Well, there we are, yesterday Johnson saw the Queen, Parliament was dissolved, and the election campaign officially began, although unofficially the promises were emanating from both parties weeks ago. But oh, good grief. I am, as you probably have guessed, a politics geek and an enthusiastic watcher and reader of the news. Yet for this essay I have, more often than not, stared into space, begun a few sentences and then stopped. And as for the news I can’t bear it – too superficial. It skims the surface of the challenges and actual, actual reality e.g. The NHS will be sold off to the States. No, see below, it is already happening.
Like the majority of the people in the UK I am/we are sick and tired of the political situation in the UK. Most of us know we are the laughing-stock of the world, if the world is that interested, as really this is all about a self-induced nervous breakdown of a small nation (England really) that knows not what it is and is searching desperately for an unknown future.
So, for this piece I will just put to you some random thoughts and not set out a blow-by-blow account of what’s happened. But to sum up, yes, the House actually voted for Boris’s version of the Withdrawal Agreement (not as good a version as Mrs May’s according to the pundits) but no the House wouldn’t rush through it in 3 days. Hence Boris withdrew his WA blaming MPs for delaying tactics and sulked. But, please do not blame the MPs as Johnson would wish us to, because it is not the People versus Parliament (so dangerous) instead the House is a reflection of our nation – it is divided. And ironically if right-wing Tory MPs, including Johnson, had voted for Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement we would have left the EU a long time ago. Then time began to run away from Boris and reluctantly, bowing to the law (the Benn Act) he sent not one but three letters to the EU, the key one unsigned that specifically asked for a delay, because he couldn’t muster the votes to actually leave the EU.
And finally, the House agreed to have an election that everybody knew we needed. And with that vote passed (because the EU didn’t rush either) the EU granted us an extension to the end of January, which won’t suit Rees-Mogg and co. Why? Always follow the money. And no, I won’t say exactly why because it’s all out there and been said many times before. Sigh. You’d think people here in the UK would know by now that the outcome of leaving the EU will benefit only a few, mostly the very rich.
But, and very big sigh here, no, a lot of people don’t seem to know. An aside, do you remember that once upon a time there could have been a ‘soft’ Brexit, with us leaving the EU but with links to it, such as being in the customs union with the EU, which is our biggest trading partner, which you’d think that might make sense, but no, that’s not happening. We have to cut all links. And why? See above and note that some interesting EU regulations on tax come in at the beginning of January.
So, to my random thoughts. A friend said just recently said, what do you want, American Neo-liberalism or EU Neo-liberalism? And where would you be safer, she asked, probably the EU. You know what I mean by Neo-liberalism, don’t you? Exceedingly sparsely and crudely put it’s the state and public sector bad, private sector (with shareholder dividend don’t forget) good. So crucially, this election is not just about Brexit, it is also about do we want to continue with the deliberate policy of austerity chosen by Osborne (remember him) and the consequent lack of investment and funding in so many public services (libraries, youth services, social care, health, hospitals, education, mental health) which has driven people to despair and indeed anger at the decline in the quality of their lives and their life chances. And somehow in some minds this despair and the reasons for the decline in wages and investment is conflated with the idea of Europe. If only we could leave the EU, immediately, now, this minute, with a clean break everything will be all right and OK with our country. We’ll have our sovereignty back (whatever that means) and our lives will return to….well, what? An imagined greatness, aloof from the Continent, and prosperous once more. Gosh, no they won’t get that prosperity, because we’ll be an unregulated little tax haven for the rich, while the poor and forgotten won’t benefit one jot.
Yet, wait a minute Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of Exchequer under Mrs May, said austerity is over (where is he now) and with the Tory campaign launched Boris is apparently on a spending spree and promising much including new hospitals, but how many? Is it 40, or is it 6 or is it 4? Does anyone believe anything that man says? Well, apparently yes, people do believe in Boris as the polls as of Saturday 2 November (e.g. an Opinium/Observer poll, therefore trustworthy) have Tories holding a 16-point lead over Labour.
On the other hand, elections are dangerous things. Theresa May was going to win by a huge majority and didn’t manage anything like the numbers of seats the polls forecast. And big upsets have happened before: Heath winning and not Wilson (1970), Wilson winning not Heath (1974). The thing is do not over-estimate the Tories and indeed the words ‘mouth’ and ‘foot’ could be attached to Rees-Mogg and another henchman who have both insulted the Grenfell survivors. (It’s actually a class thing) And yes, the Party Chairman has apologised, even so when people like that speak without thinking, they often say what they think.
So, don’t overestimate the Tories and then again don’t underestimate Jeremy Corbyn or his right-hand person McDonnell either. Never, ever, give Jeremy a campaign – he’s in his element and it’s what he does well.
I’m going to concentrate on the two leaders of the two main parties, but we all know that our antiquated electoral system has other players, some more important than others. You’d think I’d be thinking that the Lib Dems are going to be key, and they could be, but don’t forget the Scottish National Party. Labour use to get a significant number of votes and seats in Scotland – will they this time? Who knows. And I’m not even mentioning the Brexit Party or Ukip – maybe I should. This election is hard to call.
