2 January 2015 New Years Day
Disastours change of diet for Mary, a quite New Years, no New years joggers.
Michael Kennedy, who has died aged 88, pursued a career as an erudite and highly-regarded music critic while working his way up the sub-editing tables of The Daily Telegraph in Manchester, where he was Northern Editor for 26 years.
His biographies of Vaughan Williams and Elgar led to major reappraisals of these quintessentially English composers, while his friendship with Sir John Barbirolli – who for 27 years directed the Hallé Orchestra – led to a definitive authorised biography of the conductor.
However, Kennedy – like Neville Cardus, the Manchester Guardian’s eminent music critic – was more than a mere wordsmith. He represented the old, proud civic traditions of provincial life, from a time when the term “provincial” was not used as an insult. Hard toil, good music and an occasional day watching cricket were his bread and butter. Manchester was a city that could rank proudly alongside any other, including London, and he was one of its standard bearers.
He would rail against critics of musical elitism, accusing them of failing to aspire to high standards. “I want things to be elitist,” he told Michael Henderson in 2001. “These days it seems that people don’t want to put any effort into understanding something. You go to Covent Garden and Glyndebourne, and it’s obvious that some people don’t know a thing about the operas they have paid a lot of money to see.”
The son of an Army officer who never settled long in a job after the First World War, George Michael Sinclair Kennedy was born on February 19 1926. His parents separated when he was 12 and he never saw his father again. At Berkhamsted School, where a sympathetic master (G A Coulson, who also worked as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park) introduced boys to recordings of Holst’s The Planets and Elgar’s Enigma Variations, he harboured an early ambition to become a journalist and left after School Certificate.
His first job was as a copyboy at the Telegraph’s Manchester office, where the tasks of making tea, taking pictures to the photoengravers and collecting galleys from the printers’ “stone” gave him unrivalled experience of how the paper worked. Since it functioned on a small staff under wartime constraints, he was able to write his first piece of music criticism before being called up at 18. Joining the Royal Navy, he was dispatched to the Pacific, where he saw at first hand the rubble of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In Australia he met Cardus, who was working for the Sydney Morning Herald. On learning that Kennedy was from Manchester, Neville Cardus asked if he had heard of John Barbirolli, who had recently joined the Hallé. Kennedy had indeed, having experienced a Barbirolli concert in Manchester in June 1943 that he later described as “like a blinding revelation because of the wonderful sense of colour and the excitement of the music making”.
While still overseas, Kennedy wrote to Vaughan Williams, saying how much he liked his fifth symphony, and received back a letter in the composer’s spidery handwriting saying he hoped that they would meet. Kennedy was also bemused by Vaughan Williams’s mistaking the initials CDR (for coder) after his name and writing to him as “Commander”.
On returning to the Telegraph after the war, Kennedy joined the editorial staff, first as the night editor’s assistant; he eventually became chief sub-editor. At the same time he began reviewing regularly, going at 7pm to the Free Trade Hall before returning to the office at 10pm to write his notice, which he would cut in on the “stone” for publication in the third edition after midnight.
When Kennedy became Northern Editor in 1960 he found himself in charge of the Manchester edition, an operation that employed more than 50 staff covering northern news and sports as well as the arts. Since the typefaces used in London and Manchester were slightly different sizes, the northern subs processed the copy and also rewrote the headlines sent up from London. As their deadlines were half an hour later, the Manchester staff had some justification for believing that their edition was occasionally better than that of their colleagues in Fleet Street.
Michael Kennedy in his office at The Daily Telegraph
But it was clear that the future of the Manchester editions would be limited, because computer technology meant that pages could be transmitted electronically from London. The exasperation of the Manchester men was not assuaged by the contempt shown for them by the Batley-born managing editor, Peter Eastwood, who lured the best reporters south and waged an unrelenting campaign against Kennedy and all things Mancunian. When the exasperated northern sub-editors went on strike during the raging inflation of the mid-1970s, Kennedy produced the edition by himself more than a dozen times, subbing the copy and taking the London theatre reviews down by hand over the telephone. On one occasion, his men were so impressed that they sent him a telegram of congratulation afterwards.
When senior London executives came north to announce that Manchester would close, and invited the Northern Editor to join them on a dais overlooking his staff, Kennedy declined: “I’m a small ships’ man. I’ve got to live with them,” he said, sitting down in the midst of his staff.
As the Manchester edition wound down, Kennedy acted first as a northern-based chief music critic in tandem with Robert Henderson. After a few more years as sole senior critic, in 1989 he switched to The Sunday Telegraph, where he adapted with ease to the more reflective nature of a weekly publication.
After a brief history of the Hallé Orchestra – The Hallé Tradition (1960) – his first foray into biography came when Vaughan Williams, who died in 1958, declared in his will that his widow, Ursula, and Kennedy were jointly to undertake the work. The Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams appeared in 1964 and stands today as a definitive account of the composer’s oeuvre.
Kennedy was a regular dining companion of John and Evelyn Barbirolli, and his biography of the great conductor appeared in 1971, a year after his death.
His A Portrait of Elgar (1968) had also proved influential, and was a reappraisal of the Edwardian composer as an introverted West Country boy who was ill at ease in the metropolitan society to which his wife aspired.
