Archive for the 'current affairs' Category

Proud of my country?

November 21, 2022

I’m conscious of John of Gaunt’s pride in his country, and find myself thinking what can I be proud of in today’s England (or Britain)? I’m proud of the NHS, battered and constrained as it is, and hope it endures to look after me in my final years. I feel a great sense of loyalty to it: my mother trained as a children’s nurse as it came into existence, and made sure we had all that it offered to keep us healthy as children, all the jabs, the free orange juice and rose hip syrup and codliver oil.

My father was an exile from Poland, and after the war ended nobody wanted him and his comrades any more: they were foreigners, taking away jobs from the British etc etc – where have we heard that one recently? Reluctantly he and his mates were allowed to remain, all sorts of obstacles were put in their way, they were used and exploited. Nevertheless he was loyal to his adoptive country and eventually took British nationality.

My memories of my younger days are of a country that provided work for almost everyone, benefits (paltry, perhaps) for those that needed them, grants for students rather than loans, and offered supplementary benefits, as they were called back then, even to students who did not find work in the holidays. There were very few people living on the streets and no foodbanks. There was unemployment and poverty, but not the outright misery and destitution as we see nowadays.

Although I regarded it as my right, I had eight years of state support through my studies, and I recognise the value of what the country invested in me; equally, I can see that I paid it all back over the years through taxation and through service as a teacher.

Back in the past housing was affordable and rents were controlled: one income would support a family, even my father’s meagre wages, supplemented by overtime and some moonlighting. And although he always loathed them, trade unions were able to defend the working people and ensure a reasonable standard of wages, working conditions and pensions.

I remember grand projects: Concorde, Intercity 125 trains, the struggle to join the Common Market which became the European Community and then the European Union. All of my travel as a student was made so much easier by our membership, and I was glad of the new-found freedom, and the ability to encounter other peoples and cultures.

Like any old codger, I’m waxing lyrical about the days of my youth. But I lived through the Cuban missile crisis and Reagan’s cruise missiles and I did not feel as endangered then as I do now under the rule of incompetent liars. I lived through the so-called winter of discontent in 1978-9; it wasn’t that bad and there certainly wasn’t the feeling of impending doom that many of us are currently fighting off.

I have seen so much that was not perfect but that was decent enough, and certainly far better than we have now, deliberately demolished, destroyed and sold off to other countries through the greed and rapaciousness started by Thatcher and her cronies. I don’t need to ponder why there is a housing crisis, a shortage of homes: I remember what she did. I don’t need to bother my head with whether Johnson or Truss was a worse prime minister, as Thatcher scoops all the awards there.

There are many good things in the history of our country and these islands; there are as many dark pages, and the difference between us and a country like Germany, for instance, is that we do not wish to confront and recognise that dark past; we are waylaid and misled by those who think that our past glories mean we are automatically entitled to a glorious future… We are a small island off the coast of Europe, that Europe can ignore without too great a loss; it’s not the same the other way round.

More than anything I have an image of a country with its head in the sand, ruled by an aristocracy which has embedded itself deep in our national psyche over a millennium; we invented a form of democracy a couple of centuries back and think it’s still fit for purpose; we are collectively unwilling to face the challenges of the future, whether they are economic or meteorological, and we allow rich and vested interests shamelessly to play to the darkest sides of people in order to hang on to their privilege.

I have very mixed feelings about England and Britain. It’s my home, for better or worse. There are things I have been grateful for; there are things I love, but increasingly there are things I truly despair about.

This England…

November 8, 2022

This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,
Is now leased out, I die pronouncing it,
Like to a tenement or pelting farm:
England, bound in with the triumphant sea
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds:
That England, that was wont to conquer others,
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.
Ah, would the scandal vanish with my life,
How happy then were my ensuing death!

I’ve found John of Gaunt’s famous speech from Shakespeare’s Richard II in my mind quite frequently of late; I enjoyed teaching the play to sixth-formers a number of times. When I looked it up, I found that rather too much of it was a paean to royalty, kings, nobility, conquest and colonialism and other such things I abhor… but the lines in the section I’ve quoted above still strike a chord of sorts in these oh so weird times that our country is living through.

I say our country: Gaunt speaks of England, which is correct in the context of his times. Today, many Scots would understandably be shot of us, perhaps many Welsh too, and in Ireland (at least, the part we still retain) things do not look so wonderful. And it’s the English politicians, aristocracy and upper classes that still very much call the shots for everyone in this (dis)United Kingdom.

