The BBC is sticking to its guns over a report that falsely claimed the Coalition government has increased spending on the NHS during each year it has been in office.
In its article on Harry Leslie Smith’s extraordinary speech to the Labour Party conference, the BBC News website desecrated his words by claiming: “The Conservative and Lib Dem coalition government has increased NHS spending each year during the current Parliament and both parties are committed to the founding values of the NHS that no-one, regardless of income, should be deprived of the best care.”
Fellow blogger Tom Pride leapt to the attack, pointing out that the BBC had copied comments made by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and presented them as facts –
Vox Political then stepped into the fray, and Yr Obdt Srvt wrote a sternly-worded complaint to the Corporation, together with an article about the issue which appeared on this site.
The BBC has now responded and is trying to wheedle its way out of trouble. Here’s the email:
Thank you for getting in touch about our report.
We stated that:
The Conservative and Lib Dem coalition government has increased NHS spending each year during the current Parliament and both parties are committed to the founding values of the NHS that no-one, regardless of income, should be deprived of the best care.
This is an accurate reflection of events as both parties did commit in the 2010 coalition agreement to pursue the original goals of the NHS.
However, because some readers were misinterpreting this to suggest the word “committed” represented an assertion by the BBC, the wording has been changed to say:
The Conservative and Lib Dem coalition government has increased NHS spending each year during the current Parliament and both parties committed in 2010 to the founding values of the NHS that no-one, regardless of income, should be deprived of the best care.
Not good enough, BBC!
This response makes no reference at all to the most glaring error in the article – the claim that the Coalition has increased spending on the NHS.
Did you notice the rows relating to changes in spending are all minus figures – meaning spending was less than intended? In those years when spending was known, it was less than for the 2009-10 financial year (when Labour was in office) meaning it is impossible for the BBC to claim that “the Coalition government has increased spending each year during the current Parliament” without revealing itself as a Coalition government propaganda organisation.
Claims that these spending figures relate only to England cannot invalidate them as the Coalition has limited the amount it provides to other countries in the UK. Funding for Wales, for example, has fallen by an average of 2.5 per cent per year, in real terms, between 2010-11 and 2012-13.
As for “both parties committed in 2010 to the founding values of the NHS that no-one, regardless of income, should be deprived of the best care“, take a look at this Daily Mailarticle, detailing the predicament of a gentleman who has been forced to pay £450 per month because his local Clinical Commissioning Group (brought into being by the Coalition government) would not provide him with a drug that is available free on the NHS elsewhere in England. Ironically, the cash-starved NHS in Wales is reported to have agreed to provide the drug.
Admittedly, the Daily Mail is always going to be a dodgy source of material, what with its long and well-deserved record of inaccuracy, but there are plenty of similar stories in the mainstream media.
So now we have a situation in which the BBC has lied to the public and, after the lies were pointed out, has tried to duck responsibility with more lies and evasion.
Faced with this kind of behaviour, there’s only one thing to do – publicise the transgression and demand a full public apology and correction.
Rest assured, you will read the next chapter of this story just as soon as the BBC responds. In the meantime, please share this article.
Patsy n A person regarded as open to victimisation or manipulation; a person upon whom the blame for something falls.
Burstow n A patsy.
It seems a familiar story: The Tories plan legislation that is clearly no good at all – in this case, a legal clause to allow the closure of successful hospitals to prop up failing NHS trusts (Clause 119 of the Care Bill). The Liberal Democrats object and threaten to rebel. The Tories then offer concessions to make it seem less likely that this will happen and the Lib Dems withdraw their objections.
All seems well until the new rules are put to the test. Coalition MPs voiced disquiet at the powers being granted to allow a trust special administrator (TSA) to force through changes at a neighbouring hospital if they consider it necessary to save one that is failing. This power is considered likely to be used to save hospitals run under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), which are therefore saddled with huge unnecessary interest bills on the money invested by private companies.
We are told there will be some form of public consultation. Great. Here in Mid Wales, Powys County Council consulted constituents on its plans to cut £20 million from its budget for 2014-15. After the answers came back, the council’s cabinet ignored every single word of the responses and pressed on with its plan. Changes were only brought in after the rest of the council made it clear that they weren’t putting up with those shenanigans.
So much for consultation.
The minute a hospital is closed to prop up the PFI place next door, the Tories will blame Patsy – sorry, Paul – Burstow. They’ll say he had a chance to do something about it but didn’t.
