Tagged: Labour government

2010: The Politics of (In)difference and Similarity

Now we’re a month into it, I suspect that it’s still too much to hope (perhaps) that 2010 will be a better year politically than the last. I suspect things will pick up where they left off at the end of last year and we’ll get another twelve months of bitching and moaning – but very little action on behalf of our elected ‘representatives’ in Westminster. Quelle surprise.

I can’t help being so cynical. I used to be a full-blown idealist (and I still hold firm to an arguably idealistic belief in the necessity of peace, equality and fairness, despite everything), but the more I learned about and the more I understood the way the political system in this country works, the less convinced I was by its weasel words (ie, not at all), and the less I believed in the possibility of it being an agent for and a necessary force in creating positive change.

Cynicism comes naturally after that.

2009 did little to disabuse me of this belief. All in all, it was a pretty sorry year, politically speaking –  although no matter how much you despise the government of the day (and no matter how enjoyable the schadenfreude), it is never comfortable viewing to watch them dig themselves deeper and deeper into a pit of infamy; that same pit of infamy which Tony Blair played such a prominent role in originally (re) opening up back in 1997.

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Drugs are bad, mmmkay – if you’re a politician, that is…

“It’s not a war on drugs, it’s a war on personal freedom is what it is, OK? Keep that in mind at all times. Thank you. They lump all drugs together. It’s not going to work…” – Bill Hicks, 1990

Hicks had a point, you know. But, then again, he frequently did. On that showing, and if he were still alive, I’d probably be lobbying for him to replace Professor David Nutt, the scientific advisor to the British government on the subject of illegal substances, who was unfairly sacked by the Home Secretary Alan Johnson at the end of last week (two of Nutt’s colleagues have since resigned in support of his stance).

And why was Nutt sacked? Simply because he dared to take a stand on the relative dangers of drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy that actually took into consideration the scientific evidence, rather than simply toeing the government policy line on the assumed risks associated with such substances.

Final proof, if any were needed, that drug policy in this country bears no resemblance to scientific fact and has everything to do with the assumptions and prejudices of politicians; many of whom seem to be stuck in the 1950s in their attitudes towards drugs anyway – Gordon Brown’s public pronouncement in April 2008 that cannabis is a ‘lethal’ drug being but one example of how out of touch this government is on the matter.

The drug issue has always been a complex and emotive one. There are and will always be risks associated with drug use, risks which cannot be underestimated or ignored – but the vast majority of illegal drug users in this country (and there are many) have positive and enjoyable experiences on their substances of choice, much like those who enjoy a social and legal pint or two in the pub of a weekend.

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Twitter Power – the Trafigura Scandal and Gagging The Guardian

A good day to bury bad news again?

The saga of Trafigura, Carter-Ruck, The Guardian, Twitter Power and an indignant government, which broke messily all over the internet yesterday morning – well, that quite neatly eclipsed the latest installment in the MP’s expenses scandal, which had been rumbling on apace for most of Monday, and looked to be building up a good head of steam towards another day of revelations and unseemly bickering in Westminster.

We certainly got the revelations, and plenty of unseemly bickering at Westminster and beyond, just not on the subject of expenses; which slightly annoyed me, considering that I had started Tuesday morning with the aim of writing another ranty blog on MP’s expenses high on my ever-expanding To Do list for the day.

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In Defence Of The NHS

This was originally posted last month on my old blog, but due to the continued lies and bullshit being spread about socialised healthcare in America, I felt it was about time I posted it again. Whatever you think about Obama and his policies is immaterial on this one, because no-one should die because they cannot afford healthcare and no-one should go broke because they get sick. It’s as simple as that.

Read, learn and inwardly digest, Americans. Your bitter and twisted Republican politicians are lying to you. This is the truth about socialised healthcare from one who has worked in and received much medical treatment from Britain’s ‘evil’ NHS. Many of you know full well that 99.95% of what the conservative news networks and Republican politicians have been spouting on the subject is simply lies and spin. But such lies and spin should not be left unremarked, especially when they reveal such appalling levels of ignorance and prejudice.

So, Republicans – are you sitting comfortably? Well, you won’t be by the time I’m through here. Time for a history lesson….

Despite its many imperfections, the NHS has managed to survive for more than sixty years without exploding or turning into an ‘evil and Orwellian’ communist/Nazi system (honestly Republicans, what do they teach you in Politics 101?). Prior to World War Two, healthcare provision was actually very different in Britain, and was seen by many as symptomatic of a long-standing and much wider social inequality. In fact, I suspect the current GOP crew would probably approve of the pre-NHS system in Britain, as it was overly complex, provided under a number of different systems and skewed towards those with money – which meant that a very large percentage of the population either could not afford or were not entitled to decent healthcare. Hmmm. Oddly familiar, all that.