I say our country, including myself in that, and perhaps some readers will find that curious too, given my wont for emphasising my half-Polishness. But I can escape neither part of my ancestry, nor would I; born and raised, lived and worked in England, I have imbibed Englishness as much as the next person.

But on to the speech, in which Gaunt is inveighing against the incompetence and corruption of the times. No change there, then. Land suggests something more solid, more grounded than country, doesn’t it? And the multiple repetition of dear in the first couple of lines, and as the first word of the second line, adds emphasis. The derogatory comparison – look what we’re reduced to now – of the fourth line, gains from the stress of tenement coming just before the caesura, and the pelting farm at the end of the line.

From grim reality, we soar briefly to the ideal, England, triumphant, envied by the god Neptune, before we are back to shame, blots and bonds (note the alliteration there!) along with rotten. Back to England – the ebb and flow is an important part of the rhetorical effect – a conqueror nation, now self-conquered, and shame(ful) is repeated. You can sense the spluttering rage coming through the repetition as Gaunt stresses his point, lost for words and driven to repeat ones he’s already used. Notice the number of words that begin with a plosive consonant, which further emphasises the effect. It all works very well. He then concludes with two wishes, for the scandal to disappear and for a peaceful end.

Corruption in ruling circles, and the demeaning of a place which means so much – a homeland – resonated in Shakespeare’s time as much as it does today. Some things never change, even though it’s high time they did.

On The Guardian or, freedom of the press?

November 8, 2022

I’ve been a loyal and dutiful Guardian reader for more than half a century now. That statement immediately places me in a certain age category, and I need to remind myself that times have moved on. But I do wonder what is happening to the newspaper I’ve known and loved for so long.

I read it because it’s liberal/ social democrat/ vaguely left-leaning, and is the only such newspaper we’ve got in this godforsaken country. I won’t give Murdoch’s press a penny because of the bastard that he is, and the braindead and mouldering columnists of the Torygraph don’t bear thinking about (though you do need to know what the enemy is thinking), the Indy is in hock to the Saudis…only the Guardian finances itself. But did it make the right choice in aiming to be free-to-all rather than paywall itself like the Times, relying on advertising and moving into the US and Australian markets to shore up its finances? It used to be able to boast about its European credentials, but coverage of our near neighbours is pretty thin at the moment.

It’s become a lot more trivial and lifestyle focused, like most of the press nowadays, as if being well-informed about the world is too much like hard work; there are too many vapid columns of comment and twaddle: do I really need 250 words on why someone has cut up their supermarket loyalty card? At a quid a word (or more) it’s money for old rope; then I learnt that the writer is actually the husband of the editor. I mean, can’t they manage on her £400,000+ salary?

Now, let’s get a little more serious: comments by readers. This was an interesting idea when it was first dreamt up, and then trolls discovered they could make hay. But there did use to be a decent enough standard of commenting on articles which appeared in the Guardian. But, increasingly, certain articles are never open for comment, and I find myself wondering why. Larry Elliott is an interesting economics journalist, but also a pro-Brexit headbanger, and when he goes on about Brexit still being a good idea, we can never comment. Simon Tisdall I now regard as their warmonger-in-chief with his crazed articles about the situation in Ukraine, demanding ever more intervention, weaponry and I don’t know what else; again, we’re not allowed to comment on this madness. Why not?

And then there’s the gender debate. There seems to be some sort of actual censorship going on at the paper, as far as I can make out from snippets which have appeared in other media, and the disappearance of interesting (women) columnists who have packed their bags for elsewhere, because apparently the Guardian will not allow gender-critical commentary. Although I also find it strange that such writers, after years at the Guardian, can then go off and take Murdoch’s (or Harmsworth’s) tainted shilling. This is just plain weird, to this long-time reader who has followed umpteen complex feminist debates with interest in the columns of the paper over the decades. What is the Guardian afraid of?

If there were an alternative, I wouldn’t be so worried. I’d just read another paper. But there isn’t, and when progressive readers are driven to wondering what is happening with the only vaguely progressive newspaper we have, we are in trouble. We need to stick together, and it’s getting harder… I’ll carry on reading, and paying for the crosswords. Social media as a source of news is a very worrying concept, as is the idea of whole generations not bothering with serious news at all. The way is wide open for distortion and manipulation, and it’s going on before our eyes.

