I don't often frequent the political cesspit that is the Conservative Home Blog, but I was pointed in the direction of an article entitled "How a government can beat the BMA" written by the site's deputy editor Henry Hill.
Before I get to explaining the Tory blueprint for tearing apart our public services, I'm first going to look at what this blog post tells us about the rotten Tory mentality of the author.
Class war politics
Before we even get to the contents of the article, it's clear from the title alone that the author is of the stunted Tory class war mentality, where workers and trade unions are the enemy, and any kind of compromise or co-operation between employers and workers is political weakness. This rotten and destructive class war mentality completely dominates Tory politics because they consider their ideological assault upon the trade unions in the 1980s to be one of their greatest victories. It doesn't matter a jot to these people that the UK keeps lagging further and further behind Germany, where trade unions and employers generally co-operate for the best of their industries rather than retrenching into destructive ideological class war at the first opportunity.
As far as most Tories are concerned, trade unions and ordinary workers are always the enemy and if disputes don't come about naturally they can always be deliberately provoked (as with the junior doctors contract and the force privatisation of every school in England) in order to bring back the ideological class war struggle they crave for.
The miners' strike
The class war mentality of the author was clear from the title, but the actual contents reveal the sheer scale of his absurd class war obsession. The article is peppered with references to the Miners Strike in the 1980s. The author tries to imagine Jeremy Hunt as a victorious Thatcher figure destroying the power of the British Medical Association (and presumably condemning their industry to destruction in the process, as was the case with the coal miners), he draws tortured parallels between the Junior Doctors' strike and the Miners' strike and concludes chillingly that "one day the BMA will have their 1984".
Comparisons between the Miners' Strike and the dispute over the Junior Doctors contract are obviously utterly facile.
- The Miners' Strike came about as a response to the existential threat against the mining industry. At the time right-wing people sneered at the idea that the objective of the dispute was to kill the mining industry in order to destroy the power of the NUM trade union. By December 2015 the very last deep coal mine in the UK at Kellingley was closed down and the once powerful NUM had shrunk from 170,000 members to fewer than 100. The idea that a similar fate can be imposed on the medical profession is utterly laughable.
- The Miners' Strike concerned pretty much the entire coal mining industry, the Junior Doctors dispute only concerns a small fraction of the total NHS staff.
- The Miners' Strike was a full scale strike that crippled the industry and lasted almost an entire year. The Junior Doctor's strikes have been a series of short strikes with cover provided by other medical professionals to ensure patient safety.
- Margaret Thatcher used the police as her own personal militia in order to attack the mining communities of the UK. The idea of David Cameron sending the police in to violently oppress a bunch of doctors is clearly ludicrous.
- There is a strong global demand for medical professionals. If the Tories do successfully manage to crush the BMA and destroy the working conditions of NHS workers, unlike the striking miners, medical professionals have many more opportunities to move somewhere like Canada or Australia where they would be treated with a little less contempt by their government.
Forcing people to live longer
Before I get to outlining the details of the Tory strategy to privatise the NHS, I'm just going to detail one more thing that highlights the rotten mentality of the author. Henry Hill has a big whinge about the NHS saving people's lives as if preventing people from dying is not only some kind of economic crime, but an act of cruelty against the individual who has been saved from death!
"Anybody who the NHS 'saves' from a tobacco or food-related deaths will die of something and the NHS will pay for it. If that person is forced to live a long life, they will likely end up costing the NHS more than they would had they died younger."The idea that the NHS is somehow forcing people against their will to live longer is utterly absurd and an insult to anyone unfortunate enough to read such drivel. Of course people are likely to continue using the NHS if they're not shovelled into an early grave, but it's not beyond the bounds of reason that they will continue working, contributing to their family life or to their local community in some way too is it?
Reducing people's lives down to a balance sheet consisting of nothing more than their costs to the health service is a perfect example of the Tory "price of everything and the value of nothing" mentality.
