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Ron gets on his soapbox to harange our politicians for their needless harrassment of the public.

Smokers and the NHS

Non-smokers can generally be divided into two groups; those with no sympathy for smokers and regard them as foolish selfish people voluntarily ruining their own health and possibly other people’s, and those who have some sympathy and regard smokers as victims that are addicted, slaves to a habit that impoverishes them and puts their health at risk. Former smokers that have succeeded in escaping from the clutches of nicotine are just as likely to be unsympathetic as those who have never smoked, sometimes adopting an arrogant attitude because of their own success at kicking the habit.

As a former smoker and one who knows how difficult it can be to stop, I tend to be on the side of the sympathetic, I believe that the strength of the addiction varies from person to person such that stopping can be more difficult for some than others and, whilst I do not doubt that it is possible for anyone to stop if they can find the resolve, for some those first few weeks after stopping are a trial that tests their resolve beyond their capability. Polls have shown that the overwhelming majority of smokers would rather not smoke and to my mind therefore, smokers must be regarded as victims. With this in mind I am appalled by the decision by the Norfolk Primary Care Trust to reserve the right not to accept GP referrals for routine operations on those who are unable to give up smoking prior to the operation. Such a decision could be seen as victimising the victims.

Smokers have generally paid their taxes and their NI contributions the same as non-smokers, in addition they make a major contribution towards the cost of the NHS through the tax on their tobacco, surely they are entitled to the same care as non-smokers.

Admittedly there are valid clinical reasons for wanting patients to stop smoking but it does seem as though, in this instance, the possibility of saving money by delaying or refusing operations is a bigger attraction to the PCT than the clinical reasons. If we are to start allocating NHS money according to the relative responsibility of patients for their own medical condition, where will this policy develop next? Will they refuse abortions on the grounds that the woman’s condition is most likely of her own making? Will the obese be required to stop eating? Will heavy drinkers be required to abstain? Will those with tattoos be refused surgery to remove the tattoo?

Currently, I believe the NHS performs 500 abortions a day at a cost of around £100M a year, an appalling situation with the means of contraception available today, and the NHS spends two or three times that amount easing people’s embarrassment by removing self inflicted tattoos.

Green Taxes

This old sceptic is very tired of the continual bombardment by the media, and now politicians, on the topic of climate change. Even now the extent to which global warming is currently occurring is uncertain, in fact I believe that it has not been possible to detect any measurable increase in average global temperature in the last eight years, neither is the science all that certain. Certainly we can see that our weather has been unusual in recent times but that is not unusual, we have had unusual weather all my life, unusually wet/dry/mild/cold winters, unusually wet/dry/hot/cool summers, unusual droughts, unusual floods, unusual hurricanes, unusual snow falls – it was ever thus.

There is no doubt, however, that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, as are a number of others, and an increase in atmospheric concentrations has the potential to cause global warming but the extent to which the present concentrations of 0.038% are sufficient to produce the effects claimed may be questionable. Nevertheless this old sceptic thinks it wise to err on the side of caution, which implies that I agree that we should endeavour to cut Global emissions of CO2

In this country, however, we seem to have lost sight of all reason, we have had the Chancellor introducing road tax on a sliding scale, and now we have the proposal by Richmond Borough Council to impose large increases in the charges for parking permits for larger cars, an action which it claims is justified on the grounds that it will help reduce atmospheric pollution and the consequential climate change. It deserves repeating and should be continually borne in mind that the UK is only responsible for 2% of global CO2 emissions and cars are only responsible for 12% of the UK total, (trucks and vans account for about 13%). A10% reduction in CO2 emissions from cars in the UK would reduce global total by 0.024%, an immeasurable amount in global terms that might reduce global concentrations by 0.00001%. Such reductions are of no significance whatsoever when it is remembered that currently China is commissioning a new coal fired power station every week. The truth is if every car in the UK were taken off the road it would have a negligible effect on global warming. In fact, because our contribution to the global total of carbon emissions is so small, there is practically nothing we can do in this country to significantly effect climate change. That does not imply that I think we should do nothing but, if the genuine aim of increasing parking charges for larger cars in Richmond is to help in the battle against climate change, then it is a futile and irrational action. The irrationality of their proposal is most apparent when it is seen that their stated intention is to allow electric cars to park free. Why? Electric cars are charged from the mains electricity which is mostly generated by power stations producing CO2; there are so many inefficiencies in the generating, transmitting, storing and use of the electricity in electric cars that they are likely to be responsible for just as much CO2 emission as any other car of similar power. If it is considered desirable to use financial incentives as a means of reducing CO2 emissions from vehicles then the only sensible way is to increase the cost of the fuel so that those who use the most fuel and produce the most CO2 will pay. It is unfair to penalise people with larger cars if they do not use them very much.