Rant over; I’ll go any lie down now.

On paywalls and censorship

August 12, 2022

I explore and read pretty widely on the internet; various RSS feeds to which I subscribe point me towards a plethora of magazine articles which may be of interest to me for all sorts of reasons. And every now and then I settle down to binge read them. But it’s getting more and more frustrating, as more and more publications put up paywalls.

I understand they are commercial businesses that need to survive. In the past they often allowed you to read a couple of articles a month free of charge and then blocked you, but increasingly I begin to read articles and then find them cut off with a demand that I subscribe, or at least set up an account; some quite bluntly lie to me and say I have already read all my free articles for the month when I haven’t read any…

So what do these publishers expect to achieve through such an approach? There are publications I now know not to bother with at all. There are some it’s worth trying occasionally, to see if they have recognised it’s a new month and will offer me an article. And there are publications like the Independent newspaper which are just plain bonkers; I set up an account and randomly it will let me sign in or not, read an article or not.

If I like a particular publication sufficiently to want to read it all, I’ll subscribe; I’ve had the paper edition of Le Monde Diplomatique through the post for over twenty years. And I subscribe to The Guardian app, for free puzzles and news without adverts. But if I’m only interested in the occasional article, then I won’t be subscribing. And this approach feels rather self-defeating, both for me and for the publications: they imply I’m a cheapskate because I won’t subscribe, or open an account and be bombarded with adverts and junk mail, and I feel almost, though not quite, as if there’s a sort of reverse censorship going on: we don’t want you to read our article.

Whatever happened to micropayments, which a few years ago were supposedly going to be the way forward? If I could read a single article in exchange for a small sum of money, I’d be handing over reasonable sums of cash in many directions, hardly thinking about it; instead, I pay nothing to anyone and get to read very little, and the magazines don’t even get to try and entice me to vote with my credit card for a full-on subscription because I can’t sample their wares.

Once upon a time, the internet promised openness and information; now I feel it’s closing doors rather than opening them, and we are moving back to the old days, where I read less widely overall, and used libraries far more, and when if I liked the look of a single issue of a magazine on the news-stand, it could be mine for a modest sum.

Surely there has to be a better way than the current one?

Lea Ypi: Free

July 11, 2022

     I have a rather strange relationship with Albania, and I have never been there. Some forty or more years ago, during the days of would-be socialist nations, I discovered the nightly English propaganda broadcasts on Radio Tirana, which were preceded by the strident call-sign With Pickaxe and Rifle, and always ended with the words, “Goodbye, dear listeners!” followed by a rousing version of the Internationale. The broadcasts were so over-the-top that they caused much amusement. And there was the Albanian Shop, purveyors of propaganda and the party daily from a basement shop in a Covent Garden back street. Then I discovered the astonishing novels of the only Albanian novelist I’m aware of, Ismail Kadare. You will find reviews of some in these pages, if you care to look.

I think I’ve also read some travel writing about the country. So this book, about growing up and coming of age in Albania at the time of the transition from the age of socialism to the age of capitalism, caught my attention, and it’s both an interesting and a disturbing read. It seems to have received many positive reviews, not all from readers who seem to have understood the complexity or the subtlety of what appears to be Lea Ypi’s message.

The first part, which is at times annoying to read as it’s from a child’s perspective and written in the present, describes the last days of the old regime and the demonstrations and transition to something new and different; the second part is after the change and the attempts, in many different ways, to come to terms with it. It is strange to read of a young person and her family discovering ‘our’ world, the ‘real’ world, learning its ways for the first time and interacting with it, as well as gradually discovering truths which had been concealed in her past, in many ways and for all sorts of reasons… the importance of ‘biography’ which only becomes clear as the author learns about her family’s real past and bourgeois origins.

The weirdness of the country’s isolation is striking, as is the innocence of an 11 year-old and her perspective and the lack of it, from inside the regime. There is a sense of utter confusion as changes begin, there are no anchors, there is no reliability in anything: the craziness is portrayed from within, with a naive yet questioning tone behind it all; there are serious potential consequences if a child is overheard saying the wrong thing. We can see how people within the system came to think, to rationalise and to explain things to themselves, and the compromises they had to make to remain safe. It’s a bizarre, looking-glass world that makes perfect sense when seen only from within, exactly like our own, if you just stop to think about it.

