Wednesday, 18 May 2011

A Groundhog Day speech that left me speechless

On Monday 16 May 2011, our Prime Minister delivered a speech at Ealing Hospital in which he included the following:

"If we had cancer survival rates at the average in Europe, we’d save 5,000 lives a year"

"If we had respiratory disease care equivalent to the average in Europe, we’d save 2,000 lives a year"

"If we could prevent and treat chronic liver disease and cirrhosis as well as the European average, we could save 550 lives a year"

I find this truly astonishing. I wrote a blog post about this on Saturday 9 April, highlighting that the cancer 'fact' was incredibly dodgy, and that neither the Department of Health nor Number 10 has even provided a source for the respiratory disease 'fact'. For over a month now I have been requesting a source and I am still waiting.

The 550 lives a year 'fact' is a new one and wasn't one of the three 'facts' included in the glossy pamphlet published on Wednesday 6 April. Out goes 750 lives saved from heart disease, in comes 550 lives saved from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis. Whichever 'fact' you look at however, the fact is that neither has been referenced or sourced.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not deluded enough to think that anyone in power reads or cares what I write or say. But when Ben Goldacre subsequently published this article in The Guardian on Saturday 16 April, I did think that maybe, just maybe this would give the Coalition Government pause for thought (and what more fitting time to pause for thought than during a 'natural' break in the passage of the NHS reform bill, and even better - during a national listening exercise!) and reflection as to whether they really want to keep quoting such unsubstantiated and potentially misleading figures.

Am I the only one who gets incredibly, unbelievably and supremely annoyed, irritated and ticked off about all this? 

Fiddle your expenses and you'll get pilloried. Peddle dodgy facts and if you do it enough times and for long enough, then the minority that query them either lose the will or have no voice to challenge them in the first place (or both).

Dear David Cameron - if you are claiming that right now we could save 7,550 lives per year, please could you provide full referenced and sourced material to explain and substantiate that fact. If you can do that, then I for one couldn't care less if you've got one of these behind your back or stuck down your trousers.


Wordle: Groundhog Day

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Give us some credit and stop pretending that AV is rocket science

Cliché alert, but a picture really can be worth a thousand words, so let's kick off with a couple and save my fingers and your eyes. It is a true mystery how such an incredibly complicated system like AV can be so easily explained not once, but twice, using only beer, coffee, sweets, and excrement as props.

If you want more detail, there's this excellent dissection of the No campaign's offensive leaflet, and this incredibly helpful and straightforward explanation of AV.

I'm not a particular fan of how either side has conducted themselves during the run up to the referendum, but I did just want to highlight a couple of quotes from those heading up the No campaign:

David Cameron - "(AV) is obscure, it's unfair, it's expensive, it could mean that people who come third in elections will end up winning... I feel in my gut that AV is wrong"

I feel unqualified to comment on what Cameron's gut may or may not tell him (maybe Matt Baker knows more than me, thus prompting him to ask our PM how he slept at night), but it is fair to say that it is possible for a candidate to come third in the initial count and end up winning when all alternative votes have been counted. Possible, but very unlikely in practice. The claims that it is unfair and expensive are much easier to dismiss - AV is neither. If anyone tells you that it is, ask them to explain how and why. Despite having a bone to pick with him on a totally separate matter, I have to hand it to Johann Hari for his excellent recent article - if you get the X Factor, you get AV. And the Independent has published a clear, concise and compelling article to support its Yes to AV stance.

William Hague - "It would be unBritish to change to a system (AV) that is unclear and more expensive and would produce many problems"

14 pints a day Hague goes one up on his boss. It's not his (beer) gut that is against AV, but rather AV is against the very essence of being British. Oh please. And I love the fact that the "many problems" alluded to go undefined.

Baroness Warsi - "... there is an even bigger problem with AV: It gives more power to extremists. Why? The whole system is so complicated the problem is all too easily obscured"

So complicated in fact that The Sun requires a small box containing fewer than 80 words to explain it:

What is AV?

On May 5 the nation votes in local elections AND the referendum on AV.
Under our first-past-the-post system, the candidate with the most votes is elected. Under AV, voters rank candidates in order of preference.
If no candidate achieves 50 per cent or more of the vote, the one with the fewest votes is eliminated and their votes are redistributed according to second preferences.
This continues until one candidate achieves 50 per cent.

That really is honestly it. Fewer than 80 words to not only explain AV, but to also explain FPTP and remind us when to vote. All the obscurities, all the complications. The lot.

And why oh why, if AV gives more power to extremists, is the BNP urging its members to vote No to AV on Thursday 5 May?

Between now and the referendum, I urge you to visit both the No to AV website and the Yes to AV website.

Refresh your memory of the actual posters used by the No to AV campaign (and do have a play at making fake posters), and why not read what a fair dinkum, green and gold aussie has to say about it all - some absolutely fantastic blog posts from someone with experience of dozens of Australian elections using a system similar to AV, including debunking many of the myths peddled by the No campaign.

No, Australians aren't looking to dump their election system. No, Australia didn't have to introduce compulsory voting as a result of adopting their election system. If you only read one of Antony Green's blog posts, read this one.

And please do take the opportunity to vote on Thursday 5 May!

Goodnight grown up, honest political campaigning, wherever you are


P.S. A late honourable mention to the below:


P.P.S. Final word to the invariably excellent Sir Charlton of Brooker.
Wordle: AV