Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

PM Boris Johnson at his first Cabinet meeting after forming a government in July 2019 (photo: Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0).

Why the Tories cannot be trusted with our NHS

An assessment of how well the government has handled the coronavirus emergency will certainly be needed – but now is not the time, according to many voices. Michael Madden begs to differ, arguing that the controlling forces within the government are dedicated to the privatisation of the NHS and its subordination to market forces.

Until Boris Johnson’s televised message, broadcast to the nation on Sunday 11 May, many people expressed opinions on Facebook and elsewhere, that people should not get too party-political about the coronavirus pandemic or be overly critical of the government’s strategy at a time when we were “all in this together”.

Despite the abject failure of the government’s strategy (the highest figures in Europe for deaths from Covid 19), the majority of the UK press would have us believe that the government has dealt with the crisis well, and that the public generally approved. Of course, there has also been critical coverage, notably from The Guardian, Financial Times and The Times, according to which “Failings in February may have cost thousands of lives.”

The number of deaths as reported by the Department of Health and Social Care puts the UK’s death toll second only to the US. Office of National Statistics data suggests the DHSC figure is a substantial underestimate (source: DHSC).

The statistics are shown here, country by country. Let’s put it this way. The UK was already in the premier league of failure with regard to its death toll. The Tory government was completely unprepared for handling a pandemic, as demonstrated in this article in the Financial Times.

Of course, it is hard to prove that the political ideologies of governments are a direct causal factor; this pandemic would test any government of whatever political colour. But the countries that have had the least deaths have been ones that have followed the World Health Organisation’s guidelines to the letter, and as early as possible. And two of the worst have been obsessively free-market governments – the UK and the USA.

Averse to the “nanny state”

Boris Johnson’s dislike of “the nanny state” has been suggested as the reason he was so slow and unwilling to act initially. According to the New Statesman on 20 March: “Conservative MPs fear the strategy reflects Johnson’s aversion to the ‘nanny state.'”

So what does this tell us about the Tory line on its attitudes for public welfare? The “nanny state” was a term famously used by Margaret Thatcher to attack and then roll back all the post-war social-underpinning measures initially put in place by the Attlee government of 1945-51; measures which reduced inequality levels to record lows, among them the welfare state, the National Health Service and the nationalized energy and core services, including transport and telecommunications.

Her argument was that such things represented ‘socialism’. And she sold her policies by saying that she was returning to the classical economics of Adam Smith, whereas she was in fact following the Chicago school of monetarist economics. It was the beginning of the shift towards privatization, which has led the UK to the point where the ministries responsible for such things under the Churchill, Attlee, Macmillan, Heath and Wilson governments have been cut back to the bone or privatised. None of those governments were particularly socialist, the closest being the Attlee government, which was really much closer to social democracy.

And as for Winston Churchill, he was originally a Liberal, in favour of a National Health Service and one of the key figures who drove the 1908-11 Welfare State reforms of the Lloyd George government. He was a convinced pro European and also convinced anti-racist who wanted to say to Hitler that no person could help their background, and that there was therefore no point in discriminating against anyone on that basis.

During the war Churchill commissioned his Liberal friend William Beveridge to initiate a report into what sort of country the people wanted to see after the war. Beveridge came back with his famous report, which recommended a more comprehensive form of Welfare State.

And yet, ever since Thatcher’s time, Tories have criticized his achievements and Attlee’s as the dreaded inventions of British ‘socialists’, despite the fact that if Britain had been truly socialist, every fish and chip shop in the country would have been nationalized. Attlee’s government was, in fact, a mixed economy under a democratic constitutional monarchy, much as Spain is today.

The socialisation of medical care, education and the basic utilities helped the wheels of capitalism run more smoothly. Welfare reforms ensured that the majority of the population were taken out of poverty and had money in their pockets to spend in the private businesses, which Attlee’s government left to operate as they chose. So Attlee made those changes in order that the electorate, as joint owners of such services and organisations, would not be held to ransom by the private interests of a rich few. And although there may still be some issues that need to be dealt with concerning certain welfare provisions, that is no reason to chuck the baby out with the bath-water.

