NHS turns 75: How the Right reacted

The senior doctors’ strike has proven a particular bugbear for many on the Right. Amid the gushing anniversary celebrations, the Tory press didn’t hold back in making its contempt over the consultants' industrial action known.

Right-Wing Watch

Our National Health Service has turned 75. Political leaders have been out in force all week, eager to show their admiration and gratitude to the health service. The Prime Minister missed PMQs (again) to attend the NHS birthday celebration at Westminster Abbey, where he ‘paid tribute’ to the health service. Government buildings were lit up in blue, while the Health Secretary Steve Barclay wrote for Times Red Box that the NHS is “our most treasured national institution.”

I don’t know about you, but I found the whole spectacle of Conservative ministers celebrating the NHS a little absurd and ironic, when you consider Churchill’s Tories voted against its formation 21 times before the Act finally came into effect on July 5, 1948.  Even more so when you look at the crippling years of cuts overseen by successive Tory governments which have been in charge of the health service for two-thirds of its life. A recent study showed that the UK had the second lowest life expectancy among the 19 countries analysed, with only the United States faring worse. When it comes to healthcare spending in Europe, the UK lags behind EU countries by £40bn a year. Britain has spent about 20 percent less per person on health each year than similar European countries in the past decade, according to analysis by The Health Foundation. If you compare today’s health service with what it was in 2010, when funding had doubled since 1997, and, as a Kings Fund report at the time stated, ‘considerable progress in the last 13 years’ had been made, it’s tragic really.

This week’s effusing over the NHS was a bit like the government’s bittersweet clapping for health workers during the pandemic while denying them a pay rise.

As the NHS turns 75, waiting lists have never been so long, with 7.4m people waiting to start treatment as of the end of April. This is despite Rishi Sunak making bringing numbers down one of the government’s top priorities for 2023. Health leaders are blaming staff shortages for growing waiting lists, while the right-wing media is suggesting they could be exacerbated by the doctor’s strikes.

“Senior doctor strikes threaten pledge  to cut NHS waiting lists,” putting ‘Sunak’s promise at risk,’ sulked the Times.

Union bosses have repeatedly warned that the only way to solve the staffing crisis is to offer a decent, above-inflation pay rise. Yet Sunak refuses to budge on NHS pay. He even hinted recently that he will ignore recommendations for public sector pay rises, saying workers “need to recognise the economic context we are in.”  

Without the pay they deserve, NHS staff continue to strike. Consultants are the latest group to give a dramatic reminder of how angry frontline staff have been witnessing the value of their pay shrink so extensively in recent years. In a BMA ballot at the end of June, consultants – senior hospital doctors – voted overwhelmingly to take industrial action over their 35 percent real-terms loss of income since 2008-09.

The senior doctors’ strike has proven a particular bugbear for many on the Right. Amid the gushing anniversary celebrations, the Tory press didn’t hold back in making its contempt over the senior doctors’ industrial action known.

‘Too rich to strike: Top doctor slams striking NHS consultants demanding a 35% pay rise despite earning £128k-a-year,’ shouted the Sun. Dr David Randall described calls to give senior medics a 35 per cent pay rise as “eye-watering,” the article continued. Naturally the other ‘usual suspects’ in the press leapt on the comments as well.

But by focusing on the thoughts of one doctor, these reports ignore the wider consensus that consultants are being ‘repeatedly devalued’ by the government. As the BMA consultants committee chair, Dr Vishal Sharma, said: “Consultants are not worth a third less than we were 15 years ago and have had enough.”

The right-wing’s pontificating about the strikes also ignores the fact that surveys repeatedly show the majority of people back NHS strikes, despite disruption.

Ipsos’s director of politics, Keiran Pedley, said the polling showed that “NHS staff are consistently the most supported by the public” out of all the striking workers.

 “Levels of support have been sustained over time despite any disruption caused. Support for NHS workers likely reflects strong public concern about the current state of the NHS and an inclination to blame the government, rather than the NHS or its staff, for problems that exist,” he said.

