‘Better Together No to Independence’ campaign in the polls, the Yes campaign went on the offensive trying to paint the No campaign as panicking.

To counter this at the time, unfounded accusation, the No campaign launched itself into full panic mode.

Firstly, they cancelled Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) so the three party leaders could take a completely unplanned and, let’s be honest, unwelcomed trip to Scotland to try and ‘love bomb’ the Scots.

I can’t see that going wrong…

While I feel little sympathy for Cameron, I do feel a bit bad for Clegg as once again he fights in a referendum where he does more harm than good. He is, whether he likes to admit it or not, now part of the three figureheads of conventional Westminster politics who are to the No campaign what the Liberal Democrats were to the AV campaign.

Alex Salmond must have been laughing at the news that all three of them were heading north.

As if trying to write a satirical sketch for the ‘Thick of it’, it got worse. Someone somewhere decided to try and fly the saltire over Downing Street and impressively manged to get it wrong. Truly a wonderful moment – the satire of the saltire.

Watch this video:


It has been a long time since I have seen a collective political flap as big as this. Will the Scots find this late attempt to love-bomb them lovable? Or, and perhaps more likely, will they see through these latest twists and turns of political posturing?

I suspect the latter but I guess we won’t find out until the 18th September when Scots go to the polls.

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Scottish Independence: Better Together ‘too negative’ as Yes campaign gains ground

Scottish+independence
Last week Charlie Langan wrote for Hynd’s Blog discussing, amongst other issues, the negative nature of the ‘Better Together’ campaign on the up-coming Scottish independence referendum.

Interestingly some new YouGov research shows that Charlie is not the only one who feels like this:

PKpullquote3

This negativity is part of what Charlie explains has pushed him from a neutral position towards supporting the ‘Yes to Independence’ campaign. Again, this latest YouGov analysis suggests that once again Charlie is representative of a much broader shift in public opinion.

YouGov research shows that support for the Better Together campaign has been vanishing in the last week leaving the two sides neck and neck leading up to the referendum on the 18th.

IndyRefSept

Now, only Conservative voters (who are small in numbers in Scotland) are consistently backing Better Together: 93% of them still plan to vote No. YouGov’s analysis shows that ‘all other sections of Scottish society are on the move, most notably among four key groups’:

  • Labour voters, up from 18% saying Yes four weeks ago, to 35% today
  • Voters under 40, up from 39% to 60%
  • Working class voters, up from 41% to 56%
  • Women, up from 33% to 47%

This all leaves it too close to call and reinforces the message from both camps that if you are eligible and care about the future of Scotland – either as part of the United Kingdom or as an independent country – you need to make sure you turn up to vote on the 18th September.

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Young voter support for The Green Party has doubled since May’s election

New analysis from YouGov shows that twice as many young people now say they plan to vote Green in May 2015’s General Election than they did before this year’s European elections.

An average of 10-11% of 18-24 year olds now say they are planning to vote Green in 2015 compared to just 3-5% in March-May 2014.

Young Greens

Despite this surge in youth support the party are still only polling 4% on average (according to the UK Polling Report Average).

polling average

The Greens are still being significantly outflanked by the electorally similar sized UKIP (although UKIP are of course much better financed) and consistently unpopular Liberal Democrats. Although, it is again worth noting that a 4% national vote share for the Greens would be a huge step up from their 2010 1% vote share.

In 2015 Greens have announced they will stand candidates in 75% of seats. However, considering this national polling, it is expected that Greens will focus their energy and [limited] resources on firstly retaining Caroline Lucas’s seat in Brighton before also looking to increase their vote share (or take depending on who you speak to) the seats of Norwich South and Bristol West. 

Looking further than 2015 though, this surge in youth support for the Greens is surely a good sign of the long-term prosperity of the party as they seek to establish themselves as a competitive force in British politics.

 

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Arsenal back campaign to kick homophobia out of football

rainbow
There are few things I like more than Arsenal FC and there few things I like less than discrimination.

Because of this, I rather appreciated Arsenal’s latest campaigns video in support of the #RainbowLaces campaign to ‘kick homophobia out of football’.


Stewart Selby, co-ordinator and founder of the GayGooners commented on the Arsenal press release that: “Arsenal’s participation in the advert and the campaign means so much to Arsenal’s LGBT fans and the community. The campaign sends the message that attitudes should and can change.”

A pair of rainbow laces will be distributed to professional players across the UK for them to where on the weekend of Saturday September 13th to create a visual display that homophobia is not accepted in the modern game.

