Tom Richmond: Who is going to speak up for the elderly?

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WHY does politics have to be about “winners and losers” – rather than the long-term future of the country?

I ask this question with regard to the revamped NHS reforms, and the interpretation by the BBC, and others, of their significance. Every nuance was interpreted to establish whether they found favour with various Conservative and Liberal Democrat demands.

Yet the public, outside the Westminster bubble, are not bothered by this. They simply want to know whether services will improve on the coalition’s watch – and who will foot the bill.

For the blinkered nature of this debate has masked the fact that Britain is sleepwalking its way towards an ageing society – and no one has a clue about the financial consequences.

Three key points need to be made.

First, more older people means a greater demand on hospital beds and local authority care places. How will these be funded?

Second, how will elderly people, and their dependents, be able to afford to pay for dignified standards of care when their savings are being wiped out by their pensions failing to keep pace with increases in the cost of living? No wonder the debate surrounding assisted suicide is becoming so vexed.

Third, will the UK ever have a pensions system that is affordable, sustainable and able to withstand the demographic changes taking place?

These are serious challenges that are troubling families up and down the country. They require a coherent, joined-up approach that the coalition Government, Ed Miliband’s embattled Labour Party or the Archbishop of Canterbury seem unable, or unwilling, to articulate. In short, who is going to speak up for the elderly?

THE problem with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Left-wing utterances is that he offers few practical suggestions on how to make Britain a better place.

This contrasts with the pro-activism of the Archbishop of York. Rowan Williams is also shown up by the innovative idea set out this week by Barry Sheerman, the Labour MP for Huddersfield.

Even though he is critical of the coalition’s economic approach, he says every MP should “join the campaign Made by Britain, whereby we find innovative, imaginative and new products in every constituency in the country and put them in a virtual Crystal Palace to show that we can still do manufacturing in this country”.

It is the kind of forward thinking that you will never hear from the current leader of the Church of England.

AT least Rowan Williams spared Ed Miliband from even greater embarrassment about the leaked documents that illustrate how his clique made life as difficult as possible for Tony Blair.

Two points need to be made. First, Miliband, the Doncaster MP, needs to accept that Labour should have halted Gordon Brown’s reckless spending spree in 2005 when Treasury officials advised against such a splurge. This is a reason why Labour’s proposed VAT cut is laughable.

Second, no one will believe Miliband’s denials when he says that he has not fallen out with his older brother David, the former Foreign Secretary. Every media story about splits between Blair and Brown was denied at the time – and now it emerges that political commentators actually downplayed the seriousness of the power struggle.

IT became obvious, after talking to a colleague, why an overwhelming majority of British rail passengers are satisfied with railway services, according to the EU.

In Germany, where the satisfaction rate was a mere 52 per cent, travellers are unhappy if a service is more than a minute late. The reason why 87 per cent of Britons said they are “very” or “rather” satisfied is because they’re just happy to get to work – or home in the evening. In Britain we expect little of our public services, and they seldom disappoint.

Our conclusions came to light after I gave my colleague a lift home by car after Northern Rail’s services out of Leeds came to an abrupt halt – and there was no clarity on when, or if, services would resume.

DISCUSSING the unreliability of the weather forecasts, which led to some of my acquaintances declining to go to York races last week because of the likely rain that did not fully materialise, Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive Gary Verity made a helpful suggestion.

Given the importance of the weather to the tourism and leisure industries, he says each forecaster should be accompanied by an accuracy rating – so people can decide, for themselves, whether to trust the likes of the BBC’s Paul Hudson and others.

TALKING of tourism, John Parkin has a nerve. He’s chief executive of Leeds Bradford International Airport and one of eight people to have written to Chancellor George Osborne calling for the Government to lower passenger duty taxes.

For the record, Mr Parkin presides over the same airport that now charges drivers £2 for the privilege of dropping off passengers – and another £2 when they’re collected. No wonder travellers are thinking twice about using Leeds Bradford.

Furthermore, Parkin does not say whether this unpopular charge will be scrapped in the unlikely event of Osborne heeding the call of the airports. Somehow, I doubt it.

PITY Matt Prior, England’s wicketkeeper. His abilities behind the stumps have been compared unfavourably by Alec Stewart, the former Test captain, to none other than Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor.

It was Balls, on the day leaks emerged about his role in plots to oust Tony Blair, who donned his pads at Lord’s, the home of cricket, and produced a display of wicketkeeping that would have prompted Geoffrey Boycott to remark: “My mam would have done better in her pinny.”