David Cameron is promising (or threatening) ‘green taxes’ and Gordon Brown has now jumped on the same bandwagon but neither has told us what that means. An increase in tax on electricity and tax on fuels for home heating and vehicles would seem to be an obvious choice but it is difficult to see how this could be seen to be fair to the less well off and it would surely be difficult politically. Apart from a tax on air travel, what other forms of ‘green taxes’ can one devise that would be effective? It is all very well to say that we in the UK should set an example to the rest of the world by doing our bit to cut our own emissions, and I see nuclear power as a major factor in achieving that aim, but should we be even considering increasing our fuel tax when tax on fuel in the USA, the largest polluter, is very much lower than we currently pay. We have to be careful not to impose restraints on our economy unless we can see that other nations, especially the USA, are taking similar steps, otherwise our green taxes are likely to be as futile and irrational as Richmond’s parking charges.

Atmospheric pollution of all sorts is a threat to human existence, along with many other consequences of human activity such as over fishing, deforestation, proliferation of nuclear weapons, intense farming, mineral depletion etc, but the root cause underlying these problems and the real threat to human existence is the continued exponential growth in the world population with all the consequences that that brings, yet this is still a topic which the world’s politicians refuse to recognise. It seems as though it is a problem that dare not be raised.

How not to win support

A BBC Newsnight survey revealed that 28% of the people on the Conservative Party’s A list of possible future MPs are from Oxford or Cambridge and 52% had been privately educated. Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Eton and Oxford educated son of the well known Tory peer, is on that list and when he was asked to comment on this highly unrepresentative list he said that state educated people were like potted plants compared with those who were privately educated. He also said that people from Oxford and Cambridge were some of the cleverest people in the country and it would be perverse to be biased against them. He went on to say “When you go to an MP, you want somebody who will write an articulate letter to the social services or whoever it is to get your problem sorted out.”

Being privately educated does not mean that you are clever it just means that your parents were well off and you had a good education, but I have met many such people who could not do simple arithmetic. There is often a confusion in peoples’ minds in differentiating between knowledge and intelligence. Oxford and Cambridge do not have a monopoly on clever people, I think those from Imperial College, UMIST, Bristol, Nottingham and many other red brick universities, even some from the new universities would be greatly offended by the suggestion, and there are plenty of clever people who never went to any university. What Oxford and Cambridge do have is a majority of students who have come from a privileged background and it is very questionable whether or not they are the most suitable people to represent the population as a whole. Jacob Rees-Mogg also went on to argue that, because 95% of the population are white it would be wrong to have a disproportionate number of MPs from ethnic minorities, I would not disagree with that, but 90% of the population are state educated and it is equally wrong to have too many MPs from the minority privileged group who were fortunate enough to have a private education, and it is quite insulting to suggest that only those with a private education are capable of writing an articulate letter. Mr Rees-Mogg has put his foot in his mouth, he, along with David Cameron’s A list, has helped to maintain the unpopular image of the Conservative Party as a class ridden Party, this may be unfair but it will not help it to success in the polls, to quote an old saying, with friends like him in the Party they don’t need any enemies.

The Value of Art

In the 1940s Jackson Pollock created ‘works of art’ (?) By dribbling paint on to his canvas which was laid flat on the floor. One such creation, entitled ‘No.5 1948’ recently sold for $140M, a new record for a painting. Could anyone please explain to me how this ‘coloured scribble’ could be worth that sum? As a work of art it is meaningless. It might be argued that it is its uniqeness that attracts such value but how can that be? Every painting by every artist is unique but that does not endow it with value. Somebody help me to understand – Please!

Tough on Crime

Almost every month I am able to draw attention to evidence that, despite Tony Blair’s promise, we are anything but tough on crime. Almost every month, it seems, there is a violent crime committed by someone with a record of violence that has been let out on parole. This month’s story is about the man who murdered his girl friend when she wanted to finish their relationship. In 2001 he was convicted of murder and sentenced to just seven years in prison, he was released in 2005. After his release he became friendly with a family which included a 15 year old daughter, his advances towards the girl were rejected and so he burnt down her house killing her and most of her family. I was active in the campaign to abolish capital punishment and I have always believed that we were right but I never envisaged that capital punishment for murder would be replaced by prison terms of less than four years. Present day sentences are no deterrent to others. There is growing evidence that there are some law breakers who are such a danger to others that they should be sentenced to life imprisonment. Yet another story this month is of the young man with a long history of violence, out on parole, who stabbed and killed a young student for looking at him. In this case the judge ordered that he should serve a minimum sentence of 21 years, which seems rather more appropriate. The inconsistency of sentencing is quite incredible. I remember that Graham Forster complained of this inconsistency in a letter to The Pump some time ago in which he proposed that all sentences should be reviewed by a panel before implementation so that greater consistency and more appropriate sentences would be achieved. What a good idea!

Ron Watts

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