Kennedy’s admiration for his subjects invariably inspired his readers, even if he was occasionally accused of glossing over his subjects’ failings. Indeed, he could be quick to fire off a letter to a rival newspaper if he felt that one of his heroes had been unfairly slighted. Kennedy also wrote lives of Richard Strauss (1976), Benjamin Britten (1981, in the Dent Master Musician series), Adrian Boult (1987) and William Walton (1989). Like his earlier works, they combine astute authority with liberal generosity. He also produced a charming history of the Buxton Festival in 2004 (with a foreword by Roy Hattersley), and edited The Oxford Dictionary of Music (1985), an authoritative reference book that remains widely used. Despite the serious title, it includes snippets of humour, such as the description of avant-garde scores as “often pictorially delightful if musically enigmatic”.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Manchester gradually grew too small for both Kennedy and Cardus. Their hitherto friendly rivalry erupted in 1971 in a feud over The Guardian man’s “damning with faint praise” review of Kennedy’s biography of Barbirolli, a misunderstanding fuelled by some unfortunate sub-editing. It was more than a year before the two men spoke again.
Kennedy was appointed OBE in 1981, and advanced to CBE in 1997. Manchester University awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2003. He was also on the board of the Royal Northern College of Music.
He was kind, self-effacing and always encouraging – “My biggest failing as a critic is that I like music too much,” he once said – while his contributions to the Telegraph’s obituary page were invaluable and always authoritative assessments of those whose music-making he had enjoyed.
During 2014 he was an energetic and active honorary patron of Strauss’s Voice, a series of concerts and talks in Manchester marking the 150th anniversary of the birth of Richard Strauss.
In 1947 Michael Kennedy married Eslyn Durdle, who developed multiple sclerosis. In 1976 he met Joyce Bourne, who worked on the Oxford Dictionary with him. An honourable man, he continued to care for his first wife, marrying Joyce, who survives him, only after Eslyn’s death in 1999.
Michael Kennedy, born February 19 1926, died December 31 2014
Robert Booth’s article (Londoners miss out as homes built as ‘safe deposit boxes’ for foreign buyers, 27 December) demonstrates the economic and social absurdity of allowing international capitalism to construct London’s housing needs. I fear the £1m, one-bedroom flat will soon become commonplace – and in east London, traditionally the manufacturing and working-class hub. Hundreds of thousands of local people will simply not be able to afford to live in London, and thus work in London, if this nonsensical ideological trend continues.
One obvious solution is to build more council houses, controlled by local authorities, where rents are democratically set (not in some boardroom 6,000 miles away) at genuinely affordable levels, so that average earners can live, unsubsidised by the state. Currently, London private rents are too high, so are offset by housing benefit and tax credits, which are then sent directly to rich overseas owners. At least my unsubsidised, much cheaper, council rent of £120 per week stays in Tower Hamlets, to be eventually respent and circulated in Tower Hamlets, on the needs of the local community.
• The takeover of large housing development sites by overseas buyers tells only part of the story. Flats in other large developments being built by UK-based companies, such as those we are seeing in Barnet, are marketed overseas to foreign investors, too. Mayor Boris Johnson’s only response has been his voluntary and unenforceable “concordat” with developers, who agree to market in London at the same time as they offer properties for sale overseas. But this is no answer, as far too many of these prospective new flats are sold “off plan”, which discriminates dramatically against Londoners in need of a home.
A far-eastern investor is happy to put up the cash for properties that might not be completed for a couple of years, in the confident expectation that the investment will deliver huge and secure dividends, given London house-price inflation. Most Londoners cannot afford to pay for two properties at once – having to pay for somewhere to live now while also having to put up the cash payments for an off-plan home that will not be available to occupy for years.
We must restrict these discriminatory off plan sales and give priority to local first-time buyers over overseas investors, who are fuelling property price inflation to the detriment of the many thousands of Londoners in desperate housing need.
Labour parliamentary candidate for Hendon and Labour London assembly member for Barnet and Camden
• In 1947, in the face of the severe post-war housing crisis, the housing minister, Aneurin Bevan, decided to focus public investment in housing on building council houses across the country. The result was the large-scale production of high-quality and popular housing at relatively affordable rents. Bevan took this option because he felt that to only “let the market provide” would result in dwellings of variable quality being developed where it made sense to developers, rather than according to any plan to tackle the crisis. The private developer, he concluded, was not a “plannable instrument”. Public subsidy directed to private developers would simply assist in inflating their profits at the expense of meeting acute housing need.
Given the £2.1bn profits made by developers in 2014, in the midst of the current housing supply and affordability crisis, Bevan’s analysis needs to be urgently revisited, nearly 70 years on.
• Permitting foreign investors to buy up large swaths of public land in London gives the lie to claims there are no brownfield sites available for social housing in the capital. There is no reason why the St John’s Wood barracks and Olympic Park sites could not be given over for publicly owned rented housing, managed by the appropriate local authorities. Not only would this meet a demand for good-quality accommodation in inner London, it would also guarantee an income stream for hard-pressed councils.