The author’s tragedy is that she, as an 11 year-old, believes in that now crumbling world, in which it seems that the adults were only going through the motions. The consequences of ‘freedom’, ‘shock therapy’ are truly awful; huge numbers try to emigrate. They were heroes when they were fleeing ‘communism’, but fleeing capitalism they are an unwanted nuisance. You see how millions of innocent and naive people were fleeced by capitalist plunderers, taken in and fleeced by spivs because they were naive and gullible; all sorts of Western plagues and diseases – like AIDS – arrive: we see the meaning of ‘freedom’, and its price.

The author is older now, and she reflects on the new, and different, dilemmas those close to her are faced by. Her family are among the hundreds of thousands ruined by various pyramid selling schemes: how were they to know? And then there is a civil war, frightening from a young person’s point of view but which I remember hearing almost nothing about.

It’s a thought-provoking book, a challenging book, which faces us with the two sorts of freedom we are never really aware of here in the rich West, freedom from and freedom to: each has its (very different) price.

On collective amnesia

May 5, 2022

I haven’t posted much lately because I haven’t been reading much. Escaping the current dire state of the world seems to elude me.

I realise, as I get older, that not everyone remembers as much or as far back as I do; it’s like that strange moment when you eventually realise that policemen are now younger than you, and it didn’t use to be like that. You have to be approaching seventy to have any memory of the Cuban missile crisis. Apart from Biden, no current world leaders hit that.

Back then, NATO and the Warsaw Pact faced each other; two hostile alliances. Now NATO faces Russia alone. Back then, the two alliances faced each other in Europe; there was a buffer of “friendly” states between Russia and the West. Now there isn’t. NATO has always had its missiles in the Russian back yard; the closest Russian missiles get to the US back yard is …. Alaska.

In 1961, world leaders were rather wiser than now, I think; they all knew what the horrors of the world war that had ended less than twenty years previously had been. Today all that is history, rather than memory, for our leaders. And I am horrified by their approach. Correct me if I’m wrong, but EU leaders seem mostly to be being calm and measured, even if they’re getting nowhere. Biden is past it, to be honest: should he have a driving licence at his age, let alone leadership of the “free” world? His public messaging is all over the place.

Britain continues to be a joke. Our PM gives away military secrets during a TV interview. His ministers say outrageous things about Putin publicly; they’re entitled to say what they like in private, but name-calling, doubting the man’s sanity, calling for him to be tried for war crimes when we aren’t at war with the Russians (yet) is barking. I wouldn’t trust the cabinet to run a ‘win a goldfish’ game at a funfair.

Putin, whose actions are evil, does look like a physically ill man. Some call his sanity into account: we don’t actually have access to information to verify that. But if that is the case, then threats and abuse are surely more likely to trigger a more outrageous and over the top response: we should be more measured in our response, without being any less determined.

Meanwhile, consider what is actually going on. Russia, left alone, might well have overwhelmed Ukraine in a matter of days. What they see is the West once again fighting a war by proxy: NATO is providing Ukraine with whatever it needs apart from troops on the ground and planes in the air. Ergo, to them, Russia is fighting NATO.

Here we are again with the Irishman’s reply to the lost traveller: “If I were you, I wouldn’t be starting from here.” Western triumphalism after the collapse of the Soviet Union got us here; a more measured approach to Russian needs for security would have been a good start. We are in a serious mess now.

I have no suggestions for a way out. I do know that war is not good for humans and other living things. And, while Putin threatens rapid, fiery destruction, let us not lose sight of the fact that American capitalism is busy, quietly boiling the frog: big business is burning up the planet in the quest for profit, and social media is constantly stirring the cauldron of hatred. Putin has a hell of a lot to answer for; our side does not have clean hands.

Some thoughts on the Ukrainian tragedy

April 14, 2022

Warning: politics ahead

The tragedy of the Ukrainian people is evident, without my needing to say more. Even if the war ended now, several million people have gone into exile, thousands are dead, large parts of the country have been comprehensively trashed, and the economy is in ruins.

Putin has accused Ukrainians of being Nazis. This accusation has been ignored, or simplistically dismissed in the West. And yet, for Putin, there is a kind of truth behind it, for during the Second World War (or the Great Patriotic War, as he would call it) some Ukrainians did collaborate with the Nazis, fight in their armies. Why? Because they naively saw them as liberators from what Stalin had inflicted on them in the previous decade, when millions of them were deliberately starved to death… Ukraine suffered grievously at the hands of both sides, just like another country not so far away.

