Is Nick Clegg the one night stand of British politics people would rather just forget?

You know how it is. Whatever the reason, be it having a bit of a tiff with you current partner, perhaps they really miffed you off about something or were just getting on your nerves that night but it just happened. You decided to say sod them and hit the pub. Blasting away the frustration and annoyance with a few drinks and suddenly the world started to look a bit different. A few drinks more and you felt empowered as if you could take on the world. It’s then when it happened. In walked someone new you’d never seen before. Didn’t look much to start with but after a few drinks more and a bit of chit chat they appeared charming and everything different from what you’d become used to.

A few drinks more and you’d made up the decision, this person was wonderful, so refreshing to be with, they promised you everything you had been yearning for all these years. One thing led to another and that was it.

Then the next day you awake, a bit delirious to roll over and realise they weren’t quite what you recall from the night before. In fact, they’re pretty damn rough as hell and you wonder what possessed you but you make the best of a bad job, no one will ever know if you don’t mention it so you sneak out to pretend it never happened.

Then you realise this wasn’t just a simple one night stand, not something you could just get away with and go back to normal. No, this was the full on bunny boiler of a one night stand. They kept cropping up before you in different places. They’d taken your telephone number and kept trying to call you at the most difficult of times even though you’d realised your mistake and just wanted things to go back to the way they used to be. They’d do things to make your life more difficult and simply not get the hint that you’re not interested anymore.

The problem is they just wouldn’t go away. They’d continue to keep making your life more difficult for years to come, all the time you wishing you just hadn’t done it.

Yesterday there was a by-election in the ward just across the border from me in Wolverhampton; Bilston North. It’s not natural LibDem territory by any means but it’s very telling to watch what happened to the LibDem vote there. I think a fair comparison would be to the result in the 2008 local government elections to avoid the disparities of the relative turnout at this year’s combined elections which give even more damning figures. However between 2008, a particularly bad year for Labour when we lost the seat to the Tories which we gained back last night, the LibDem vote is down 75%, coming last of 5 behind both the BNP and UKIP.

I’ve been doing psephology for more years than I care to think but on the back of the recent Bloxwich West by-election in Walsall there is a distinct pattern emerging in the Midlands. The LibDems are losing votes heavily and with all things being equal, they’re not just staying at home but actively switching and it looks like they’re mostly going to Labour.

Personally I’m not surprised. As someone who does the rounds on campaigning there’s a message coming from LibDem voters that just keeps cropping up. “This isn’t what we voted for”. During the combined General and local elections, LibDem leaflets were ablaze with Nick Clegg. Local candidates described (rather dodgily in my mind) as Nick Cleggs man/woman in (insert area). Those familiar with LibDem campaigning practices know all too well if there’s a populist bandwagon to jump on, you’ll find a LibDem already sitting there. I can’t help thinking that there’ll be a lot of local LibDems that wish they hadn’t played that card now people have woken up to the realisation he’s little more than a quite right-wing neo-liberal wolf in sheep’s clothing who could quite possibly destroy their party along the way.

Hellish week

Sitting here with the laptop on the sofa getting prepared to head off for an uncharacteristic early night.

I’m distinctly tired. Done a lot this week but sadly nothing really to do with the blog. Work’s been hard, meetings have been hard and to top it we’ve had the combination of visitors staying for the weekend with the start of the Formula 1 season.

So a brief synopsis is in order.

I’m knackered and need rest.

Still no answers to the 33 other questions that I asked Phorm that I was promised they would answer a week ago and have received further assurances of answers to. I would particularly like this as much of what is important regarding this issue is dependent upon those answers.

I’ve got through the weekend on somewhere around 6 hours sleep having been up all night for the qualifying and race for the Australian Grand Prix while trying to fit in work around it. Suffice to say, very happy with the results so far this season. Lewis Hamilton and McLaren lead the points tables and I’m very much looking forward to next week’s race.

I do have one gripe though. I’m not a big fan of Bernie Ecclestone and this whole concept of ‘night races’ in the Pacific area to fit in with midday European viewers is not my cup of tea either. Personally I like getting up in the middle of the night to watch the race (or simply not sleeping at all) it’s part and parcel of being a dedicated F1 fan.