On its anniversary week, NHS privatisation has been in focus. It’s no secret that alongside government austerity and cuts, private practice is rising. In the last year, as many as one in eight Britons have paid for private health services. NHS campaigners fear that it is becoming a ‘two tier’ service, created by underfunding and staff shortages.

“Worsening NHS services related directly to a lack of planning, workforce shortages and underinvestment inevitably force some patients to seek care faster from the private sector,” said Dr John Puntis, a retired consultant paediatrician who is the co-chair of the campaign group Keep Our NHS Public.

Most frontline medics even believe ministers are seeking to ‘destroy the NHS’ because they have starved it of cash and mistreated its staff, as Prof Philip Banfield, council chair of the BMA said.

“This government has to demonstrate that it is not setting out to destroy the NHS, which it is failing to do at this point in time. It is a very common comment that I hear, from both doctors and patients, that this government is consciously running the NHS down. [And] if you run it down far enough, it’s going to lead to destruction.”

As a patient, it’s hard not to feel the same. Even when ordering an NHS prescription online, the data algorithms get to work, deviously directing you to a private provider promising to attend to your particular ailment. 

Sigh, the Guardian’s frontpage on July 3 showing almost three in four Britons fear that charges for NHS care will creep in over the next decade, comes as no surprise.

On its anniversary week, the right-wing forces, the cheerleaders of well-worn complaints that the NHS is in urgent need of ‘reform and is a ‘bottomless pit’ – aka cue for more cuts and privatisation – have lived up to expectations.

‘Ailing NHS has made us sicker’ was the frontpage of the Times on July 4. The article is centred on comments by the former health secretary Sajid Javid, who claims Britons are sicker than in many other western countries as a ‘direct consequence’ of the way the NHS is set up.

True to form, Javid, who incidentally urged the government to further squeeze NHS funding as health secretary,  says the health service is ‘frozen in time’ and needs fundamental change as it swallows up ever more cash.

Rather than the impact 13 years of austerity-driven Tory rule has had on the health service, Javid blames the way the NHS is structured and urges for a royal commission. Playing the old ‘Covid’ card, he continues, that the health service’s problems are ‘exacerbated by the impact of the pandemic and rising waiting lists.’

While it undoubtedly had an impact, you’d think blaming the pandemic for the NHS’s woes would be wearing a bit thin by now, especially when you consider reports have shown that the Cameron-Osborne austerity years left Britain ‘hugely unprepared’ for Covid.

And of course, in their pinning-the-blame-on-everyone-but-themselves tirades, the ‘B’ word is very much kept out of the equation. Sometimes what the populist media doesn’t report on is as telling as what it does report on. In the anti-EU press, there’s been no mention of analysis that shows Brexit has worsened staff shortages in the NHS.  Research by the Nuffield Trust health think-tank show that Britain’s departure from the EU has worsened acute shortages of doctors in key areas of care and led to more than 4,000 Europeans choosing not to work in the NHS.

Instead of focusing on the logical and proven reasons behind the so-called ‘crisis,’ the right-wing media has been filling its pages with scathing attacks on striking staff. That’s on top of making incredulous cries over ‘woke non-jobs’ and the trashing of GPs,

The derogatory headlines that largely criticise the way it is run rather than it being broken by consecutive Tory governments, suggest that the Right is attempting to undermine public faith in the health service and ultimately prepare it for more privatisation. 

But then there is nothing new with that, as certain factions of the media have long been cheerleaders for privatisation models. In 2005, the Daily Mail published a story entitled: ‘NHS should be privatised, says report.’ The report in question argued that the NHS should be privately run but still paid for by the government. Sound familiar? Think school academies! 

And its 75th birthday has proven no different. Talking on Politics Live this week, Times’ journalist Melanie Philips spoke of how the ‘NHS is not fit for purpose’ and a ‘much better system would be a European style social health insurance system…’

Labour’s Baroness Kennedy hit back saying the government has deliberately underfunded the NHS and private equity is looking at it with “a beady eye wanting to profit from it.”

Instead of bleating on about the NHS ‘not being fit for purpose,’ where’s the critical commentary and evaluation on how Boris Johnson’s flagship NHS election pledge to build 40 new hospitals by the end of the decade is on course to be broken, with just 10 having received planning permission?