There are four main prongs to the strategy Henry Hill details in his blog post. Diluting the workforce with unqualified staff, removing the right to take industrial action, breaking up the service into many separate employers and drip-feeding the destruction of the NHS slowly so that the public are less likely to notice.
Diluting the workforce with unqualified staff
The author suggests that most of the work doctors do is easy and could be done "by a physicians' assistant with a fraction of the training or wages". He then goes on to fantasise about a health service filled out with well-meaning volunteers based on the Territorial Army model. A health service increasingly staffed by low-skill, low-paid workers and well-meaning volunteers doesn't seem to be a recipe for efficiency to me, but then it just depends how efficiency is defined doesn't it? If quality of service isn't included as a measure of efficiency at all, then the lower the staff costs the more efficient the service.
Removing the right to industrial action
The author wants to see medical professionals stripped of the right to take industrial action like soldiers and the police. If that proves unpopular, then destruction of the right to strike can be achieved in other ways. One is to attack the right to strike at source by introducing a Trade Union Bill designed to make trade union democracy completely unworkable by rendering an abstention as a stronger vote against strike action than an explicit vote against strike action. Another method is the third prong of the Tory attack.
Breaking the service into many separate employers
Breaking the NHS up into many separate employers would remove the power of collective bargaining and render attempts at cross-NHS strikes "sympathy strikes", which were outlawed when the Tories introduced the harshest anti-worker trade union rules in western Europe back in the 1980s. Other benefits to the Tories (and the private health investors who bankroll them) is that smaller chunks of NHS services are not only easier to privatise, it also makes it much easier for private corporations to cherry-pick all the profitable pieces for themselves, whilst leaving the unprofitable bits for the taxpayer to run.
Drip-feeding the destruction of the NHS in doses the public won't notice
The 2012 Health and Social Care Act was a masterclass in the privatisation by stealth strategy. The former Tory party leadership candidate Michael Portillo once explained why this plan to carve the NHS open for mass privatisation wasn't even mentioned in the 2010 Tory manifesto. He said it was because "they did not believe they could win an election if they told you what they were going to do". Even now there are still an awful lot of people out there who are so misinformed that they scoff at the idea that the NHS is being steadily privatised and NHS facilities turned over to the treatment of private patients. Through their policy of deliberately under-reporting the Health and Social Care act and the subsequent waves of privatisations, the mainstream media have been complicit in fostering this all-too-common public mentality that the ongoing privatisation of the NHS is some kind of insane lefty fantasy rather than observable reality.
The education system
There are several parallels between the Tory plot to carve up and privatise the English NHS against the will of medical professionals and public, and the Tory plot to carve up and privatise the entire English education system against the will of the teaching profession and the public alike.
Tory academies and free schools are allowed to employ completely unqualified teachers. The carve up of the education system into the control of numerous private sector academy chains (many owned and operated by major Tory party donors) allows wages and working conditions to be undermined and will eventually be used by the Tories to rule out coordinated industrial action by teachers.
The only difference seems to be that George Osborne and Nicky Morgan are so full of hubris that they were unwilling to continue with their slow and steady approach that has already seen 5,000+ schools handed over to shady unaccountable private sector operators and chose to announce the forced privatisation of every school in England by 2022 as part of George Osborne's 2016 budget of failure.
The Tories are usually very reticent about explaining their true intentions, but occasionally one of them lets it slip.
One example is the vice-chair of the Conservative Health group Paul Charlson explained that abandoning universal NHS healthcare for a fee based system "would be political suicide" unless "there was a feeling in the country that the health service was falling apart" which explains the constant barrage of right-wing propaganda about how crap the NHS is.
This "How a government can beat the BMA" blog post from Henry Hill is in a different league. It doesn't just accidentally let a piece of Tory ideology slip out, it clearly explains the Tory blueprint for tearing apart our public services, repressing workers' rights and wages and diluting the workforce with unqualified labour, as well as openly displaying the disgusting class war mentality and utter contempt for working people that is so rife within the Tory party.
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