Saturday 5 February 2011
Richard Ingrams: Labour's strategy has to be more robust than this
Tom Baldwin, the former Times journalist who played an inglorious role in the Dr Kelly affair, has not made a good start as Ed Miliband's so-called strategy director. A memo to Labour frontbenchers from Baldwin advises them not to pick on Rupert Murdoch when speaking about the phone-hacking scandal. "We must guard against anything which appears to be attacking a particular newspaper group out of spite," he says.
Putting aside the question of whether or not Labour frontbenchers should be told what to do by a former not very distinguished journalist from The Times, Baldwin hereby shows that he has only a limited grasp when it comes to directing strategy. For not only is it in the interests of the Labour Party to go on the attack over the News of the World phone hacking – an area in which David Cameron is especially vulnerable – it is also in the overall public interest for them to go for Murdoch simply on the grounds that he runs a powerful and unacceptable monopoly which controls the media, even to the extent of making people pay him if they want to watch major football and cricket matches.
It isn't exactly clear what the Labour Party stands for these days. But if it doesn't even stand for hostility to Rupert Murdoch, then it hasn't got much hope of staying alive.
Too much information – especially for robbers
Having, along with many others in the past few days, been in a minor panic to file my tax return on time, I realise again how one no longer has any confidence in bodies like the Inland Revenue, let alone the banks, to operate efficiently. The reason they don't has a lot to do with the fact that nowadays their work is done very largely by computers, which have a wonderful way of going wrong.
This week, for reasons best known to themselves, the police introduced what was called a crime map on the internet showing the crime record of every street in Britain. Almost immediately, there were complaints from people living in quiet, suburban backwaters that their areas had been branded as criminal hot spots on a par with the Gorbals. Computer errors were, of course, to blame.
Apart from the adverse effect on property prices, one wonders what the point of this exercise is, unless it is to assist the hard-pressed criminal community. Thanks to the police, they will now be able to check up on particular streets and decide for themselves which are likely to afford the best hauls. Where there is very little crime recorded might well be the best bet, as people living there might not be so security-minded – but I leave that sort of thing for the housebreakers to decide.
Officialdom can be bad for your mental health
In Henry's Demons, his gripping account of his son's descent into schizophrenia, my friend and Independent colleague Patrick Cockburn points out how quickly you discover the wide extent of mental illness when you start mentioning it to friends and colleagues.
His book, I predict, will have a big sale not just because it is finely written, but because there are so many of us who have shared his experience in one way or another, and for whatever reason don't like to talk about it.
Apart from the wearisome and often frightening business of living with madness, you have the difficulty nowadays of dealing with the medical profession. The family doctor, a useful character when genetics play such an important part in diagnosis of mental illness, no longer exists. Even if he does, his role is very much restricted by new regulations supposed to protect privacy and making it difficult to discuss a patient's problems with members of the family.
Patrick tells how when his son Henry, then an art student at the University of Brighton, first showed alarming symptoms of schizophrenia, his mother Jan became desperate when she was unable to contact him. She rang the university for help, only to be told that they couldn't give her any information at all without her son's permission. All thanks to the infamous Data Protection Act of 1998.
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