Apart from that, if F1 fans from the Asia Pacific Region have to get up in the middle of the night to watch the vast bulk of races that are held in Europe then why should they have to do the same for races in their neck of the woods. It is after all a global sport.

That said, they did change the time of the Australian race this year meaning that rather than the convenient stay up late to catch the race at 1am GMT I had to wait till 4am which wasn’t good.

Went to the theatre today. To be more specific the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton to see the Solid Silver 60′s Show. It’s nice to occasionally remind oneself that there is a world outside of family commitments, politics and techie related stuff. Highlights were of course Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick and Titch who were a class act as usual but also Gerry and the Pacemakers. Not sure how well it would go down with fellow Wulfrunians to be caught singing ‘Walk on’(with hope in you heart) but there you go.

I do love good balanced reporting

Over to the Express and Star for another installment of local taxation rises. This time with Walsall Council announcing a 2.94% increase which is heralded in the Express and Star with the headline ‘Tax rise lowest in area’.

There are two issues that seem to crop up in relation to this. Firstly that I questioned as to why the article on council tax rises for Wolverhampton only reported the ‘Band D’ figure and it’s good to see that the Express and Star have reported the actual figures for all the bands for Walsall but anyone would think the Express and Star were biased and I’m sure it would have nothing whatsoever to do with the political control in the respective boroughs.

However, and this really does indicate rather poor journalism in the use of the headline. Now I’m not exactly sure what the Express and Star determines to be ‘area’. Is it Wolverhampton and Walsall? In that case then yes, factually accurate but at lease from my perspective, if we are talking about comparisons then I would consider ‘area’ to mean the four Black Country boroughs (please, no arguments about the boundaries of the Black Country) of Walsall, Wolverhampton, Dudley and Sandwell.

This is strange because Sandwell Council put out this press release the other day.

Now forgive me for questioning the mathematically competency of your average Express and Star hack but isn’t 2.9% less than 2.94%?

That said and I’m sure like any other householder, the figure that’s really important to me is the bottom line actually cash amount.

I know I should do a nice table with all the bands in it but it’s late and I can’t be bothered so here’s ‘Band A’ as that’s what is of more concern to me in actually living in one.

Sandwell: £855.88
Wolverhampton: £941.52
Walsall: £948.94

Dudley don’t announce theirs till March 3rd so we’ll have to wait on them but it’s fair to say, Walsall, despite the nice headlines isn’t exactly the cheapest place to live. Let’s not get on to the quality of services either shall we.

Why band D?

The annual rounds of Council Tax increases are underway and the papers do love these ‘Shock horror tax up by X amount headlines’ but I always wondered why they use band D properties as the example of how much extra actual money it’s going to cost?

Wolverhampton recently announced their increases in Council Tax and dutifully there was the Express&Star with a handy helper of this will cost the average band D property household an extra £64.68 a year.

Then I thought well, I’ve got a lot of friends and family in Wolverhampton and none of them live in a band D property, the odd few in band B but mostly in band A so I had a little look over at the ONS for a breakdown.

Of the 104,059 properties in Wolverhampton, only 6,064 are in and D, that’s 5.83%. However, there’s 55,004 band A properties (52.86%) and 21,984 band B properties (21.13%). So even though the overwhelming majority (73.99%) of properties are in band A or B, the media quotes a figure that is only indicative of what will be the actual money increase for people living in 5.83% of households.

I know it’s probably a bit much to ask or expect the local printed press to do a few sums and provide some actual public information so that everyone could see the exact amount of extra money they’ll have to pay in the coming year but what is the point of using band D as a comparison when only a small minority of people actually live in properties of that type.

Surely they should try and inform the vast majority of people what they’re likely to be paying extra which in the case of Wolverhampton would be all those in band A and B.

Just a thought, or are all the band D properties in Tettenhall?

