Issue 121: 2017 09 21: Week in Brief: UK

21 September 2017

Week In Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right


BREXIT BOUNCER: Boris Johnson has preempted the Prime Minister’s speech in Florence next Friday by publishing an article in The Daily Telegraph setting out his own vision for Brexit.  The article which has drawn criticism from Amber Rudd for back seat driving, earned a swift rebuke from Sir David Norgrove, the chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, who wrote as follows:

“Dear Foreign Secretary,

 I am surprised and disappointed that you have chosen to repeat the figure of £350 million per week, in connection with the amount that might be available for extra public spending when we leave the European Union.

This confuses gross and net contributions. It also assumes that payments currently made to the UK by the EU, including for example for the support of agriculture and scientific research, will not be paid by the UK government when we leave.

It is a clear misuse of official statistics.”

For those who are confused by all this, the figures (as reported by The Times newspaper) are as follows: our gross contribution to the EU is £367 million a week.  However, the rebate reduces that to £283 million a week of which £146 million is paid by the EU to entities (both governmental and otherwise) in the UK.  That leaves £137 million a week.   Mr Johnson’s article in the Telegraph referred to us taking back control of about £350 million per week.  On leaving the EU we “take back control” both the net £137 million a week and also the £146 million payable to British entities.  However the entities currently funded by the latter amount will still need money so it cannot be regarded as a saving.

The real question, of course, is not what Mr Johnson has said but what Mrs May says tomorrow in Florence.


HURRICANE: Further damage is expected in the British Virgin Islands as Storm Maria replaces its predecessor, Hurricane Irma.  Military helicopters have been loaded with supplies so that they can bring relief to victims.

STERLING SURGE: Although the monetary policy committee of the Bank of England voted 7-2 to keep interest rates at 0.25% and quantitative easing at 435 billion this month, the minutes forecast some withdrawal of monetary stimulus over the coming months. This was taken as a signal that interest rates might rise early next year, pushing sterling up to 1.34.  However, the rally was cooled by comments from Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, to the effect that increases in interest rates are likely to be gradual.  Mr Carney also said that Brexit will contribute to inflation and that the disruption is likely to weigh on productivity.

Law, Police and the Courts

TERRORISM: A bomb on a train at Parsons Green underground station failed to detonate properly but created a fireball which injured 29 people.  Only one of them is still detained in hospital.  Two arrests have been made.

CYCLE SENTENCE: Courier Charlie Alliston has been sent to prison for 18 months after being convicted of causing harm by wanton and furious driving following an accident in which a pedestrian was killed.  Alliston was riding a fixed wheel track bike, which is illegal, at about 18 mi./h.  The government is considering whether dangerous driving laws should apply to cyclists, but one cycling charity says that a review of all road-use offences is required.  Could they just be trying to distract attention from the issue?

TOUGH SENTENCES: The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, has spoken in support of allowing magistrates to give prison sentences of 12 months rather than the present limit of six.  The move has always been resisted because of the risk of swelling prison numbers but the view is that the increase would not be more than 1000.  The total prison population is around 85,000.  There is also potential for a considerable savings since magistrates courts cost £900 a day as against £3,400 a day for a Crown Court.

INDETERMINATE SENTENCES: The Parole Board has agreed to the release of James Ward who was given an Indeterminate sentence for Public Protection after he set fire to a mattress in his cell.  He has been in jail for 11 years although his original sentence was less than one year for an assault on his father. Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection mean that prisoners are held until the Parole Board decides that they are no longer a risk to the public.  They have now been abolished but 3300 prisoners are still held under previous IPP’s.

GRENFELL TOWER: The enquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster has now begun and the chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick has said that it will be broken down into two phases.  The first, which will be completed by Easter, will deal with the cause, spread and response to the fire.  The second will deal with how the building became exposed to the dangers which consumed it.


VICE CHANCELLORS’ PAY: The Office for Students has called for vice chancellors to take voluntary pay cuts to restore confidence in the university sector.  Sir Michael Barber, chairman of the OFS, and Nicola Dandridge, its chief executives, have both taken voluntary cuts in order to set an example.


NHS COOKING LESSONS: Apparently, you can get cooking lessons on the NHS.  Under a diabetes prevention program set up last year, 50,000 people have been referred for courses costing a little over £400 each.  The NHS hopes to expand the program to 200,000 people in the next year, but the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence suggests that the approach should be taken further, with blood tests for all over 40 and younger people who are obese to check blood glucose levels.  Those at risk from diabetes (an estimated 1.7 million of them) can then be taught to cook, saving money on diabetes treatment in due course.


