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In this week's magazine | Russia vs the West

In this week's magazine.

Russia vs the West
27 February - 5 March 2015 issue 

Cover Story: “Russia vs the West”
Elizabeth Pond on the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Plus


Peter Oborne on the response to his resignation from the Daily Telegraph.

Phil Whitaker and Iain Dale consider the renewed NHS crisis.

The Politics Column: George Eaton writes that it’s still too soon to write off Ukip.

First Thoughts: Peter Wilby on the credulity of Straw and Rifkind.

 

The NS Essay: Putin’s long war

Elizabeth Pond argues that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has destroyed the peace in Europe for a generation.

A year since Vladimir Putin shocked Europe by annexing Crimea and fomenting rebellion in Ukraine’s previously quiet Donbas region, his undeclared war on the Russians’ east Slav brothers has become the “new-old normal” on the continent. It has displaced the seven-decade interlude in which Europeans thought they had established a postmodern order of peace in their heartland. It has induced a loss of hope that Europe’s embodiment of the liberal peace first envisioned by Immanuel Kant can be restored within less than one or two generations – if at all. It has confronted the west with a stark choice between appeasement of a regional bully or war with no mutually understood restraints in a nuclear-armed world.

Writing that the “truce that was patched up again after the destruction of Debaltseve will probably provide no more than a brief winter respite before a spring offensive”, Pond argues that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s intervention in the conflict will not succeed:

German diplomacy in this interlude [four months of relative stability in 2014, following Ukraine’s declaration of a ceasefire in early September] consisted of trying to freeze the conflict by converting the September truce and subsequent protocol into a permanent, comprehensive ceasefire, or at least into an acceptance of common constraints on escalation. The fear was that if that could not be agreed on, Europe would enter an era of acute Russian-western hostility without even the mutual restraints that the two superpowers settled on at the height of the cold war.

She concludes:

The debacle of this month’s attempt to secure a truce has killed the last residual hope of a swift peace. Clearly, the end of the neo-cold war will not occur the way its superpower original did a quarter-century ago, when Washington ostentatiously outspent and out-innovated Moscow in weapons as well as general prosperity just as the Soviet economy and society reached a dead end, making Mikhail Gorbachev decide to trade in empire and feud in return for soft power and animal spirits.

Nor will it come alone from Angela Merkel’s strategic patience, which Philip Stephens of the Financial Times parses as long on patience but short on strategy. And it is unlikely to stem from Vladimir Putin’s progressive foreclosure of his own options by doubling down militarily after every failure to persuade non-Russians of the splendours of Great Russian hegemony. The only certainty is that the war between Russia and Ukraine will go on.

Read our cover essay in full below.

 

 

The Diary: Peter Oborne

The Diary this week comes from the commentator Peter Oborne, who writes from Lahore about the fallout of his departure from the Daily Telegraph:

I have been called “brave” and even “heroic” in the wake of my resignation from the Daily Telegraph. This is kind but it is also completely false. For bravery, let’s consider Pakistan, where more than 50 journalists have been killed in the past 20 years. Forty have been killed in Colombia, 56 in Russia, and so the list goes on.

In Britain we are not required to be heroes. We can, however, do our best to behave honourably. A Telegraph old-timer tells me the story of a well-known businessman who visited Bill Deedes, a famous editor of the Telegraph from an era when that paper still had editors. The businessman complained that the City pages were supporting the rival side in a takeover bid and threatened to pull advertising. W F Deedes rose to his feet: “Let me show you to the lift myself, and good day to you!”

 

Special Report – A critical condition

The general practitioner and eminent novelist Phil Whitaker gives an inside story on the problems facing the National Health Service in England, exploring how successive attempts by Labour and the Tories to “modernise” the service have created untold problems. He considers the “apparent success” of partial privatisation, an “awkward fact for many on the left”.

On the face of it, the drive to compel competition has done what it was supposed to do (albeit at vastly increased administration costs, with contracts being negotiated, invoiced and monitored by armies of bean-counters on all sides). Much elective NHS care nowadays is provided within weeks, not months or even years. This is unquestionably good for patients. And fears for the future of the social contract have receded: where is the advantage in going private when you can get your operation paid for by the NHS at the same independent hospital?

[. . .]

With the fall in disposable income that has accompanied austerity, it is once again relatively unusual for my patients to request private referrals. One way or another, the NHS has remained the franchise to which most people look when they have an elective health-care need.

So, if the service has improved, why then is there a renewed row over NHS privatisation? Whitaker identifies critical service areas damaged by privatisation, which has led to a new NHS crisis – a huge increase in the numbers of elderly patients in poor general health being excluded from the private sector, putting pressure on both non-urgent and urgent NHS services as well as social care, and the increasingly complex process of entry into the urgent-care system:

These are the principal forces behind the flurry of declared major incidents this January, which led to hospitals up and down the country closing their full-to-bursting doors. Our own district general remained open – just – but in a continual state of black alert (which is every bit as bad as the name suggests). All elective surgery was abandoned and extraordinary measures were employed to free up every scrap of capacity.