Writing this from Uganda, one wonders though how the millions of devote Arsenal fans here will react to the campaign!

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How the Green Party in Stroud responded to the idea of a UKIP/Green pact

Stroud Greens
The Green Party Parliamentary Candidate (PPC) in Stroud, Chris Jockel, came out with this stirring statement in response to a UKIP suggestion of a Green/UKIP pact in Stroud.

From the local rag, the Stroud News and Journal:

“We believe UKIP promote a message of fear, division and potentially hatred, born of a superficial, lazy and ultimately dishonest analysis of the national and local situation,”

Talk about pulling no punches!

Just in case any local UKIPers were left in any doubt the Green Party’s MEP for South West of England (and formerly a Stroud District Cllr), Molly Scott Cato, added:

“UKIP’s candidate seems to subscribe to the adage that ‘My enemy’s enemy is my friend’ but I have to tell her that the Greens choose their friends with more care than that.”

Well, glad we got that one sorted. No UKIP/Green pact in Stroud!

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Natalie Bennett re-elected leader of The Green Party

Green party Natalie Bennett
Natalie Bennett has been re-elected the leader of The Green Party of England and Wales after standing for re-election unopposed. She was elected with 2618 votes to 183 (RON).

Former Deputy leader Will Duckworth however narrowly missed re-election in the new system which saw the party electing one male and one female deputy party leader. Amelia Womack was elected with 1598, (to Will Duckworth’s 1108) and in the second round of voting Shahrar Ali was elected with 1314 (to Will Duckworth’s 1277).

Other internal election results include:

Gpex Chair: Richard Mallender was elected 2640 to RON 101

Campaigns Co-Ordinator: Howard Thorpe was elected 2546 to RON 181

Elections Co-Ordinator: Judy Maciejowska was elected 2631 to RON 161

External Communication Co-Ordinator: Penny Kemp/ Clare Phipps/ Matt Hawkinswere elected 2586 to RON 147

Management Co-Ordinator Mark Cridge was elected 2636 to RON 82

International Co-Ordinator: Derek Wall was elected 1416 to Anna Clarke’s 891

Trade Union Liaison Officer: Romayne Phoenix was elected 2639 to RON 94

Policy Co-Ordinator: Sam Riches and Caroline Bowes were elected 1786 to Rachel Featherstone and Anna Heyman’s 839

Publications Co-Ordinator: Martin Collins was elected 2468 to RON 249

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The Sun’s barefaced hypocrisy on baring boobs

The sun

Today, The Sun published the ‘shaming’ story, ‘New sex game shame for topless Brit birthday girl in Magaluf’.

Putting aside whether or not it is in any of anyone’s business what a girl does on her 18th birthday it is worth just taking a moment to highlight the paper’s barefaced moral hypocrisy when it comes to baring breasts.

The Sun goes to great length ‘to celebrate’ the ‘bare-breasted beauties’ (see this 40th anniversary ‘celebration’) that they have daily on their page 3, but don’t seem to hesitate to talk of the shame that this girl is supposed to have felt for choosing to get her boobs out for a drinking game.

So which one is it – is The Sun celebrating natural beauty, in which case I personally look forward to the page 2 cock close-up juxtaposed next to the boobs, or, are we shaming people for getting their naughty bits out?

Of course The Sun is not the only paper to sink into a moral hypocrisy as they try to appeal to both middle-England’s sense of perpetual outrage and to the dispiriting fact that half naked pictures sell papers.

The other example that springs to mind is The Daily Mail’s obsession with fighting the ‘sexualisation of childhood’ whilst at the same time running pictures of 14-year-old Kylie Jenner in a “tiny wetsuit” and “skimpy bikinis”.

For what it is worth I personally feel a lot of sympathy with the ‘celebrating natural beauty’ argument but just feel that is not, and indeed, cannot, be properly ‘celebrated’ in a society and newspaper industry that is so depressingly dripping in overt sexism.

Perhaps even more importantly though, I just feel that this sort of barefaced hypocrisy deserves to be highlighted.

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The Scottish vote for independence should be a celebration – change is happening.

This is a guest post from a good friend and current Phd student, Charlie Langan.

Edinburgh
A quick disclaimer to start: I will not be voting in the Scottish referendum. When there was the possibility of having a postal vote, I believed that neither side had provided any substance to vote for . Since then however, I believe that the Yes campaign has provided a story to believe in. Given the opportunity, I would vote Yes.