Update: Not really an update as I’m still writing but I had to check. Banged in a postcode for a part of Tettenhall and shock horror, there’s more band D properties there (25.06%) than any other band. I sometimes wonder if they should rename the paper the Tettenhall Star.

There’s an Eee in the air

First review of the year goes to the Asus Eee PC and in true tradition we’re going to strip it down and assess every aspect of it in as critical manner as possible.

I’ll add, just in case anyone wonders, no I don’t get paid for this or receive freebies for any review I do although if any company wants to send me bits of kit to play with I’m more than happy but I am overly critical and if I think it’s rubbish I will say it.

I’ll also note that I don’t like what previously were considered to be sub-notebooks, ie very titchy laptops so I do have somewhat of a prejudice against these bits of kit primarily on the basis that manufacturers generally charge over the odds for lower specification machines simply because they’re small.

That said, and rather spoiling the overall outcome of this review, I like the Eee PC, I like a lot, almost enough to buy one which is rare for me as I’m one of the most stubborn consumers around.

This all started the other day. I’m not sure why I suddenly got interested because I was well aware of the Eee PC’s existence last year but it might have been something to do with looking up the prices of various bit of hardware for a mate on Maplins website and there staring at me on the home page was one of these little bits of kit for the princely sum of 260GBP. Wondering if I could find one cheaper I began a little look around and although expecting there would be some online dealer somewhere with the best price, I was quite amazed that the cheapest I came up with was for PC World for 220/200GBP.

With this in mind I wanted to know more than simply what a list of specifications and reviews could tell me so I decided to pop up to Wolverhampton to hunt one down. Sadly Maplins only sell them online but up at PC World they had one with the strange handwritten description of Asus Internet Tablet which both misrepresents the fact that it’s not a tablet, nor simply an internet access device such as the Nokia N800. It is, a full blown computer, just very small.

On to the important stuff now. What’s the specification of this little bit of kit?

Well, as far as processor’s go it’s not exactly going to get any prizes, comprising of a 900MHz Intel mobile Celeron processor. Again, I have come to loathe Celeron processors over the years and if presented with a normal laptop with a comparable processor I wouldn’t touch it but this isn’t a normal laptop and much in the way I accept my mobile phone can be a bit slow to do things with complicated software, I accept that there’s a trade-off between processing power and energy consumption in small battery powered devices that short of a revolution in battery technology isn’t going to change any time soon.

However, this isn’t an issue because the need for processing power is determinate upon what you actually do with the machine and what operating system you’re running on it. Presumably Windows Vista would cripple the Eee PC if you could get hold of a flash card large enough to actually install it on in the first place. It’s capable of running Windows XP but I’d hazard a guess it would run OK but a bit slow. There is of course no need because it comes pre-installed and pre-configured with a customized version of Xandros Linux. Yes, shock horror, it runs Linux, but there’s nothing to be afraid of, none of that scary typing stuff into a command line, there’s pretty little icons and everything that your average PC user should easily be able to work out.

It’s worth noting that the operating system as a user interface has obviously been thought about very seriously from an end user perspective. I use Linux, it’s no secret but you can find even in the most user friendly distributions that it still assumes a reasonable level of knowledge on behalf of the end user. In the case of this system it has been made as simple as possible and if I may I’ll give you an example. Once again inviting the wrath of the disciples of Steve Jobs, someone did describe me as a Mac hater today, I have no idea why. The iPhone. When I was having a play with it to do a review last year, next to me were a couple of teenagers. They’d picked up on all the media hype and what they wanted to try out was its internet capability. They however had a problem, they couldn’t find it on the iPhone. I did point them in the right direction but the reason was simple. Apple put their Safari browser on the iPhone. Great if you’re a current Mac user or reasonably tech savvy enough to know that Safari is a web browser but for someone who’s never used anything other than a Windows PC which pretty much makes up the bulk of all users Safari means nothing.