CLIMATE CHANGE REVISION: A new study published in Nature Geoscience indicates that temperature rises due to climate change have been less than previously thought, amounting to 0.9% centigrade since pre-industrial times. As one of the authors, Prof Grubb of University College London, points out, that makes the Paris goal of 1.5% achievable provided that emissions are reduced rapidly.


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Issue 120: 2017 09 14: Contents

14 September 2017: Issue 120

The week’s news –

your chance to catch up:

Image of elliptical decal with £$€ and Financial News caption


Money And Spires by John Watson

Are vice chancellors being paid too much?

High Office, And How To Hold It by J R Thomas

Boris’s wilderness years.

Giving Up by Lynda Goetz

Should we be worrying about the medical students or the qualified doctors?

Low Interest Rates – A Blip Or The New Normal? by Frank O’Nomics

When economic heavyweights disagree.

Germany Approaches General Elections by Neil Tidmarsh

On confident and fashionable feet.

The Collapse Of Bell Pottinger by R D Shackleton

Does the moral outrage ring true?


Raccoons by Chin Chin

Shock immigration news.

It’s Behind You by J R Thomas

Surveillance – by Uber.


Oslo (by J T Rogers)

at The National Theatre

reviewed by Adam McCormack.

Puzzles, Cartoons and Calendar

Cartoons by AGGro.

Crossword by Boffles: “Plain Vanilla 24”.

Solution to the last crossword “Military Matters”.

Quiz by Boffles

Answers to Quiz

What’s on in September 2017 by AGGro.

Earlier EditionsLarge 600x271 stamp prompting the reader to join the subscription list

Issue 115: 27 July 2017

Issue 116: 03 August 2017

Issue 117: 10 August 2017

Issue 118: 17 August 2017

Issue 119: 07 September 2017

Issue 121: 2017 09 21: Getting fit from your armchair (Chin Chin)

21 September 2017

Getting Fit From Your Armchair

Science marches on.

By Chin Chin

A bit queasy after overindulgence on the family holiday?  A little worried that the fatigue could eventually turn into diabetes?  Depressed at the thought of going to the gym to restore yourself to a healthy weight?  Well, chaps, worry no longer.  Research being presented by the European Association for the Study of Diabetes in Lisbon demonstrates that whether or not you contract the disease depends on the health of your wife.  Apparently the risk increases by 21% for every five-point increase in your wife’s body mass index regardless of what your own may be.

That’s it, then.  Problem solved!  If your wife goes to the gym you will be healthier and the possibility of contracting diabetes will be reduced.  Right, back to the sofa, out with the deep-fried Mars bars.  Start reviewing the websites of local gyms whose membership could be your wife’s next Christmas present.

Unfortunately, however, there may be practical difficulties.  Not every wife likes receiving a gym membership for Christmas.  It suggests, you see, that you might not think that she is the ideal shape.  Of course you will know that that isn’t the point at all.  The purpose of the gift is to improve your own health not hers but to explain that could make the gift seem self-serving and less generous.  Also it could lead to some difficult conversations as you try to match her training schedule against your own overindulgence. Somehow I am not sure that “Hello darling.  Please could you do an extra five minutes on the rowing machine as I had two extra beers at lunchtime” will go down particularly well.

Hmm.  What about the children then?  Could you improve your health by sending them out for an hour’s stiff walk every day?  It certainly seems worth a try.  If nothing else, getting them to turn off the television and out of the house for a bit would probably reduce your blood pressure; but maybe the research from the EASD means that it goes further than that.  Perhaps their additional exercise will improve your health generally.

Something like this was tried in the early Middle Ages.  When a young prince misbehaved, his tutors were not of sufficient rank to inflict physical punishment on him.  What to do?  If you spared the rod you would spoil the child and tutors are engaged to improve princes rather than spoil them.  Anyway, not to react when some little tyke had put spiders in your armour would stretch self-control to breaking point. Answer?  The whipping boy.  That was another child of about the same age who could be whipped instead of the prince.  Result: the rod had not been spared and the affronted party could assuage his anger by physical chastisement.  Probably it was not too good a job being a whipping boy if the prince whose punishments you took did not like you, but no doubt it was character building.

Sending your children out on runs to compensate for your own overeating is an obvious development of this theme but alas there are practical problems.  Although the law allows you to beat children in a proportionate way, it is not clear that that includes beating them for not taking exercise to improve your own health.  Perhaps, then, it had better be pets.  It is common knowledge that people begin to resemble their dogs so if you acquire one that loves exercise you should be able to work off the pounds by watching it run.  All you need is a bird-shaped drone and a spaniel or retriever will run all day without you having to do more than move the controls.  Yes, clearly we should ask the EASD to rerun their research by reference to dogs.