And yet, there is also a tragedy for the Russians, whose economy is also being gradually wrecked, and whose international reputation cannot go any lower, we think. Their tragedy is having no tradition or experience of anything remotely resembling our flawed Western democracy: they have always – apart from a brief anarchic shakeout after the fall of the Soviet Union – been ruled by “strong” (read brutal) leaders, who have spouted words about the greatness of the nation, a delusion largely propagated by its enormous physical extent. This was true in Tsarist as well as Soviet days. Russian leaders have always done brutal very well, brutal to others, and total lack of care towards their own: what caused the Russian Revolution, after all? And, although again we in the West are inclined to overlook the Soviet effort in defeating Nazism, that effort was at the cost of regarding troops as cannon-fodder and the commanders being prepared to sacrifice however many were necessary to achieve their goal…

So the Russian approach is to wreck anywhere that opposes them: we have been reminded of Chechnya by our own commentators, and the same tactics seem to be being used in Ukraine at the moment. However, our generally ignorant, ill-informed and mouthy commentators manage to overlook the similar achievements of the West, which we are cleverer in allowing to be done by our proxies: look at the brutality being used in the Yemen, or in occupied Palestine, for example. Except it’s not the US or UK that’s doing it…allegedly.

I have been astonished by the drivel, the war-mongering nonsense written by journalists and spouted by Western politicians. If Putin does suffer from some kind of mental disorder, then it’s probably not very sensible to shout about it publicly: who knows what, in extremis, he might feel driven to try? Shut up Joe Biden (and others). And the amateur histrionics of our own government are laughable, dressing themselves up in sub-Churchill cloaks and pontificating from the sidelines as if what we thought or did made any difference. At least Macron has been trying. And then there’s all the financial aid and succour given to Putin and his kleptocrats in the past, which we are trying to sweep under the carpet.

OK so there are my opinions. And what should be done, you may well ask? I don’t know, to be perfectly honest. I do know that war is not good for ordinary people under any circumstances. And I do know that war is very profitable business for some. I do know that the West handled Russia very badly in the years after the collapse of communism, making lots of money but hardly fostering the kind of ‘democracy’ we’re usually so fond of talking about when we start our own wars (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq… I could go on but you get the idea). We have no real understanding of what Russia means by security: their definition may be over the top but we ought to have listened.

Apparently there were moves years ago to rule out Ukrainian membership of NATO, to enshrine some kind of neutrality for that new nation. What happened? We are very good at hindsight over here. And what would we do if that weren’t enough for Putin? The sanctions we have imposed seem to me to be the bare minimum that we can do; if we didn’t let big business get in the way, we might have been far less dependent on Russian energy than we are currently.

To finish, I’ll repeat: war isn’t the answer, and nobody will get what they want; that’s evident already. More mature and longer-term thinking and reflection is needed; our businesses and our leaders are not up to the mark here. We blunder on from crisis to crisis while the planet burns: future generations will not thank us. Meanwhile the innocent suffer.

Rank insanity

February 24, 2022

Today the lunatics are running the asylum.

Trump thinks the US has invaded Ukraine. Biden sounds like a true Cold Warrior. Our Prime Minister is playing at Churchill. Our Foreign Secretary is geographically challenged. And our Defence Secretary hurls insults at the man who started it all – Putin. I’ve read hundreds of column inches of half-informed drivel in the so-called serious press, by commentators who ought to know better, but don’t. I think I’ve read two sensible articles.

Putin is running rings around the West, having had years to practise, and an increasingly clear, and very Russian objective: to rebuild the Empire; whether it’s the Soviet one or the Tsarist one hardly matters. And we don’t understand what’s going on. Western leaders do seem incapable of looking at the situation from the Russian point of view. Kennedy got stroppy very quickly when the Soviets started installing missiles in the US backyard, and we ended up with the Cuban crisis of 1962. And when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the West was ridiculously triumphalist: we won, our system’s better than yours, we are top dogs now.

