Friday 16 December 2022

Choosing the enemy


Perhaps there’s something in the water in Downing Street; or perhaps power simply goes straight to the incumbent’s head. But the rock-solid belief that the PM of the day can deal with major problems by ignoring them or diverting attention elsewhere seems to take hold almost as soon as a new PM crosses the threshold. As Boris Johnson showed, with a sufficiently thick skin, a good dose of chutzpah, weak and terrified underlings, a complete lack of human empathy, honour, honesty and conscience, and sheer dogged determination to do whatever he or she wants regardless of the consequences, a PM can get away with it. For a while. As the same man also demonstrated, gravity cannot be denied indefinitely, and things eventually catch up with the incumbent. Whilst both of his successors have shown at least some of the same traits (see: lack of honesty, empathy, honour, or conscience), neither has quite been able to match the sheer bravado with which their mentor simply ignored anything he didn’t want to hear (see: covering his ears and humming the English anthem). The PM who lost out to a lettuce, to say nothing of the one who lost out to the one who lost out to a lettuce, simply don’t have what it takes to carry it off even for the short period for which Johnson somehow managed it.

The way in which Thatcher ‘vanquished’ the unions has become part of Tory Party folklore, along with the belief that simply attacking ‘the unions’ will somehow transform itself into a huge wave of support, but an inability to distinguish between taking on the miners on the one hand and declaring war on nurses on the other looks like a huge mistake, as even a growing number in his own party are recognising. It’s impossible to believe that senior civil servants are not telling him, in blunt terms, that he’s taking a very ‘brave’ stance (perhaps he's unfamiliar with Yes, Minister and thinks it's a compliment) given the public support for the nurses, but he’s still clinging tightly to his shovel and continuing to dig, even when he’s been offered a way out in the form of asking the ‘independent’ pay review body to consider whether circumstances might have changed. The ‘independence’ of pay review bodies isn’t exactly what most people might understand by the term (the members are appointed by the government which also sets their remit) but that does create an opportunity to blame the ‘independent’ body for any climb down. It’s a face-saving approach rather than a considered decision, but a drowning man can’t be too picky.

There’s an old saying that we should choose our enemies carefully, because that choice ends up defining us. It’s a truism which Sunak seems not to understand. Defining his party and government as opponents of paying a decent wage to nurses – and by extension, as opponents of a caring and effective NHS – doesn’t look the wisest choice for someone whose one job was to detoxify his party enough to ensure that it isn’t wiped out at the next election. But then again, as the last 5 PMs have shown us, in the eyes of the party’s MPs and members ‘wisdom’ is not even on the ‘desirable’ list of attributes for a Tory PM.

1 comment:

dafis said...

"independent pay review body" - an oxymoron or just moronic ? Taking on the unions for whatever reason has to stand a number of tests.

That the rail companies and Network Rail have failed to develop a strategy over 10 years or more to implement a steady programme of evolutionary changes in a rather antiquated operating environment speaks volumes. True the unions may at times have been intransigent but the most glaring feature of all this blundering for a decade or more is the succession of company business leaders who are so evidently lightweight. It demonstrates that they too are forever looking for handouts - cheap compliant labour from the unions and underwriting of losses by government. Yet these same wasters are almost annually writing big bonus cheques to themselves to top up their excessive salaries and benefits.

Arguably the same picture is broadly replicated in the NHS and other sectors currently blighted by disputes.