In contrast the Eee PC actually uses the Firefox browser. Is it called Firefox? No, it’s simply a picture of a globe with the description ‘Internet’ and if people can’t work that one out then they shouldn’t be let near a computer of any sort. The principle is clear though, as with it using the Pidgin instant messaging programme, it’s simple described as ‘messenger’ same with the applications, it doesn’t tell you it’s OpenOffice.org, simple word processor and spreadsheet. Put simply it’s a ‘does what it says on the tin’ device that anyone could learn to use in the space of five minutes and of any feature it has, that is probably it’s core strength.

That said and much as Xandros seems very nice, I’m sure I’d have a bash at sticking Xubuntu Linux on one if I got the chance, or possibly even DSL (Damn Small Linux).

Back to the specification then. 512Mb of DDR2 SDram memory which is nothing special but will happily run pretty much anything you are ever likely to do on such a machine. I have the same amount of memory in my desktop and it quite happily performs any task I ask of it and the only programmes you’re likely to need more memory for are top level graphical rendering and games which no one in their right mind would consider doing on such a device. Another nice touch, despite its size, the RAM chips are as good as box standard laptop RAM and so I’ve been told is quite easy to take the bottom off and replace the RAM with whatever size you fancy. I think it’s a single strip but that will allow up to 2Gb of RAM and who could possibly want more than that?

Graphics/Display:

An Intel GMA 900 powers along the graphics which isn’t going to set the world on fire for rendering but as one of the pre-installed games if Tux Racer (3D penguin racing down a ski slope game) and given previous attempts at getting this game to work on my machine failed because of poor graphics hardware then it’s quite impressive.

On the actual display itself there is something baffling about the Eee PC and so far my first criticism. It comes with a 7″ screen that renders graphics at a resolution of 800 by 480 pixels yet a good inch and half down both sides of the screen are taken up by the speakers. If you’re dealing with such a small machine then you would arguably want to maximise screen size rather than leaving acres of space unused. That said, 800 pixels in width is perfect for rendering most (well built) websites but those extra two inches would have made a much better desktop environment for the end user.

Hard drive:

Two varieties here although a third is on its way. There’s a 2Gb and a 4Gb with the 8Gb soon. Doesn’t sound a lot and it’s not really but we’re not talking about a home PC with hundreds or thousands of photos and music files, it’s a mobile device for general purpose web surfing, document creation and amendment and e-mailing/chatting. That said, the 2Gb version is probably too small as taking a look at the one in PC World it left 270Mb free space after the operating system and programmes. However, with memory card slots and available cards up to 8Gb (there might be some bigger ones but haven’t spotted them) there’s plenty of room for expansion so combined with the 4Gb model that gives a total capacity of 12Gb which to put into perspective. The last time I backed up all the home data it came to 12Gb in total. That’s all the photos, videos, letters and anything else you can think of and that’s in an uncompressed format and barring a handful of truly massive ‘avi’ files it would have been more like 3Gb so while it seems small compared to what we’re used to in normal hard drives, you’re unlikely to fill it anyway.

I should add, it’s one of those Solid State Drives as in no moving discs that can get damaged relatively easily in normal laptops. These drives aren’t big and are costly but will come down in price but allow for a much more robust machine and they are the future.

Connectivity:

Well, there’s 3 USB sockets, an ethernet port and it’s got wifi (both b&g), 3.5mm headphone and microphone sockets so what more could you ask for? One gripe though. As far as I can see there’s no integrated microphone, that would have been handy.

Battery life:

Apparently it lasts for 3 hours according to the manufacturer. As with all mobile devices it will depend on what you’re doing with them but the reduced power needs of having a SSD hard drive helps, as does a memory light operating system.

Build quality/style:

Build quality is very good. Not quite up to Mac standard or as stylised as a Nintendo DS but still very good quality and feels like it could take a fair few knocks before things start going wrong. Not so sure about the ‘rocker’ mouse button. That was the only part that didn’t feel quite as good as the rest. On style it’s nothing special to look at. Comes in black or white, personally I like the white but each to their own.

Price:

So far and happy to be pointed in the direction of a cheaper outlet but 200GBP for the 2Gb version and 220GBP for the 4Gb version at PC World. For what you’re getting which is in effect a full blown PC with integrated wifi and anything you’re ever likely to need this is nothing. Someone’s bound to make the comparison sooner or later but it’s the VW Beetle of the mobile computing world, affordable mobile computing for the masses.