I’ve never met either Corbyn or Johnson, I don’t know them, I only know what I read which includes bits of The Telegraph as a counter to The Guardian. But we have an extraordinary polarity between the two. On the one hand it seems it’s pretty much universally acknowledged that Johnson is an upper-class narcissistic fantasist who holds a singular belief in his own capabilities and destiny. He wanted to rule the nation and he’s got what he always wanted. What he actually does with this power is another matter as it is also universally acknowledged that he doesn’t do detail. Which is why, behind the scenes, an unelected man named Cummings drives the Brexit process forward. And extraordinarily enough, for all his class charisma apparently Johnson blusters and faffs around and isn’t all that good in the House of Commons.
By those in the know, Johnson isn’t much admired. Furthermore, he’s led a government that has lost vote after vote after vote in the House. In any normal circumstances, this government would have fallen weeks, months ago, even. A vote of no confidence would have been called and the Leader of the Opposition would have been invited to form a coalition government. But here we come to the other politician, Corbyn. The government did not fall, and why?
I am not going to over-criticise Corbyn as just wait and see what this election brings. And I want a true end to austerity, I want the contracts within the NHS to die away (see below), I want a Labour government, but we have been singularly unfortunate to have Corbyn as our leader as within the House he is not trusted and, similarly, outside the quite large bubbles of believers he’s not much trusted by the country either. Interestingly Corbyn is an old firebrand type of left-wing politician who has been fighting the socialist fight in the House for decades. He only got into the party leadership contest because it was his turn out of a small group of lefties to put his name forward, and after astonishing many by winning he’s steered the Labour party to the left, which is great. I go with that. But in so many ways he is not a good leader, and neither is he much of a vote-catcher. Above all, he has been against being in the EU for decades and consequently he has made the Labour Party sit on the fence over Brexit. I cannot forgive him for that.
Yes, Brexit. Actually, I think this election is far more significant than a straightforward ‘do you want in or out of the EU’. But for those who are totally caught up in the midst of this black hole of a situation and the path we’ve taken, which is the worst decision we’ve taken since the Second World War (says Bercow) and want resolution, what do we have? We have a one party (Conservatives) who wants out and quickly, one party (Labour) who wants to renegotiate with the EU for 6 months and then have a referendum, and one party (Lib Dem) who want to revoke Article 50 and stop Brexit altogether. And the Greens of course, they want a referendum, but quite rightly, their emphasis is on the climate – it should be a climate election, they say. How true, it should be. Shame on me, for concentrating so much on Brexit as it’s nothing in comparison to how we should care for our planet
But as I do not want the carnage and slaughter of our public sector to continue, I shall vote Labour. For instance, do you believe Matt Hancock when he says the NHS is safe in this government’s hands? Don’t believe a word, as the NHS is rapidly going down a path that is near irreversible.
Here’s a paragraph from a piece I wrote in June of 2018:
“I can remember the hospital where I trained as a nurse was administered by a ‘Board’ and the only non-medical person on that board was someone called a Bursar who ran the hospital’s finances. But those days have long gone, and especially so since the introduction of market values in the 1990s. And then there’s the most recent reform (the 2012 Health and Social Care Act) which makes it obligatory that CCGs invite private firms to bid for contracts. That legislation is the key to understanding how far the Tories will go in making our NHS a quasi-American privatised service. No, you still don’t pay, but behind the scenes it’s pretty much a disaster.”
The thing to remember is that no British politician ever will make us pay anything for our health care, that is a sacred totem to the Brits. Whatever creed, race, age or political stance we take we Brits love our NHS, but behind the scenes it is being sold off. It just is. Why? Because it is absolutely the law to so do. That means public money (our taxes) goes to humungous private companies which are driven by profit. And in that 2018 piece I wrote about the ICSs and/or ACOs (same thing pretty much) which originated in the States from HMOs (not making this up) by the US health insurance provider Kaiser Permanente (a real thing) which was in turn was the model for Jeremy Hunt’s NHS reforms (he said so at a Commons Health Committee) which resulted in the 2012 Act, which lays down that health providers MUST include private companies in their tendering for contracts.
I’ll give you a longer piece to read the detail of the current sell-off situation but that’s about it. And remember you won’t actually pay but there’ll be less care available – that’s the whole point. Also both parties have colluded in this sell-off for decades. But. With Labour now pushed to the left by Corbyn and McDonnell, if they confirm that once the existing contracts run down they’ll bring these NHS services back in-house, into NHS hands, they have my vote. No question. It’s a matter of truly huge significance, although, consequently and very sadly, I think contract lawyers will become exceedingly rich arguing who has the rights over our precious national service.
In the meantime, if there are people, and there will be many, of course, who think, no, this election is about Brexit and I want out, now, this minute, and to get that I’ll vote Conservative, unfortunately we live in a Brexiteternity as there are so many factors wrapped up in our leaving that mean our negotiations with the outside world will go on for decades. This is why as a nation we are so turned off by our politics, and the election, and crave an easy solution, but there ain’t none. However, I know who I’m voting for, do you? I ask as I know this isn’t a simple thing either as both leaders are deeply flawed and their parties are losing their moderate members. Who do we choose? And yet, what do they stand for? That, for me, is the key. For the many not the few is my mantra.
Penny Kocher, 7thNovember 2019
John Furse, The NHS Dismantled. London Review of Books, 7 November 2019
William Davies How to Be Prime Minister. William Davies on Johnson and Corbyn. London Review of Books, 26 September 2019
Also my reading includes The Financial Times, The Guardian and The Observer, plus The Telegraph.