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.


Comments (12)

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  1. david says:

    I am even angrier than this. We must all nurse our wrath to keep it warm for when the immediate crisis is under control. This government’s actions must not be forgiven or forgotten.

  2. Mark Bevis says:

    I received a Hope Not Hate poll they had taken recently. Here as some of the astonishing statistics:
    “35% agree that once the current lockdown is lifted, the Government should cut public spending in order to reduce the public debt and balance its budget while 33% disagree.”

    “64% of people say that they trust Boris Johnson and the Government to deal with the coronavirus pandemic appropriately, up from 50% in the week before the lockdown.”

    and yet:
    “76% of people think that the lack of Coronavirus testing has limited the Government’s ability to deal with the pandemic. This includes 70% of Conservative voters.
    46% think that the Government has been too slow in dealing with the Coronavirus – 35% of people think that the Government is blaming China to deflect from criticism that it dealt with the outbreak too slowly. Younger people, graduates and labour voters are all more likely to agree with this.”

    The first one is the most horrific. The biggest minority in the country actually wants MORE austerity when this is over!! And two-thirds trust Boris. We are truly f*cked! With percentages like these it is no wonder we are where we are today.

    1. Cathie Lloyd says:

      I’m assuming this is a UK wide poll, it’d be interesting to know more about opinion in Scotland.

    2. Brinder Bains says:

      Couldn’t agree more….’Stockholm syndrome’ springs to mind

  3. Squigglypen says:

    Keep your eyes on the ball Scotland…if the English want to put those self serving halfwit Tories back in and enjoy more austerity..who( the Scots) are we to object. Independence is our goal..not maybe but definitely….haven’t we seen enough in the last few weeks. I’m listening to Classic FM urging us to bang pots and clap for the NHS..I just want to weep for all those brilliant folk risking their lives….it must not be in vain….
    Independence is the normal.
    For Scotland.

  4. w.b. robertson says:

    as far as I know the Govt does not normally order PPE supplies. it is the job of the NHS and its managers. it is easy to knock the politicians. To ever criticise the NHS seems to be on a par with swearing in church.

    1. John Docherty says:

      Yeah, but you know that’s not true . You know the UKers health secretary is the sole owner of THE company created to purchase supplies for the NHS throughout the UK . Why you lie?

  5. Josef Ó Luain says:

    Many people, needless to say, are afraid at the moment and understandably are living in fear of the future. Their reckoning of the future is, of course, without discernible form, which makes effective coping-strategies, for most, impossible to imagine. The horrendous levels of personal indebtedness in the UK will further stoke the fires of fear and insecurity for many, and people will apply pre-pandemic logic to their plight. A logic whereby the failure to honour one’s debts can very quickly lead to destitution.

    And yet, for the first time in living memory, we have a most unique situation wherein all of us are at risk of potential penury.
    If something like a national state of collective penury ever came-to-pass, the hitherto weaponisation of debt as a means of social manipulation through individually targeted fear and insecurity isn’t going to work. Can’t-pay-won’t-pay is a strategy that governments and lenders have no answers to, and aggressive debt recovery is out-of-the-question from lenders largely uninsurable for pandemic cover – unless they want to disappear.

    Forget about leadership from political parties. Those of us who remember The Anti-Poll Tax campaign will recall the Labour Party,s “contribution”, but despite everything, the Tories were forced by volunteer-activists to acknowledged that the poll-tax was noncollectable. A “Campaign-of-the-Skint”, if and when such a thing is needed, can only be built from the ground up, in the community – as always.

  6. SleepingDog says:

    I am not sure why the article starts its criticism in 2010 while mentioning PFI/PPP which were extensively used by Tony Blair’s New Labour government, along with the internal market in the NHS and other drains on efficiency, continuing previous Conservative policy and ideas going back thirty years or more. It was Blair’s psychotic pushing of ‘choice’, as if what sick people wanted was to shop for service options, that cracked the NHS; instead of the rational approach of supporting each professional ethos and making every local hospital and GP a safe and medically-competent universal resource, backed by support services.

    What we should perhaps be turning attention towards is business operations that can be (often highly) profitable but (often extremely) inefficient, ineffective and/or downright harmful.

  7. Clive Scott says:

    Final paragraph should be:
    Real change will come when people, communities and groups work together and vote SNP at every election of every sort to hasten the destruction of the wretched UK and the creation of an independent Scotland.

  8. Jon Lisle-Summers says:

    Here’s a bill they’re willing to pay:
    One MP: Pay rise to £83,000 from 5 April – no problem
    Expenses: £100,000pa + + – no problem
    For handling Covid-19 £10,000 extra – no problem
    All those in favour say Aye

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