• In England there are over 10 empty homes for each of the 60,940 homeless families. If these families could return to their former homes (paying lower rents or mortgages until their financial situation improves), then still over half a million homes would remain empty – amounting to a virtual ghost town of some 1.5 times the size of Birmingham. An absurd situation that Dickens would doubtlessly have relished satirising.
Voorbur, The Netherlands
• A policy suggestion: let’s levy a 5% tax on the value of property where that property is owned by somebody who is not registered to pay tax in the UK. This would deal with both those buying houses as “safe deposit boxes” and British tax exiles keeping property here. For companies, the tax could be levied on all property but offset against corporation tax paid.
While she’s probably correct in everything she writes about next year’s election, Polly Toynbee’s analysis (Opinion, 30 December) leaves out two key influences which will determine the way I vote. First, the vile way in which the British establishment combined – as effectively as blood’s white corpuscles – to prevent a yes vote in the Scottish referendum showed me clearly that institutions I’d previously admired, or which I’d been willing to give the benefit of the doubt – the Labour party, the BBC and the Guardian – were, when it came to defending their vested interests, no different from the Tories, the crown and the Daily Mail. Second, having voted in every election for the past 50 years, no government has ever felt like “my” government. And I can count on the fingers of one hand the years when, with Polly’s peg on my nose, I have felt in any way able to identify with the government.
My democracy-gap cognitive dissonance has long passed. And although I still feel like a stranger here, I’m quite Byronic now: standing among them, with them but not of them, in a shroud of thoughts which are not their thoughts.
• Polly Toynbee is right. It is ludicrous that 200,000 floating voters in marginal constituencies should determine our next government and the fate of the country, while the rest of us go through an empty voting charade. We need proportional representation: two votes, one for a party, one for a local candidate. The number of votes for parties determines the number of MPs from each party, while votes for local candidates determine which candidates, from each party, are selected to become MPs. Every vote counts. And the link between local MP and constituents is strengthened.
Emeritus reader, University College London
Police use of bail and the miners’ strike
- The Guardian, Thursday 1 January 2015 18.20 GMT
Your report on the widespread use by the police of bail to ban people from attending lawful demonstrations (26 December) echoes events 30 years ago. As the cabinet papers are released covering the last four months of the 1984-85 miners’ strike, we need to remind ourselves of the scale of police involvement in the strike and the extensive use of bail conditions to prevent miners picketing. The figures speak for themselves: 11,313 miners were arrested, 5,653 put on trial, 200 imprisoned and, as a result of convictions, 960 miners were sacked by the National Coal Board. Thirty years on, questions of the state’s involvement, fabricated police statements leading to dubious convictions and the aggressive policing at Orgreave on 18 June 1984 remain unanswered. We still need a full public inquiry into the policing of the strike.
Editor, Settling Scores: The Media, the Police and the Miners’ Strike
• I was delighted to read your two pages of tributes (In praise of …, 31 December) and especially what Owen Jones wrote about my friend Mike Jackson, one of the founders of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners during the 1984–85 strike. The tribute to Mike followed that by Giles Fraser to Richard Coles. Richard was also involved in LGSM. He and Jimmy Somerville starred as Bronski Beat at the LGSM benefit at Camden’s Electric Ballroom in December 1984 to raise money for the miners and their families.
• Charles Powell and Bernard Ingham were way out of line from a neutral and non-party civil service (PM’s aides plotted against Heseltine, 30 December). And this was by no means the only example. Even more blatant was Ingham’s appearance at Thatcher’s side in November 1990, facilitating her access to the cameras during the Tory leadership battle. That was the last place a civil servant should have been. Needless to say the pair were subsequently honoured with a peerage and knighthood respectively.
I was enjoying Philippa Perry’s guide to the 12 roles of Christmas (G2, 23 December) and recognising friends and relatives in most of the descriptions. Then I came to the wise teenager who manages the day for her estranged parents “which is hard for her since her mother turned lesbian … and dad’s girlfriend is nearer her age than his”. I assume this is meant to paint a picture of the ultimate dysfunctional family. Isn’t it time to stop having a laugh at the lesbian mum? As one of those mums, I’d like to tell you that my very wise teen daughter and I don’t need to manage anything thanks – my partner and I welcomed her dad on Christmas morning (his partner is older than me, by the way). The world’s moved on and you reflect this in other parts of your paper – don’t let yourselves down with lazy stereotypes.
Working in my front garden before Christmas, I watched a seemingly neverending succession of vans, each from a different company, delivering parcels. It struck me as very inefficient and polluting. A much better way would be to have one van deliver all parcels once each day, maybe the vans could be red …
• Shouldn’t the queen be lending her private planes and cars to health workers travelling to Sierra Leone (Report, 30 December)? Their self-sacrifice would be acknowledged and materially supported. The health risk to those workers would be lessened and the public not put at any risk. As head of the Commonwealth she would be following words with deeds.
• You misunderstand the Jacobite uprisings of the 18th century (Fantasy fans’ pilgrimage to Outlander country, 1 January). They were not anti-English wars but dynastic struggles by the House of Stuart against the British state, which elicited considerable opposition among (particularly lowland) Scots as well as English anti-Jacobites. There was also some support for the Stuart cause among the English, for instance in Lancashire.
• So glad the enduring appeal of old technologies (In a virtual world we cling to what’s real, Opinion, 31 December) is helping to keep newsprint alive. Long may it maintain the Guardian letters page.