If we want to do anything other than lurch from crisis to crisis, the whole system will have to be reconfigured. Hospitals, GP surgeries, community nursing, OOH [out-of-hours services], NHS 111, the ambulance service, walk-in centres and minor injuries units are all nominally NHS bodies and should, in theory, be able to work together to ensure only patients genuinely in need of acute hospital care are admitted. The problem is, in our present-day competitive NHS, each entity is trying to protect its budget and ensure its own performance meets the benchmarks by which it will be judged next time its contract comes up for renewal.

Whitaker concludes:

[T]his election does represent a fundamental decision point as to how our NHS will develop or degrade in the future. We need to know, well in advance of the poll, where each party stands on this important matter. And having declared its approach, whichever party goes on to lead the next government must somehow be held to keep the promises on which it has been voted into power.

Read our Special Report in full below.

 

Observations: What needs to be said about the NHS

Iain Dale, the broadcaster and author of The NHS: Things That Need to Be Said, writes that certain arguments remain unaired regarding the future of the NHS, including making sure the service functions throughout each week:

Outcomes are adversely affected by the NHS’s operations, which seem to run on a five-day, rather than seven-day basis. Are people not supposed to get ill at weekends? Surely we should be moving towards a seven-day NHS, with equality of service provision throughout the week? Here we have 21st-century medicine straitjacketed by a 1940s system.

Why is it that GP’s surgeries offer appointments at times when most people aren’t available to go to them? I run a publishing company and must lose hundreds of man hours of work each year as employees go to visit the doctor, as if that’s a reason why they should be allowed time off. That may sound harsh, but multiply the effect across the economy and we’re all losing out.

 

The Politics Column: George Eaton

The NS political editor, George Eaton, writes that it is still too soon to write off the UK Independence Party. Although liberals agree that “the purple wave is receeding”, Eaton argues that they may achieve greater success in future:

Ukip strategists, however, are confident that they will attain a platform for greater success in 2020. They are right to be so. Whether the Conservative Party or Labour enters power, Ukip will have no shortage of political ground to exploit.

He writes that a Miliband-led Labour government’s unpopular economic strategies and refusal to hold a referendum on whether Britain should stay in the EU would work in Ukip’s favour, while a Tory majority would still not resolve questions of Euroscepticism and immigration. Eaton argues that electoral reform would be an even greater spur to the party.

He concludes:

Success is not guaranteed. The ideological tensions between the party’s multiple wings could yet overwhelm it. Douglas Carswell’s repudiation of Enoch Powell on 24 February was the clearest demonstration yet of the gulf that exists between the Ukip MP and Farage on the issue of immigration. “It can be done, but it will not be done if the argument is reduced to arguing about people from Romania,” he declared of EU withdrawal, in an implicit rebuke to his leader.

Perhaps the only thing that could reverse Ukip’s advance is the attainment of power, as the Liberal Democrats learned to their cost. Once tainted by compromise, it would soon come to resemble those it assails as political swine. That is not a fate it need contemplate now. The complacent assumption that Ukip’s moment has passed is born of the same arrogance that first led to its rise.

Read the Politics Column in full below.

 

First Thoughts: Peter Wilby on the credulity of Straw and Rifkind

In his First Thoughts column, Peter Wilby writes:

What is most extraordinary about the behaviour of Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind, former foreign secretaries who were trapped by undercover journalists into offering their expertise to a fictitious Chinese company for £5,000 a day or more, is that they were so easily bamboozled. It is not, after all, the first time that MPs have been taken in by such approaches. Did it not occur to them to do a little research? To check the identity and track record of those supposedly running the company? To check the credentials of the go-betweens?

Both Straw and Rifkind believe that MPs aren’t paid enough (in terms of either salary or post-retirement pension) and that this excuses their anxiety to acquire “consultancies”. Straw, it is reported, says: “There is [a] really serious issue these days of making politics sufficiently attractive for the brightest and best.” On the evidence of his and Rifkind’s credulity, he clearly has a point.

Plus

Kate Mossman on Kim Gordon’s Girl in a Band.

Helen Lewis on the rise and fall of John Galliano and Alexander McQueen.

Suzanne Moore: Having failed to get hold of Ringo Starr’s tonsils, I tried to make some cash out of John Lennon instead.

Rachel Cooke explores the nation’s long and tense relationship with the BBC.

Will Self: If there’s one thing young people detest in their elders, it’s the urinous tang of hypocrisy.

Michael Brooks on “orphan” drugs.

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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.