Thatcher too left-wing

But Thatcher dismissed it all as ‘socialist’ and the Labour Party stood by and took it quietly. The majority of Tories now in power believe that Thatcher was too left-wing, especially those in the ERG – European Research Group. Many are also fiercely driven by an extreme form of ideology that seeks to abolish the state as we have known it since Churchill’s time.

The ERG is (supposedly) focused on a single issue – withdrawal from the European Union (ideally with no deal). It has had close connections with UKIP and some of its members – Michael Gove, Priti Patel, Liz Truss, Jacob Rees Mogg, Ann-Marie Trevelyan – are members of the Tory cabinet, while others, such as Liam Fox and Iain Duncan Smith, are senior members of the party.

An OpenDemocracy report in September 2017 stated that: “Taxpayers’ money is being used to fund an influential group of hard-line pro-Brexit Conservative MPs who are increasingly operating as a ‘party-within-a-party’”. There are many Tories who believe that Brexit represented a covert coup from inside a democratically elected party by members of the ERG and their sympathisers. So can such an extreme ‘party within a party’ be trusted with our NHS? The simple answer is no.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab meets US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the same day last December as his infamous interview on Today. Is the NHS really not on the table in trade talks between these two obsessively free market governments?

Selling off the NHS

The First Secretary of State, Dominic Raab, is not a member of the ERG, but he and they are mutually broadly supportive. In a 2011 pamphlet co-authored by Liz Truss and Priti Patel, he stated his desire to sell off the NHS: “The current monolith [the NHS] should be broken up. Hospitals should be given their independence, extending the Foundation Hospital model – initially controversial but now almost universally accepted. New non profit and private operators should be allowed into the service, and indeed should compete on price.”

When interviewed by Nick Robinson on the Today programme just ahead of December’s election, Raab denied he wanted to demolish the NHS, but had no answer when confronted with the views set out in black and white in his pamphlet, and lost his cool, as documented by The Canary (which also reports the above quote).

But in fact the great majority of British people trust the NHS as it is and do not think it needs to be changed. But most of the British press does not explain to its readers about these people’s real intentions.

Other Tory MPs, either members or closely linked to the ERG, are: Richard Bacon, Kemi Badenoch, Crispin Blunt, Peter Bone, Andrew Bowie, Ben Bradley, Andrew Bridgen, Bill Cash, Maria Caulfield, Christopher Chope, Simon Clarke, James Cleverly, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Robert Courts, Philip Davies, Leo Docherty, Nadine Dorries, Steve Double, James Duddridge, Charlie Elphicke, Michael Fabricant, Mark Francois, Marcus Fysh, Chris Green, Gordon Henderson, Kevin Hollinrake, Adam Holloway, Ranil Jayawardena, Bernard Jenkin, Andrea Jenkyns, Caroline Johnson, Gareth Johnson, David Jones, Julian Knight, Pauline Latham, Andrew Lewer, Julia Lopez, Tim Loughton, Craig Mackinlay, Rachel Maclean, Anne Main, Scott Mann, Mark Menzies, Nigel Mills, Damien Moore, Anne-Marie Morris, Sheryll Murray, Owen Paterson, John Penrose, Tom Pursglove, Jeremy Quin, John Redwood, Paul Scully, Bob Seely, Henry Smith, Royston Smith, Desmond Swayne, Ross Thomson, Michael Tomlinson, Craig Tracey, Martin Vickers, Theresa Villiers, John Whittingdale, Bill Wiggin, Mike Wood, William Wragg.

A 2017 report by Open Democracy found that funding for the ERG worth hundreds of thousands of pounds had been claimed through MPs’ official expenses since 2010, prompting Labour MPs to call for an inquiry by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority into the group’s practices.

Churchill – a great leader in many ways, in contrast to Johnson, the writer says (photo: Yousuf Karsh, Creative Commons, Attribution 2, Generic License).

Johnson another Churchill?

Johnson has recently been compared to Churchill, but the comparison does not stand up to scrutiny. Churchill was a great leader in many ways, but Boris Johnson is not a leader at all. All comparisons are ridiculous. In fact it is more likely that Churchill would have had Johnson locked up in irons for bringing parliament into disrepute, for coercing the Queen into proroguing parliament. He would also be totally against them destroying the NHS. And he would also be outraged to see what a mess he is making in his response to Covid 19.