• I foresee the Paris climate conference as 2015’s key event, and would like to lend a hand in making it a success. With a front page (30 December) containing three stories, all bad news related to air travel, who will join me in a new year resolve to give up flying?
Sir, Dr Goulding (letter, Dec 29) is right to point out the range of interpretations of “ides aglæcwif”. What is overlooked is that “aglæc” also means “combatant” (Klaeber), which fits with the introduction of Grendel’s mother as “wrecend” (avenger) in Beowulf and her comparison with “wiggryre wifes” (war-horror of woman). A better rendering might be “woman, warrioress”. As beautiful as Seamus Heaney’s poetry is, his translation “monstrous hell-bride” takes a liberty.
Sir, Annaliese Griffiss (letter, Jan 1) accuses Seamus Heaney of taking a liberty in describing Grendel’s mother as “monstrous hell-bride” (letter, Jan 1). It’s called poetic licence.
Chalfont St Giles, Bucks
Sir, In 1976 I bought a house in West Dulwich. Within two years the rates started to escalate. When I fled in 1981 they were £981.
I often wonder if critics of the Poll Tax have any notion of the flaws in the rates (“Poll Tax shows why unelected officials mustn’t wield power”, Dec 31) and the costs if you had the misfortune to live in a borough like Lambeth.
Sir, It is disingenuous for Sir Bob Reid (letter, Jan 1) to stress the importance of completing engineering contracts at the expense of other considerations. The equally critical component of any project is the scheduled delivery date. This was woefully missed. For him to say that memories of the Clapham Junction disaster should deter public complaint over blatant project mismanagement is simply indicative of the cavalier attitude shown by the various rail authorities to the people who pay their wages and their automatic results-ignoring bonuses.
Sir, David Aaronovitch (Abuse inquiry is now a fantasist’s playground”, Jan 1) asks “How did anyone know” that Fiona Woolf had lost the confidence of survivors?” I attended the meeting on October 31 (the day Woolf resigned) between members of the abuse inquiry panel and interested parties, including survivors, support charities, campaigners and lawyers.
The overwhelming consensus was that Woolf did not command confidence. If anything, her lack of experience in child abuse issues was even more important than the fact that she had dined with the Brittans.
There were specific and entirely justified reasons why both Baroness Butler Sloss and Fiona Woolf were not suitable to run the inquiry.
SIR – It is with great humility that I write to congratulate the many people who have been recognised in the New Year’s honours with “services to the community” (report, December 31).
Throughout the length and breadth of our great country, these unsung people are making a vast contribution. I raise a glass of good cheer to them all and thank them for their considerable efforts.
Not long ago we ignored these people and instead honoured, if that is the right word, typists and secretaries working for the government.
SIR – Why do the New Year’s honours consistently get handed out to actors? I’m sure pretending for a living, attending award ceremonies and fending off adulation is a challenging way to earn a fortune, but are there not other realms that are more deserving? Perhaps nurses, police or teachers?
Handcross, West Sussex
SIR – It is to the Daily Telegraph’s credit that it named Paul Cummins and Tom Piper, who created the display of poppies at the Tower of London, as Britons of the year (Features, December 30). What a fitting tribute to two men who make one as proud to be British today as we were in 1914-1918.
SIR – Once again the New Year’s honours list contains names ranging from the bizarre to the loony. This is epitomised in the damehood given to the Poet Laureate. I don’t know how many poems she has written recently, but 2014 saw the end of a 13-year war in Afghanistan, and I suspect there are plenty of genuine unsung heroes out there who have not been recognised on any awards list.
Dr Martin Henry
Good Easter, Essex
SIR – I found your inclusion of Alex Salmond and Nigel Farage (“Top 10 Britons of the year: Part 1”, Features, December 29), who appear to be determined to destroy the United Kingdom in the pursuit of their own political ambitions, to be, at best, laughable.
To place them higher than Prince Harry was an insult to a young man who has done much towards highlighting the problems faced by our injured service personnel.
R W Mansell
North Hykeham, Lincolnshire
SIR – It is outrageous that Jonny Wilkinson did not receive a knighthood in the New Year’s honours list. As usual, it’s the time-serving, pen-pushing civil servants who are handed the gongs.
SIR – Another honours list, and still no knighthood for Gareth Malone, who continues to give purpose and direction to people’s lives, and fosters community spirit, through helping them to discover in themselves the joy of music.
SIR- Still no knighthood for Ken Dodd?
SIR – Those who carp at the honouring of Fiona Woolf, the former Lord Mayor of London who stepped down as chair of a child abuse inquiry because of her links to Leon Brittan, are nasty, brutish and small-minded.
Bembridge, Isle of Wight
SIR – Can it be that not one of the volunteer medical workers treating and preventing the spread of the Ebola outbreak has been recognised on the New Year’s honours list?
Peter de Snoo
SIR – Am I the only person who wonders what, exactly, the worthy “Ms Clare Barnfather. Director (Grade 6), Stakeholder and Engagement Team and No 10 Relationship Manager – Marketing, Department for Business Innovation and Skills. (London)” has done to earn an MBE in the honours list?
SIR – I can see a time when everyone will have a degree and everyone will have an “honour”.
