Thursday, 11 February 2016

The Idiocy of Jeremy Hunt

The arrogance and incompetence of the government was always going to catch them out. And in the unnecessary fight they picked with the British Medical Association, the Tories find their cruel cluelessness paraded in headlines and news bulletins. The decision by Jeremy Hunt, the sometime health secretary and full-time gimp, to impose a new contract on junior doctors is probably the most stupid thing he could have done. Stupid and utterly reckless. Accused by Heidi Alexander in the House of being a recruiter for the Australian health service, on C4 News this evening Hunt himself more or less admitted that no contingency plans exist should significant numbers of doctors leave the NHS because of his "deal".

In all, it's been an awful 24 hours in the bunker. As previously, yesterday's strike was solidly observed. Public backing for actions short of all-out strike remains unwavering, and in general balanced broadcast coverage is the norm and that has tended to favour the BMA's case. Then came today's round-robin letter which appeared to give the backing of 20 health trust bosses to the deal proposed by Hunt, only for them to backtrack once our dim friend announced its imposition. As the stunt publicly unravelled as the day wore on the government finds itself weaker that it was this morning.

Having watched but not commented on the dispute it's appeared to me that the government's position has been precarious, and when Hunt threatened to impose terms after the last round of strikes he exposed his weakness. This clumsy declaration only hardened doctors' attitudes, which was already stiff thanks to his repeated lies and for suggesting the BMA are pulling the wool over its members' eyes. Having only graduated from nursery-level education at the Thatcherite school of industrial relations, what Hunt cannot understand is that a 98% backing on a 76% industrial ballot turnout indicates there's no gap to drive a wedge into. The junior doctors are the BMA. The BMA are the junior doctors.

The fact of the matter is the Tories were ill-prepared for stubborn opposition. Having, against expectations, won a general election they feel emboldened by their sliver of a majority and think they can do as they please, particularly as they've convinced themselves the party opposite is no longer an "effective opposition". However, not having been in direct dispute with a group of workers before Hunt and Dave and Osborne, for they are all in this together, have forgotten that Thatcher meticulously prepared the ground for her set piece attack on the miners. Likewise, when New Labour - to its shame - attacked workers in the postal service, it was careful not to provoke an all-out dispute. It was an attrition struggle where management were given carte blanche to isolate and take out groups of workers in depots here, in depots there, while all the time flooding the service with agency and part-time workers, and allowing private postal companies to piggy back off Royal Mail's delivery infrastructure. Hunt has made no similar preparations, and given how strategic junior doctors are to the running of the NHS, it's difficult to see how he could - which only underlines the Tories' stupidity to provoke a strike.

The question then turns to why this is happening. We know that Hunt's weekend deaths claim is a load of over-inflated claptrap that has nothing to do with the state of junior doctors' contracts. Those and others who are pointing to privatisation are correct. The Tories remain committed to keeping the NHS "free" at the point of use (i.e. funded through taxation and National Insurance). They know the introduction of charging as a matter of course would be like washing a bottle of cyanide down with strychnine for the Tories' future electoral hopes. But what the NHS represents is a market guaranteed by the taxpayer for pharmaceutical and other private health interests. Quite apart from the Tories who stand to gain personally from further private involvement, and companies with financial links to the party bidding for and running NHS services, in an economic environment that - despite hype about the "jobs miracle" and other nonsense - is weak and uncertain, the NHS offers business a profitable opportunity when they're thin on the ground. And to make it more attractive, the Tories have resolved to intensify the working week and reduce the wage bill so private contractors can swoop in and make a fast buck. Patients? No, pound signs.

Unfortunately for the Tories, not only are they ill-prepared for the junior doctors, they've overlooked the fact that, generally speaking, the public trust their judgement and can see for themselves the effects of overwork and stress when they go and see them. Provided the doctors remain firm and refuse en masse to sign the new contracts, the Tories' scheme to shake the workers, the patients, the NHS, and the taxpayers down for their friends would be scuppered and show that resistance is not only not futile, but that it can win.

4 comments:

Speedy said...

I think you need to look at what lays behind it - a view that the NHS is inherently wrong and the desire to destroy it.

All of the NHS "reforms" have been designed with this long-term intention - to basically rev up the NHS engine to breaking point. They cannot be seen to destroying it - but they can facilitate its destruction by making it unworkable.

Hiving off the profitable parts to the private sector, contracts, etc, are all about making the NHS less attractive, work less well, until, over time, people feel obliged to take private insurance, etc, etc.

The public need a demonstration that the NHS does not work that cannot be "blamed" on the government: this, in a nutshell, is at the heart of Tory thinking.

Underlying this is the assumption that private is right, and public wrong.

This is why an effective opposition is necessary - yes, I know Labour created the conditions for destruction. but this was out of naivety, as so much of their policy was. The Tories are anything but naive.

Speedy said...

"what the NHS represents is a market guaranteed by the taxpayer for pharmaceutical and other private health interests. Quite apart from the Tories who stand to gain personally from further private involvement, and companies with financial links to the party bidding for and running NHS services, in an economic environment that - despite hype about the "jobs miracle" and other nonsense - is weak and uncertain, the NHS offers business a profitable opportunity when they're thin on the ground. And to make it more attractive, the Tories have resolved to intensify the working week and reduce the wage bill so private contractors can swoop in and make a fast buck."

Well put.

Chris Rivers said...

Excellent post, good points. That sliver of a Tory majority is steadily leading to an over-arrogant attitude by them and this promises hope for the future.

Anonymous said...

I would disagree that there isn't a wedge to be driven between the junior doctors and the BMA. Looking at the JD contract forum page on facebook will reveal heaps of suspicion of the BMA. Junior Docs are constantly worried the BMA will sell us out in negotiation. There are howls of "betrayal" every time the BMA compromises even slightly. The grassroots are far far angrier than the BMA and far less willing to trust the negotiations in good faith. This makes JH's comments regarding BMA militancy all the more laughable. The BMA are the moderates!