Another week, another hospital appointment in London. I should be entitled to a season ticket at this rate. This time I find myself at Barts for a meeting with a haematologist. She professes herself to be pleased with my progress since the latest haemo- dialysis session in September. But my GP surgery (the g stand for General, hence her surprise that I don’t attend an anti coagulation clinic locally) have kept me on the blood thinning drug warfarin for far too long, exposing me to unnecessary risks in the process.
The reason is a simple one. In this area they are trailing the GP fund holder system. This means all the dosh is given to the GP’s to manage. They then “purchase” services for their patients. So no more access to the diabetes clinic in Hull, the podiatry service, the anti coagulation clinic and, crucially mental health is now devolved to local authorities who in the East Riding have farmed it out to private providers in the form of Relate. So instead of seeing a psychiatrist (which would involve more cost), you speak to someone over the phone who then decides what to do next. In my case it was counselling, but when you realise that your own basic training is only a bit less than the person counselling you, (who looked at her watch throughout one session, summed up by telling me that I was “coping great” (sic), and should “be really proud” (errr, why am I here again?) and ended the session ten minutes early. Brilliant. Welcome to the ConDem NHS on a shoestring.
Being at Barts gave me two hours to spend down at the Occupy London protest in St. Paul’s Cathedral Square. I had spent 40 minutes or so there a couple of weeks ago and had been surprised by the make up of the occupants. No crusties, very few “political” groups such as our friends Tristram and Petronella from Banbury masquerading as Socialist Workers Party class warriors before Oxbridge and the City, or “professional” protestors. The people I listened to were young, unemployed and angry. The word “unfair” was the mot de jour.
This time I was in for a shock and some justifiable anger from the people I ran into. I went to the media tent with my press officer hat on, and encountered the main spokesperson (whose name escapes me). I took my Dictaphone (most people use their hands fnah, fnah!) out and explained that I wanted to report back to my CLP and then issue a press release. “We’ve been here for six weeks and no one from the Labour Party has been down here”. I challenge him. “What about XXXXX? I know he’s been down”. “Well, all he kept saying was how he didn’t want the press to find out. Why the fuck not? What are you lot scared of? We thought Miliband had stopped all that sucking up to the right wing papers. He needs to be here and listening to what the young people are saying. They’re not here for a laugh. This is hard and fucking cold, but they are desperate”. I demur. “Look, have a brew and listen to us for a bit”.
The main anger is directed at the Banks, and our failure to regulate them, and insulate the UK to the meltdown when we were in power. “Canada did it. They made bloody sure that their Banks weren’t mucking about with securities bundles and toxic debt abroad. Why are we so exposed to Irish and Greek debt? Why did no one say, this is madness and totally unsustainable?” I recall a conversation on O’ Connell Street in Limerick during the summer of 2006 when we were speculating as to who the hell was going to stay in the myriad of hotels springing up in the city. If we could see it, why couldn’t those with the power recognise the imbalance in the economic structure?
Next my ear was bashed for Labour breaking the sacroscent principle of an education free for all, for as long as people wanted it via the introduction of tuition fees. Once that line had been crossed it was a synch for the ConDems to extend fees to price lower income families out of educational opportunity. We had opened the door for Tory income related inequality of opportunity to reign supreme. Yes, what could I say? They were totally right. But we have learnt those lessons. “Have you? Have you really? Well, where Miliband, why hasn’t your education person (we wrack our brains but we don’t know who it is which says a lot, Stephen Twigg as it happens) been down? Why won’t you commit to abolishing fees? Again all the points raised are correct.
I make my excuses and leave. Whilst walking towards Barts a bloke a bit younger than me, but considerably older than most occupants, button holes me. He is campaigning for the land tax, which would release £850 billion of dead money to address the structural deficit and enable investment plus a root and branch reform of tax.
I ask him why he got involved. The answer floors me. “I am a conviction Tory. As a Libertarian I want to see all unearned money used to fund small Government, and all earned income should be subject to minimum tax, a flat tax of 10% for all seems fair enough to me. What about schools and hospitals. “Well, if people have the money, and not the Government then they can decide where they want to spend it”. What about the wealth gap? “It would exist, but it would be based on merit as I would not allow any inherited wealth, and any unearned assets would be taxed to fund a basic welfare system for the truly deserving, thereby getting rid of the scrounging culture.” Blimey. “What about immigration? “Free entry for all but NO handouts. What you earn you spend, but if you can’t earn, go home”. Europe. “Total withdrawal. It’s dysfunctional”. Interesting. “The land tax would get rid of our debt, and low tax would see private investment, unencumbered by red tape flourish. We could do whatever the market saw as profitable”. Isn’t that why we are here now? Market forces determined the UK got involved in this entire financial services morass? A discussion on this issue carries on until time dictates I leave. Amazing, what a strange ideology. But radical and refreshing.
Ed Miliband needs to get himself down to St. Paul’s. Sod the media. They hate us anyway; public opinion is radicalised and ahead of where the Labour Party is at the moment.
What harm can come of listening to young people, young people who are so desperate for a future that they are prepared to continue Occupy London in all sorts of foul, cold and dark weather?