Yes for a chance to change both Scotland and the UK for the better.

The starting point of the debate though, which is often overlooked, is whether there is a problem with the state of the Union.

There is evidence that the system is not currently working. I am more and more ashamed of the news stories about the UK that make it to Uganda where I live. Despite not being patriotic, I find myself with, increasingly regularity, volunteering my Scottish status to separate myself from these stories. This is something I have never done before.

The turn to aggressive, confrontational and emotive attitudes and policies on immigration, the European Union, tax and social welfare among other issues coming from the UK, seems to me at odds with the progressive political agenda coming from Scotland.

As an environmental economist working on climate change, I recognise the strength of Scotland’s devolved policies based and founded upon science. However, I do believe that Scotland is running to the limit of its powers and is being constrained. Without being able to set taxes and create incentives, it is difficult to nudge people into making decisions that are better for the society we want to be.

Scotland has shown ability and aptitude to develop strong policies giving, at least me, assurances that Holyrood could probably handle sectors such as the economy (and by most measures better than the current UK government performances in health, education and environment sectors).

I think there is a lot of similarities between the current debate on independence and climate change.

Climate change is a problem, but it took a long time to really understand how it affects us all. Scottish and UK society, national priorities and policies aren’t in harmony, and the differences are perhaps becoming irreconcilable.

In this light, the debate boils down to do we need to change or not. It is a lazy argument that change is too risky just because it’s change. Those who refute change on the principle of change are often those have gained too much power under the status quo and don’t want the boat rocked (the equivalent big oil lobby against the green economy and taking action on climate change). The argument heard is often it’s too expensive to change, and closer examination such claims are generally unfounded.

If there is a consensus that a problem exists and there is a need for something to be done, the debate turns to what is the solution for a better Scotland and a better UK?

The problem here is evaluating any solution, as this requires making predictions of the future, or a new future or a new paradigm. Climate models using hundreds and thousands of years worth of data are made to look like child’s play compared to trying to model the complexity of economies. Those who claim certainty are un-honest, and there are many uncertainties making definitive answers difficult. But we are quite good and familiar at managing the risk of unknowns.

In many respects the Yes campaign has been taking a systematic approach to think through the key issues and logically trying to plot the best course that Scotland could follow if independence is chosen; i.e. identifying risks and proposing management. I don’t like Alex Salmond, nor do I attribute all the successes of the Scottish parliament to him, but I have become to believe that he and the Yes campaign continues to capture the progressive nature that exists within many Scottish policies. Drawing upon the scientific wisdom, it’s not the result that counts, but the method used that shows your success.

The Better together campaign have never unpacked themselves; is it “we are better together” or “we would be better together”? I have already dismissed for the former, but the latter – how – what could Scotland gain? What could the UK gain? What can both parties bring to the table that is not already there? What solutions is the no camp providing? Why have we never seen a better together vision for the future of Scotland? What will be on the table if a no vote is returned in the referendum and discussions turn to devolution max? How valuable would UK membership be to Scotland, if we all find ourselves outside the EU?

The nature of the independence and climate change debates has also been similar in that: the no campaign has been taking on the role of the climate sceptics, focusing on trivial or false corner stones of the debate (the hypothetical currency), distorting the wider picture of the debate (its all about the economy), and resorted in threats (you can’t depend on oil). I look forward to future comparisons with the UK debate and eventual referendum on the EU membership; will it also focus on these boring issues?

But here perhaps we are better together, working toward building commonality between Yes and No, then we can rationally and logically take the final step to spilt or not. I would like to see real discussions on pros and benefits of both camps visions’ for the future of Scotland.

Scotland should be giddy with the opportunities in front of it, not cowed into worrying about making the wrong choice. After all, the debate should be a celebration, change is already in motion and in this sense Scotland has already won!

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Video: ‘This is Uganda’

There are lots of reasons why I love living in Uganda. Equally, it never ceases to frustrate me the distorted and perpetually negative way Uganda is so often portrayed in my home country of the UK.

It is partly because of this I wanted to share this video I have stumbled across. Not because it encapsulates ‘Uganda’ like the title suggests but because it gives just the smallest of glimpses of some of the many wonders that Uganda holds.

If nothing else I hope that it will entice more people by to come and see for themselves everything this place has to offer.

This is Uganda – 2014 from Anne und Björn Fotografie on Vimeo.

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Book review: ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ by Rachel Joyce

This is a copy of a book review I wrote for the UK edition of ehospice news.