What makes it worse for him is that Labour weren’t going to put up with his shenanigans and forced a vote on his amendment – which would have completely neutered the offending clause. Burstow voted against it – that’s right, against his own amendment, helping the government to a narrow 47-vote victory.
So much for him.
One politician who does seem to have the good of our hospitals at heart is Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham. What did he have to say about all this, during the debate yesterday (March 11)?
“What we have seen … from the right hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), who positioned himself as though he was going to make a stand for local involvement in the NHS, is the worst kind of collusion and sell-out of our national health service.
“Just as the Liberal Democrats voted for the Health and Social Care Act, again they have backed … the break-up of the NHS.”
It seems that Jeremy Misprint Hunt is trying to pretend that his planned law making it easier to close good hospitals to prop up bad ones (and boost private health firms in the process) is happening because “Conservatives genuinely care about the NHS”.
Writing in The Guardian, he tells us that Clause 118 of the Care Bill currently on its way through Parliament – the so-called Hospital Closure Clause, “is necessary because we need the power to turn around failing hospitals quickly and – in extremis – put them into administration before people are harmed or die unnecessarily.
“The process has to happen quickly, because when a hospital is failing lives can be put at risk. That is why it matters so much – and why, in opposing it, Labour are voting to entrench the failures they failed to tackle.”
For information, Clause 118 was included in the Bill after Mr Hunt lost a legal battle to close services at the successful and financially solvent Lewisham Hospital in order to shore up the finances of the neighbouring South London Healthcare Trust, which was losing more than £1 million every week after commissioning new buildings under the Private Finance initiative.
The private firms that funded this work were apparently charging huge amounts of interest on it, meaning that SLHT would never be able to clear its debt.
PFI was introduced by the Conservative government of 1979-97 and, sadly, continued by the Labour government that followed it.
It seems likely that it will contribute to the absorption of many NHS trusts by the private sector, as the effects of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 take hold.
Clause 118 means the Health Secretary will be able to close successful local hospitals in England on the pretext of helping neighbouring trusts that are failing – without full and proper consultation with patients and the public, or even agreement from the (in name alone) GP-led Clinical Commissioning Groups.
The resulting, merged, organisation could then be handed over to private firms who bid to run the service at a price that is acceptable to the government.
So it seems that this is a plan to speed up the process of privatisation, rather than anything to do with caring about the NHS.
It seems to me that Mr Hunt is trying to lull the public into false security by claiming the NHS is safe, in exactly the same way his forerunner as Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, provided assurances before Parliament passed his nefarious Health and Social Care Act.
Mr Lansley said his law would increase the range of choice available to patients (it doesn’t; in fact, it increases the ability of service providers to choose which patients they treat, on the basis of cost rather than care); he said GPs would be able to commission the services they need for their patients (in practice, they don’t; the running of the new Clinical Commissioning Groups has been handed over primarily to private healthcare consultants, many of which are arms of private healthcare providers, creating a conflict of interest that is conspicuously never mentioned); and he said that CCGs would be able to choose who provides services on the basis of quality (they can’t; if they restrict any service to a single provider, they risk legal action from private healthcare firms on the grounds that they are breaching competition rules).
Mr Lansley lied about all those matters; it seems Mr Hunt is lying about this one.
Or am I mistaken?
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The modern answer to any problem: If your school or hospital is under-performing, don’t try to solve its problems – close it.
Late last year, a high school here in Powys was tested by inspectors and found so seriously lacking that it was placed in ‘special measures’.
(You’ll be familiar with the term, dear reader, because Jeremy Hunt, the bad-for-your-Health Secretary, has now placed several hospitals in the same category. We’ll get to them soon.)
Leighton Andrews AM, who was Welsh Education Minister at the time, wrote to Powys County Council on January 7 this year, stating that he would be minded to use his ministerial powers to close John Beddoes School, which is nearly 500 years old, if the local education authority failed to demonstrate improvement by the end of the summer term.
The Council’s cabinet immediately decided to ignore any calls for improvement and instead devised three alternative plans for closure. These were outlined in a letter to the Minister on January 30.
The authority then embarked on a formal public consultation which returned an overwhelming result in favour of retaining the school but sorting out its problems – as had been done 10 years previously at the high school in Newtown, around 20 miles away.
