Tribes and Tribulations
This is the second of a 3-part post, published on consecutive days. Part 1, Where We Are, was published yesterday. Part 3, Getting There, comes out tomorrow.
So now, a few ramblings around how I hope things may turn out. But first, let’s talk about the gross structural bias against Labour winning, and I’m not just talking about the fact that most of our so-called newspapers are owned by foreign or tax-dodging “non-doms” with an agenda far removed from public opinions. The new phenomenon of “fake news” and social media misuse makes another twist in the knife.
Generally speaking, I don’t like generalisations. My May 2017 post Curiouser and Uncuriouser classifies people into two camps: those who carry on taking a sceptical view of what they see or hear – and retain a sort of child-like curiosity to continue to learn throughout their lives and those who simply believe whatever nonsense they’re told by someone who asserts an air of authority: The “curious” and the “uncurious”. The important difference is that the curious carry on thinking for themselves; the uncurious don’t. None of us is immune from “uncuriosity”. I spent the best part of forty years of my life sitting on the fence about the existence, or not, of God. I was busy climbing the greasy corporate pole and being a father with a house and mortgage to pay for. I put God’s putative existence on the “too difficult” pile, called myself an agnostic and hid behind semantics like “It all depends what you mean by God”. It was only when circumstances allowed me some time to think, it was only a matter of 2-3 days before I firmly jumped off the fence and “came out” as a committed atheist, and subsequently a Humanist, a group with whom I share a common set of values and, broadly, the same ethical code, derived entirely by rational thought. So we all make our choices of how we spend our time and what we think it’s worth thinking about.
So far, so non-judgmental. But there are some clear facts and correlations – and gross generalisations. Tory voters, stereotypically, were modestly educated and fit firmly in the “uncurious” camp. For Labour, it’s much more complicated: Labour gets the well-educated (and presumably “curious”/ well-informed) middle class votes and a steadily falling number of traditional, mainly white, working class voters who have clearly lost the safe, union-backed steady jobs and struggled in the “gig economy” described in part 1. The former group (well informed) voted overwhelmingly Remain and latter overwhelmingly Leave. Call these second group of referendum votes a “fuck you all” protest, if you like. I will leave you to judge whether Jeremy Corbyn is playing a clever, long game so as not to upset either camp or simply acting instinctively from his known earlier Eurosceptic views derived essentially from a (Tony) Bennite perspective.
There are some encouraging developments. I regularly scan the “The Papers” page on the BBC website each morning, to see how the enemy – you know, the usual suspects – report the previous day’s events. The Telegraph and Express simply didn’t cover May’s climbdown in Brussels (red lines) last week and the Mail simply had some bland and misleading cross-reference to an inside page story which was, I assume equally spun to the opposite of the truth. Here’s a handy summary of what she conceded; the simpering acquiescence of Johnson and Gove suggests leading Leave extremists in the Cabinet are lying low for the moment. It’s a delight to see the right-wing press’s bewilderment. For those too busy to read the article at the link, the concessions cover Northern Ireland, Fish, Duration of Transition Period and Citizens Rights. May has rubbed out some of her red lines she had used to appease her extremist wing. However, the EU made it clear over a year ago where they would not budge, so May has just wasted 15 months fighting internal party battles. Only fish seems to have caught the public imagination – of which more, shortly.
The other piece of good news is the imminent bankruptcy for UKIP who, a judge ordered last week, must pay £175,000 legal costs. With their toxic previous rich funders likely to abandon them and a succession of leadership changes prompted by leaders with a liking for racist women 25 years their junior, UKIP will shortly be as dead as a smoked kipper. Hurray! And not before time.
BBC Stops Giving Airtime to Idiots
There’s another thing that must change: the BBC must stop giving undue prominence and airtime to idiots, in particular, that which I called Mr Slime in Mr Men 2016. Mr Slime has stood for 7 elections and failed at every attempt. He has been given 32 appearances on BBC1’s Question Time, 10 more than Caroline Lucas, who has actually been a real MP for 8 years.
And so, back to fish. Prime Ministers sometimes have to make very difficult decisions between a bad outcome and a very bad one. Sacrificing the fisherfolks’ interest short-term is hardly the most difficult decision a PM has to make. Think of Blair’s capitulation to the blackmail by the Saudi ruling family over BAE corruption. Would you be a Prime Minister who watched as the petrol stations ran out of fuel?
