Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Know nothing press

In today's column, Polly Toynbee writes:

parents still overwhelmingly oppose religious schools - by 64% in a Guardian/ICM poll.

Actually, it's not parents, they don't oppose religious schools (but they do oppose state funding) and the, er, Guardian thinks that the timing of the poll may have affected the results:

The survey reveals that following last month's terror attacks, the majority of the public are uneasy about the proposals, with 64% agreeing that "the government should not be funding faith schools of any kind". (source)


She also writes:

Catholics led the charge, with "Three days to save our faith schools" blazoned across the Catholic Herald.

At the time of writing, you could see the front page on the Catholic Herald website, which clearly shows the headline to be "Three days to save our Catholic schools". It takes a rare skill to be able to misquote a "blazoned" headline.


She also writes:

But the UK and Denmark are the only countries where drinking is on the rise.

Here, her research methodology is unusually clear -- she read yesterday's paper, when Martin Plant had a letter published in the Guardian which said:

Britain is the only country in western Europe (apart from Denmark) where alcohol consumption is still rising. (source)

Note the omission of "in western Europe" from Polly's column. In fact, there are many countries where alcohol consumption is on the increase. At the World Resources Institute online database, for example, you can pull up litres of alcohol consumed per adult in a number of countries with trends -- and it shows increases in countries from Albania to Zimbabwe.


UPDATE: Mr Eugenides has written to me, taking a break from posting the sublime, to point out that when Polly writes:

alcohol now costs 54% less in real terms than it did in 1980.

it contrasts with the Economic and Social Research Council's take on it:

In real terms, since 1981 the price of alcohol relative to incomes has decreased by 54 per cent.
[emphasis added]

Which is of course not the same thing at all.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Anyone have a bridge that needs painting?

There's more from Polly's column today (see previous post for the bulk of it, though).  Polly writes:

On behalf of shareholders, simple questions should be put: why do directors pay themselves obscene sums, a 28% rise in the boardrooms this year, all of it stolen from citizens' pension funds and Peps?
[emphasis added]

Compare that with this, from the Guardian on 2 October 2006:

Directors' pay at Britain's top companies soared by 28% last year, more than seven times the rate of average pay and 11 times the current rate of inflation.
[emphasis added]

Now just plain making stuff up

In today's column, Polly Toynbee writes about the proposed companies bill, and specifically a clause to require companies to disclose information about their suppliers.  She writes:

The Financial Times all this week has run a loud and intimidating campaign against one clause, with a front-page splash and yesterday's thundering leader attacking industry minister Margaret Hodge. The subclause they oppose is the only item in this monumental bill that concedes anything to the lobby for stronger corporate social responsibility to protect the environment and communities.

This is part of a broader charge against the FT, that it has become the mouthpiece of the CBI:

The growing influence of the CBI over the once independent-minded and more nuanced Financial Times is sad to behold: now that its former editor Richard Lambert heads the CBI, he seems to not only adopt belligerent CBI narrow-mindedness but to cast the FT under the CBI's sway too.

Actually, the FT leader (link here, possibly requiring a subscription) is less than thundering in its criticism of the clause:

Yet the harm is less in the clause than in how it was introduced.

The FT leader agrees with Polly that on the face of it the clause requires something similar to the Operating and Financial Reviews that were originally proposed, but then vetoed by Gordon Brown.  In fact, the FT says:

At first sight, the new proposal for companies to disclose information about suppliers looks similar to the government plans for statutory operating and financial reviews (OFRs) that were in the bill until the Treasury decided to scrap them. This type of broader business commentary can help to focus attention on strategic questions beyond the next quarterly earnings figures. But the original OFR proposals were firmly underpinned by detailed accounting standards in a way that the current plans are not. This makes them harder for businesses to interpret. The DTI promises guidance: that must emphasise that the information need be given only where it is material and is at directors' discretion. Even then, there are likely to be high-profile and costly legal challenges as the non-governmental organisations that have pressed for the proposal try out how it is being applied in practice.

Read that carefully -- the complaint is not about the requirement to report, but rather that the requirement to do so in an ambiguous way generates uncertainty.

Indeed, Polly complains that:

The spectacle of the CBI and the Institute of Directors in full war cry is enough to frighten any government. How arrogantly they stamp, rampage and threaten mere elected politicians.

(I think in psychology this is called projection).  However, compare that with the FT leader which says that:

In their dealings with government, businesses should not always expect to get their own way. They do need consultation and certainty.

Thus, apparently, the mouthpiece of the CBI in full war cry, arrogantly stamping, rampaging and threatening.


Polly also writes:

An ICM poll shows that 90% of the public want companies to be legally obliged to report on their social responsibilities

Actually, according to the CORE press release (downloadable here):

90% of voters think that “the Government should set out enforceable rules to ensure companies are ‘socially responsible’, for example to ensure companies do not damage the environment.”

That's not "legally obliged to report".


When writing about CORE, Polly Toynbee writes:

Campaigners for greater openness are the Corporate Responsibility Coalition (Core) and the Trade Justice Movement, with over 130 organisations and 9 million members.