All this may be making you nervous.  What if it was to work the other way round so that your wife’s vulnerability to diabetes or indeed her figure depended on how much exercise as you took?  That wouldn’t be much fun.  Imagine her coming back from shopping surrounded by baskets:

“Well darling, I bought them all a size smaller because I knew you wouldn’t mind running an extra mile a day so that I can get into them by Christmas.”

That wouldn’t be so good but luckily there is no chance of it happening.  The research shows that although your wife’s body mass index may affect your health there is no evidence that it works the other way round.  This should actually come as no surprise.  If you each affected the other then a little exercise by one of you would create a virtuous cycle of increasing fitness even though you both retreated to your armchairs.  That would break that law of physics which begins “If it seems too good to be true…”

Actually the whole thing sounds rather experimental so perhaps you should go for a more traditional solution.  Begin with a large portrait of yourself hanging in the attic…


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Issue 121: 2017 09 21: Boris like Marmite (Lynda Goetz)

21 September 2017

Boris Like Marmite

A shambles, a clever tactic or an unacceptable, disloyal attempt at a power grab?

By Lynda Goetz

Boris does seem to have the same effect on people as Marmite – you either love him or hate him.  His 4,200 word ‘speech’, actually delivered as an article in the Saturday Telegraph, has had repercussions ever since and resulted in varying headlines and much commentary.  Should I really be adding to this? Well, since I neither qualify as an economic expert, nor as a seasoned political commentator, the answer is probably not, but with alternatives like London Fashion Week (about which I feel even less qualified to comment) or ‘snowflake’ students and identity tags (simply depressing), I couldn’t resist.

I will confess that without knowing the man at all, and having heard him speak only once, I am a fan.  Yes, he is a man with a large ego; a man prone to terrible gaffes; a totally fallible human being.  However, he is also brilliant; he clearly has a great sense of humour and (of particular importance in this context) is a great patriot.  Patriotism is on the whole regarded as a very passé sort of sentiment; it is the sort of thing we can admire in those who fought in the two world wars, but has little contemporary resonance in this era of globalisation.  Nevertheless, pride in one’s country is not something to be sniffed at.  It is glue which binds people on a scale above that of family and local community.  Around the world it is a force for good as well as evil.  It is what makes people want to compete for their country in the Olympics; not just for themselves, for their own sense of self-worth and personal triumph, but for something greater.  In the same way, Boris, for all his ego, believes in Britain.  After thinking long and hard about Brexit (the cynics say because of how it would affect his own political career; his supporters claim because of his loyalty to David Cameron and George Osborne) he came out in favour.  Although there are several people who can be said to have made Brexit happen (and again for all his faults and his detractors, Nigel Farage is of course right up there), there is little doubt that one of them was Boris, which does surely give him a certain standing in terms of how it is brought about?

Theresa May is also patriotic, but she was a Remainer.  Although she has thrown herself into ‘making Brexit work’, she appears much less convinced.  Obviously, since the disastrous June election she has also had to tread much more carefully, but the people who support her, those she relies upon, are also in the ‘fearful’ camp.  They are terrified that in spite of their best efforts, Brexit is going to be a disaster for Britain; that it is going to be the beginning of a long-term decline.  All their dealings with the EU seem to betray this fear, and the EU bureaucrats in charge of dealing with our politicians can smell that fear.  Boris Johnson’s view, possibly rather ‘Tiggerish’, was by contrast upbeat, confident and refreshing amongst all the gloom-laden doom-mongering that once again seems to have seized the nation.

These are without doubt crucial and pivotal times in the history of this country and as things stand at present it feels as if we could go either way.  Boris’s intervention, disapproved of from many sides, including former Tory chancellor and arch Europhile Ken Clarke (unsurprising) and the chairmen of Tory Associations (more surprising) was, perhaps, the only way he had of getting his point of view heard at a time when he was being massively side-lined by the Prime Minister.  Perhaps he should have remonstrated behind the scenes, tried to put his point of view quietly to the PM and her closest advisors privately?  Rather like David Cameron’s attempts to move the juggernaut that is the EU, this was probably doomed to failure.  Cabinet met whilst Boris was doing his stuff as Foreign Secretary in the Caribbean following Hurricane Irma, and Eurosceptic Cabinet Ministers were increasingly concerned that not only were Chancellor Phillip Hammond’s views on a lengthy transition period winning the day, but also his argument for a Swiss-style settlement with the EU, which would result in continued payments into the EU budget and the acceptance of a significant degree of free movement.  This not only defeats the main objectives of leaving, but almost leaves Britain in a worse position than being ‘at the table’.