The reaction of the crazies was pathetic: no license to tie up the boat, Rees-Mogg on the shore, Mr Slime throwing dead fish. Crass and puerile don’t even begin to describe it. John Crace has an amusing account here. As an MEP, Mr Slime was a member of the fisheries committee, where he could have defended the interests of the UK fishing industry at 42 meetings of the committee. He showed up once – thanks again to John Crace for that interesting fact you may not have seen. I always knew Mr Slime was a tosser – we now know he’s a dead fish tosser.
That sorry episode brought to mind Monty Python’s Fish Slapping Dance:
Don’t you just wish the figure falling in the water was Mr Slime and it happens again… and again… and again…
And talking of idiots, the Daily Mail seems to be in the habit of running campaigns on the least important things. First, it was the colour of the new UK passports: blue (“Will it give free passage to 27 other countries?” “No, but it’s blue…”) Then the Mail got into a hell of a lather when their manufacture was awarded to a French company. (Ahem… The UK is still part of the EU and subject to its procurement rules. In any case, it saves £120m over its British competitor. Wouldn’t a “free, global” UK do the same, especially as the chosen supplier meets all the cybersecurity checks, as the government said on Friday.) Do we yet have sufficient grounds yet to get Paul Dacre sectioned under Mental Health legislation?
NHS Stops Being a Political Football
I’ve said earlier that the Tories are bound to split; it’s unavoidable – to get rid of the Crazies, like Rees-Mogg, Johnson, Fox, Dorries et al. Basically all those of the 62 MPs who signed the “Hard Brexit” letter a month ago because they actually believed it, rather than for party loyalty reasons. That’s probably close to the 35 Crazies I identified 10 days earlier.
That would be good, because part of my Promised Land vision is this: any political party which is serious to gain power as the Government of the UK must sign up to, and stick to an NHS Pledge. A rough attempt at such a pledge follows:
“If my Party gains power in a general election, I pledge to sustain funding for the NHS during my term of office at the average of the 6 best (i.e. highest) EU countries, as a percentage of GDP.”
This is no magic bullet and hard funding decisions will still be needed as the population ages and technology enables more (and costlier) options to keep people alive and well. But the key point is this: it stops the NHS from being a political football, subject to constant tinkering and reorganisation. Until now, in my view, the Tories could never be trusted to support the NHS and its values in any meaningful way. I want to live in a country where not signing the pledge automatically disqualified a party from being considered mainstream – and respectable. May’s announcement of a 3-year spending plan is welcome, but there were no figures or ideas whether this was new money. Another example of the Tories being dragged along by public opinion – it feels like drawing teeth.
My guess is it would add about 20% to the total NHS bill: a lot of money, but if others can do it, so can we. It’s all a matter of priorities. Would you rather have 3 billion quid spent on an aircraft carrier with no planes?
The average cost in 3 years’ time (i.e. including the Government’s 6% recent pay offer) of an NHS clinical staff member (doctors, nurses and all other similar jobs) I estimate as £55,300. (This includes their salary, direct and indirect overheads, i.e. the total cost to the taxpayer.) My base source is a National Audit Office report from February 2016, so it’s pretty pukka. £3 billion would pay for 54,000 NHS clinical staff – admittedly for only a year, but it gives you a flavour. You choose.
Practically everyone has been, or has a close relative, who has been to an NHS hospital within the last year. If so, one clear fact emerges: people come from all over the world and work in our NHS. They work seamlessly and harmoniously together using a system that works: nearly all the time. If only 10% of them return to their home country, the NHS would be truly fucked, to use some medical jargon.
I’ve had 5 stays in an NHS hospital since Christmas Day, totalling 6 weeks. In all that time, the care and attention I received was perfect: 10 out of 10 – except for 2 members of staff, both on the same ward. Not too bad, I think. But the NHS works mainly on one thing: exploitation: exploitation of the goodwill of the people who choose healthcare as a career. Tired, dedicated people working 12.5 hours shifts, cancelling days off to provide cover for the chronic shortages of staff.
This was a constant problem – especially at night. One morning, they were so short-staffed, the ward sister served breakfast, because there was no one else to do it. And all done with a cheerful friendliness that brightened everyone’s day. Thank you, Jackie! You’re a star – 11 out of 10 at least. And to the kind, caring woman from Zimbabwe – sadly, I forget her name – who gave me a hug when I was still in a state of shock when they told me what was actually wrong.. This was 10 minutes after a brilliant consultant, originally from Pakistan, took time out from his busy clinic to break the news in person (a relatively rare form of blood cancer) because, in his words, his first thought was “how would I like to be treated if I were the patient?”.
So, I say to anyone who thinks targeting numbers of net migration figures is even a sane thing to do, I say this. Think. And think again.
Tomorrow, in part 3, Getting There, I share my thoughts on how things may turn out – if we’re very, very lucky – and vigilant.