Then along came an arrogant and self-obsessed upper class senior civil servant called William Beveridge; perhaps the last person you would expect to advocate universal social security and universal health care. But that is exactly what he did, in the Beveridge Report on Social Insurance and Allied Services of 1942. The Report‘s suggestions extended welfare reforms (like old age pensions) introduced by pre-World War One Liberal governments to their logical conclusions. It also reflected the experience of the de facto nationalization of Britain’s hospitals during the horror of the war on the home front in the early 1940s – a necessary process in order to provide a decent level of healthcare for the huge and increasing numbers of wounded civilians and servicemen and women of all social classes needing treatment. In the words of the historian Arthur Marwick: “only by making the state services open to all could it be ensured that the highest standards would be available to all; only by having a universal service could the stigma be removed from those who had to make use of state services” (1990, p.47).

Despite a great deal of political debate, the fact that post-war Britain was close to bankruptcy (mainly due to the sudden US withdrawal of the Lend-Lease programme), and a spectacular sulk over money and prestige from the British Medical Association which nearly scuppered the whole thing at its inception, the NHS finally came into being on 5th July 1948. Right from the start it wasn’t perfect (and it still isn’t), but it immeasurably improved the lives of millions of British people previously unable to access the treatments they needed. Yes, Republicans, it was indeed eventually introduced by a Labour government (oooh, Socialism, run for the hills!!), and yes, the NHS has always involved a great deal of government expenditure funded by tax payers’ money – but have you looked in the mirror lately?

No, really, you should. You’d be surprised. Didn’t you know that the American government already pays more for healthcare per head per annum than even that evil-NHS-socialised-healthcare-Britain does? A lot more. In fact, in 2007, US government spending on healthcare accounted for 16.2% of GDP – not far off twice the average spend of other OECD countries. Figures from 2004 are even more specific, showing that for every American, the government spends $6,102 on healthcare every year (this figure has probably risen since then), compared to a measly $2,546 per capita spent by the British government.

How do you account for that, Republicans? Oh, I know, it doesn’t fit in with your crazy, delusional worldview, so you’ll probably just ignore it. Or start lying about it, just like you’ve already been telling lies about the NHS. Your ignorance will show through – in fact, it already has. Who, I wonder, failed to fact-check that Investors Business Daily article this week which brazenly announced that: “people such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have a chance in the UK, where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless”? A quick trawl through Google or Wikipedia would turn up the astounding fact that Stephen Hawking is actually British (shock, horror!) and has gone on record as saying that he, like so many, “wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the NHS”. Just because some random renegade Tory MEP has nailed his colours to the mast in opposition to the NHS, it doesn’t mean it is a failed system which lacks the support of the British people, as you lot seem to assume. Honestly, Republicans, go get yourselves some IT classes and read a few British newspapers, blogs and websites – you’ll soon discover that the NHS is not perfect, but it is still much loved and appreciated by many (even to the extent of crashing Twitter on Wednesday due to the sheer volume of Brits defending the NHS), including a huge number of people who would, like at least fifty million Americans, be unable to afford healthcare if they also lived in the US.

I am exactly this type of low-income individual who would have fallen through the cracks in the American health care system. Recently, I was found to have a large pre-cancerous abnormality on my cervix after a smear test. Within a couple of weeks of the smear test results coming back, I had been referred for further tests at a local hospital – and within less than two months the tests had been taken, I had received treatment, and been given the all-clear. I doubt I’d have been able to afford any of that under the American system, and I’d now be well on my way to… well, dying, actually. Then there’s my dad, in his late sixties and retired, who had serious heart valve surgery two years ago – according to the Republican lies, the NHS doesn’t perform surgery like that on anyone over the age of 59. Then there’s a friend of mine who gave birth to her twin daughters prematurely, with all the risks to mother and babies that entails – her adorable little girls are now four years old and fit and healthy, all thanks to the NHS. Or there’s even another friend of mine who had a heart and lung transplant as a child and is now, in her thirties, one of the longest-surviving transplant patients in the country – again, all because of the NHS and the groundbreaking healthcare they have provided over the last two decades. All of this life-saving surgery and treatment has been carried out according to a need, not a price or a profit – and that is how healthcare should be. And if that requires government intervention and funding, then so be it. What’s so scary about that, Republicans?

I will keep on saying this until I am blue in the face: the NHS saved my life. And I am only one of thousands upon thousands of British people who can say the same thing. Lying about the British health service for Republican political ends won’t change this simple truth; in fact nothing will change in American healthcare until those in power, the disproportionately influential, reactionary conservative forces in American society and the hugely wealthy pharmaceutical industry start to realise that healthcare is about people, not profits. And fifty million uninsured and uncovered Americans deserve a decent and universal ‘socialised’ health system. They deserve better than Republican lies.

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