Knowing that the Prime Minister was in Canada in the early part of the week and that the following days were taken up with the UN Assembly in New York, time was not on Boris Johnson’s side if the Eurosceptic view was to have any input in the PM’s Brexit speech in Florence coming up on Friday. Although he and the PM are staying in the same hotel in New York, there seemed little chance of private meetings and it even appeared at one stage that Boris had not been included in a reception for the Commonwealth – in spite of being in charge of the Foreign and Commonwealth office. It is therefore arguable that, in spite of Boris’s article being completely outside the normal parameters of acceptable Cabinet behaviour, he was ‘a desperate man taking desperate measures’.  Whether one believes this was out of self-interest or out of patriotism, it does seem to be the case that by freezing him out so completely Theresa May had left him with few options.  His gamble appears to have paid off, since headlines today (Wednesday) suggest that a compromise has been brokered, at least for now.  No payments will be made after 2020.  The Chancellor, the Brexit Secretary David Davis and the Foreign Secretary will now all accompany Mrs May to Florence for her speech intended to break the deadlock over talks.  Would Boris have been prepared to let high office go if necessary?  No doubt with a wry smile on his face and a flippant remark, even if beneath it all his large ego was raging at the injustice of life, the universe and Fate.


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Issue 121: 2017 09 21: The Accursed (John Watson)

21 September 2017

The Accursed

Child pornography addiction.

By John Watson

Can there be a sadder story than that of the Australian politician Rachel Carling-Jenkins who discovered that her husband was addicted to child pornography?  She reported the matter to the police and is now haunted by the images she saw on his computer.  Her already rocky marriage came to an end.  He went to prison for four months and she commented that the sentences given to sex offenders were not sufficient bearing in mind the seriousness of their crime.

You can only feel sorry for her.  To have your life ripped apart in that way is a tragedy which, by the grace of God, most of us will never have to face.  What is easy to forget, however, is that it is a double tragedy.

We are all born with sexual identities and they vary enormously.  Quite apart from questions of homosexuality, confused identity and all the rest, they come in different strengths.  Some people are ruled by their sexual urges.  To others these are of less importance, possible to ignore or at least to bury with work.  There are lots of degrees in between.  Strong urges often lead to trouble.  They may be containable enough for those who are good at finding partners, but must make life very difficult for those who find it difficult to deal with the opposite sex.  Then they lead to frustration and many of the stories that one hears of sexual assaults and inappropriate behaviour stem from that frustration getting out of hand.  The urgent need some people have to relieve these tensions is a one of the strongest arguments for legalising prostitution.

How much worse though if your urges are not straightforward but involve a lust for young children, making you long to view child pornography.  Resisting this must be difficult indeed.  It is so easily available.  There it sits on your computer, accessible at all times.  How tempting it must be.  Just a quick glance, this evening when you are depressed, and then never again.  After all the photos have been taken.  It won’t make any difference to the victims whether you view them or not.  Thus the siren voices hour after hour, day after day, week after week.  Of course you should be strong-minded enough to stand up to them but not everyone has that strength.  Look at those who resolve to give up drink or smoking, how often they fail, how often they start again.  Human resolve is weighed against temptation in many areas and it is not always resolve that wins.  Why would it be different for those whose temptations are sexual in nature?

The rest of us can only imagine what this type of conflict must be like.  The constant temptation, the guilt, the continual worry that it will morph from voyeurism into something worse.  To be born with that type of sexuality is to bear a curse – a curse compared to which those of Greek tragedy are really quite modest.

Still, understanding this is one thing and knowing what to do about it is another.  How are we to prevent men with these inclinations feeding an industry which inflicts horrible damage on vulnerable children?  Well, the Australians have their answer: four months in prison.  Yes, that should certainly sort it.  After a sentence like that the addiction would certainly be cured – just as it would be if you had an addiction to drugs or smoking.

OK, that doesn’t work so well so let’s try something more radical, chemical castration for example.  I am not a good enough scientist to know whether that would succeed medically but haven’t we seen it before?  Didn’t the great codebreaker Alan Turing commit suicide after being made to follow a course of chemical castration to “cure” his desire for gay sex?  It is not absolutely certain that he took the cyanide deliberately of course, but the likelihood was sufficient for Prime Minister Gordon Brown to describe his treatment as appalling and to apologise on behalf of the Government.  I do not think that we want to go there again.

So what is left?  Well, therapy and counselling perhaps – not just with the intention of eliminating urges but also with a view to finding ways of managing them.  In their reaction to the 2014 television documentary “The Paedophile next door” which focussed in part on a man who had successfully resisted his urges,the NSPCC described paedophilia as a “‘public health problem’ that needs to be addressed by treating potential offenders as well as punishing them after an offence.”  Quite so, and in the case of those like Carling-Jenkins’s husband who are child pornography addicts we need to do all we can to get them to change their habits and to prevent things getting worse.