Just look at these photos of the Leeds Infirmary site.

Hoardings have been up for four years informing people of the two new hospitals – one adult ambulatory care and one Yorkshire Children’s Hospital – that were to be part of the new hospitals building programme but have not materialised. But as John Puntis of Keep Our NHS Public told me, the latest on the site is that there will now be one building and not two, that funding will not be disclosed (until nearer the election?), and that the outline business case had still not been approved by the BHSC and treasury. 

After years of underfunding, bold NHS manifesto pledges on course to be broken, and a refusal to pay vital keyworkers what they deserve, similar to the Tory ministers’ sickening donning of rainbow-coloured NHS badges as they clapped for NHS workers on their doorsteps during the pandemic, this week’s adoration of the NHS on its 75th anniversary, looks like nothing more than a PR stunt, a desperate ploy to get the people of Britain, for whom the health service is part of the national psyche, on side. There is a grown-up conversation to be had about the future of the NHS given that it’s not 1948, but such discussion is unlikely to appear in our right-wing media any day soon.

Right-Wing Media Watch – Desperate Sun STILL insists Rwanda is a ‘safe, happy place where migrants can build new lives….’

Imagine being a super-rich celebrity. You could visit virtually anywhere in the world and be treated like royalty. You could even visit Rwanda, a country described by the US State Department – our closest ally – as a place with ‘significant human right issues,’ and be treated so well that you fall in love with it.

Celebrities are accepted ‘placeholders’ in our society for our notions of wealth, beauty, power, and morality. As such, the Sun decided to frame an astonishing piece of pro-Rwanda migrant plan propaganda on three celebrities’ apparent adoration of the East African nation.

“What do Sir Lewis Hamilton, supermodel Naomi Campbell and England football legend Ray Parlour all have in common?” asks Yolande Makolo. “They have all visited Rwanda, appreciating the hospitality of the country’s people and the stunning beauty of the “Land of a Thousand Hills.”

The article, despite its headline insisting: “Rwanda is a safe, happy place where migrants can build new lives… Naomi Campbell and Lewis Hamilton loved it here,” doesn’t dwell too much on the celebrities’ thoughts on Rwanda, other than Hamilton’s Instagram post in 2022 when he said: “Rwanda, you are absolutely stunning . . . I fell in love with all the beautiful kids I met along the way. Rwanda, you have my heart.”

Desperate to alter public perception of the government’s contentious plans to outsource refugees after the court of appeal ruled it illegal, the author presents a number of claims that attempt to prove Rwanda is a safe and welcoming country for those ‘seeking sanctuary from war and oppression.’

The article is penned by Yolande Makolo. Interestingly, the Sun doesn’t provide the any author bio, which is strange given that Makolo is said to be a spokesperson for the Rwanda government, at least that what is stated on her Twitter profile. She is also regularly used for commentary as a Rwandan official in other media outlets. Comments typically involve her censuring criticism of the controversial immigration plan.

The author claims that Rwandans have taken exception to the ruling that their country was not a safe for asylum seekers and refugees. Hmm, this doesn’t exactly concur with the first-hand experiences of many migrants who have already been sent to Rwanda. As a 20-year-old Ethiopian, who was relocated to Rwanda from Libya in 2019, told AP Press: “I pray daily to God that I leave this place.” Or that of Kelly Nimubona, a refugee from neighbouring Burundi, who said: “When you are not employed, you cannot survive here. We cannot afford to eat twice a day. There is no chance to get a job or do vending on the street.”

Nor does the partisan report take into consideration findings of a recent report on Rwanda by the US State Department, which warn:

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners or detainees; transnational repression against individuals located outside the country, including killings, kidnappings, and violence; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, and censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom’,” among others. 

Both Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International have made similar warnings. HRW says that arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture in official and unofficial detention facilities are commonplace, while fair trial standards are regularly flouted in many sensitive political cases. Amnesty lists a number of cases involving human rights violations in Rwanda. One case involves journalist Theoneste Nsengimana remaining in unlawful detention following his arrest in October 2021 for “spreading rumours to cause unrest among the population.”