For a while, there was caution, of a sort, but I don’t see how anyone could have imagined that to allow NATO to move right to the borders of Russia, and then to allow the – no matter how remotely in the future –prospect of Ukraine joining, was not going to have Putin as antsy as Kennedy was way back then. And I hold no cards for Putin, who is a nasty piece of work with all sorts of typically Russian skullduggery to his name, both at home and abroad. But you would have thought there might be a little common-sense somewhere in the Western camp… but no, it’s full of people who weren’t even alive during WW2 likening Putin to Hitler, wanting full-on war and I don’t know what else.

I’m fully in favour of peoples’ right to self-determination and independence if they want it; Ukraine hasn’t had much of a chance, really: thirty years of trying, and what seems like a fair amount of chaos and a hell of a lot of corruption. Many, though not all, of the countries that emerges from the Soviet yoke back in the 90s have had a difficult translation to democracy; several are clearly backsliding rather seriously. And again, Western triumphalism and the urge of businesses to make a killing rather than build real foundations for a peaceful and secure world order, are more than partly to blame.

The lunatics are running the asylum. I’m scared, horrified and appalled. I’ve always been against war, which ultimately solves nothing, but creates more business opportunities for arms manufacturers. And I’m thinking about a former student of mine, who is in Kyiv at the moment.

Dangerous Times

February 11, 2022

Warning: politics ahead

I do have the feeling that we are all living in very dangerous times.

I lived through the Cold War; I have a very vague childhood memory of my parents looking terribly worried one evening after they’d listened to the seven o’clock news on the wireless as I got ready for bed: this was the Cuban missile crisis. I demonstrated several times against Thatcher and Reagan’s cruise missiles in the early 1980s, and supported the Greenham Women’s march on one occasion. I remember being concerned as a school student in the early seventies, when news about how we were polluting and wrecking the environment first hit the headlines. But I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite so alarmed, and for so long, as I am at the moment.

There was – still is – the menace to American democracy and the world that is Trump, and his toddler imitation this side of the Atlantic, our very own PM. And France seems to have vomited up an imitation ready for its presidential election this year. We take democracy for granted at our peril; once we have lost it, it’s only regained at enormous cost. Ask Germans, ask most East Europeans.

There is China, to an extent understandably flexing its muscles after years of humiliation by the West, Russia behaving no differently from the imperialist ways it has espoused for several centuries, and the West unable to think outside its self-righteous, US and NATO-inspired box. What happens if China and Russia decide to work together, I don’t know. Meanwhile, the idiots who own Britain have decided to cut us off from our nearest neighbours, doing enormous and very evident damage to the country and its people.

There is the menace to our planet, to the survival of our own species, brought about by our own actions, our own greed, our own wilful blindness. Most of the indications I read suggest that we are pretty much too late now to be able to do anything about it. We are taught and manipulated to want endless new and shiny stuff, to burn up natural resources that heat the world up, causing disasters that are regularly reported on the news, but… The planet would survive after a fashion without us, yet I can’t help feeling that would be a bit of a shame…

And there is the role and the irresponsibility of social media in all this: profit is its first motive and driving force, and turning people against each other, fostering division and conflict, certainly generates far more ‘engagement’ and thus far more money than any kind of peaceful co-operation. Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon have a hell of a lot to answer for, but first we have to make them…

What is to be done? To be honest, I don’t know, and I’m even more worried when sometimes I find myself thinking, I’m too old to care, let someone else sort it out. That’s, let younger people sort it out, and yet my generation let all this happen, on our watch. Yes, many were deluded, many were uninterested. And many have been part of the problem.

Things only look set to get worse: there are two years left before an election in this country, long enough for enough people to have forgotten the chaos of the last five years and been bribed to vote for more torment; although there are two more years before an election in the US, it’s clear things may seriously worsen after the midterm elections this autumn. And as for the poor old planet: are we actually doing anything to remedy the emergency. How much does my bamboo toothbrush help? My vegetarianism? My not flying? What do we elect governments for?

And this is my final point: there are now forces at work convincing people that democracy does not work, that there is no point voting because the same people always get in… so other choices, other measures are required. If people give up on politics, then there is no hope. Then I look at the electoral systems in the UK and the US, and I do give up…

Dismantling our NHS

January 6, 2022

No apology, politics ahead

If you asked most Brits what one thing we could be proudest of as a nation in the last century, I imagine most would say, the NHS. Healthcare cradle-to-grave, free at the point of use, set up in the aftermath of the Second World War as a response to the poverty and deprivation so many had endured previously. Set up by a Labour government, privately loathed by many Tories, some of whom have sought to undermine and destroy it ever since. And they are now well on their way to that goal.