For those who believe that terms of imprisonment are the only answer, consider this.  If you send those who are convicted of viewing child pornography to prison, other addicts will never come forward to receive whatever help or treatment could help them with their condition.  Instead they will lie hidden, continuing to fund this ghastly business and always with a risk that they will gratify their tastes in a more active manner.  If you provide and encourage them to receive therapy you will impede this process and hopefully help many of them to lead normal lives.

The great American Judge Louis Brandeis once said “There is no disinfectant like daylight”.  The more daylight that can be thrown into the dark world of child pornography addicts, the better the chance of doing something real to help.


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Issue 120: 2017 09 14: Giving Up (Lynda Goetz)

14 September 2017

Giving Up

Should we be worrying about the medical students or the qualified doctors?

By Lynda Goetz 

In an article on 27th August in The Sunday Times, Sian Griffiths and Jonathan Corke reported that 300 students a year quit medical school.  An ‘epidemic’ of mental health problems is apparently being blamed.  In the past five years, according to data released by medical schools under freedom of information law, 1,600 students have left or been asked to leave, with 1,200 of those leaving with no qualification and the remainder either being awarded a BSc (presumably under the intercalation system, whereby, usually after the first two years, students can do a year in a related subject eg Global Health, Biochemistry etc to acquire a degree before continuing with medical studies) or changing course.  An example cited was one Hannah Overton, a former state school pupil, who quit University College London (UCL) after two years.  She had been diagnosed with an unspecified mental health condition and claimed she did not receive adequate support to qualify as a doctor.

This article provoked a number of comments online and on Twitter.  Most, although not all, were careful to back up any thoughts they had with evidence or illustrations, but opinions varied widely as to whether the problem was ‘students today’ or whether the issue was, in reality, rather more complicated and required more background information.  Having two siblings as well as several friends who are doctors, a daughter currently starting her fifth year and final year of medical school, and a daughter who qualified as a vet four years ago, I have more than a passing interest in the subject.

The first thing that most of those commenting on the article wanted was more detailed information and more comparison.  Some of this information is rather hard to come by unless one has access to study papers or BMJ (British Medical Journal) articles.  However, a House of Commons Briefing Paper produced in March this year (Medical School Places In England from September 2018) was informative and as well as discussing future needs provides information on recent annual numbers admitted to medical school (around 6,000) as well as the numbers of Foundation Year (the first paid training years, equivalent to the old ‘Houseman’ years) places available.  Interestingly, a dropout rate of 300 out of 6,000 is a rate of 5%, which is not only lower than the average dropout rate of the general student population, but amounts to only half of the 10.3% of students generally who left in 2014-15 without acquiring any kind of qualification (Times Higher Education Supplement).

So, was this article, as some of the Twitterers commented, simply a piece of Sunday newspaper non-news?  Well, in some ways possibly, but there are a number of claims and comments in it and relating to it which do require investigation.  Firstly, are things different now from the way they were ‘in the old days’?  This was an issue on which a number of viewpoints were expressed, varying from the totally unsympathetic like ‘Penny’, who felt that ‘these precious little flowers’ should ‘work hard like your predecessors did’ and CM, who considered medical students to be ‘vastly privileged’, to those who turned the discussion into an argument about whether state or privately educated kids were more mentally resilient or whether the fact that there were now a lot more women in the profession was the problem.  Much of this simply illustrated how easy it is to ‘rise to the bait’ in any online conversation and how wary one should be of trying to make brief sweeping comments on any complex subject.

My two sisters, one now in her early sixties and the other in her early fifties, trained in a different era. The entry requirements however were not dissimilar from those met by my daughters.  Interviews were also part of the selection process, then as now.  Medical friends of my parents viewed my sisters’ time at medical school and as ‘housemen’ as ‘cushy’ – they only had to do ‘1 in 2s’, not ‘1 in 1s’ (ie on call).  A young doctor recalled how his mother, an eminent surgeon, told him she hadn’t left the hospital ‘for a month’ during training.  However, although my daughter is not expected to do even 1 in 2s, both sisters have commented that training is now so different it is hard to make comparisons.  Medical trainees and junior doctors today may have fewer hours to do, but they do not have the support networks that my sisters and medical friends enjoyed in their time when the system of ‘firms’ was still operational.  (‘In terms of medical education ‘the firm’ denotes a form of inter-generational cooperation and learning, which brought together novices who were being inducted and taught on the ward not only by consultants, but also by nurses and junior doctors who took on much of the day to day training of students’ The Demise of the Firm – Anja Timm PhD 2009).  The change over the last two decades to institutionalised learning has meant that the ‘sense of belonging’ which the old system inculcated has to a large extent disappeared.  This has left medical students and junior doctors, in many instances, out on a limb and frequently with no-one really knowing who they are.  The only support network is that of their peers, most of whom may well be equally unsure, stressed and without the experience to deal with the expectations and demands of an increasingly entitled public.