Harold Fry
If ever a fictional book has illustrated the importance of ‘spiritual care’ as an integral part of palliative care, it is Rachel Joyce’s debut novel, ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’.

Joyce’s heart-warming novel charts the unlikely story of Harold Fry. Harold is a retired Englishman who embarks on 600 mile walk from Devon to Berwick to visit an old friend who is dying of cancer. The walk, or pilgrimage, increasingly becomes interlinked with Harold’s own grief and spiritual pain as he becomes convinced that by undertaking such a walk he can not only keep his old friend alive, but also repent for the mistakes he has made in years gone by.

Although Harold’s friend Queenie is in a hospice with terminal cancer, the reader only gets brief glances at the physical, spiritual and social pain that she is experiencing. Joyce alludes to a lack of family or friends but this, it feels, is only mentioned to add impetus to the protagonist’s pilgrimage.

Indeed, it is Harold, and at times his wife Maureen, who the reader becomes best acquainted with. On a base level the reader begins to empathise with Harold’s tortured emotions towards Queenie and this only heightens throughout the walk.
From the beginning of the walk and the book the reader is aware of a pain lying just underneath the surface of Harold. Only as the walk, or as Joyce sometimes refers to it, ‘the journey’, develops do we begin to understand the nature and severity of Harold’s pain. Throughout the book one cannot help but draw parallels between Harold’s journey and other patient’s journey towards death.

What stands out in this novel though is the way Joyce cleverly explains to the reader how pain goes so much further than just the pain experienced by the patient. Friends, family and, of course, colleagues can be, and often are, effected by death and the process of dying.

Using this holistic understanding of pain, understanding it as more than just physical but also spiritual and social that can and does impact on friends and family as well the patient, Joyce takes the reader on a powerful emotional journey that is sadly too often out of reach in other novels that touch on issues related to death.

Using Harold’s well-being as an extended metaphor Joyce cleverly intertwines Harold’s hopes, emotions and fears with those of the readers and lets you experience the trials, tribulations and triumphs of Harold’s walk.

The context of which this journey is undertaken – the quintessential English landscape – is, I believe, mistaken by many as being the central theme to the book. Indeed in the reviews published on The Guardian or The New York Times, the life-affirming story and the societal implications of what it means to be ‘English’ or ‘Spiritual’ in the 21st century are drawn out as key themes.

For me, these were side-issues all playing in and relating to how we understand death and the role someone’s spiritual pain can play in that process. I took from the novel, and I believe this was intended as a key theme, the universality of spiritual concern and pain – something which palliative care practitioners have been advocating about for a number of years now.

This is illustrated in the fact that the issues around spiritual pain are shown from the perspective of an atheist (Harold). Regardless of religious beliefs we all have the potential to feel spiritual well-being and of course, pain.

Even when faced with the ultimate twist in the final chapters Joyce still refuses to deviate from what I felt to be the core theme of the book – Harold’s deeply personal anguish and how this not only impacts on those around him, but also on his own ability to be at one with himself.

‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ remains one of the few fictional books I have read that deals with spiritual pain around dying adequately. This is not to say it deals with these issue comprehensively, merely that it acknowledges it to be a central part of what it is that makes us human.

It is perhaps this unlikely source of shared humanity that makes this first novel such a triumph and pleasure to read despite the difficult subjects it addresses.

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Ice Bucket Challenge: Pour a bucket of water over my head? Not in Uganda I won’t

This is an article that I wrote for The Daily Telegraph about why I didn’t complete my ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ but did make a donation to Water Aid. 

telegraph 2

You can read the whole article in The Daily Telegraph by clicking here

You can watch the video below

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Stroud Green Party announce candidate for the 2015 General Election

Stroud Greens
On the back of polling putting the Green Party on 11% of the vote in Stroud the local party have announced their ‘party parliamentary candidate’ as Chris Jockel.

You can read more about the announcement here.

More information on #GE2015 in Stroud: 

  • UKIP’s PPC is Caroline Stephens. You can read what I think of her here (summary: she holds no grasp on basic science).
  • Labour’s PPC is former MP David Drew. You can read why I won’t be voting for him here (summary: I still have no answer if or why he thinks it’s OK to discriminate against LGBT people).
  • The Conservative’s PPC is standing MP Neil Carmichael. You can read everything that I’ve written on him here (highlights include him thinking its cool for the body who are meant to be looking after our health to invest in tobacco).

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