Saturday 19 August 2017

The Stupidity of Jeremy Hunt

Do you know what I can't stand about Jeremy Hunt? That NHS pin. Everywhere he goes it's there, pretending he cares when we know he'd like nothing better than to see the back end of the NHS. Do you know what else I can't stand about him? The egregious stupidity, which he also wears like that blasted badge. And it just so happens he's been showing it off today.

You may have seen him get into a Twitter altercation with Stephen Hawking. Naturally. you don't need to be the best known name in cosmology to get a handle on what Hunt is doing to the NHS, but the intellectual celebrity surrounding Hawking's critique of the cuts, the short staffing, the privatisation ensures it has more heft than your common or garden lefty celebrity or shadow minister. What makes the criticism damning is Hawking draws attention to the fact Hunt and his boss routinely ignore the weight of evidence in their decision making. For example, the weekend deaths line Hunt has peddled for the last 18 months to prosecute his attack on the working conditions of junior doctors is demonstrably untrue - Hawking duly points to the relevant studies. How then does Hunt respond to this charge? By doubling down. In two tweets Hunt argued the 2015 research he has appropriated to bludgeon the doctors was the most comprehensive ever and therefore Hawking was wrong. No attempt to rebut the criticism, no acknowledgement of subsequent evidence challenging the report, nothing. All else may as well not exist.

It goes without saying that Jeremy Hunt has form for stupidity, but his and his party's behaviour doesn't do stupid things because they're thick (though plenty of Tory MPs are), but because life as a politician, the servicing of certain interests, and the structurally dysfunctional character of their party links arms and cancans their stupidity to the world. Take the political life as the starting point. As a minister, your day-to-day is entirely filled with meetings, hanging out in the Commons, more meetings, going on visits, reading executive summaries of reports, occasional media and yes, not forgetting more meetings. It's a job set up to make decisions, but doesn't actually allow space for thinking about decisions. All the options are laid out by the ideological kin you promoted to special advisor jobs to do that for you, and are framed in terms of the line of march decided by the Prime Minister. It means evidence is only ever selected and cited as long as it can support your position, and if none can be found there's always the tried and trusted method of bashing the experts. In Hunt's case we're seeing this most cynical empiricism in action. Because some evidence appeared that offered convenient cover for an attack on medical staff, Hunt now clings to it forever and all time. The rest is just noise as far as he's concerned. And this is not a property unique to him, all ministers - especially those in contentious briefs - operate this way, regardless of party. The truth does not matter, only the politics does.

What amplifies the stupidity of the health secretary is the Tory approach to the NHS as a whole. Instead of a service to be invested in and improved, they see it as an opportunity to make money for the interests they represent. Why go to the trouble of spending extra cash and leveraging the state to drive innovation and new markets when you can take existing public spending and restructure the institutions in receipt of the cash so the Tories' business friends can have a slice of the pie. As the Tories claim, in the cynical tradition of factual accuracy, the NHS isn't privatised. Instead services are contracted out slice-by-slice, and successful private bidders drive down costs so they can profit from the margins. It's a model long seen in local authority care and is now standard across the NHS. The most egregious examples being those where contract winners then subcontract the work back to public institutions, a truly parasitical and disgusting affair. Hunt's attempt to hold down pay in the NHS, and to rip up junior doctors' working conditions, is to make more of the NHS amenable to profit taking of this kind. And if it all fails? Then blame rising demand, spending beyond our means, and make the case for the introduction of more charges.

Lastly, the pursuit of short term interests on behalf of big business is a further manifestation of Conservative Party decadence. In other words, the Tories have become partially dislocated from the kinds of interests they represent and as a rule pursue policies that benefit certain business sectors (or businesses) and/or the perceived short-term interests of the Tory party at the expense of the general interests of their class. We saw it on Brexit, we see it in the knowledge economy, we see it in the NHS. The decadent approach retards Britain's economic performance and therefore the business opportunities available to their class, all the while creating social blockages and social problems for the rest of us. Within their own terms the Tories are not fit to govern.

It doesn't have to be like this, but the means of securing change is not a matter of polite persuasion, of getting Hunt and others like him to look at the evidence. Hunt will not pay any attention to the critiques of his and the government's position until they are forced to back down. This is where an increasingly assertive Labour Party at Westminster, pressure from a public growing more aware of the dangers the Tories pose the health service, and by protest and workplace action by NHS staff themselves comes in. Hunt and his kind get away with ruinous incompetence because they can. Hopefully we're not too far from the time when this will be possible no longer.


Shai Masot said...

There's hope. Just so long as we can thwart the committee-riggers within our PLP and the wider party machine. Constant vigilance is essential. Chuka and his Tory-lite pals could and should not be trusted with the NHS.

Kriss said...

Or targets are set that are not based on evidence, but 'coincidentally' are just beyond what the unit they want to close is already achieving. No evidence for the targets set for number of annual surgeries per surgeon, but this is what the NHS is saying is the reason it's going to be closed. Purely a political strategy IMO and providing the evidence or challenging the evidence base will get us nowhere.

Anonymous said...

"Britain Has Had Enough Of Experts" apparently.

anon said...

Truly sickening that in this enlightened age where there is absolutely no excuse for ignorance of facts, that this man and the government he represents should be allowed to wreak havoc on the NHS, every time I hear unwarranted critism I'm quick to defend what I believe to be true, we need to protect our"not for profit" NHS

MikeB said...

As we also see in the most egregious way with the badger cull, the Govt is wholly unembarrassed about dismissing politically uncongenial science.

Yesterday, Tory MP Maria Caulfield was interviewed on Saturday PM about the Hunt/Hawking dispute. Caulfield made much of her periodic shifts as a hospital-based nurse now.

Challenged about Hunt's "cherry-picking" the evidence on outcomes at weekends, she said, "From my scientific background, I know you can interpret the science in different ways and that can affect the happens all the time...scientists cherry-pick the science they want to use...."

Another way of putting it would be to say that as far as the Tory Party is concerned, science has no independent value whatsoever.

Unknown said...

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