Speaking to some of the young doctors I know personally, this lack of support and respect is something many of them feel strongly.  Whereas in my sisters’ early years people were impressed that these young women had achieved the ‘status’ of doctors, nowadays there is not only little awe at their achievements, which in many ways is good, there is (rather worryingly) the threat of legal action should any of them make a mistake.  The European Working Time Directive, which was an important factor in the demise of the firm, combined with Modernising Medical Careers (MMC) introduced in 2005 to much criticism and which fundamentally changed the way doctors’ training worked, were together responsible for the effective ‘demotion’ of medical students and junior doctors to shift workers with little continuity in their contact with patients or consultants.

Mental health issues are being discussed more widely generally, and there is no doubt that medicine and veterinary studies both require high levels of mental resilience.  As one of the contributors to the discussion resulting from the Sunday Times article pointed out, ‘a medical career needs you to be strong in yourself’.  This view was borne out by the response of one of the young doctors I spoke to, who considered that although the support was there if people cared to seek it out, there was a general reticence amongst medical students to admitting to the need to do so because of the implications involved.  However, others felt that it was all too easy to become isolated and that in reality one was just ‘another b…y student’ as far as many of the clinical staff were concerned.

The other statement in the article which caused controversy was the figure of ‘about £250,000’ put on the cost of training a doctor – the implication being that those dropping out were wasting taxpayers’ money.  This figure was presumably taken from claims by the Department of Health and Jeremy Hunt, but is spurious according to the fact-checking charity Full Fact.  The government estimate includes repayable student loans as well as grants to cover tuition fees, living costs and a funding stream for hospitals to host students (which as a number of medical students have pointed out can on occasion amount to little more than being plonked amongst a clinical team for varying lengths of time).  Full Fact calculates the final cost to the taxpayer as closer to £163,000.

Junior doctors (including those in their foundation years F1 and F2) as well as medical students are in many cases not happy with the present set up, nor with the changes to junior doctor’s contracts introduced by Jeremy Hunt, which led to the strikes at the end of last year and the beginning of this.

Nevertheless, although the dropout rate in medicine may have increased in the last 10 years, the dropout rate for medicine, veterinary and dentistry, in spite of the high stress levels for such courses, is actually lower than for many other courses.  This is perhaps because students themselves have such a lot invested in qualifying and reaching the end (although of course there is no real end as ongoing exams and training is mandatory).  That however does not address the more worrying fact that many are moving abroad or away from careers in pure medicine once they have completed their foundation training.  This IS a matter for concern and possibly for more research.

Is it the fact that millennials expect a more reasonable work/life balance than their parents and grandparents perhaps accepted?  Is it the fact that many more women work, so that there is no one person available to do all those other bits of ‘life admin’ which many wives used to do, causing everyone more stress?  Is it that life is simply more stressful now than it was then, in spite of shorter hours?  Is it the lack of respect for their professional qualifications in an era when facts are so readily available to all? Whatever it is, we should be concerned that our medical workforce is currently dissatisfied with its lot, in spite of the money (whatever the exact figure) expended by the taxpayer on its training.  As the NHS is the monopoly employer in the UK, medics have nowhere else to go in this country if they do not like the pay and conditions.  Perhaps the government should be consulting with them more closely to see how it can keep qualified staff on side and happy, rather than treating them like delinquents?  Without them, after all, there can be no NHS.


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Issue 120: 2017 09 14: Week in Brief: UK

14 September 2017

Week in Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right


GREAT REPEAL BILL: The bill which resets UK law at the point of Brexit passed its second reading comfortably with the Democratic Unionists and seven Labour MPs supporting the government.  Now it will move to committee.  Although a further Commons vote has given the Government control of the relevant committees, hopefully the process will iron out some of the objections to the bill.   Still, the truth remains that this is a procedural sideshow with little impact on the main event – the negotiation with Brussels.


MAN OF PRINCIPLE: Jacob Rees Mogg, Conservative MP for North East Somerset and an outlying runner to be next leader of the Conservative party, has said that as a Catholic he opposes abortion in all circumstances.  In his view life is sacrosanct and begins at conception.  Mr Rees Mogg also said that he had no ambitions in the direction of leadership, but that, of course, has been said before.  The general impression is that Mr Rees Mogg, who is popular with party members, is probably a good and principled man but out of line with public opinion.

ROTHERHAM: Reports commissioned by the Council into the performance of senior employees during the years in which children were abused have failed to recommend any disciplinary action, finding that the abuse was not the responsibility of any individual Council officer but rather the product of systematic failure.  At first sight that sounds a little too convenient but, when you bear in mind that the whole of the City of London failed to foresee the 2008 crash, perhaps it is not as surprising as all that.

