All entries for Tuesday 07 March 2006

March 07, 2006

Fetch Gordon Brown some aspirin. He'll need it.

When a news story happens so slowly that it's practically impossible to see, it often gets ignored in favour of the fast-paced action-packed news story.

It's often left to social commentators such as Polly Toynbee in the Guardian to recognise slow-burning problems and suggest remedies. Not they'll ever do any good.

One such problem which is almost certain to cause Gordon Brown to reach for the paracetamol is, ironically, the NHS.

Sir Nigel Crisp, the chief bureaucrat in the National Health Service resigned today, admitting that the service's financial crisis was his greatest failure.

I think he's being hard on himself. The financial crisis in the NHS isn't his fault – it's the fault of government policy which is determined to use rising debt as an excuse to cut uneconomical services. Cottage hospitals will have to go not because of government targets but because of the market – or that's what they want you to think, anyway.

Because the rising debt in the NHS is a completely predictable by-product of introducing marketisation into the Health Service. Certain procedures need to be carried out, but if the government is only willing to pay 99% of that operation's cost, then the hospital performing the operation will go into debt. Add up all the deficits and you have the £620m debt that the NHS predicted in December for this financial year (the unofficial figure is considerably closer to £1bn).

It's all well and good to try and force hospitals and NHS trusts to be more efficient by getting them to cut costs. But certain things have a fixed price, and you can't just stop performing heart bypasses because doctors cost more per hour than you've been budgeted for that operation.

Inefficiency in the NHS needs to be tackled in new ways – and ways that don't rely on market principles. Because yes cottage hospitals are relatively inefficient, but don't the positive effects of a self-sufficient local community deflect the added costs of providing health care at a local, accessible level?

Perhaps the government needs to undergo a transplant so that it realises that efficiency isn't the be-all-and-end-all of running the country.


Christianity and its Discontents

I've been watching with interest over the past few weeks and notice the amount of debate on Warwick Blogs about Christianity has been increasing quite steadily.

I'm guessing there's a few factors involved in this sudden interest:
– the Christian Focus week on campus this term
– delayed reaction to the Jerry Springer musical and the Danish cartoons
– evangelicalism and its increasing efficacy
– increased interest in the abortion issue

But I'm particularly interested by the number of TV documentaries studying the new role of Christianity in British society.

First there was Richard Dawkins' polemical The Root of All Evil? a couple of months ago – a programme I enjoyed, although it was hurrendously biased and could have been less one-sided. And yesterday evening was Rod Liddle's Dispatches documentary about evangelicalism and its role in the new City Academies.

Rod Liddle's documentary was probably a more accomplished piece, as it had a lot more journalistic rigour, and Liddle came at the subject as a Christian himself, albeit one worried by the rise of evangelical Christianity.

He noted the involvement of the owner of the Reg Vardy car dealership in City Academies in the North of England. There, the school ethos is driven by Vardy's Christian values, but in a slightly cynical fashion and also in a comprehensive school. The key problem here was that people within the school's catchment area that disliked its Christian principles had no alternative but to send their children there.

Exclusions at the school were sixteen times higher than any other local school, and evolution was taught alongside creationism, a practice which is technically illegal. Parents were understandably angry.

It wasn't so much a damning criticism of Christian beliefs as a criticism of the government's blatant scramble for cash that provided the motive for City Academies.

I don't think there's been a particular resurgence in the ability of Christian groups to spread their message, although the slow rise of evangelicalism is a notable long-term trend. So why is there this sudden reaction to a force that has been around for so long, and used to be such an integral part of British life?

I'd suggest that many of Christianity's critics are becoming more vocal now because there's a sense of urgency following the failure of multi-culturalism in the UK. For if cultures are to be successfully sewn together, wouldn't a neutralisation of religious beliefs enable greater cohesion?

Alternatively, is this attempt to neuter Christianity a way of making followers of other religions appear more radical to the casual observer?

I hope that if it is deliberate, then the neutralisation of religion in British society is because of the first reason, not the latter. But in attempting to soften the impact of Christianity, its critics need to remember that such a tactic may provide greater impetus for the more radical sections of that religion, notably evangelicals.


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