Usability:

Two areas of key concern here. The keyboard and the touchpad. At first I thought the touchpad was a bit too lively but calming it down through the settings it was perfectly accurate and usable. One would think that such small keys would be impossible to use but they give good tactile feedback, are intuitively placed for anyone used to a standard keyboard and I found myself happily tapping away after a couple of minutes practice.

Criticisms:

Monitor size could have been bigger. Integrated microphone seems obvious but not there. Mouse button rocker feels less rugged than the rest of the machine.

Strengths:

Simplicity and versatility. The OS is so easy to navigate and understand that a child could use it. It would arguably make a perfect first introductory PC to a child. Equally it’s a fully capable machine for business and professional use, home browsing on the sofa or in bed, would be great for the kids and educational purposes or for traveling when you don’t feel like carrying a full size laptop, weights 0.92kg by the way. I have a sneaky feeling that for all the hype and media attention devoted to other IT products out there that this little laptop with have a dramatic effect on the market akin to introduction of the first affordable Amstrad home computers back in the 1980′s.

Odds and sods:

Oh, it’s got a 1.3Megapixel integrated webcam, which is nice.

Backing the Black Country

It’s time to start mobilising those votes for the Black Country’s Urban Park bid for the People’s 50Million lottery funding.

If you’re not aware of the competition, it will be broadcast on ITV with a phone vote but you can already vote online here.

If you want to see full details of the bid for the Black Country Urban Park then there’s a dedicated website already set up for it here.

Personally I’m most excited about the prospect of opening up the Seven Sisters limestone mines under Wren’s Nest Hill as a tourist centre. Sadly public access to it isn’t allowed at the moment but apparently some of the underground caverns are like cathedrals in size and truly awe inspiring.

So the message is simple. Get voting and support the Black Country Urban Park bid. Not my thing but for those that partake, there’s apparently one of those Facebook groups set up for it here and for those wishing to show their support on their own website I’ve knocked up a few buttons.

As with all image content on this site, unless otherwise stated, it is free for anyone to use and original larger images are available on request in xcf format or if you want another format just say.

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Our first image is a montage of the clock tower at Walsall Arboretum and the Farley clock tower in Greets Green, West Bromwich to symbolise the creation of a green corridor between the two towns with public spaces, cycleways and visitor centre starting at the Walsall Arboretum and finishing right in the centre of West Bromwich, or the other way round if you like.

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Our second image is that of the canal in Wolverhampton which if the bid is successful in the public vote would be developed into a major tourist attraction and community space.

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I’m reliably informed that this is one of the underground limestone caverns of the Seven Sisters development at Wren’s Nest, amazing what a treasure is underneath that hill ready to be explored.

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Again, reliably informed that this is one of the many underground canals leading between the seven sisters caves in Dudley.

Finally, for those of a technical nature, that little slideshow of the images running in the left hand sidebar isn’t Flash so sorry if anyone wants it, it’s not possible to download and use. It’s actually a nice bit of AJAX that I’ve been playing around with. Not perfect, knocks an alignment out on page load but it won’t be up there forever and I’ve been meaning to have a play with it for a while.

On the radio

I’m doing a spot as a studio guest on a politics show from 7.00pm-8.00pm this Friday on Wolverhampton Community Radio which is broadcast on 101.8FM although I have no idea as to how large an area they cover.

I thought I should just qualify a few things. My taking part in this show stems from an invitation by a Tory in Wolverhampton called Matthew Revell. He’ll be hosting the show as it appears he’s trying to develop himself a career in the media so good luck to him. Originally he asked me if I would be interested in an internet radio show where we could discuss issues in greater depth than you would usually get in the mainstream media so I agreed. This moved on to Matthew securing a spot on an actual radio station but being the nice person I am I didn’t want to let him down.

