ALTHOUGH HARRIET HARMAN never held a front-rank cabinet job, she is probably one of the most influential politicians of recent decades. “I knew exactly what I was coming into Parliament to do,” she writes of her arrival at Westminster following the 1982 Peckham by-election. “I was there for women… we wanted equality, in work and in politics. We wanted childcare, maternity rights, for domestic violence to be taken seriously and for women to play and equal part in political decision making.” Harman has stuck to her agenda for 35 years, with a measure of success that puts most male politicians in the shade.
STPs ARE THE FLIPSIDE of the Five Year Forward View. The 5YFV’s broad vision for the NHS was breezily optimistic, but STPs are – or will be – all about the grinding detail of realising it. In these 44 hastily cobbled-together “footprints” the stark reality of what £22bn in efficiency savings really means for the NHS will play itself out.
As the King’s Fund recently observed, STPs started out as being all about new care models, integration and public health but “the emphasis from national NHS bodies has shifted over time to focus more heavily on how STPs can bring the NHS into financial balance (quickly).”
Most STPs have now found their way into the public domain one way or another. But it’s as clear as mud what they mean for people working for the NHS. Most of the STPs I’ve read have little to say about the impact on the NHS workforce, and engagement with staff and their trade unions – as with patients and the public – seems to have been minimal at best.
SUCH HAS BEEN was my sense of déjà vu this summer that, reading the results of this poll in the Independent, I didn’t immediately clock that it dates from last year’s leadership contest, not the 2016 remake. Still, I don’t see any compelling reason to think the poll’s findings – that the public actually agree, by quite large margins, with many of Jeremy Corbyn’s policies – will have changed much if the questions were asked today (as long as you don’t tell people they’re Jeremy’s policies, of course).
This has been true for a very long time; people are, on some things at least – the old core Labour things, like wages, public transport, fair taxes, free education and so on – more left wing that the media gives them credit for, or the public’s voting record would suggest. It only tells half the story of course: voters have quite a few policy positions – on welfare, immigration and crime, for example – which Jeremy wouldn’t like at all.
I’ve nothing against grammar schools; it’s the secondary moderns I don’t like. For younger readers, secondary moderns are the schools you go to if you don’t get into a grammar school. You can call them what you like, but secondary moderns is what they are: every child there has either failed the 11-plus or not even been entered for it. “A grammar school in every town” automatically turns all other schools in the area into secondary moderns.
IT’S BEEN ONE OF THE MANTRAS of economic policy since I was a kid: the government shouldn’t try to “pick winners” but leave the fate of industries and firms to the market. Anyone who has unthinkingly accepted the free market dogma that has dominated economics for the last 35 years might think this is one of the founding laws of the discipline, rather than a Thatcherite political slogan dreamt up in the 1970s. You even hear left-wingers reciting it, especially when they’re trying to show how “serious” they are.
Writing in the Guardian last Friday, Martin Kettle (hardly the most left-wing hack on that paper) has challenged this dogma using the example of Team GB’s remarkable success at the Rio Olympics. Almost everyone accepts this was largely down to the investment of public money, mainly but not exclusively from the national lottery. This money wasn’t spent on just anyone, nor was it left to the market. Public money was invested in the athletes that experts thought had a good chance of winning. We tried to pick winners, and in many cases, it seems we picked right.
LOOKING BACK on last month’s EU referendum, my hunch is that the “take back control” message probably swung it in the last week. As a political message it had everything, all packed into three words. I don’t know if this was a stroke of genuis on the part of someone at Vote Leave or just a happy (for them) accident. Although they never actually used these three words on their publicity material, here’s ten reasons why “take back control” was probably the most devastatingly effective political slogan of modern times.
THE APPOINTMENT of Boris Johnson as foreign secretary is either a very smart move by Theresa May or an incredibly stupid one. I can’t make up my mind which.
It’s certainly a gamble of some sort. Until now, even May’s own supporters weren’t claiming that she was much more than “a safe pair of hands” – Westminster-speak for “boring and cautious”. Boris’s surprise elevation, the sacking of Osborne, Gove, Whittingdale, Crabb and Morgan, and the hospital pass of DEFRA to her vanquished rival Andrea Leadsom, were bolder moves than anyone expected. This could be the brisk radicalism of someone who has acquired power quickly and confidently. Or it could be a streak of Cameroonian carelessness.
WATCHING EVENTS UNFOLD post-Brexit reminds me of the scene in the original Dad’s Army movie when a streamroller “driven” by Captain Mainwaring and Corporal Jones accidentally crushes a line of tents at a training camp. Mainwaring says sorry for destroying the tents, only to be told: “You will be. It was you that was gonna be sleeping in ‘em.”
No one can stop Brexit, and no one can steer or control it either. The hapless Brexit leadership, stuck in the cab like Mainwaring and Jones, have been reduced to shouting “don’t panic” in a grim parody of their campaign strategy, which was simply to ignore facts and shout louder than anyone else. This is a self-inflicted disaster pressed on us by politicians who are simply out of their depth.
I WANT TO MAKE a final appeal to you to vote for Britain to stay in the European Union in tomorrow’s referendum. And I want to do it by addressing the issue of migration head on.
Let’s not pretend leaving the EU won’t give us more control over migration. It will. We may not want to do it, we may not need to do it, but we would have the power to limit migration from other EU countries. Of course, It won’t do anything about migration from outside the EU, which accounts for more than half of net migration into the UK.
BREXIT CAMPAIGNERS have a long charge sheet against the EU. In fact, it sometimes seems like there’s nothing wrong in Britain today that can’t be solved by leaving the union. Whether they’re talking about NHS cuts, overcrowded schools, the decline of manufacturing industry, the shortage of housing, Islamist terrorists, rural poverty, urban poverty, unemployment, low wages, unions being too weak or unions being too strong, it’s usually “Brussels” that’s to blame. The other day, I even saw someone blaming the EU for underperforming kettles and hairdryers (not a problem I even realised we had).
If even a fraction of this were true, it would be very odd indeed that 27 other countries are still EU members and many others are clamouring to join. Maybe Brexiteers really do think that all foreigners are stupid, or maybe these things only affect Britain, leaving all other 27 member states mysteriously untouched.