THE GOVERNMENT got a shock at one of its 'Citizens' Juries' recently. These groups consist of 14 people plucked at random from the electoral register who are brought together to discuss some aspect of policy. The one in Greenock, Inverclyde, was called together to discuss Incapacity Benefit.
Unfortunately for those putting New Labour's case for cuts, its members showed some knowledge of the issues. One juror had an epileptic brother who was unable to hold down a job, another a disabled son whose hundreds of applications for work had not brought a single acknowledgement. A woman juror who was in chronic pain herself explained that she was already denied Incapacity Benefit because she had not amassed enough national insurance payments to qualify.
The jury heard Govan GP Dr Niall Cameron describe the work test which claimants are put through as 'demeaning and humiliating. If they don't start off depressed they often are depressed by the end of it.' Again and again jurors heard that people were terrified that they would lose their 'unfit for work' status. A cancer sufferer who volunteers for an hour a week thought her neighbours might inform on her.
At the end the jurors recommended a string of reforms to make the system more humane, not cuts. Will New Labour be listening to the people now?
Get rid of 'em all
GOOD RIDDANCE to the hereditary peers. A bill to end the right of most of them to sit in the House of Lords went through crucial stages last week. But a recent survey shows that New Labour's favoured option for reform is likely to produce a House of Lords like the present one - male, biased towards the rich and old. Only 89 life peers (17 percent) are women. Blair's own creations are only gradually reducing the gender gap - just one in four are women.
Some 112 of the present life peers are taken directly from companies and the City. Since May 1997 Blair has created 140 life peers. The Tories or the Liberal Democrats nominated 45 of these. But of Blair's own selection, 33 are former ministers or MPs and 31 have come directly from private business. All the more reason to abolish the whole thing.
THE Paddington disaster has brought new business to the PR firms appointed to help Railtrack's image. Railtrack appointed two PR firms, the Rowland Company and Brunswick. Rowland also represents the UK Atomic Energy Authority and the Bio Industries Association, so it is used to disasters. FirstGroup, which owns First Great Western, also hired Brunswick. The Go Ahead Group, which owns Thames Trains, appointed First and 42nd, which handled emergency PR after the Piper Alpha oil rig disaster.
SENIOR POLICE officer Detective Sergeant Stuart Alison, has revealed that he was ordered to drive his patrol car 'as fast as possible' just before he crashed into a bus carrying elderly tourists. The officer said he was encouraged to break speed limits and drive 'close to the edge'.
During the trial in Stirling a police accident investigator revealed that a senior officer approached him and hinted a diesel spillage should be attributed as the cause of the accident. But the officer admitted it was 'strange' that two members of the public and two investigators had failed to find any traces of diesel on the road.
MADHUR Jaffrey is one of the most famous Indian cooks. But she has revealed that her choice of career was affected by racism. Arriving as a teenager in Britain in the 1950s, she won a scholarship to the RADA drama college. But her Asian background blighted her acting ambitions. 'Race is always an issue,' says Jaffrey, who found it impossible to get work. 'They only ever wanted to cast me as an Indian and I wanted to do Shakespeare. When I came over I didn't know how to cook, so I started writing to my mother for recipes. I never wanted to be a cook.'
HUNDREDS OF poor and elderly people will lose out after a campaign over cold weather payments backfired. For years people in Inverness complained that people in one half of the town were more likely to receive government money than the other. That was because the west of the town was linked to a weather station in Ross-shire while RAF Kinloss covered the east on the warmer Moray coast. Now at last the Benefit Agency has agreed there is an anomaly. Now the whole town will be covered by the warmer RAF Kinloss station so that fewer payments will be triggered.
A letter which was handed to a Qantas flight attendant by an eight year old girl shows that the young do not have much confidence in airlines. Written carefully and illustrated with charming cartoons, the letter reads: 'My name is Nicola, I'm eight years old. This is my first flight but I'm not scared. I like to watch the clouds go by. My Mum says the crew is nice. I think your plane is good. Thanks for a nice flight. Don't f**k up the landing. Luv Nicola.'
RECRUITMENT managers are receiving faxes from Circa Ltd. 'If you are thinking of recruiting a junior member of staff - ACT NOW - to ensure that you gain access to some of the best young people on the market,' says the fax. 'Circa Ltd have available a number of good school leavers looking for employment with training provided at one of our modern training centres.'
The firms are wooed with a promise of 'Costs as little as £16 a day, no recruitment costs' and many other advantages. It seems the government's much trumpeted New Deal means that young people are hawked around as cheap labour while private firms collect the profits.
Things they say
'THE basic problem of the Japanese is that they haven't got a Margaret Thatcher.'
SIR ALAN Walters, the Tories' former chief economics adviser
'WHY should Russia be on its knees before the IMF begging for $600 million when one Russian S-300 strategic nuclear missile system is worth $550 million? Why not just sell two of them?'
ALEKSANDR LUKASHENKO, leader of Belarus, hints at the frightening instability in Eastern Europe
'YOU COULD give me a description of a black person and he could walk right past me in the street. I would have great difficulty recognising him.'
METROPOLITAN POLICE officer reveals officers' attitudes to black people on the Channel 4 documentary Race Against Crime
'I HAVE no problem talking to white people, but I get confused and I don't understand most other nationalities.'
METROPOLITAN police officer
'WHEN IN Rome one should act like a Roman. You get it all the time. People are coming over here and it's always take, take, take.'
'THE DOWNSIDE is that the target will succumb to radiation poisoning in approximately 21 days.'
'Advice' given to the Turkish government by British firm Aims Limited on using radiation on Kurdish prisoners
'WE'VE always recruited well from the public schools. Out of about 40 officers there are always two or three old Etonians and a couple from grammar schools. One or two each year, usually the grammar school types, become unhappy because they don't fit in.'