Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Labour Uncut oped: Our rights are protected. It’s time for Labour toemphasise our responsibilities

Online at LabourUncut here.

In a 2002 Observer article Tony Blair set out the theme of “rights and responsibilities”. He sought to expose the inadequacies of what he termed the left’s “1945 ‘big state’ that wrongly believed it could solve every social problem” and the right’s “narrow, selfish individualism of the 1980s”. For Blair, responsibilities were concomitant with rights. Admirable people and organisations, from MPs to QCs, Amnesty to Liberty, the CAB to the EU, have ensured that rights are now well-defined and defended. We must remain vigilant about rights, but now it’s time to foster a “responsibilities culture.”

The culture of rights, fought for by philosophers, politicians and ordinary people throughout history has advanced human happiness, security and economic prosperity. It achieved this by imbuing individuals with rights by virtue of being human, not as gifts of God or the state.

Responsibilities should be given this irreducible, non-negotiable status. “I know my rights” is the unacceptable face of rightsism. The responsibilities agenda has historically been directed at the poor rather than the better-off, when in fact it is a universal imperative. In the future, it would be good to hear more of, “I know my responsibilities”, from citizens, companies and organisations throughout society and the economy.

Here are a few areas where the responsibilities revolution could take effect:


We are required to by the law to obey its strictures. However, we each have a moral responsibility to avoid illegal behaviour. Our criminal justice system would be much less necessary if people accepted the not unreasonable responsibility to desist from harming others. We should spend less time trying to understand the “causes” of crime and more on instilling a sense of respect for others and ensuring that violators fear the law and wider community. The challenge is huge: despite crime apparently falling, the Met reported last week that violent crime in London is up 25 per on last year.


This week, several hospitals declared major incidents due to A&E over-crowding. NHS England’s Professor Keith Willett has previously said that between 15 and 30 per cent of people presenting at A&E do not need actually need to be there. Andy Burnham is right to blame cuts to social care, problems with the 111 system, and insufficient GP capacity, but individuals share a responsibility to help the NHS work effectively. While the NHS must treat all ailments compassionately, we must overcome our British reticence about the “nanny state” and more actively encourage people to change their lifestyles in order to prevent medical conditions. Gastric band surgery may be cost-effective compared to treating the long-term conditions caused by obesity, but not becoming obese in the first place would be better for individuals, the NHS and economy. Labour’s public health agenda can, in government, do more to assist individuals to lead healthier lives.


Governments must cease holding teachers entirely responsible for tackling deep-set societal problems. Parents should be made far more aware that it is their responsibility to send children to school with respect for staff, a thirst for learning and with good behaviour. A national Parental Responsibility Code could be brought in.

Volunteering/active citizenship

We need more school governors, more parents able to run sports or music clubs, more Special Constables, more philanthropy, more social activism. Citizens taking on these responsibilities shouldn’t be regarded as the exception, but the norm. Empowered, active citizens of all social classes and backgrounds should feel that they are community leaders, that they are responsible for maintaining high standards within their communities. They shouldn’t require permission from sometimes moribund councils or “the authorities”. Employers could be required to allow employees time off to volunteer, just as with armed forces reservists.


False idols like Russell Brand and other prophets of apathy and cynicism fill a vacuum created by mainstream politicians. Yet the blame isn’t politicians’ alone and must be shared with the media and public. People often say that politicians are (delete as appropriate) “all the same/corrupt/don’t listen/are lining their pockets”. These are false statements. We each have a responsibility to use the political system to change our country for the better, including, if necessary, the constitution. People can vote, join a political party or even create their own –nobody stopped Mr Farage.

Unlike our Tory and Lib Dem opponents, we in the Labour Party believe in the power and responsibility of the state to do this. Take the Tories’ Big Society agenda which focused exclusively individual and charitable action because of their ideological antipathy to an active state. It is no good proclaiming the virtues of active citizenship if you’re slashing local and national government spending. People can only volunteer in their communities if their jobs don’t require them to work all hours and if communities, through local councils, have the buildings, the playing fields in which clubs can flourish.

Only Labour can usher in a responsibilities revolution, because we can set out how the state’s responsibilities can nurture those of individuals and vice versa. Unlike our opponents, we see an enabling state working in partnership with individuals and communities to help create a fairer, more prosperous Britain.

As J. F. Kennedy didn’t quite say:

“Ask not which rights your country can protect for you, but ask instead what responsibilities you have to yourself, your community and your country”.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

July 2014 BBC radio interview with Immigration Services Union re Ebola screening: let's hope plans are better advanced now

I hope that nurse Pauline Cafferkey recovers swiftly from Ebola. Her case has highlighted once more the systems that the Government has put in place to protect Britain from Ebola and to ensure that people who may be carrying the virus get the care they need as quickly as possible.

Below is the transcription I made of what I thought at the time was a very revealing interview in July 2014 about the way the UK was preparing for handling cases of Ebola. I am clearly no expert, but the interview with Lucy Morton of the Immigration Services Union suggested to me that the Border Force had not been given sufficiently robust advice, resources or training by the relevant authorities. In fact, I would suggest that the preparation appeared almost as farcical as a scene from Yes Minister, or The Think Of It.


BBC Radio 4, The World Tonight, 30 July 2014

Intro: The UK's health services have the ability to deal with the experience to deal with the threat posed by the Ebola virus - that's the message from the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond...

Earlier is month Public Health England issued an alert to UK doctors...this evening Border Agency staff were provided with information. A statement from Public Health England said it and the Border Agency remain in close contact to monitor the situation and agree any additional activity as needed. The statement goes on: "it's important to note that the UK has robust systems in place already for infectious disease control, including those in airports and ports, and that the risk of Ebola in England remains very low".

What's the view from the Border Staff themselves, who police the points of entry. I asked Lucy Morton from the Immigration Services Union.

LM: The concern is what do they do if they are confronted with someone that appear unwell at the border. There is no health facility at the border, there is no containment facility and until extremely recently, within the last hour, there has been no guidance issued to staff at all as to what it was they should do.

Q: Would you be able to spot the symptoms of Ebola yourself?

LM: Absolutely not, and no more would any other Border Force officer. We are not medical professionals. The best we could do possibly would be if someone appeared to have a fever, but no, nothing more direct than that.

Q: So what advice advice are you being offered then?

LM: There is a risk algorithm which has been offered to staff very recently.

Q: A risk algorithm? [sounds bemused]

LM: It amounts to a very brief series of questions and ends with "if worried, call an ambulance".

Q: And what, are you supposed to put those questions to somebody if you think that they may have the symptoms but if you don't know the symptoms how do you know who to stop?

LM: I can't answer that one because, how do they know? If someone is symptom free, and of course they may well be, or if the symptoms are relatively mild - people don't get off long-haul air flights looking their best - then no, they've got no way of spotting it.

Q: If you suspect somebody is suffering from Ebola, where do you put them? What do you do with them?

LM: There are small interview rooms. We could remove them from the immediate public, but they are not cleaned, or sterilised, or sealed in any way, above and beyond normal cleaning. There is nowhere to put them. The instructions to staff at the moment amount to "if you're worried, call an ambulance". I very much hope the NHS has an answer to what those poor ambulance staff are supposed to do.

Q: So when we are given assurances that the risk of Ebola in the UK remains very low, because, obviously of the procedures that are on place here, what do you say to that?

LM: Nothing has changed in the procedures that are in place, from this week, to last week, to last year. There is nothing specific in place to control the risk of Ebola arriving. I'm not a public health official, I can't answer to the medical diagnosis, but for my members on the border, they have seen no change and they have no specific information.