The NHS never found the running smooth or easy; there was always a conflict between the necessary taxation to fund it and people’s resistance to being taxed. Eventually, charges for prescriptions, dental treatment and optical treatment were introduced. Many people shrug these off nowadays; reading glasses are cheap, you don’t need a prescription that often. But others have had to give up on their teeth completely, and increasingly there are people who ignore a health issue until they find themselves turning up in dire straits at A&E.

If you think about it, your health stays in the background until you have a problem. Then, suddenly, you may need healthcare, and perhaps lots of it. People in the USA spend their life savings, lose their homes sometimes, because healthcare is such a lucrative business there. Because it’s in the background, you don’t think about it. And you easily come to resent increasing taxes, and stories of ‘inefficiency’. But if you need healthcare, it’s not efficiency you want first of all, but accessibility and effectiveness.

Ever since Thatcher’s day, the NHS has been under ever-increasing pressures, deliberately engineered or not. Continued reorganisations in the pursuit of efficiency and cost-savings, because it’s ‘your’ money that’s being ‘wasted’, allegedly. Pressures to be competitive, tendering to outside companies and agencies who are cheaper and more efficient, allegedly, whilst providing profits to shareholders and salaries to directors? We don’t stop to consider how illogical that is. If private companies can get a foot in the door, they are onto a cash cow, because there are always going to be ill people to make money from.

So, for thirty years and more there has been a more or less constant stream of stories about the NHS being in some kind of crisis or another. Now, think carefully about what this implies; think hidden agenda. There are now a couple of generations of voting adults in the UK who have grown up with this constant belittling and undermining of the NHS, who have been taught (by whom?) that it’s inefficient, that it doesn’t work properly, that there might be ‘better’ ways of doing things. Young and mainly healthy, they haven’t had to contemplate the need for healthcare – yet. They are the ones that the current Tory government are looking to get onside as they contemplate further privatisations, which are being pushed forward even as I write.

Younger voters are potentially more open to ‘trying out’ alternatives; the fact is that once the NHS has been terminally broken, it won’t be possible to resurrect it, as all its constituent parts will have been sold off in so many different directions, in so many different ways. And let’s not forget the increasing add-ons offered to many people in their jobs nowadays: little extra private medical, dental, even alternative health insurances that cost companies little, generate considerable profit, and further undermine people’s sense of the NHS being necessary or useful… until you have a serious condition, when the private companies are suddenly not interested in you any more…

This change is being driven by people who do not have to rely on the NHS, who do not have to use it, among others by a chancellor whose family are billionaires and so who is utterly out-of-touch with the needs and worries of ordinary people. And that’s before we think about the rest of the Tory party, many of whom have holdings in private healthcare companies and stand to make fortunes eventually…

Finally, COVID. We’ve all been expected to clap for the NHS. We haven’t been asked to put our hands in our pockets to pay decent salaries to its workers. Other countries have paid bonus salaries to their health workers in recognition of their extra efforts. We have spent (wasted?) eye-watering amounts of (your) money on private purchasing, without competitive tendering, often deliberately excluding the NHS from taking part, often enriching friends of ministers with vested interests in weakening the NHS.

What is to be done, as someone once asked?

People need to wake up, realise what is being done, ask questions, think about themselves and their families and how they intend to manage without the NHS. And if they can’t, then they must shout and complain and do something about it. This obviously includes using one’s vote wisely!

Realise that nothing comes free.

We are one of the wealthiest nations on the planet and should be able to look after our citizens.

Are other sectors expected to be efficient in the ways that are expected of the NHS? The armed forces? The government itself?

What is a reasonable amount of tax to be paying?

Declaration of interest:

My mother trained as a children’s nurse at the very beginning of the NHS. She knew what it had been like before, and the benefits the NHS brought. As children we had all our vaccinations, health checks in school, dental treatment and all the other support young bodies and minds needed, courtesy of the NHS. My sister is a nurse in a children’s burns unit at the moment. Her stories of the pressures she has to work under are often hair-curling. And that was before COVID. And I’m in my late sixties, have made relatively modest use of the NHS so far, paid my taxes willingly, and am hoping that should I need it, the NHS will still be there in my declining years.

%d bloggers like this: