The age of unreason

Jon Snow has “no recollection” of screaming ‘Fuck the Tories!’ at Glastonbury this year. Neither does he remember adding a cheeky, ‘I’m supposed to be neutral’ to a breathlessly happy fan, who then tweeted it (and then deleted it). Maybe he doesn’t, maybe he does. Self-evidently it’s the sort of thing he might have said, otherwise he would have issued something more substantial than a good old fashioned non-denial-denial. I’m guessing being either quoted or misquoted as saying “Fuck Jeremy Corbyn!”, for example, might have elicited a slightly more strenuous response. But here’s my point. Imagine, just imagine, what would have happened if Laura Kuenssburg or Nick Robinson had been quoted as saying “Fuck Jeremy Corbyn!” after they’d had a few jars? Madness. Mayhem. Revolution! Fatwa! Twitter would have seen nothing like it. Wherever they went in future, they would have been greeted with the sort of zoo noises you already hear when a traitor is unveiled, or been forced into hiding for fear of violence. The most notable thing about the frenzied backlash against Jon Snow, is that there wasn’t one. Smoothly he escaped all but a mild bit of turbulence, with no question of him being dragged from his desk by the mob. In fact he’s become a hero, and any hint of bias casually snorted at by pointing out, I kid you not, that ‘Snow is free to say what he likes because he works for a private company not a public service broadcaster’ (which isn’t true). […]

Mourning isn’t enough

This comment piece appeared in the i newspaper in the wake of the Manchester attacks We should be angry about the Manchester attack How inevitable it is, that at times like this all the sordid clichés and false apprehensions come out. That if it weren’t for a “reckless foreign policy” the Salman Abedis of this world would wish only peace upon the West. That without an innately Islamophobic British population forcing disenfranchised young men into the arms of the radicalisers, the Salman Abedis would not exist. That love and unity alone will protect our children from people who see them as fair game for nail-bombs. ‘People like Salman Abedi don’t want to “divide us”. They want to kill us’ Or perhaps the most flawed interpretation of all, that people like Salman Abedi simply “want to divide us”. After a day when the emergency services have been through the unspeakable task of picking up children’s limbs from the floor of an arena, how can you think that the main motive at work is social division? This isn’t about an ‘atmosphere’ The view that it’s better to internalise these things and turn the guilt and responsibility onto ourselves is an inherent lineament of the Left. Take Novara Media founder Aaron Bastani, who just over 12 hours after the attack put someone to rights on Twitter by edifyingly pointing out that “the point of these attacks is literally to create atmosphere of mistrust between Muslims and non-Muslims in Europe”. ‘People like Salman Abedi […]

Welcome to the left

The thing about momentum, is that it has to be sustained. You can’t restart momentum; if something is slowing down it’s decelerating, with inertia the ultimate conclusion. The thing about Momentum, is that there’s absolutely no surprise it is decelerating. It was at best a bad idea, at worst a malevolent ploy, from the offing. There are those who say that Jeremy Corbyn’s doubters – yes, plotters before you scream it at me – had it in for him from day one. Well, they’re right, but I think they might have the wrong day in mind. From the day Momentum was set up, he lost all hope of ever winning some people back. Because they could foresee precisely what is now happening. The wisdom – and motivation – to allow to thrive a movement fundamentally at odds with the Labour Party in Parliament was questionable to say the very least.  The fact that Corbyn gave his blessing to an organisation which set itself up on an ‘Us vs Them’ platform, with ‘Them’ being the Labour Party, didn’t fill us with much hope. Nor did a rival event held at the same time as Conference,  designed to physically sort the ‘them’ from the ‘us’. But most reckless of all, was to willingly open the door to the sectarianism of the hard left tribes. Who, liberated from the task of having to even fight an election, have spent years tearing each other down over largely miniscule differences and individual mistrusts. Just look […]

Let’s drop the myth that Corbyn is the Messiah, then maybe we can make some progress

This article was posted on the Huffington Post in the week of Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election as Labour leader Let’s drop the myth that Corbyn is the Messiah, then maybe we can make some progress I take precisely zero pleasure in this. I’m actually quite depressed. If it weren’t for the private messages I receive on social media, or the frank conversations over a beer or two, with Corbynistas doubting their own Corbynianity (while still publicly whooping his name), I might not have the confidence to say all this. I’ve been to two Corbyn rallies now, with almost exactly a year in between, and the same thing has happened on both occasions. A ferment of excitement builds for days on end before; social media reaches meltdown; the big day finally arrives; the crowd swells, whipped up by speaker after speaker after speaker all praising the leader and detailing how Jeremy’s going to save the world (rarely any mention of him doing this from Downing Street by the way); the energy rises into a huge wave, climbing and towering and roaring towards the beach, and just as it is ready to peak and it feels like we’re all about to go surfing, something happens. It all fades away. Somewhere around 30 seconds into Jeremy’s speech: a sort of hush descends as the Leader starts off on a rather odd oratory journey, broken up by nervous swallowing, breathless unwieldy sentences that are hard to follow and sometimes impossible to establish as having ended, […]

Hunt thinks junior doctors lack “professionalism…

…and a sense of vocation”? Is he kidding? If Jeremy Hunt isn’t trying to rile the medical profession, he’s got a funny way of going about it. With tensions high and strike action on the cards, saying that contract reforms, the very source of the strain, will bring back “professionalism and a sense of vocation” to a career that attracts some of the most talented and dedicated people around is either a whole new level of crass or it’s designed to inflame. And inflame it has: on Saturday the BMA’s Junior Doctor Committee voted to ballot its members over strike action (or some other form of protest), which could happen within a few weeks. There could, and hopefully will be some agreement before then, but if NHS Employers are going to keep cancelling meetings with the BMA as they did Monday evening – possibly to avoid protests that were set to take place outside – it’s not looking too good. Ostensibly the reforms are about working towards a ‘7-day NHS’ service – nothing wrong with that. But let’s call this what it is: a way to pay doctors less and reduce the overall bill, plain and simple. Speaking in July at the Department of Health-sponsored procurement conference, P4H, which bills itself as the “largest event bringing buyers and sellers of the NHS together”, John Warrington, deputy director for policy and research in the procurement, investment and commercial division at the DH, said: “All the work that Lord Carter has done […]

Addenbrooke’s hospital is just the canary in the coal mine as far as the NHS is concerned

First published in the New Statesman A toxic cocktail of under-pressure local authorities and low staffing has the NHS on the brink. By Benedict Cooper Among the grim litany of charges laid out in the Francis Report into the Mid Staffordshire scandal, time and again short staffing came up. “It should have been clear,” the report said, “from the history and the nature of the deficiencies being reported, particularly in relation to staffing, that a dangerous situation had been allowed by the Trust leadership to develop and that urgent action and intervention were required”. It went on: “The complaints heard at both the first inquiry and this one testified not only to inadequate staffing levels, but poor leadership, recruitment and training”. Two and a half years later, have the lessons of that dark episode been learned? Today’s Independent would suggest not. It reports that out of 89 acute hospitals inspected between 2014 and 2015, three quarters raised concerns over staffing levels. Yesterday Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridgeshire became the latest acute hospital to be branded “inadequate” by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the trust that runs it placed into special measures. “Inspectors found a significant shortage of staff in a number of areas including critical care services,” the CQC said in a statement. “This often resulted in staff being moved across different services, with gaps back-filled by bank or agency staff. After the long recess, it’s always a good time to reflect. Just as Parliament broke Jeremy Hunt was facing […]

Greece: a word from the wise

From Will Hutton’s Them and Us (2010); Chapter 6 ‘Blind Capital’ “The new credit default swap (CDS) was meant to insure the holder of a security against default, but in fact it did little more than provide the means to speculate on the price of bonds, rather as currency options could be used to speculate on currencies. Again, there was no insurable interest: the CDS was not an insurable premium but a gambling chip. Buy a CDS in a bank or country debt, and as soon as there was concern about the credit-worthiness of the loan the price of the CDS would rise. Hedge funds buying CDSs in incredible volume would be key destabalisers during the banking crisis – the trigger for both Bear Stearns’ and Lehman’s demise – and later triggers of the sovereign debt crisis in Europe. It was massive buying of CDSs on Greek government debt in April 2010 that forced the massive EU and IMF bail-out.”  

We tried

I won’t lie, I felt pretty abject on May 8th. So many hopes shattered, so many people now entering frightening unknowns, feeling insecure, threatened, battle-weary; so much disappointment, so many careers dashed and prospects ruined. This is the reality which a whole nation of healthcare workers woke up to the day after the election. Because we the Left could not persuade you the voting public what was at stake yesterday. I’m sorry. I’m sorry we could not speak over the volume of a right-wing press complicit in the dismantling of our greatest public service. We could not persuade the BBC to give you the facts, or ask the government the right questions on your behalf. Lacking all conviction, we tried. We tried to spell it out. Four years ago 400 health professionals and experts publically condemned the Health and Social Care Act, hoping to get your attention, saying the Bill would “erode the NHS’s ethical and cooperative foundations, and [would] not deliver efficiency, quality, fairness or choice”. You ignored them. Since then countless experts not driven by political ambition – the BMA, the Royal College of GPs, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Royal College of Nursing– have pleaded with the government to think again. They have all been dismissed by the government, which knew better. And those professionals who pleaded for mercy have since seen their budgets squeezed, pay frozen, wards shut and services fragmented. The “moral economy” which once gave NHS hospitals “almost a family atmosphere”, to quote a nurse […]