Seaview, Isle of Wight
SIR – Mark Carne, chief executive of Network Rail, has wisely decided not to take his bonus following the chaos on the railways (report, December 31).
Are there any circumstances today in which such bonuses would be withheld by an employer? The word bonus seems to have changed its meaning, at least in the public sector, from a reward for exceptional performance to just another way of paying part of the salary, perhaps to disguise the eye-watering amounts handed over to some executives of public bodies.
The money comes from our taxes. We should be told the details of these bonus arrangements.
A name for lean times
SIR – Geoff Blackman (Letters, December 10) is right: we need a longer period of austerity. But the real problem lies not in the programme, but in the word. Austerity carries connotations of serious deprivation and grinding poverty, none of which really apply to Britain now.
We need another word or phrase to denote living within our means. “National prudence”? Sounds like a racehorse. In any case, when Gordon Brown tried it, he corrupted the word beyond meaning.
Any other suggestions?
Innocent as a fox
SIR – Is a fox really “an innocent wild animal” (Letters, December 29)?
I have, or had, a few lambs and chickens, not to mention my daughter’s guinea pig, that would have begged to differ.
NHS hospital beds
SIR – Dr Robert Walker (Letters, December 30) describes the assumption which NHS planners have used for many years – that bed requirements will dwindle with time.
When I was a senior hospital consultant years ago, we received a visit from our regional NHS planners. During our discussion, they proudly produced a graph that showed bed usage against time up to that point, and then proceeded to extrapolate by drawing the line of the graph forward in time. Because bed usage had been progressively declining, the extrapolation showed that future bed requirements would eventually be zero.
Dr Christopher Birch
Best possible outcome
SIR – As I reflect on the events of 2014, my greatest pleasure was seeing the face of Alex Salmond following the result of the September referendum.
However, given the way that he has bounced back and again threatens to destabilise the Government, perhaps it would have been better for him to have won, and now be faced with trying to run an independent Scotland with greatly reduced oil revenues. In that way, his preposterous claims regarding Scottish self-sufficiency would have been exposed even more quickly.
Lt Col John Landau (retd)
SIR – Anybody who insists on calling this year twenty-fifteen will leave many of us – especially members of the Armed Forces – confused. To us, twenty-fifteen is a quarter past eight in the evening.
Richard J C English
King’s Lynn, Norfolk
The risk of brave volunteers bringing back Ebola
The unit for Ebola patients at the Royal Free Hospital in London (Getty)
SIR – I wish the nurse Pauline Cafferkey (“Ebola nurse should have been kept at Heathrow”, report, December 31) a swift recovery from the Ebola virus she contracted while doing very brave work in Sierra Leone. This does, however, bring into question comments by Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, on the relatively small risk to the population in general.
The protective suit worn by Miss Cafferkey obviously did not give full protection from the virus. So are all the medical volunteers at more risk than they realise and consequently likely to bring the virus to Britain when they return?
At Heathrow, Miss Cafferkey was ineffectually screened, having had her temperature taken seven times and still being allowed to travel onwards.
I believe that there are no more doses of the drug used successfully to treat William Pooley left in this country. What would happen if a larger number of suspected victims arrived home simultaneously?
SIR – The Government makes more effort in preventing rabies or foot and mouth disease entering the country than it is prepared to employ with the potential Ebola pandemic.
People coming from areas where Ebola is rife need quarantining for the incubation period. This raises questions of human rights and logistics, which politicians seem frightened to address.
It is worth remembering that the rate of spread of the Black Death across Europe in the mid 14th century was governed by the speed and range of sailing ships. They didn’t have aeroplanes then. We are sitting on a global time-bomb.
Corfe Mullen, Dorset
There is nothing like a Dane – at a price
SIR – Judith Woods (Features, December 30) writes about the advantages of the Danish way of life. Their social security system does guarantee cover from the cradle to the grave, but at a cost. Taxes start at 50 per cent, and the cost of living is far higher than in Britain.
A Danish friend was recently diagnosed with throat cancer and successfully operated upon two days later. The British NHS is a bottomless pit, with our ever increasing population and drugs unknown a decade ago. If we want the sort of health service enjoyed by the Danes, we have to be prepared to pay for it with higher taxes.
SIR – A century ago a Danish relative of mine left Jutland to live in the United States. He was 40 years old. Within a year of living there he was diagnosed with a terminal illness and elected to return to Denmark to die. Forty years later he was still alive.
SIR – I visited Denmark in May. We flew back from Aalborg where a sign at Arrivals (pictured) sums up the happy Danes nicely.
Globe and Mail:
Alan Bernstein is the president and CEO of CIFAR (the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research), and was the founding president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
In June of last year, federal Minister of Health Rona Ambrose launched a new Advisory Panel on Healthcare Innovation. This important panel, chaired by Dr. David Naylor, is charged with advising government on areas of innovation that could bring the greatest value to Canada’s health care system.
Two months later, British Prime Minister David Cameron launched the 100,000 Genomes Project. Its goal is to sequence the complete genomes of 100,000 people with cancer or other diseases and ultimately relate these genetic changes to better diagnostics and treatments. This project is feasible because the cost and time required to sequence complete human genomes has fallen from $3-billion and four years, to about $1,000 and less than a week.