On top of concerns about the country’s safety, warnings have also been made that the scheme fails to represent value for money or acts as a deterrent. As such, the policy is becoming very difficult to justify, as senior Tory MP Caroline Noakes recently said.

Yet despite such division about the contentious policy, even within their own party, and the mountain of caution made by some of the most credible human rights organisations in the world, and the Court of Appeal’s judgement that the policy is unlawful, the Right remain intent on pushing for the Rwanda plan.
‘Rishi Sunak confident of overturning Rwanda migrant plan verdict,’ was a headline in the Telegraph last week.

You can only presume that their determination to pull the policy off is through sheer desperation to mollify right-wingers together with a whiff of imperial nostalgia. Or perhaps to continue to beat a populist anti-immigrant drum in order to create some clear blue water between themselves and more progressive and to my mind, enlightened opinion. Or perhaps they see it as a convenient headline-grabbing distraction from all the other chaos the government is caught up in. Who knows? One to ask St. Peter…

Woke Bashing of the Week – ‘Woke’ banks in the firing line following Farage’s bank closure farce

Nigel Farage successfully caused a stir on Twitter last week, making shocking claims that the ‘establishment were trying to force him out of the UK by closing his bank accounts.’ And that he was suffering ‘serious political persecution at the very highest level of our system.’

The former UKIP leader claimed that Coutts, which offers private banking and wealth management services for high-net-worth individuals, had closed his account because of his political views. Farage insisted he was a victim of “the big corporate structures who did not want Brexit to happen.”

Bank sources later told the BBC that the reason why the accounts were closed was because Farage’s balance fell below the financial threshold Coutts requires. Needless to say, a wave of ridicule ignited online when it was confirmed that the closures had nothing to do with the GB News presenter’s political views.

Nonetheless, the damage had been done, as Farage’s outburst sent the woke-bashers into a finger wagging ‘I told you so’ hysteria. And the banks were in the firing line.

Seemingly taking the outspoken Brexiteer’s word for it and not even attempting to uncover the truth behind the account closure, the Telegraph ran with a story attacking ‘woke Britain: where murderers can keep bank accounts, but ‘cancelled’ characters can’t.’

“It’s hilarious that the banks, which have been fleecing their customers for years, now think they can now exclude those who voice the “wrong” opinions. Or it would be, if only it wasn’t so sinister,” wrote the newspaper’s ‘consumer champion’ Katie Morley. She continued that not only did it happen to GB News host, Nigel Farage, (well actually it didn’t), but also a vicar “who expressed displeasure at Yorkshire Building Society’s LGBTQ Pride event, among other Brexiteers and other controversial (usually right-wing) figures.”

The author then uses the Farage bank farce to take a swipe at the ‘terrible job’ banks have been doing of late, with interest rates shooting up – Nothing to do with Liz Truss’s mini-Budget causing rates to blow out then, eh?

Farage’s claims, despite being confirmed to be inaccurate, even saw Rishi Sunak and the Chancellor wade into the debate. The government will take action against ‘woke banks accused of blacklisting customers because of their views,’ slavered the Daily Mail. Jeremy Hunt has apparently asked City minister Andrew Griffith to investigate cases where lenders closed the accounts of individuals or companies whose beliefs they disagree with on issues such as Brexit, gender or sexuality.

The war on woke brigade must have thought they’d hit the jackpot with the Farage bank story, as ‘woke’ banks have been under their radar for some time now. Just several weeks ago, Conservatives raced to push a weird myth that the collapse of the Silicon Valley Bank was because of its diverse workforce. In reality, the collapse happened for multiple reasons, including many customers withdrawing their deposits simultaneously due to fears of the bank’s solvency.

Farage’s bank closure meltdown was less complex – the result of insufficient funds. But inside the right-wing fever swamp it was the perfect opportunity to have another stab at a ‘woke’ institution.

These weird notions are certainly entertaining, we have to give them that! And of course, there is the small bonus of underlining just how wealthy some of the pro-Brexit, anti-elite, anti-woke campaigners actually are. I wonder how many UKIP voters bank at Coutts?

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is author of Right-Wing Watch

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