But the council’s cabinet chose to add insult to injury, not only by going ahead with its closure plan (so much for local democracy) but also by planning to re-open the school as a second campus of Newtown High, the school that had received remedial treatment in the past and is now one of the highest-performing in Wales.
Meanwhile, in England, all 161 hospital trusts are to be inspected under a new “more robust” regime, in the wake of hysteria stirred up by Downing Street and the right-wing media about failings at 11 hospital trusts. The trusts had been investigated after the so-called Stafford Hospital scandal, as they had the highest death rates between 2010-12. The public inquiry into Stafford concluded that the public had been betrayed by a system that put “corporate self-interest” ahead of patients.
The headlines claimed 13,000 people died needlessly in 14 dangerous hospitals. Polly Toynbee in The Guardian rightly pointed out that this was nonsense: “The Tory ambush was pre-planned by Downing Street as well-primed MPs used a report by Sir Bruce Keogh, the NHS medical director, to turn Labour’s good NHS record into a liability. Labour’s outrage was not synthetic, but indignation within the NHS was even fiercer at seeing the progress of the last decade trashed. The attack was not just on Labour, but on the viability and the future of the NHS itself.
“Where did that 13,000 come from? Not from Keogh’s meticulous report. With an innocent face, the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, protested: ‘I don’t know how that number was put out there.’ It came from No 10 briefers, and was quickly refuted by Keogh, who called it ‘clinically meaningless and academically reckless’. It was also promoted by Professor Sir Brian Jarman, author of the Dr Foster hospital guide.”
Why did the Conservatives put out the misinformation?
Readers of this blog may be forgiven for thinking it’s just another in a long line of goofs by a government that can’t get its facts right.
In fact, it’s part of the ongoing war on the National Health Service, intended to soften up public feeling and smooth the way for ever-greater privatisation.
…because we all know that privatisation works so well and is so much cheaper, don’t we (British Rail)?
There is a link between all three issues. Yes, that’s right, three – not two.
In each case, the public wanted an improved service. The onus was on the appropriate authority to get involved in the situation, find out what was going wrong, and fix it.
But Powys Council’s cabinet couldn’t be bothered – and decided to close a school instead. Closing a school wipes the slate clean and means that the council won’t be seen to have poor-performing education institutions on its books.
The NHS organisations in charge of the 11 failing hospital trusts couldn’t be bothered either – and, according to investigators, chose to cover up the failings in their systems, rather than correct them.
And the Conservative-led Coalition government certainly can’t be bothered. David Cameron and his cronies are busily selling off our greatest national asset, piecemeal, to their big business friends who intend to wring every penny of profit they can make out of it. Do you really think that health care in the UK will improve under such a corrupt regime?
This blog has roundly criticised Mr Hunt for his co-authorship of a book that criticised the NHS, before the Coalition government came to office.
In Direct Democracy, published in 2005, he told readers that the health service was old-fashioned and out of touch: “It was, and remains, a child of its time.”
Now, as local and national government neglect links up with institutionalised ass-covering to bring more and more public services to their knees, the public might well be left wondering why nobody responsible for them feels the need to put them right.
Swivel-eyed loon: And Jeremy Hunt is a member of the government, not a grassroots Conservative association.
The Conservative Party is eating itself from within. It is therefore an odd time for members to go into Labour marginal constituencies, trying to undermine support with a loaded questionnaire.
That, however, is exactly what we have seen this weekend. But then, what did you expect from the Party of Doubletalk? The Nasty Party? The Party that sows Divisive-ness wherever it can, while mouthing platitudes like “We’re all in it together”? The Party that claims it is responsible with the nation’s finances, while threatening to run up greater debts than any of its rivals ever did?
Let’s start on financial responsibility: Sir Mervyn King, who retires as Governor of the Bank of England next month, has warned that the ‘Help to Buy’ scheme for new mortgages must not be allowed to run indefinitely. The scheme has the state guaranteeing up to 15 per cent of a mortgage on homes worth up to £600,000, and is intended to run until 2017. Sir Mervyn’s fear is that the government will expose the taxpayer – that’s you and me – to billions of pounds of private mortgage debt. He said the UK must avoid what happened in the USA, where state-backed mortgage schemes had to be bailed out.
This particular scheme has already run into flak from those who claimed it was a “second-home subsidy” for the very rich. The new criticism raises fears that the Conservatives are actively engineering a situation that will create more unsustainable debt – and we all know what they do to resolve that kind of problem, don’t we?