The information emerging from genomics heralds a new era of personalized or precision medicine. New ways of diagnosing, treating and preventing disease will be based on our rapidly emerging understanding of human health and disease.
Treating disease based on understanding seems intuitively obvious: how can you fix a car if you don’t know what’s wrong with it? But when I started out in cancer research in the 1970s, there were only vague hints of what lay behind the abnormal behavior of cancer cells. Consequently, there was no obvious path forward.
Today, we know that all cancers result from changes in our genes. And we now have the molecular and computational tools to scan the three billion bases of DNA that make up our genome, and identify the changes that are contributing to the cancer in any given patient.
From this new understanding is emerging entirely new ways of diagnosing and treating cancer. Other advances – including new diagnostic imaging modalities, immunotherapy, and stem cells – have created a rich and diverse palette of approaches to solving the challenge of human cancer.
Contrast this with schizophrenia, bipolar disease, and age-related dementia. Twenty per cent of Canadians will experience a mental illness sometime over their lifetimes. Despite their importance, this large and diverse group of brain disorders is poorly understood. As a result, diagnostic and therapeutic approaches are neither precise nor effective, nor do we have a clear path forward. But our experience cracking the cancer problem will soon transform how we diagnose, treat or prevent this complex set of human illnesses.
At a recent meeting of CIFAR’s program in genetic networks, CIFAR Fellows from the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto and the Hospital for Sick Children presented groundbreaking research on new ways to analyze and understand genomic alterations involved in cancer, autism, spinal muscular atrophy and other diseases. This research is opening up new understanding of the consequences of these genetic alterations, and new ways of diagnosing disease, identifying at-risk individuals, and developing better drugs.
As the Naylor panel contemplates changes in health care delivery, there is a larger lesson to learn from this research: a modern, cost-effective health care system is not the old system plus genomics. It will be a new health care system, an entirely new paradigm for organizing and implementing care based on our emerging understanding of human biology and the complex interactions between our genetic inheritance and our life experiences. It is not nibbling around the edges of the health care system, tinkering with the odd change here or there. Rather, it will demand a new way of organizing health care, requiring new skills and new infrastructure.
I have two recommendations for the Naylor Committee: first, don’t focus on process and governance. That’s a uniquely Canadian pastime and an excuse for avoiding real change. Instead, focus on building a health system for the 21st centure, not the 20th. In partnership with the provinces, the federal government should launch a decade-long multimillion dollar initiative whose goals are threefold: first, to employ the new science of “omics” to understand the underlying biology of human health and disease and to integrate that understanding into rapid and precise clinical diagnostics; second, to harness that understanding to develop, in partnership with industry, precision therapies that are targeted to the molecular alterations responsible for disease; and third, to develop targeted prevention strategies based on our emerging ability to identify individuals at risk based on the interplay between our genetic inheritance and lifestyle.
The Naylor panel can chart a course for Canada’s health system based on the revolution in our understanding of the biology of human disease. Canada has the opportunity to lead the world in building a health system that takes full advantage of today’s science, and that stands ready to contribute to and benefit from tomorrow’s science. That would be true healthcare innovation.
Sir, – Further to your editorial “A strong performance” (December 30th), while clearly welcoming the improvement in our national finances and the decline in unemployment, isn’t it time that we stopped using the very blunt instrument that is GDP as a measure of our success or failure, when it fails miserably to do so?
Measuring economic activity alone has already led us up a number of very costly cul-de-sacs. GDP includes economic activity caused by and dealing with many negative aspects of our society.
For example,on a domestic level we can expect to see an increase in GDP resulting from the rapid rise in obesity and the associated illnesses; a wide range of illnesses both mental and physical resulting from our unhealthy relationship with alcohol; increasing storm damage resulting from man-made climate change; the increasing technology and energy needed to make water drinkable; and the many societal impacts of increasing inequality.
On the global level, along with everyone else, Ireland is rapidly depleting the natural resources that we rely on entirely for our wellbeing – in the ridiculous expectation of an exponentially increasing GDP.
Since we live on a planet with finite resources, growth that surpasses the resources of a finite planet cannot be maintained and it is therefore a matter of “when” and not “if” the current model fails.
A model based on unrestricted economic growth that relies on the depletion of our natural capital and threatens our ecosystem services is just not sustainable. It is time to face up to this reality and to start measuring what we need to achieve for the wellbeing of this and future generations and for the health and stability of the natural environment on which our social and economic sustainability entirely depends. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – So long as our neighbours in Britain and continental Europe do not suffer an economic relapse then we should have cause for hope. We are not out of the woods yet. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – In discussing the health of the economy, journalists and economists frequently remind us of the difference between gross domestic product (GDP) and gross national product (GNP) to cool our jets when the former is invoked by politicians to fuel rumours of recovery.
Apparently even GNP is a distorted reflection of our economic strength – since the profits of “redomiciled plcs” are treated as part of GNP even though they mostly belong to shareholders outside the country.
Despite this, GDP and GNP data are still used to justify important decisions.
Could I suggest they put their heads together and come up with a formula that does accurately measure productivity?
