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A few days ago a video was posted to a group called The Great NHS Heist. It’s worth a look if you want to see a classic example of the texting-to-avoid-talking-to-someone technique of avoiding embarrassing questions.
It may have just been me, but I couldn’t help thinking during the footage that there just weren’t enough strategically placed lampposts or loose paving slabs in the street where it was being shot. An open manhole cover would have done just as well, but that would have been too much to ask for.
If you’re not familiar with the target of this bit of street theatre it’s one Sir Oliver Letwin who in 1988 helped to write the blueprint for the privatisation of the NHS with amateur Vulcan impersonator and well known singer of the Welsh National Anthem, John Redwood.
In a pamphlet for the Centre for Policy Studies think-tank entitled ‘Britain’s Biggest Enterprise: ideas for radical reform of the NHS’ Letwin compared the NHS to the Soviet Union, claiming prisoners in high security jails are no worse off than NHS patients.
If this wasn’t charming enough, the report went on to make five key recommendations which may look startlingly familiar to us now nearly 30 years on
1 – The establishment of the NHS as an independent trust
2 – Increased use of joint ventures between the NHS and private sector
3 – Extending the principle of treatment charges
4 – A system of ‘health credits’
5 – A national health insurance scheme
The first two of these aims were achieved in 2012 under the Health and Social Care Act, something Letwin voted enthusiastically for, and it’s arguable that we’re well on the way to number 3 with many NHS Trusts now relying to a large extent on private patients and elective surgery to balance the books.
Both Labour and the Conservatives have followed this plan down the years, notably with New Labour’s love affair with PFI which is currently one of the most onerous costs weighing down our creaking health service. But Letwin has remained one of the greatest champions of NHS privatisation during his time in public life.
In 2004, he told a private meeting that the NHS would ‘cease to exist’ within five years of a Tory government, a timetable which thankfully the Tories are somewhat behind on, although as we all know, they’re doing their best to catch up.
As someone who has been heavily involved in companies that support private healthcare, this may simply have been wishful thinking on his behalf. He was a non-executive director of N.M. Rothschild Corporate Finance Ltd up until 2009, one of the world’s largest investment companies moving heavily into the healthcare market. In 2006 he was quoted in a Sunday Times article as saying there would be “no limits” on private sector involvement in the NHS, although this was later strenuously denied.
Indeed it is very odd that he remained so recalcitrant when door-stepped by The Great NHS Heist interviewer since he has been so expansive on NHS policy on his own website. Perhaps he didn’t think he could actually say this crap out loud with a straight face. He’s not been one for hiding his light under a bushel in the past though and has never been far from one public gaff or other.
During Cameron’s reign, when he was policy chief and key Cabinet minister, some particularly grimy remarks came to light that he’d made to Margaret Thatcher advising her how to respond to social unrest in inner city black communities in the 1980s. Comments such as “white people don’t riot” stand out as quite poignant, if perhaps somewhat less prescient than his views on the NHS.
Other notable occasions when he took aim at his mouth with his foot include his comments in 1993 when he said he’d rather beg for school fees than let his children go to a state school, and some allegedly choice words in 2011 about the people of Sheffield. His claim that the Tories had fixed everything in 2012 and they could ‘put their feet up’ by 2014 is one of my particular favourites.
Apart from his NHS predictions, perhaps one of his most cogent admissions came again in 2011, when he explained to a group of Coalition MPs that the Tories had essentially run out of ideas. Of course it would take another 6 years before Theresa May would finally hand round the suggestion box in Westminster to prove his point.
With all this in mind it’s a joy to see this old Etonian desperately trying to avoid opening his mouth when being asked some very pertinent questions by a health campaigner. For someone who usually has so much to say on the subject it’s telling that he’s not so keen to expound his toxic views when questioned about them by the proverbial man in the street.
The video is a joy to watch and I commend the interviewer for his perseverance and restraint in the face of such abject ignorance.
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