They cut. Most particularly, they cut parts of the public services that help anyone who doesn’t earn at least £100,000 per year.
And no – before anyone pipes up with it – nobody receives that much on benefits.
For doubletalk, let’s look at Michael Gove. The Education Secretary was heckled and jeered when he appeared before the National Association of Head Teachers’ conference, where members passed a motion of no confidence in his policies.
The BBC quoted Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT: “What I think he’s failed to pick up on is the short termism of the targets and the constant change, [which] means that people no longer feel that they’re doing the job that they came to do, which is to teach children.”
Mr Gove said he had been “delighted with the warmth and enthusiasm” that had greeted some of the government’s education policies.
But he went on to say there would be no change of course: “What I have heard is repeated statements that the profession faces stress, and insufficient evidence about what can be done about it. What I haven’t heard over the last hour is a determination to be constructive. Critical yes, but not constructive.”
Doubletalk. At first he was saying one thing when we know he means something else entirely; then he went on to ignore what he had been told – by the experts – because it did not support his policy.
Meanwhile, of course, the Conservative Party is eating itself alive over Europe. There are so many angles to this, it’s hard to know where to begin!
We know that Conservative backbenchers tried to amend their own government’s Queen’s speech with a motion regretting the lack of intention to legislate for an in/out referendum on membership of the European Union, and we know that 116 of them voted in favour of that motion. That wasn’t anything like enough for it to pass, so David Cameron didn’t have to worry about resigning (as suggested in previous articles on this blog).
Next thing we knew, the Telegraph‘s political editor, James Kirkup, told us a government figure close to the Prime Minister had said the backbenchers had to vote the way they did because they had been ordered to do so by grassroots Conservative association members, and they were all “mad, swivel-eyed loons”.
Downing Street has denied that anybody said such a thing, but Kirkup has tweeted “I stand by my story” – and anyway, the damage has been done. Conservative association members were already at loggerheads with the Parliamentary party and the government, we’re told, because they believe their views are being ignored.
(One wonders what those views might, in fact, be. This could be one case in which ignoring the will of the people is actually the more sensible thing to do!)
Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, has said the Conservatives are “united” in their view of Europe – but then, Jeremy Hunt – as Health Secretary – told Parliament that spending on the NHS has risen in real terms since the Coalition came into office, and we know from Andrew Dilnot, head of the independent UK Statistics Authority, that this is not true.
Lord Howe, on the other hand, has accused Crime – sorry, Prime – Minister David Cameron of “running scared” of Eurosceptics and losing control of the party. This is the man whose resignation speech, which memorably included a comment that being sent to deal with the EU was like being in a cricket team whose captain had broken his bat, signalled the end of Margaret – later Baroness – Thatcher’s career as Prime Minister.
Who do we believe, the silly youngster or the boring old guy? That’s right – we believe the old guy who already brought down one Prime Minister. Perhaps he can do the same to another.
Meanwhile, we were told on Sunday that members of Parliament are all set to receive a pay rise of up to £20,000, starting in 2015, the year of the next general election. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has been considering an increase of between £10,000 and £20,000, with the lower figure most likely – despite a consultation revealing that some MPs (all Conservative) thought they were worth more than £100,000 per year.
Backbencher pay is around £65,000 per year at the moment. This means the pay rise they are likely to get is 15 per cent, while those Conservatives who wanted £100 grand expected a rise of 54 per cent.
Average pay rises for working people over the last year were less than one per cent.
Do you think this is appropriate remuneration for the political organisation that said “We’re all in it together?” Because I don’t.
And this is the time the Conservative Party decides to float a proposal for a two-tier benefit system, in a survey sent to residents of marginal seats held by Labour.
One question asked whether benefit payments should be the same, regardless of how many years a person has paid National Insurance or income tax. If people answered ‘no’, the next question asked what proportion of benefits should be dependent on a record of contribution.
This is insidious. If benefits become dependent on contribution, that means young people without a job will not qualify for benefits – they won’t have paid anything in, so won’t be able to take anything out. Also, what about the long-term sick and disabled (don’t start about fraud – eliminating the 0.4 per cent of fraudulent claims does not justify what the Conservative-led Coalition is already doing to 87/88 per cent of ESA claimants, or what it has started doing to PIP claimants)? Their claims are likely to continue long after their contributions run out.