I suggest it be called gross actual product – or GAP. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – During the first six months of 2014, some 200 rockets and mortars were fired from Gaza at villages in southern Israel. Israel’s low-key response had no effect on the attacks. Those, including Dermot O’Rourke and D Flinter (December 30th), who criticise its operations in the subsequent conflict as “disproportionate” need to recognise the frustration within Israel that the ongoing disruption to life in the south of the country caused by Gazan militants is considered a non-story internationally. The world only seems to take notice when meaningful action is taken. – Is mise ,
Sir, – When Dermot O’Rourke wonders if “killing 469 children and injuring 3,000 in Gaza is the best way to stop rockets falling in Israel”, and when D Flinter reinforces this line of questioning by asking if those rockets that actually landed seemed “to cause less actual damage than its own regularly repeated mowing of the grass”, it seems to imply that because Israel did not suffer mass casualties from Hamas’s rocket barrage that it was somehow ineffective.
This is not the case. Hamas launched nearly 4,000 missiles at Israel, which caused a wave of psychological terror, if not physical injuries throughout the country.
Moreover, the only reason Mr Flinter’s so-called “rag-tag resistance” did not kill scores of Israel civilians is the success of Israel’s Iron Dome defensive system.
If this rocket interception system had not worked, hundreds if not thousands of Israelis would have died. One then has to wonder if Israel is being castigated because it successfully protected its civilian population, and furthermore, if it had suffered mass casualties would it have been the focus of such a mass global condemnation? – Yours, etc,
Dr KEVIN McCARTHY,
A chara, – Recent correspondence on the letters page refers to a war in Gaza. I contend that the last military assault on Gaza cannot be rationally described as a war. The use of the word “war” conjures up images of two or more armies of more or less comparable strength, engaged in combat. This surely was not the case in Gaza.
One side possessed and used the most sophisticated and deadly weapons known to man, with the world’s only superpower on the sideline giving financial and moral support.
The other side possessed and used weapons that can only be described as militarily pathetic and had no other nation in the world willing to step up to the plate in its defence. – Is mise,
Sir, – After reading Tim Pat Coogan’s description (“Commemorating 1916: We need to rekindle a spirit of idealism”, Opinion, December 29th) of the incompetence and corruption in independent Ireland, rampant not only in the State, but also in the dominant church (remember Ireland was a virtual theocracy for decades after independence), I’m surprised he did not come to the obvious conclusion. This is that maybe the Irish are not the best people to govern Ireland, and maybe, just maybe, Pearse and his pals, who had virtually no support from the Irish people at the time, might have been better advised to leave well enough alone. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The aims of the Irish Volunteers during the Easter Rising in 1916 should not be confused with tribal differences within Northern Ireland from 1969 onwards. We should be careful about the orientation of celebrations. We cannot afford to damage our new relations with the UK through a highjacking of historical commemorations by vested interests within Northern Ireland. Old rivalries on both sides will use such events to blow trumpets of intolerance in order to turn back the clock for the rest of Ireland and the UK. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – While the Arts Council is cutting funding to the O’Brien Press (December 29th), it may come as a surprise to many that it continues to fund travelling circuses that exploit wild animals for human entertainment, an activity which is ethically dubious and has absolutely no artistic merit.
The ISPCA believes that the council has breached its own animal welfare policy as travelling circuses cannot provide a suitable environment for wild animals, such as tigers and lions, which spend up to 90 per cent of their time in small beast-wagons and are subjected to constant movement and noise which are well-known stressors for wild animals.
In a time of austerity, it is outrageous that the Irish taxpayer is subsidising wild animal circuses at the same time as many countries are banning them on animal welfare or ethical grounds.
The ISPCA will continue to call for a ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses and calls on the Arts Council to stop funding an activity which should be consigned to the history books. – Yours, etc,
Dr ANDREW KELLY,
Chief Executive Officer,
National Animal Centre,
Keenagh, Co Longford.
Sir, – Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett makes an important point in stating that the party whip does not do any good on matters of conscience, such as the right to life of the unborn (“Barrett calls for free vote on conscience issues”, December 30th).
Had Taoiseach Enda Kenny borne this in mind, he may not have lost TDs and potential voters that he will need in the next election.
I think most reasonable people would respect politicians who openly expressed a belief based on conscience, even if they disagreed with that view, and our political system would be all the better for it. – Yours, etc,
Templeogue, Dublin 16.
Sir, – Well if Tom Lyons considers it appropriate to include Harry Crosbie in the “Losers” category for 2014 (“Winners outnumber losers as economy recovers”, December 30th), the Irish nation deserves equal standing.
Harry had the vision to deliver the Point and the wonderful Bord Gáis Theatre. Rather than retain the latter when it came under the control of Nama, the theatre was sold off for €28 million to John and Bernie Gallagher. Surely it won’t be long before we hear once again about proposals to relocate the Abbey Theatre; the last time George’s Dock was mentioned, the estimates were for a cost of up to €170 million. That’s what these projects cost.
And we sold Harry’s creation for €28 million!
Harry is not the loser here; the State is. – Yours, etc,
What an excellent article by David McWilliams (December 31) about the death of the small towns in Ireland.
He is absolutely correct in his analysis that economics is at the heart of this process and that every service or business lost has a multiplier effect on the wider community.