I will be frank that I am somewhat hesitant over the format given that his original idea of a more in-depth discussion may well have been watered down to accommodate for the need to appeal to a broader audience. It’s a sit down ‘friendly chat’ format with the another guest who is Paul Uppal, another Tory and PPC for Wolverhampton South West.

I do hope it doesn’t become a replication of so many political shows where real in-depth discussion is discarded for a bland overview. Looking at the schedule I’m not sure how detailed we will be able to get on any particular issue but we will see.

I’ll add a final note. When Matthew mentioned to me that it would be a mainstream media broadcaster I was tempted not to say yes. I’ve always thought that there is something of the outsider nature about blogging, that it doesn’t cross over to the MSM despite the fact that some bloggers have deliberately used the media purely for the purposes of ‘getting on’. I blog because I enjoy it. If I stopped enjoying it, I’d stop. I didn’t start blogging to try and get myself a higher profile, nor to wangle my way into the media or any particular line of work.

That said, I hope I’m feeling a bit better tomorrow night. I’ve been getting the shivers tonight and have a sneaky suspicion I may be coming down with a Summer (yes, what Summer?) cold. So if I sound a bit ropey tomorrow, I do apologise.

Just when you thought it was safe to dip your toe into the blue again

It’s interesting to seen how David Cameron has truly changed his party. Nolonger the heartless uncaring breed of Tories that drove our public services to the brink of collapse throughout the 80′s and 90′s. He’s reassured the British people that it’s safe to vote Tory again. That they care about our communities, our elderly, our young and about worker’s welfare and conditions. Gone are the days when people would have to fear for their job or suffer changing working conditions that make them worse off. It’s great to see that Dave has instilled this caring ethic into his party and as someone who happens to live in a local authority (Walsall) controlled by his party that I have to accept as a cynical old leftie that I was wrong about the Tories. They really have changed and one has to look no further than Walsall Council’s budget for this and the forthcoming years to appreciate the focus and dedication that Tories at the local level have towards delivering top notch public services to us residents of all ages and circumstances.

In fact, I thought I’d share a few of the highlights with you, of course with a bit of commentary and interpretation of my own. Enjoy.

Increase of 10% on all leisure facilities activities:

Yep, that’s 10%, no not in line with inflation. After all, in a Borough that has one of the worst obesity rates in the country, forget about encouraging people to exercise or take part in sports activities, nah lets just try and screw some extra money out of them. After all if people stop going to the leisure centres, we can always claim they’re under-used and shut them in the future saving even more money. Everyone’s a winner eh?

Virgin trains – a bit crap

For anyone of a rightward leaning perspective who believes with unwavering conviction that the private sector is always better than the public, responds to customer demands and offers better quality service, a quick call to Virgin Trains will dispel all these myths.

Here’s the scenario. I want to book a train for Mrs Penguin to go to London for the weekend. This little adventure took place on Wednesday. I wanted to send her off on Thursday and to come back on Sunday so that she could have a well earned break away for a few days, see some old friends and have a bit of fun without worrying about such things as nappies and feeds and all the other mundane daily activities that revolve around looking after Little Penguin.

Not hard one would think to book a train ticket for the following day. I started off on their website that, erm, didn’t work, it was down. OK, it happens to us all from time to time so off to the telephone booking service. The premise is simple, book ticket with my card for Mrs Penguin to pick up tickets at the station the following day.

On to the phoneline, which rather wonderfully starts with an automated service. I personally don’t mind automated services that much, the ones that give you options to press buttons one, two or three but I have an absolute hatred of those voice operated ones because, they are simply crap. After not being understood for a few minutes I get passed to a human being. Sadly this human being seems to have even less a command of the English language than the automated service and insists on repeating back to me exactly what I’ve said and confirming every aspect of the booking three times before we proceed to the next part.