This is, I think, a trick to allow rich people to get out of paying higher tax rates. Think about it – rich people pay more, therefore they subsidise public services, including social security benefits, for the poor. Get people to support benefit payments based on the amount of money people pay in and the rich get a nice fat tax cut while the poor get their benefits cut off.
Fair? All in it together?
There’s a lot of doubletalk, so sections are headed “helping with the cost of living” (they tend to make it impossible for people to meet that cost) or “making our welfare and benefits system fair” – Tories have never tried to do this in the entire history of that political party.
And respondents were asked to agree with one of two statements, which were: “If you work hard, it is possible to be very successful in Britain no matter what your background” and “In Britain today, people from some backgrounds will never have a real chance to be successful no matter how hard they work”. The correct answer is to agree with the second statement, of course. And this government of public schoolboys have every intention of pushing that situation to its utmost extreme, so if you are a middle-class social climber and you think there are opportunities for you under a Tory government, forget it.
The whole nightmarish rag is prefaced by a letter from David Cameron. It’s very funny if you accept that it’s full of doubletalk and nonsense. Let’s go through it together:
“I’d like to know what you think about some of the steps we’ve taken so far – and I’d like to know your ideas about what more the Government can do to help families like yours,” he begins. He means: I’d like to know what we can say in order to get you to vote for us in 2015. We’ll have no intention of carrying out any promise that does not advantage ourselves and our extremely rich friends. The correct response is: Your policies are ideologically-motivated twaddle that are causing critical damage to this country and its institutions. Your best action in the future will be to resign.
“I think helping people through tough economic times means making sure our welfare and benefits is [sic] fair. That means ensuring the system helps those who do the right thing and want to get on. That’s helping rich people through tough economic times. We’ll make welfare and benefits as unfair to the poor as we can. That means ensuring the system helps those who support us and are rich enough for us to want to help them.Your changes to welfare and benefits have led to thousands of deaths. That is not fair. You are breaking the system.
“That’s why we’ve capped the amount an out-of-work household can receive in benefits, so this can’t be more than an average working family earns. Again I’d like to know what you think about the actions we’ve taken so far, and your ideas to the future.” It’s nothing near what an average working family earns, because they would be on benefits that top up their earnings to more than £31,000 – but you couldn’t cap at that level because almost nobody would have been knocked off the benefit books (all your talk about people taking more than £100,000 in benefits was nonsense). Resign, join a monastery and vow never to enter public life again.
There is no doubt about it – the cracks are beginning to show. Last summer, the Olympic Games gave us spectacular firework displays. As public unrest mounts, it seems likely that we’ll see even more spectacular fireworks this year – unplanned.
But then, that is why the Conservatives bought the water cannons that are being tested at Petersfield. When they go into use, we’ll all know what they really think of the general public.
Ringing the changes: Jeremy Hunt, pictured a split-second before events proved there are TWO bell-ends in this image.
Fellow blogger Sam Bangert just published his latest article, in which he quotes reports in the Telegraph and the Guardian that the government is preparing to withdraw its new regulations that open up the NHS to “compulsory competitive markets”.
It seems that Statutory Instrument 257, that would have seen the demise of the English National Health Service as anything other than a brand name, may be scrapped before it has a chance to wreak the devastation that so many of us fear. That’s a good thing.
The regulations were being brought in under section 75 of the hated Health and Social Care Act 2012, under a process known as ‘negative resolution’. This meant there would be no debate or vote; they would become law 40 working days after they were introduced. In order to fight them, Labour MPs would have had to ‘lay a prayer’, calling for a debate to take place. If they are withdrawn willingly by the government, there’s no need for all that rigmarole.
But there is a very good reason for us to remain extremely suspicious about this affair.
This is not because it’s yet another government U-turn. Yes, we have the most indecisive, vacillating administration in recent British history, but at least in this instance it is doing the right thing.
Having heard Health questions in the House of Commons this morning, one has to wonder whether it is for the right reasons.
You see, comedy Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, knocked back not one but two questions from Labour MPs on this very issue, claiming that the new regulations were nothing more than what Labour would have done.
“Mr Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): “The hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray) asked a key question. Under the secondary legislation being introduced by the Secretary of State under section 75 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, local commissioning groups will be forced to allow private providers into the NHS. These private providers will be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, which will make it harder for patients to compare data between providers. It cannot benefit NHS patients for core clinical services to be given to private providers that do not have to conform to the same standards of transparency as those in the NHS. Will the Secretary of State see reason, ensure a level playing field for the NHS and withdraw the section 75 regulations without delay?