SCOTTISH INCOME: The SNP is to look at the idea of paying every citizen a fixed income for life, whether or not they are seeking work.  The introduction of such a scheme lies beyond the current competence of the Scottish Government, but the idea is one of those canvassed to deal with the fact that at some stage the demand for labour may dry up so that the requirement to work will become otiose.

HURRICANE RELIEF: The Government has been criticised over the speed and extent of its assistance to British Territories affected by Hurricane Irma.  Although the ship RFA Mounts Bay was on station to assist, there are doubts about its effectiveness in restoring electricity in Anguilla before moving on to the British Virgin Islands.  There is also concern that the ship failed to land heavy equipment on Anguilla because of difficulties with moving sand although materials have now been transferred to the island by helicopter.  Britain’s efforts are being compared adversely to those of France and Holland which are said to have been quicker to support their citizens and dependencies.  France sent Macron.  The Dutch sent their king.  Boris Johnson has flown to Anguilla.

PAY CAP: The government has accepted advice to raise the pay of police and prison officers by 2% and 1.7% respectively, thus breaking the 1% pay cap which has been in place for public sector workers.  Other workers will not discover next year’s pay until the budget in November.


WINDFARM: Contracts have been entered into with developers of two huge windfarms off Scotland guaranteeing them a price of £57.50 per megawatt hour for electricity generated over a period of 15 years.  That is just over half of the price guarantee given to Hinkley Point for 35 years (£92.50 per megawatt hour) and much less than previous subsidies to windfarms.

Courts and police

OPERATION CONIFER: The investigation by Wiltshire police into allegations of child abuse by the late Sir Edward Heath has cost the taxpayer £1.5 million, although further work is required before it is finalised.  The operation overlaps with the Metropolitan Police’s discredited Operation Midland.

PROFUMO AFFAIR: The Criminal Cases Review Commission has decided not to refer the conviction of the late Stephen Ward to the Court of Appeal, partly because it has proved impossible to locate a transcript of the summing up.  However, it indicated that if Mr Ward, who committed suicide after the summing up but before his conviction for living on immoral earnings in 1963, had still been alive, it would probably have referred the case on the grounds of doubt over the evidence given by Christine Keeler, prejudicial publicity and the judge’s direction that the jury could infer guilt from the failure of Ward’s friends to attend the trial.  Ward’s suicide was 54 years ago.

DOG’S NAZI SALUTE: A man is being prosecuted in the Scottish Courts for posting a video on YouTube showing his girlfriend’s dog, a pug, giving a Nazi salute whenever he said “gas the Jews” and “SeigHeil”. He also filmed the dog watching a Nazi rally at the 1936 Olympics.  The man, who has apologised for any offence caused, got fed up with his girlfriend going on about how cute and adorable the dog was so thought he would train it to do the least cute thing he could think of.  Obviously it was offensive and in gross bad taste, but “hate crime”?  Surely not.  If the authorities are concerned that this sort of behaviour will become widespread they probably overestimate the ability of the average Scotsmen to train a dog.


BREACH OF TRUST: The Wakefield City Academies trust, whose governance has been exposed by a Department for Education enquiry which revealed 16 breaches including failures of financial management and leadership, has asked the Department to place its 21 schools with new sponsors.  The Trust will then be wound up.  Three of the Trust’s schools were placed on special measures recently.

UNIVERSITY PAY: The Office for Students is to consult on levels of pay in British Universities.  Both political parties are concerned about this with proposals to fine universities which pay excessive amounts to their staff.  One suggestion is that a written explanation should be required whenever the head of a University is paid more than the Prime Minister.  Louise Richardson, vice chancellor of Oxford, has rather surprisingly defended her £350,000 package by comparing it to the amounts received by footballers, suggesting that the government is being mendacious in linking high pay to tuition fees. Hmmm, maybe.  It will be interesting to see what emerges as the debate develops.

GENDER FREE:  A secondary school in Sussex has forbidden girls to wear skirts in an attempt to make their uniform gender free.  Instead all pupils will wear trousers.  Needless to say parents have objected, making the point that it is equally sexist to have female teachers wearing skirts.  Some parents have removed their children and may even sue.  They obviously don’t have much to do in Sussex.

STUDENT LOANS: Pressure is building on the government to reduce the rate of interest charged on loans which now runs at 6.1%.  The rate is set at 3% plus the Retail Price index and academics are joining forces to say that it is too high (unlike their salaries where they are taking a different line).


HRT: Research led by Harvard Medical School indicates that Hormone Replacement Therapy used by women in menopause does not shorten their lives.  Scientists who followed a group of women who took part in a previous study for 18 years, found no significant difference in the death rates between those who took HRT and those who took a placebo.  Professor Manson, who led the study, suggests that any increase in the risk of blood clots, strokes or breast cancer was offset by protection against diabetes and other cancers.