Getting through this was a bit of a job in itself but we get to the last part about paying by card. Is it me taking the journey? No, I’m booking it for someone else, I want them to pick the tickets up at the machine in the train station. Sadly though this isn’t possible, it’s my card and you need the exact card the tickets were booked on to retrieve the tickets on top of the code number they give you. Now strangely enough I couldn’t do without my card for four days as it might come in handy for such things as getting money from a cashpoint so this wasn’t an option. The only other option would be to have the tickets sent but even the special delivery option they have costs

The NHS is awful, we have the worst health service in the world don’t you know…

It’s been a strange week in comparison to normal. My enforced housebound status due to having my toenail removed on Monday has meant I haven’t got out. This has meant I’ve completed lots of jobs (mainly techie) that I’ve been meaning to do for a while and I’ve completely exhausted every one of my RSS feeds in terms of my media consumption.

Every blog I read has been read, every media feed I have has been read, I’ve polished off Zelda the Twilight Princess and gone back through it to find all the hidden stuff, built my Lego Star Destroyer and have found myself at a loose end.

This led me to hunt out some new stuff to consume. I rarely get round to reading the online sections of newspapers, save for the dear old Express and Swastiki for pure frustration at how bad journalism can get but I found myself at the Guardian’s comment is free section. More precisely at this article by Polly Toynbee.

Haven’t read anything by her for years, which may sound odd being a leftie politico type but it’s true. However it made me remember that I’d been planning to write a piece about the impact of consumer society values on expectations of public services. I wasn’t planning on concentrating on the health service in particular but it is a very good example.

I’m not going to reiterate what Polly Toynbee has written, just read her article to get the jist but what struck me most was the comments to her article. I managed to get about half way through before I gave up in despair at the number of people slagging off the NHS, moaning about how much taxes they pay for it or doing down what we have in the UK and comparing it to other countries that have ‘better’ health services.

So I thought I’d share a bit of my own personal experience of the NHS.

I don’t use the health service much, I’ve only ever had one procedure done and short of a few trips to the GP for a bit of professional opinion and the odd bottle of jollop that’s about it. The only procedure I’ve had is the one that took place on Monday to remove my ingrowing big toenail. I visited my GP about five weeks ago because it was painful, he diagnosed it, referred me for the operation that should have been in about four to six weeks so five weeks is pretty much on the money and I had it done. I went back today as the operations are carried out at my local clinic in the town, a walk of about 200 yards to have my dressing changed and that was it. I don’t know how much this procedure cost the NHS nor the cumulative cost of my few visits to the GP over the years but I’d hazard a guess hardly anything compared to the proportion of the taxes that I’ve paid into the system to pay for its running.

The strange thing about this, at least if you are to believe some of the comments on Toynbee’s article is that I’m quite happy about this situation. I am quite happy to pay taxes to run a service that I do not wish to use. I’m happy because I’m not able to predict and control everything in my life. I do not know that one day one the arseholes who speed past my house isn’t going to knock me over and I end up in A&E with the requirement for a lot of treatment. I don’t know if I may suffer from an illness like cancer or suddenly have a heart attack but I do know that I quite like the idea that if I do, then I don’t have to worry too much about it because I won’t have to suddenly fork over thousands of pounds to cover the cost or find out suddenly there’s a clause in my health insurance that “doesn’t cover that condition or illness”. Such as I don’t mind that from my own perspective up till now I’ve paid thousands into the system for other people’s care and treatment, because come the day I may need treatment for something serious, those very same people may be the ones paying in to cover for my treatment. Personally however, I’d be quite happy to pay into the system for the whole of my working life and never have to have had another procedure done other than the one I’ve just had.

There were also numerous comments about waiting times for procedures and of course of a negative nature so I thought I’d add a few examples. I waiting five weeks to have a minor bit of surgery done relating to a condition that caused me minor discomfort but nothing agonising. I’m reminded back to about 16 years ago when a relative of mine had the same condition. He waited over six months for his operation and apparently that was a reasonable time to expect to wait in those days to have an ingrowing toenail removed. I think I quite like the way things are now because despite my condition being a minor discomfort for the period of five weeks, I don’t think I would have fancied it for six months, not even taking into account how the condition can get progressively more painful the longer it is left.

Second example. My mother had a problem with her ear a few months back. She went to the GP who referred her to a specialist at New Cross hospital in Wolverhampton which took about a fortnight. He saw her and asked her if she’d like to come back the following day to have the procedure done. Not sure about how other people might see that, but having the procedure done the next day seems rather a good service by my standards.

