Asleep at the Wheel
As the nation looks for a little hope through windows we still haven’t got round to cleaning, the media is littered with good news stories about pensioners, celebrities and ‘everyday heroes’ raising money for the NHS.
There’s no doubt that their efforts are noble and come from a place of good, but they expose an identity crisis at the heart of British society, a crisis that explains the mishandling of the UK’s response to Covid-19 and predicts that in the aftermath of the pandemic we will miss the opportunity for change unless we change ourselves and our politics.
Anyone who raises £28 million for charity deserves a medal, the fact that 100 year old World War Two veteran Captain Tom Moore already had a few made this the perfect news story to raise the spirits of a country bored to the back teeth of Facebook pub quizzes, online P.E. classes and Zoom chats with family members you thought you’d only have to speak to at weddings you didn’t want to go to.
Captain Moore’s efforts, along with others climbing stairs, cycling for 12 hours or running 5km has raised phenomenal amounts of money for the NHS but exposes the UK’s delusional attitude towards how the government runs our public services.
There’s no doubt that the Covid-19 crisis is the most difficult time most of us have faced and it’s good to stay positive, but for all those who have walked, run, cycled and danced to raise money for the NHS, save a little energy to be absolutely fucking raging with Boris Johnson, his government and his Tory colleagues who, since 2010, have chipped away at the NHS, leaving it weak and unable to deal with the crisis in front of us. At every stage they have made the wrong moves, costing lives and dragging out the crisis.
The public can’t be blamed for seeking a fissure of light in an otherwise grey landscape, but we must remember who put us here, remember who was asleep at the wheel and allowed us to veer into the storm.
The NHS shouldn’t need people to raise money for it, not when billions of taxpayer pounds are spent on Trident, not when billion dollar oil and tech companies receive tax breaks, not when your money pays for PFI/PPP hospitals owned by companies based in off-shore tax havens, not when, as you may remember from a certain ad-campaign on the side of a bus, the NHS should be receiving an extra £350 million per week that was going to the EU.
The superiority complex and sense of entitlement at the heart of Government is the lingering stench of empire that wafts through musky corridors from Eton to the Palace of Westminster, it engenders a blind belief that “we know best”, an attitude that has caused the fundamental services in society to fall apart and forced the public into raising money to provide vital equipment for frontline NHS staff.
Take PPE as an example, the equipment that the government saw as an unnecessary expense through their austerity goggles, it’s the same skewed vision which which okayed the export of nearly 300,000 items of PPE to China in February and informed the decision to opt-out of EU medical supplies consortium set up to purchase equipment to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak.
The extent of how badly the Conservative government has handled the Covid-19 pandemic will only become clear when the dead are counted and all the facts emerge. However, from what we know already, this government should be crushed under the weight of shame and remorse.
In 2017 a report was published by the Cabinet Office stating that “there is a high probability of a flu pandemic occurring” with “up to 50% of the UK population experiencing symptoms, potentially leading to between 20,000 and 750,000 fatalities and high levels of absence from work”.
In 2018 the threat of a pandemic was made clear but action “was not properly implemented”, according to a former Government chief scientific advisor, Prof Sir Ian Boyd, “who advised the environment department for seven years until last August and was involved in writing the strategy, said a lack of resources was to blame”.
And, reported in an article in the Sunday Times, we know Boris Johnson did not attend the first five emergency meetings on Covid-19, spent 12 days on a country retreat whilst ministers and health officials discussed plans for dealing with the virus and that in January Johnson’s government was warned that the lack of PPE would cost lives.
The government’s approach and the public’s willingness to shoulder the burden of responsibility is nothing new and illustrated by the Conservatives 2019 election win, an election that hinged on a two pronged campaign of getting Brexit done and investing in the NHS.
This is the same NHS that has struggled through a decade of Tory cuts to frontline services, the removal of bursaries for student nurses, privatisation of parts of the service, adoption of costly outsourcing to private health care providers and a new immigration system which would make it almost impossible for the NHS to recruit nurses from outside the UK.
Time and again the NHS comes out in public opinion surveys as being one of the most important features of British society, yet even with the Conservative’s pitiful record on managing the health service they still find themselves in government.
A combination of wilful ignorance and the smoke and mirrors of political campaigning has kept the Tories in power, but when the worst of the Covid-19 crisis is over the public will have to take stock of where we are and ask, is this where we want to be?.
After the financial crisis that began in 2007 we failed to seize the opportunity for meaningful change. The concern now is that the public response to the fundraising efforts of people like Captain Tom Moore is an indication that we will let another opportunity for change slip through our grasp.
The Conservative government, under its various leaders, has consistently put the interests of the public behind those of the people like them, those who walked the same musky corridors, speak the way they speak and think the way they think.
For those already in power, change means losing what they have inherited through their privilege, but it has to happen for all our sakes.
Real change will come from the people, communities and groups working together to demand that we get a better deal, that the fundamental requirements of society are put in place and that promises to properly fund the NHS become more than an election gimmick rolled out every few years.