BAD TEETH: First the hospitals; then the GPs; now the dentists.  Apparently dentists are unwilling to take on further NHS work because of the quota system which governs the way they are paid.  As a result (or partly as a result) half of adults and nearly 5,000,000 children are not seeing a dentist regularly.  Various individuals interviewed by The Times indicated that they had extracted their own teeth.  In the 60s this was done by tying the tooth to a door and then slamming it shut but the Shaw Sheet is not qualified to give dental advice and it may well be that this system has drawbacks or has otherwise gone out of fashion.


HALL DEAD: Sir Peter Hall, founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company and one time director of the National Theatre, has died aged 86.

AIRCRAFT CARRIER: The new carrier HMS Prince of Wales was launched by the Duchess of Cornwall at Rosyth.  It will be the twin of the recently launched Queen Elizabeth.  Britain needs two carriers since, if we only have one, a cunning enemy will attack us while it is being refitted.

MINICABS: Department of Transport figures show that there are over 205,000 minicabs operating in the UK.  The increase corresponds to a 0.7% drop in traditional taxis.  The increase has raised fears about congestion and also the number of drivers with criminal records.  One operator, Taxify, has been refused a licence to accept private bookings in London.

MET OFFICE BONUS: Forecasters at the Meteorological Office are to be paid bonuses of around £330 each because of the accuracy of their predictions.  The total cost is around £1 million.

ALBERT HALL: When the Albert Hall was constructed, 1275 of its seats (just over a quarter of the total) were sold to investors who can either attend performances or sell on their tickets.  They also vote for the management of the charity which owns the hall.  This arrangement, which has been in place since the late 19th century, is now being challenged by Richard Lyttelton, previously president of the trustees, who believes that profiting from ticket sales is wrong.  He has called for the resignation of the current president and the entire matter has been referred to the Charity Commission.  It is being suggested that they have involved the Attorney General but that would not indicate misfeasance as the Attorney General has a role in relation to the supervision of charities.

CRICKET: England fast bowler James Anderson became the third man to pass the milestone of 500 test wickets when England clinched the series against the West Indies, winning the third test by nine wickets.


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Issue 119: 2017 09 07: Contents

07 September 2017: Issue 119

The week’s news –

your chance to catch up:

Image of elliptical decal with £$€ and Financial News caption


A Celebration Of Statues by John Watson

Bobby Lee in Charlottesville?

Beware The Loon by J R Thomas

And a review of Trump’s progress.

No More Heroes? by Frank O’Nomics

Has doping in sport undermined all respect for athletes?

Kim Jong-un v President Xi by Neil Tidmarsh

Is Pyongyang shouting at Beijing rather than Washington?

Diary Of A Corbynista by Don Urquhart

Silly season/back to skool edition.


Turning Left by Chin Chin

Choosing the way forward.

Lifelong Learning by Lynda Goetz

The fun of acquiring new skills.

Happy Birthday, Philip by J R Thomas

Philip Kerr and the 1937 National Trust Act.


Follies (Stephen Sondheim)

at The National Theatre

reviewed by Adam McCormack.

Puzzles, Cartoons and Calendar

Cartoons by AGGro.

Crossword by Boffles: “Military Matters”.

Solution to the last crossword “Down On The Farm”.

What’s on in September 2017 by AGGro.

Earlier EditionsLarge 600x271 stamp prompting the reader to join the subscription list

Issue 114: 20 July 2017

Issue 115: 27 July 2017

Issue 116: 03 August 2017

Issue 117: 10 August 2017

Issue 118: 17 August 2017

Issue 120: 2017 09 14: Quiz

14 September 2017


boffles crossword

by Boffles

Do you know?

  1. To which Pre-Raphaelite painter was Evelyn Waugh related?


  1. Why did The Loom of Youth written by Evelyn’s brother Alec Waugh cause a scandal?


  1. Why did Einstein come to regard a letter he wrote to President Roosevelt in 1939 as the one great mistake of his life?


  1. Where does the word ‘emoji’ come from?


  1. Who wrote

“There’s a whisper down the field where the year has shot her yield,

And the ricks stand grey to the sun,

Singing:-‘Over then, come over for the bee has quit the clover,

and your English summer’s done.” ?


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Issue 120: 2017 09 14: Quiz – Answers

14 September 2017

Quiz – Answers


  1. William Holman Hunt, who married (in succession) two sisters, who were cousins of Evelyn’s father.


  1. A novel about public school life, it spoke of homosexual relationships between boys.


  1. Einstein had advocated in it the development by the USA of atomic bombs.


  1. It combines the Japanese words for picture and character.


  1. Rudyard Kipling – The Long Trail.


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