“Jeremy Hunt: “Who exactly are the section-75 bogeymen that the hon. Gentleman hates: Whizz-Kids who are supplying services to disabled children in Tower Hamlets, or Mind, which is supplying psychological therapy to people in Middlesbrough? The reality is that those regulations are completely consistent with the procurement guidelines that his Government sent to primary care trusts. He needs to stop trying to pretend that we are doing something different from what his Government were doing when in fact we are doing exactly the same.”
Later in the same session, the following exchange took place:
“Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): “On 13 March 2012, the former Secretary of State said of the Health and Social Care Bill:“There is absolutely nothing in the Bill that promotes or permits the transfer of NHS activities to the private sector.”—[Official Report, 13 March 2012; Vol. 542, c. 169.]However, the new NHS competition regulations break those promises by creating a requirement for almost all commissioning to be carried out through competitive markets, forcing privatisation through the back door, regardless of local will. Will the Secretary of State agree to make the regulations subject to a full debate and vote of both Houses?
“Jeremy Hunt: If the hon. Gentleman had listened to my previous answer, he would have heard that the regulations are consistent with the procurement guidelines that his own Government sent out to PCTs. It is not our job to be a champion for the private sector or the NHS sector; we want to be there to do the best job for patients. That is the purpose of the regulations.”
If one thing is perfectly clear from these exchanges, it is that the well-known Misprint was not going to be corrected!
Then, a matter of moments later, this happened:
“Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): “In spite of my right hon. Friend’s earlier comments, I am afraid that the regulation that implements section 75 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 does not maintain the assurances previously given and risks creating an NHS that is driven more by private pocket than concern for patient care. Will the Secretary of State please withdraw that regulation and take it back to the drawing board?”
“Norman Lamb, Minister of State, Department of Health: “We are looking at this extremely seriously. Clear assurances were given in the other place during the passage of the legislation, and it is important that they are complied with in the regulations.”
If you are re-reading that, thinking to yourself, “What just happened?”, you’re not the only one!
Mr George added nothing to what the Labour members had said – nothing at all. Yet Mr Lamb’s attitude was a complete, utter and ludicrous reversal of his Secretary of State’s.
He practically tugged his forelock and murmured, “Yes sir, koind master!”
Is this some ridiculous attempt to make it seem that the Coalition is still strongly united?
Is it some bid to show that, no matter what the result of the Eastleigh by-election, they’ll still be friends, working together “for the good of the country” (if anyone still believes that)?
At its lowest level, is it an attempt to show the Liberal Democrats that they are still relevant to British politics?
If so, then it should fail, precisely because the only points made by the Liberal Democrat member had previously been made by Labour.
If the Conservatives try to say the decision was changed because of the Lib Dems – as the Guardian seems determined to suggest – then we should laugh them out of the Commons chamber.
Not the right kind of tree-hugger: This is an artist’s impression of what Jeremy Hunt looked like, hiding behind a tree to avoid being seen going to a meeting with Rupert Murdoch.
It is not a good time to be Jeremy Hunt.
“When is?” I hear you cry. Fair point. The reactions of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh certainly seem to have put the Health Secretary in a state.
He was at a smart Buckingham Palace event, arranged to thank everyone involved in the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, which took place while he was Culture Secretary. He decided this was the moment to put his greatest talent on display.
Clearly, it wasn’t his wit. No, I refer to his talent for making a faux pas – or, in English, a bloody fool of himself.
“I read about a Japanese tourist who said afterwards how wonderful our Queen must be to take part in that, as they would never get their emperor to jump out of the plane,” he told Her Majesty. Faced with an irrelevant comment about a completely different event, she paused, smiled politely, shrugged, and moved on.
Then the Duke of Edinburgh turned up. You may remember he had quite a rough time during the Diamond Jubilee, contracting an infection that hospitalised him for several days. As a result, he probably saw most of it on TV but – clearly – the then-Culture Secretary hadn’t made the slightest impression on him as the first thing he said was, “Who are you?”
Hunt managed to spit out some information about his current job, and that he was Culture Secretary during the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, only to have the Duke respond: “Well they do move you people on a lot.”
We are led to believe Mr Hunt was embarrassed by the whole episode. What makes it worse is that he might have gained a bit more recognition if he had mentioned some of the other public disasters in which he has been involved.