I’ll touch on a bit of comparative health provision which always comes up in these arguments usually about why our health service isn’t ‘as good’ as for example the French, German or Nordic ones. I won’t go into the old debate of comparing it to the US system of individual health insurance as it’s been done to death apart from noting that purely from an administrative cost analysis our system wins hands down in terms of efficiency. It’s simple, one form to fill in, if you’re registered as living at an address in the UK you can get an NHS number and that’s about it. You don’t have to pay for treatment at the point of need and whether you’re taken sick in Wolverhampton, Edinburgh or Machynlleth you can get treatment at the nearest hospital without any hassle. I use that example deliberately as you will see in a minute.

Now I will admit to not knowing much about the French health service apart from it’s based on a combined system of people paying for it through taxation and private health insurance. Germany is pretty much the same which I do know a bit more about for obvious reasons. Is it better? Well yes if your measurement of comparison is in terms of the potential wait you may have for things to get done. Perhaps this is part of the national psyche of the Germans? They don’t tend to like to wait for things, something very evident in Mrs Penguin and with their combined state funded and private health insurance system they get a faster service than we do. Of course they pay for it, not only through higher taxes but also having to afford private health policies on top and we are back to the old adage of getting what you pay for. Whatever rubbish is spouted by the right of British politics we have it fairly good in the UK in terms of taxation, both personal and business. What we have is a health service that is effectively done on the cheap because of the conditions under which it is expected to run. Despite its detractors it’s a pretty damn efficient organisation, of course more could be done but given how we pay comparably less for our health service than our near neighbours on the continent we get a pretty good deal.

Moving on to the Nordic model of which I know more about, in particular of the Finnish system having lived there. Theirs is in essence more comparable to ours in that it’s a directly funded for by the tax-payer system unless things have radically changed since I last lived there.

However here’s why I used the example of our own where it doesn’t matter if you’re in Wolverhampton, Edinburgh or Machynlleth when you need treatment. Much as the Finnish health system could be considered better than our own, less waiting times, better facilities etc etc, it’s not a ‘national’ health service. It’s funding comes through local taxation which on one hand is good in terms of being able to tailor treatments to more specific local areas but if for example you live and pay taxes in Tampere and just happen to be visiting Helsinki when your appendix starts to burst and there have been some examples of this. The doctors in Helsinki have been known to ship the patient 120 miles north back to Tampere so that they pick up the cost.

Personally if I happen to be in Sheffield and my appendix starts to burst I’d quite like to be taken to the local hospital and it done as quickly as possible there than be shipped back to Wolverhampton and that of course raises the issue of what is the overriding priority? As much as the Nordic system is very good, it doesn’t preclude the possibility of costs and funding overruling clinical patient care. I’ll just add that there’s actually another type of health service structure in Finland that I haven’t mentioned, that for students which is completely different and funded through membership of the local student union which is compulsory and has to be paid for. I won’t go into too much detail but over there students unions are very much a part of the social welfare structure as opposed to the organisers of piss-ups at universities over here. (that is a deliberately flippant remark for humorous value, yes I know they do some very important student welfare stuff here too before someone complains but in comparison it is nothing to the extent that they do in Finland)

What’s the conclusion? Well much as we would all want our treatment done the next day, it’s quite clear that in Britain people are not willing to fork over the extra money in taxation to pay for it. We have a pretty good and efficient health service that operates on significantly less money than those in France, Germany and the Nordic countries so we can’t really complain that much. We are spending more on the NHS now than we were under the Tories and the improvements in service and significantly lower waiting times are there to see but for some reason people seem not to understand this expecting everything to be done yesterday and of course not willing to cough up the extra cash to achieve this aim. Something for nothing I think that is called and it’s a very childish perspective to take which perhaps is a sad reflection on the society in which we live.

[note] I’d originally titled this article “In pursuit of happiness” and intended to go on to other areas but I’ve decided to keep it more focused on health issues. I’ll do the more general theme another time.