Thankfully, people are beginning to appreciate this fact. Recently, on a bitterly cold December day, over a thousand people from West Offaly protested in Ferbane about the plans by Ulster Bank to close that town’s only bank. Other communities are staging similar protests in an effort to retain post offices and Garda stations.
In the words of French writer Victor Hugo: “Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come”.
Let 2015 be the year when all small communities take a stance on the loss of rural services and the damage being done to rural life.
Ferbane Co Offaly
Waterloo a European victory
This year marks the anniversary of Wellington’s victory over Napoleon at Waterloo. It is a year perhaps in which the British and Europeans can recognise their profound debt to Ireland.
Wellington, of course, was not English, but Irish. He was the son of the Professor of Music at Dublin University (TCD), born opposite Kildare House (now Leinster House) on May 1, 1769, when Ireland was still a nation independent of Britain (as it was to remain until 1800, when Wellington himself was in India).
Wellington’s army at Waterloo on June 18, 1815 was not the British Army of the Peninsula, although it was strengthened by British regiments hardened by the 1808-1814 liberation of Portugal and Spain from Napoleon.
Wellington’s army at Waterloo was an allied army. It contained, for example, some 17,000 Dutch troops under the Prince of Orange. The Duke of Brunswick died at the head of his gallant Brunswickers at Quatre Bras on June 16, 1815 (a day earlier he had attended the Duchess of Richmond’s ball). The King’s German Legion – a British army unit of expatriate German personnel – fought with the utmost gallantry at Hougoumont (along with Hanoverians and Dutch), La Haye Sainte and in the centre of Wellington’s line.
I do not have the space or time here for a history of the battle, but I appeal for historical truth to replace vested interest.
Waterloo was a united European victory against French tyranny. It ought to be celebrated as such in 2015.
Dr Gerald Morgan
The Chaucer Hub
Trinity College, Dublin 2
Fair weather friends
There has been some debate about the bias of our weather forecasters towards Munster.
I remember a time when Bord Failte had to have words with British television stations about their persistent ” rain coming in from Ireland” every time they forecast inclement weather to their audiences.
Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim
Famine sitcom a despicable idea
The news that Channel 4 has commissioned a comedy on the famine – an Gorta Mor – shows just how crass and shamefully shallow audiences have become.
I am sure Hugh Travers, who will write the series to be called ‘Hungry’, is a talented and able fellow .
I am also sure that while it is possible to make people laugh at agonising deprivation and despair, I am not sure whether one should want to.
I think the Jewish people would quite rightly find a comedy about the Holocaust to be offensive, and we know how the Muslim world was convulsed by a Scandinavian cartoon.
Controversialists will suggest we should get over ourselves, and pull our heads out of the past.
Channel 4 probably thinks Ireland has put all this behind it.
Where does the notion of a million people starving to death fit in a frothy cappuccino culture?
The thing about injustice is that it doesn’t go away.
People can come to terms with it, and get on with life, but the wrong remains a wrong. The famine defined the contours of Irish society. It gave us the diaspora, as a population was halved. It also gave us gombeen men, soupers and a legacy of submission and defeat that has taken 150 years to come to terms with.
Am I the only one to feel uncomfortable with the fact that all that pain and suffering should become a laughing matter?
Killiney, Co Dublin
Reflections on technocracy
For a long time, I felt the same way as Paddy Fitzpatrick, who in his recent letter (January 1) called for the inclusion of unelected individuals in Government based on their proven ability in their ministerial area.
Technocracy seems like a terrific idea, and a way of guaranteeing the best, most capable people are those who get the (arguably) most important jobs in Ireland.
However, there is also a lot to be said for our current system of ministers being chosen from among the ranks of Leinster House politicians. This system, which trades expertise for accountability to the electorate, but which goes some way to bridging the gap left by that trade by providing departmental civil servants and advisors to attempt to help the ministers make as educated a decision as possible.
There is also a lot to be said for those who understand the nuances of politics, and who have the ability to rally people behind them and their ideas, which would likely be lacking in technocrats.
If the choice is between those who know what they’re doing but without deferral to the people, and those who broadly know what they’re doing but with every deferral, the deferrers should win out. Such is democracy.
In search of the impossible
Aidan Devon is looking for a “dynamic leader” who has no “ego or power” (Letters, January 1). I wish him well with that.
Sutton, Dublin 13
Government does not care
I read with interest Jim O’Sullivan’s letter “Pension cut story is just a ploy” (December 31). I agree in broad terms that this Government does not care about the poor or disadvantaged.
After the first Fine Gael budget I emailed every minister, stating that the whole strategy was an attack on the poor. Two months later, I got one reply. It was a simple dismissal.
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan states now that those on €70,000 are the “squeezed middle”. At the height of the boom I earned €70,000 and had never been so well off. I then lost my job. After a year on the dole I got another job on €22,000, and was delighted to have it.
Eventually though the wages proved too little to sustain the mortgage payments and I had to sell my house. I now rent and am able to draw breath again.
The point is that those at the trough have no idea about real life. Their wages are so over inflated that they probably never have to think about where the money is coming from. The system corrupts. The Dail is just a boys’ club for the specialist elite – and they are like Greek gods looking down on us mere mortals.
Oranmore, Co Galway