Monday, 23 March 2009

Jade Goody dies

Anyone who has lost a loved one to cancer knows that the disease can be summarised in one word: horror. The horror of diagnosis. The horror of knowing that days are numbered. The horror of saying goodbye. The horror of the physical pain. The horror of losing hair during treatment. The horror of treatment failing. The horror of blindness. The horror of organs shutting down one by one. Morphine. Losing consciousness. Death.

However, for anyone who (thankfully) hasn't seen a cancer death first hand, this reality has - up until now - remained relatively hidden. Although the 'one in three of us will get cancer' statistic is regularly bandied around by the press, I've never seen anything in the papers that really conveys what cancer means - until now.

With Jade Goody's death, there has been a sea-change in how cancer is presented to us by the media. For the first time, every minute detail that families of cancer victims are all-too-painfully aware of has been put in front of people. From the morphine machine in the wedding dress to the onset of Jade's blindness, the horror of cancer has, arguably for the first time, been really laid out for all to see. On TV, on the front pages of tabloids, on the internet, in office conversations, everywhere.

For me (and I'm sorry if this sounds harsh) Jade Goody didn't really offer much when she was alive, but her public death - whilst sad - has had very positive ramifications. More people are going for smear tests, donations to cancer charities are up; cancer awareness has increased. But the most important outcome is this: we are too good at hiding realities, but for once, the horror of cancer has been revealed. It's sad (although probably fitting) that it took a reality TV star to give us a dose of real life.

Or real death.



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Monday, 16 March 2009

Microsite for Betsey gig

A very quick one this to point you in the direction of a little microsite for my Betsey Trotwood gig.

Go to http://www.singletonmusic.com/betsey/ where you can buy a ticket (recommended as the venue is small), download a free EP, look at press coverage and invite your friends to the show.

Incidentally tickets are only £10 now - costs of show fell so I passed it on to the punters...

Hope to see you at the gig. All the best Chris

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Britain for sale

Living in Britain as something of an outsider (sort of: I'm Irish but of a lot of English descent), I perhaps get more wound up than most by the anti-Johnny-Foreigner attitude that is expressed by the British media.

Now don't get me wrong - there is plenty of antipathy towards foreigners in Ireland - but the levels of hysteria expressed by the British press about immigration and the hatred directed towards all things to do with the European Union are in another league. And you see this hatred expressed by individuals too, with people I know joining Facebook groups such as "I was born in the UK so why the fuck do I have less rights than immigrants" or "This is our country and if you don't like it fuck off". No doubt the constant barrage of foreigner-bashing headlines in the media inspires the negative attitudes and the Facebook group names (and incidentally, I find it interesting that the more right-wing the group, the more the work 'fuck' appears in it).

The impression that the press gives is one of Britain being a perfect country with a perfect identity that is somehow sullied by these bad people from abroad interfering with it. But the problem with this (aside from the obvious) is that the British press also seem to hate their own state, and the idea of their own government 'interfering' either.

As such, most British newspapers have campaigned for decades for the Government to keep out of owning or running British public services - and successfully too. Railways, electricity, gas, airports, airlines, ferries, telecommunications and even water have been taken out public ownership and placed in the hands of wealthy private owners.

The irony of all this, is that the new private owners in question often tend to be...yes, you guessed it, foreigners. The French provide a hell of a lot of UK electricity. A Spanish company runs most of the big airports. American healthcare companies are cherry-picking bits of the NHS. If Mandelson gets his way, we might have a Dutch company delivering mail. God knows who's running the railways (the train operating companies certainly don't).

Remember British Rail? Sealink? British Gas? British Telecom? You, the Brits, used to own and run them. You don't any more. They are all in the hands of various rich people, many of them from abroad. The nationality of these private owners doesn't bother me; what frustrates me is the fact that public services have been placed in the "care" of private owners at all.

When a public service is privatised what typically happens is this: a middle man gets put into the mix (interestingly, something that successful companies always try to avoid). The service often remains bankrolled or underwritten by you and me, the taxpayer, but the middle man (Johnny Foreigner or Paddy Englishman, I don't care) has to make a profit. In order to facilitate this profit, invariably one (or all) of the following things needs to happen:

  • more tax has to be spent on giving our middle man his profit
  • the Government has to reduce the level of access to the public service because it now costs more
  • the middle man has to reduce the cost of the service by cutting corners or staff pay (both detrimental to the quality of the service)
  • the taxpayer, in addition to paying for the service through tax, has to provide a top-up payment to facilitate the profit (that's why UK rail fares are extortionate!)
The counter-argument to the above is that the private sector adds 'rigour' and competition. It's apparently meant to be more efficient than the public sector. Well, private sector 'rigour' and 'efficiency' don't seem all that appealing in the light of the credit crunch - if the private sector can't even get private finance right, how on earth is it meant to cope with public services?

As for competition, it doesn't (and can't) exist for many of the public services that have been privatised. Privatisation hasn't provided me with a range of choices when it comes to things like water, buses or trains. I'm stuck with what's provided - the middle man for my area. (I'm currently using Russian gas and French electricity and I have to get a bus owned by a company that operates transport in Germany and Denmark. Again, not that I mind the nationalities - it's the nature of the ownership that worries me).

Whatever the debate about efficiency, there is still the issue of accountability to think about. "Public service" means just that: serving the public, not making some guy rich. Should a health service be run to make somebody a profit, or should it serve the interests of everybody? Should an environmentally-friendly train journey cost two to three times as much as travelling by car, just so First Great Western can stay in business? Should something as fundamental to life as water be controlled by a company, or should it belong to all of us?

As for rich foreigners, it's hardly surprising that the press has no problem with them owning British public services. After all, they've got a little thing for owning British newspapers too. Isn't that right, Mr Murdoch? Mr Black? Mr Lebedev?



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