Ask not for whom the bell tolls: Mr Hunt’s bell-end landed in a passing lady’s lap. Oh dear.
Perhaps he should have said, “I’m the fool who went ringing a bell to announce the start of the Olympics, only to have the end fall off and hit a passing lady in the lap”?
Or: “I’m the twit who arrived at a meeting with Rupert Murdoch – a gentleman with whom I have long-standing ties, even though he’s being investigated by an official inquiry ordered by my government – but, finding a multitude of press photographers there and not wanting to be seen publicly with the head of NewsCorp… hid behind a tree. One that was too narrow to stop them from spotting me.”
At least he had the good taste not to mention the moment when James Naughtie mispronounced his surname, live on national radio. The use of the C-word would have been beyond the pale.
(Although, it might have won him the recognition he wanted from the Duke).
Perhaps David Cameron would have been better off introducing into his Cabinet some faces that were more recognisable?
In the 1966 movie Alfie, the main character (Michael Caine) impregnates another man’s wife (played by Vivien Merchant) and has to take her to a backstreet abortionist. Do Maria Miller, Jeremy Hunt and now Theresa May want a return to this extremely dangerous practice?
This won’t be a popular post. It seems you don’t want to read about abortion from the figures on my ‘Killer’ Miller piece.
But I don’t write this blog because I want to be popular; I say some things because they are to be said, and this is one of those pieces. Cutting the time limit on abortions will continue to be ignorant lunacy, no matter how many Cabinet ministers support it.
From that, you can guess my opinion of the Cabinet ministers involved, who are Maria Miller, Jeremy Hunt, and now Theresa May.
The Home Secretary said she thought there was scope for a 20-week limit (the current limit is 24 weeks, remember). The Health Secretary had already gone further, saying he supported halving the limit to just 12 weeks.
This is a man who admits that doctors have operated on his head. Presumably they removed all his intelligence.
Thank goodness they were only expressing personal views, no matter what may be said by those who support the suggestion – oh, what am I saying? The Conservatives are desperate for a popular policy. They’re probably writing it into their Conference speeches right now.
I am glad to see that my own concerns about this were absolutely correct. In a comment on Today, Professor Wendy Savage, a gynaecologist and campaigner on women’s rights, pointed out: “The number of abortions that take place over 20 weeks is very small. Of those a considerable proportion are of foetuses which have got a congenital abnormality.
“I think the majority of the population think that if somebody has got a foetus that, if born, will have a severe disability, they should have the right to choose whether or not to continue with that pregnancy.”
If you’re still undecided on the issue (all 12 or 13 of you who are reading this), try reading Laurie Pennie’s ’24 Reasons for 24 Weeks’, a blog she wrote back in 2008, before the Tory MP Nadine Dorries (remember her?) was defeated in her own attempt to cut the time limit.
Of particular interest should be number 3: “Research shows that lowering the time limit does nothing to lower the number of abortions taking place.” But if they can’t get a legal abortion, where do they go?
There used to be a word for it – what people did when, on top of their main job, they took on another that might be ‘sketchy’ by nature: Moonlighting.
It seems our new health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has been moonlighting – and in a very lucrative way – pocketing £366,000 from his Hotcourses publishing firm, and a further £3,000 for lessons in Mandarin Chinese.
That’s more than 12 times the salary of the average nurse, at a time when millions of healthcare professionals are seeing their pay cut in real terms.
Let me make myself clear: I’m not opposed to people having secondary or tertiary streams of income. In these straitened times, I think many people need the extra money just to make ends meet.
Jeremy Hunt does not fall into that category.
He is now a senior government minister, who takes home an extremely large taxpayer-funded salary for that job. Anyone in his position should be devoting all of their working time to public service, and none of it to their own personal concerns.
Hotcourses tells us that Mr Hunt’s earnings with it are entirely from shares and from taking back and then renting out a building previously owned by the company. In other words, for no work at all.
I don’t care. This is still business that must take his attention away from the Department of Health. He should have left it behind.
It is obscene that a Cabinet minister is banking so much money when the people his department employs – people who work long hours under extremely difficult conditions – are taking a real-terms pay cut.
And it illustrates the contrast between pay for the highest-earning in society and the lowest. Recently we all learned that, if the minimum wage had increased in line with that of company directors, it would be nearly £19 by now.
I wonder how much a nurse’s pay would have increased, if it had been allowed to do so at the same rate?
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