By secondhand daylight

So the psychologist stops the Rorschach test halfway through – there’s no point continuing this, he says, you’re clearly obsessed with sex. The patient’s outraged. I’m obsessed? You’re the one who keeps showing me the dirty pictures!

While this is primarily a political blog – it has been up to now, anyway – there’s a lot I don’t like about political blogging. I particularly dislike political rants – those posts that start by swearing at somebody who’s been in the paper, then quote bits of what they’ve said with occasional sarcastic interjections, and finish by wheeling on some more swearing with the air of an argument proved. There’s something obsessive, almost paranoid about those posts – See? See? I told you they were a bunch of bastards, and now they’ve as good as admitted it! Look, it says so here! All you really achieve with a post like that is to feed your obsession, making yourself – and anybody who shares it – feel righteously justified. Which is never a good look.

I hate those posts, and I did think that my policy of avoiding swearwords and qualifying value judgments was enough to keep me from writing them. I was wrong about that one, of course – you can use the language of sweet reason and still be as angry and self-righteous as a Daily Mail leader column (case in point). I’ve done this in the past and intend to do less of it in future.

Still. Just one more, eh?

I gave up on Labour a long time ago – 1997, to be precise. It seemed to me then that Blair’s leadership had changed the party, not only to a greater degree than, but in a different way from any of his post-war predecessors. Foot, Kinnock and Smith fought a battle on two fronts, trying to keep the Labour project going in some form while persuading the powers in the land that their version of Labourism had finally been shorn of all the elements that made it unacceptable. The mood of Blair’s leadership was entirely different: the last apologetic vestiges of liberalism, social reform and internal democracy were jettisoned without regret – with enthusiasm, in fact. In their place we had a new ‘Labour’ party, committed to corporate capitalism, punitively exclusive communitarianism and – not least – the complete control of the party’s decision-making structures by the parliamentary leadership. (And yes, I did say all this in 1997.)

So I can’t say I’m entirely surprised by the way things have been going since the last election, as Blair steps up the pace in an attempt to turn the country into his own political mausoleum. But today’s news has been more than usually depressing.

Falconer:

“You do not need the same process for resolving whether you have paid your TV licence as one does for a major violent crime. Justice is reduced if three magistrates sit in court all afternoon effectively listening to names and addresses being read out, and a formal piece of evidence being read, and then fining someone. You are slowing down other cases that most certainly do need to be dealt with in court. A caution outside court, a conditional caution, a disorder notice or a fixed-penalty notice can be used with cases like TV licences, shoplifting, petty criminal damage, minor brawls after a night out.”

(I really am offended by that line “Justice is reduced”, implying actual benefits from a scheme that’s never been tried – and which of its nature is likely to produce injustice. But only for the kind of people who get into ‘minor brawls after a night out’, and who cares about them?)

Then there’s Hewitt, who was actually quite left-wing at one time:

The health secretary will issue the “Business Arrangements” manual explaining how NHS finances should be controlled during 2006/7, when her reforms are due to create unprecedented instability in the service. She will say: “Excellence in financial management is the prerequisite for high quality sustainable services.” Trusts will have to say goodbye to “a culture of balance sheet adjustments and handouts” that allowed hospitals to tolerate inefficiency on the assumption that the NHS would bail them out. … Until this year, hospitals could fairly accurately predict the number of patients they would be expected to treat. They agreed contracts with local primary care trusts guaranteeing most of the income they needed to do the work. Patients can now choose, however, from a menu of at least four local NHS trusts where they are entitled to free treatment. Consequently, hospitals can lose income if they do not attract enough patients. The fee they get for each attendance is also being priced differently. A national tariff was set last April for all non-emergency operations. If a hospital spent more than the norm for a particular procedure, it lost money on every patient treated.

Excellence in financial management is what it’s all about; pay the staff less, charge the patients more, and if you still can’t balance the books you’ll just have to make way for somebody who can. Sorry, but that’s business.

(Update:

The Department of Health will today publish a rulebook for NHS managers in 2006/7, to help them navigate “a year of transition” – with more patient choice and less certainty for trusts about how much they will earn. Ministers changed the document after reading a report in the Guardian on Monday about their intention to make strong financial discipline the “top priority” for the NHS. Ms Hewitt said they never meant this to imply that the government thought balancing the books was more important than curing patients. To avoid confusion, financial rigour was removed from the top of a list of priorities including tackling health inequality, reducing waiting times and combating the MRSA hospital superbug. Excellence in financial management is now “a prerequisite”, not a priority.

I’ve read this story three times now, and two out of three times I misread the penultimate sentence as ‘To add to the confusion…’. Which is certainly what this ‘clarification’ does. In practical terms it’s hard to see any difference between ‘top priority’ and ‘prerequisite’ – they’re both names for the thing you have to achieve first. What’s really odd is that ‘prerequisite’ is the word Hewitt used in the first place: rearranging the semantic deck-chairs would be pointless enough, but she’s not even doing that.)

And then there was this from The Register, suggesting that we’re getting a national identity database whether the ID cards bill goes through or not – courtesy of the Passport Service (hence the Reg’s rather wonderful title “Plan B from Petty France”). That’s the Passport Service, which operates under the royal prerogative and is thus effectively immune to parliamentary oversight: the government makes the rules, and by ‘government’ we of course mean the Prime Minister and his appointed advisors. (Not that the guy’s involved in this story, but what kind of person accepts the title of ‘Lord Adonis’? It’s the kind of name Philip Pullman would discard as too fanciful.) The Register goes so far as to wonder if the Queen might like to start asking some questions about what’s being done in her name – and you thought things were bad when we were falling back on the Lords…

I hate political rants, and I’m going to write fewer of them in future. But it would help a lot if this government would stop showing me the dirty pictures.

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3 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    Posted 24 January 2006 at 16:14 | Permalink | Reply

    More rants please! Pretty much on the money.

  2. Rob Jubb
    Posted 24 January 2006 at 21:31 | Permalink | Reply

    There’s an important disanalogy here: the Rorschach test doesn’t involve being shown dirty pictures.

  3. Phil
    Posted 24 January 2006 at 22:11 | Permalink | Reply

    Well spotted. But I don’t think the disanalogy’s complete. I’ll explain what I mean in the next post.

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