CORE represents 130 organisations, and the TJM claims to be:

a coalition of over 80 UK organisations with over 9 million individual members.
(source is a pdf, link here)

That's not having 9 million members.  The list of member organisations is here, and includes, for example, the Church of England and UNISON.  I think it's a bit rich to describe their members as being members of the TJM.


Polly also writes:

But imagine a government that dared stand up to them [i.e. CBIand IoD].  On behalf of shareholders, simple questions should be put: why do directors pay themselves obscene sums, a 28% rise in the boardrooms this year, all of it stolen from citizens' pension funds and Peps?

Skip lightly over the rhetoric about "stolen", and that of course shareholders do ask these sorts of questions without needing the state to do it for them according to the Observer, but consider the implication for a moment that the only shareholders in UK companies are pension funds and PEPs, and rightly discard it for the ill-informed and facile assumption that it is.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


In today's column about Velcade, Polly Toynbee writes:

Disgracefully, Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary, claimed at the weekend that he would prescribe the drug, adding an absurd promise that he would also "renegotiate" its price with the manufacturers. As if.

Paying no attention to Nice's rebuttal, ITV's The Sunday Edition paraded three patients with bone-marrow cancer desperately seeking the drug, understandably anxious for any shred of extra hope. Who wouldn't be?

Andrew Lansley's interview on The Sunday Edition is, at the time of writing, available online here.  What he actually said was:

I think we should give patients the drug and allow the NHS to negotiate with the drug company concerned, Johnson and Johnson, in order to arrive at a price for the drug that is cost-effective.  Because, the problem is at the moment that NICE have no ability to negotiate with the drug company.  The price is given.

When asked by the interviewer:

So you are very clear then that if you were Health Secretary, and indeed the current Healthy Secretary should give the drug to myeloma sufferers now?

He replied:

Yes, through that process [the one described above] and I do have to be clear about this.  Because there is no point in having NICE and then taking the decision yourself.  They do a professional job at trying to assess cost-effectiveness.  But the price is given to them.  They can't negotiate it.  I think what the NHS should be doing, what the Secreatry of State should be doing is negotiating the price with the drug company, doing in effect a risk-sharing deal with drug company so the NHS can continue to treat patients and depending on the effectiveness of the drug... I mean Jacky [one of the three sufferers who were "paraded" by ITV on the television.  Note that their website is here] was saying to us just a few minutes ago she thinks it can prolong life by two or three years.  Well, if that is proven in a population of myeloma sufferers who get the drug, then actually it would be a cost-effective drug.

This is not Lansley trying to "prescribe" the drug -- not something which would be terribly practical in any case for someone who is not a doctor.


Polly also writes:

Scotland has approved it for only a tiny number of patients in the last weeks of life.

Actually, no.  The SMC says that Velcade is:

accepted for use within NHS Scotland for the treatment of patients with multiple myeloma who have already received at least two therapies, have seen their disease progress on the last therapy and who are unresponsive to alternative licensed treatments for this stage of the disease. [Source]

This is not the same as "in the last weeks of life."


She also says that:

Its first trial of strength with the drug companies was its defining moment. When Nice said no to the flu drug Relenza (except for exceptional conditions), Glaxo threatened to pull out of Britain in revenge. Nice held firm, Glaxo stayed.

Actually, Frank Dobson said no to Relenza (source) in October 1999.  Sir Richard Sykes complained about "recently enforced price cuts" and criticised "the government's innaction over parallel imports" and "condemned the goverment's failure to maintain the level of science study among sixth formers despite its claim to favour a science and technology-based society." (source).  According to the Guardian:

Although the spokesman said Glaxo - which spends more than 50% of its research budget in, but derives only 6% of its sales from, the UK - was not threatening to move offshore, he added: "These factors call into question the attractiveness of the UK to a global company." The company suggested that others in the sector might also consider moving out of the UK.

"If you continue to make the environment antagonistic to this industry then by defini tion it will start to move elsewhere," said Sir Richard.

That's not a threat to pull out of Britain.

Nonetheless, NICE "held firm" for about a year before the Guardian was reporting that "Relenza receives limited approval" in November 2000 (source).

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Wariness replaced by weariness

I'll be taking a break until the end of October.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

In a manor secret

In today's column, Polly Toynbee refers to the Coleshill Manor story. She thinks it employs a

secret staff of 50

So secret, in fact, that they advertise for jobs (see here for Google's cache of a now expired job advertisment, which was running on 21 June). So secret that Michael Howard publicised his visit to it on election day 2005 (source). So secret that the Telegraph had a story about it in March 2005.

The funding mechanism for it may be contentious, but the staff are not secret.


She still has trouble accurately reproducing quotes. She claims Cameron said:

"the government which instinctively believes everything is the state's responsibility"

He actually said:

"These last nine years have been the story of a Government which instinctively believes, whatever it says, that everything is the state's responsibility," (source, emphasis added).

She claims he said:

"People, families, communities, businesses, to step up to the plate and ... actively do good things."

He actually said:

"We need people, families, communities, businesses to step up to the plate and understand that it's not just about stopping the bad things, it's about actively doing the good things" (source, emphasis added).