Whatever he says after his near brush with death and his salvation at the caring hands of national health doctors and nurses, Boris Johnson cannot be trusted with the NHS.

The pandemic sent his Brexit government right off course, exposing them as charlatans, as documented by The Observer’s Nick Cohen.

This government is mainly composed of extremists that Churchill would not even recognize as Tories. So anyone who thinks this is not a time to get party-political is wrong. We are not “all in this together” and this government does not have the nation’s best interests at heart. This is a time to be very alert to political changes – a time to question the political establishment more than ever.


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Posted 19:41 Thursday, May 21, 2020 In: Politics


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  1. Francis Sheppard

    It is heartwarming to see conversation developing in response to Michael’s post.whatever statistics are published are a red herring millions of people die every day of one thing or another. But there has never been such varied discussion as to what was the cause of this. Now it might be because more and more people are believing what they are reading. Thrown into this are the people through their characters live to make fantastic theories up. The classic spanner in the works is the statement everything is fake news. Until this whole shadow of suspicion Innuendo and out right coming clean on this by governments is made public then we are seemingly at the mercy of this coming back again and again. I think the figures if they are to be believed would have been far higher had we not had such a mild winter. We are less than six months away from another annual period when we expect temperatures to decrease yet this government is dismantling the temporary hospitals it has just built is talking about the cost and balance of payments debt and getting the economy back. While they are right to examine the situation they have also decided that this pandemic is going away. It has not. Today the figures if believed are up 294 on last week yet they are contemplating relaxing lockdown their own advisors are uncontrollable and not just the senior government advisor but some other members of the government are alike. The lunatics have taken over the asylum. Which won’t leave much room for the rest of us to shelter and recover from this. Now is the time to prepare for what will be an unprecedented assault on humanity via this pandemic. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

    Comment by Francis Sheppard — Thursday, May 28, 2020 @ 05:19

  2. Bernard McGinley

    A fine article to warn (or reremind) us of what’s going on under our noses. It’s also the excellent caution that often it’s usually too early to complain about something — until it’s too late.
    The Needham excursion on BAME and obesity and diabetes makes little sense. 43% more than what? BAME people tend to be down the social scale, so why wouldn’t their stats be worse with it, (if the statement is accurate)? Or if the UK has the highest levels of obesity in Europe, perhaps the relatively unregulated selling of junk to kids, compared with (say) France’s methods, have something to do with it.
    Different groups have different susceptibilities: to Dupuytren’s Contracture (‘the Viking disease’), sickle-cell anaemia and so on. Genes have a role here. So also does the environment in which people live, socioeconomic status — and racism too.
    The NHS isn’t perfect but its record is good, and alternatives such as the Foundation Hospital model are not attractive. Few (other than stockholders) think Americanised health care is a model to emulate.
    The motto ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’ is credited to many people. It’s good to be reminded of the uses of diversion in a crisis.

    Comment by Bernard McGinley — Monday, May 25, 2020 @ 22:21

  3. chris hurrell

    A comment on Delissa Needham’s post that criticises the accuracy and provenance of the author’s statistics.

    The post claims that “All countries with varying policies in dealing with the pandemic have had similar outcome – including Sweden with no lockdown.”

    This is simply untrue. The outcome in South Korea and Greece for example have been very different from here.

    Sweden is cited as an example. Sweden compares very unfavourably with its Nordic neighbours who carried out a lockdown.
    Deaths per million are:
    Sweden 392
    Norway 44
    Denmark 96
    Finland 55

    Comment by chris hurrell — Monday, May 25, 2020 @ 19:03

  4. Michael Madden

    Dear Delissa,

    Thanks for commenting. I welcome all comments because I believe that any article is only a bstarting point for discussion. However, I don’t fully understand which “invalid statistic” you refer to. Perhaps where I said the UK had the highest number of deaths? – if so I meant per million people – that was statistically true at the time. And anyway, surely your own statistics, which are mostly sound regarding diabetes, obesity and BAME, only add to my point, don’t they?

    The fact is that the countries with the very least cases have been the ones which implemented World Health Organisation guidelines very early on. So government idoelogy does matter. The UK prime minister (if you can call him that) is leading us towards a No Deal Brexit- something no one voted for, and the very idea of listening to the WHO would be against his instincts and those of his inner circle, because of the reasons I have given in the article. If a No Deal Brexit goes ahead Britain (or perhaps I should say England, since Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland may go their own way by then) will be left in the worst possible trading ever. We won’t just be the Sick Man of Europe, but the forgotten Man of Europe.

    Also, when you criticise me you are also cricising the editor of the Hastings Online who helped me and checked all the figures which I quoted from reliable sources.

    The HOT is open to anyone to write an article, so here’s a suggestion. Why not write a piece about the reasons why the UK has such high figures of diabetes and obesity (could it be partly because Margaret Thatcher sold off almost all state-school playing fields?). And what point are you actually making about BAME people? Are you saying that there should be less of them? Why not write an article explaining. If I disagree with your figures I will be sure to make a comment.

    Comment by Michael Madden — Monday, May 25, 2020 @ 14:04

  5. Kendal Eaton

    this is typical of Tory neoliberal policy. Johnson’s approach was clearly evident with Brexit and i suspect this is his entire politic – do nothing if you can get away with it, or as little as you can and see who you can blame for the consequences. contact tracing and testing only those who become symptomatic is the equivalent of saying, “hmmm, it could be flour or it could be anthrax. suck it and see.”

    Thatcher was if anything more proactive, but more recent alarms were triggered which have since been muted. Ian Duncan Smith still gets away with no culpability for DWP strategies responsible for the 10,600 deaths connected to benefits cuts/sanctions etc for 11 months of 2014 – another recent reporter has requested access through the FOI act for subsequent records… only to be told they have been lost. Funny that.

    anyone who supports this kind of policy (and many good people do) must regard themselves part of the problem. the government we get is the one we vote in. but as long as people see no recompense for having blood on their hands, this is how abusers get away with atrocities that are equal in scope to some war crimes using the same tactics. along with public indifference in the political process.

    what people voted for is a personality, a jovial blundering clumsy underdog. much better than someone who is serious about people’s welfare. everything has been so depressing. well enjoy your fun folks. that has worked for Trump’s and Johnson’s subterfuge.

    does it really have to wait for personal loss for attitudes to change – or for us to pressure for a legal intervention process to hold irresponsible public servants to account and prevent increasing body-count?

    Comment by Kendal Eaton — Monday, May 25, 2020 @ 09:22

  6. Delissa Needham

    Obese patients with Covid 19 are 43% more likely to die. One third of death with type 2 Diabetes. BAME more susceptible- with BAME patients who die being 10 years younger than average. Uk highest level of obesity in Europe. Uk most dense country in Europe. All countries with varying policies in dealing with the pandemic have had similiar outcome – including Sweden with no lockdown. This is the information that you have ignored in favour of a selfish political exploitation of an invalid statistic during an awful global nightmare.

    Comment by Delissa Needham — Sunday, May 24, 2020 @ 22:05

  7. Francis Sheppard

    The situation the people of planet earth are having to contend with at the moment is not simply about this latest virus, there have been several instances of this type of Experience mankind has had to deal with during the life of the planet. What We are having to deal with here is a far more threatening situation. That of a man made attack on the sanctity of good human nature by way of out right greed by those who would undermine the efforts of those who want to take care of less fortunate members of the human family just to satisfy their own base selfishness. If we continue to bury our heads in the sand and ignore this attempt to destroy the greatest gift of the NHS everybody has been given. Then we deserve to reap the apocalypse that will descend on us. For too long we have left it to others to carry the torch of ensuring a proper life is able to be enjoyed by all statuses of people. The thief is at the door if we allow it to enter it will be like a swarm of locusts descending on our existence which very few will be able to cope with. The battle must start in our local areas organising an effective campaign to achieve a new system that benefits all. The NHS is the first line of attack if we let that fall then the floodgates will open for a free for all for all the other things we enjoy and take for granted at the moment. Challenging our leaders locally and nationally is a good starting point this is still a democratic place but won’t be if we don’t wise up to what’s going on. Talk with each discuss organise locally and then take charge.

    Comment by Francis Sheppard — Saturday, May 23, 2020 @ 11:43

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