Save the NHS: Tories’ Own Auditor Finds “Financial Problems are Endemic and This is Not Sustainable” for NHS’s Survival

22.11.16

Campaigners for the NHS with a banner featuring Nye Bevan's famous quote about the NHS. Photo by Andy Worthington, from 'Britain Needs A Pay Rise', a march and rally in London organised by the TUC on October 18, 2014.

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The NHS faces an unprecedented crisis, and it’s all the Tories’ fault (with the help of some senior NHS officials). A new report by the National Audit Office, the government’s official auditor, has found that “[t]wo-thirds of health trusts in England are now in deficit,” and “their total debt has almost trebled since 2015 to £2.45bn,” as the Guardian described it, adding that auditors “were particularly alarmed by the decision to transfer £950m [out of a total of £4.6bn] from the NHS’s budget for buildings and IT to pay staff’s wages.”

The report follows the revelation on Monday that, as the Guardian described it, “[c]ontroversial plans put forward as a way of improving the health service in England and ensuring its sustainability risk being used as a cover for cuts and running down the NHS,” as Dr. Mark Porter, the chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) council explained. The Guardian added that the BMA stated that the 44 regional Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) put forward in September “amount to £22bn in cuts by 2020-21 to balance the books, which will have a severe impact on patient care” — an understatement if ever I heard one. The impact, if implemented, would be nothing short of disastrous.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, stated that its report found that the NHS’s “financial problems are endemic,” and that this situation “is not sustainable” for a functioning health service. Her analysis of the crisis also included a recognition that “an increasing number of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs)” — the groups set up under the Tories’ complete (and manifesto promise-breaking) overhaul of the NHS —  were “unable to keep their spending within budget.”

The Guardian pointed out that knowledgeable MPs have been saying that the report “amounts to one of the the most critical assessments of NHS finances by official auditors, as their reports usually err on the side of caution,” adding that it “will add to pressure on Theresa May and the chancellor, Philip Hammond, to set aside extra money in the autumn statement on Wednesday to plug the funding gap in the health service.”

Meg Hillier, the chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said in response to the report’s publication, “I call on the prime minister to address [in the autumn statement] the realities of increasing deficits in NHS trusts, long-term workforce problems, unrealistic efficiency targets and the impact these financial stresses are having on the quality of services.” She added that the Department of Health was making “pie in the sky assumptions” about closing the funding gap.

The National Audit Office also explained, as the Guardian put it, that the NHS “entered the current financial year with a ‘worse than expected starting point,’” and that this “could hamper plans to close the estimated £22bn gap between patients’ needs and resources by 2020/21” via the 44 regional Sustainability and Transformation Plans. The Guardian pointed out that the Department of Health, NHS England and NHS Improvement have estimated that “they can make £6.7bn of efficiency savings through measures including capping public sector pay and renegotiating contracts,” and that “trusts and CCGs can make a further £14.9bn of savings by ‘moderating the growth in demand for healthcare services’ and by making 2% productivity and efficiency improvements.”

However, this is rubbish, as the auditors realised, and as senior figures involved in healthcare have been aware of during the development of the STPs.

In September, Chris Ham, chief executive of the King’s Fund think tank, said, “There are concerns that some areas are focusing on plans to reorganise acute hospital services, despite evidence that major reconfigurations of hospital services rarely save money and do not necessarily improve care.” He added that “[p]lans in some STPs to reduce the number of hospital beds are also unlikely to succeed.”

Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust think tank, was even more critical. “I’ve been visiting a lot of STPs and nobody I’ve spoken to is confident they can reduce the financial gap,” he said, adding, “One insider said to me: ‘Optimism bias abounds.’”

For their part, the National Audit Office, having examined the estimates for proposed savings, “warned they had not been properly tested,” and stated that this “raises concerns about whether planned savings can be achieved”. In addition, on the Department of Health’s £950m transfer from the capital project budget to cover staff wages, the NAO noted, “The department did not assess the long-term effects of transferring this funding to cover day-to-day spending. This means it does not know what risks trusts may face in future as a result of addressing immediate funding needs.”

A year ago, “amid mounting fears about the pressures” faced by the NHS, the Cameron/Osborne Tory government announced that front-line NHS services in England would “get a £3.8bn, above-inflation cash injection” in 2016, as the BBC put it, but the Guardian noted that “hospital executives said this week that the money was not enough.”

Chris Hopson, of NHS Providers, “said the settlement needed to be redrawn,” and Prof. Jane Dacre, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said that the NHS was not only “struggling to balance today’s books,” but was also “unable to invest in new plans,” in the Guardian’s words. As she said, “We need an NHS budget that meets the demand for health services now and in the future.”

The urgent need to defend the NHS, the UK’s greatest creation

Last November’s recognition by George Osborne that the NHS urgently needed more money was a sign of the urgency of the situation, as the Tories, in general, would like to starve the NHS of funds as much as possible to allow private healthcare providers to take over, thereby thoroughly destroying this county’s greatest creation. However, they are also aware that they cannot be seen to do so, or voters might rebel and destroy them instead.

My description of the NHS as this county’s greatest creation is not a casual one, and it is also one shared by millions of my fellow citizens. Crucially, the NHS is paid for by general taxation, on the basis of which everyone, from the richest to the poorest, is guaranteed free treatment when their lives are at risk, and is also guaranteed free treatment for other significant health issues. The NHS is generally described as “free at the point of entry,” which it is, but it is also “free at the point of exit.” Because all payment is made through taxation, at no point does anyone get asked for payment — or refused treatment if they can’t afford it, or given a bill that will take them years, or decades to pay off, or end up being made homeless if they can’t afford to keep up their repayments.

For the immeasurable peace of mind this gives to all British citizens, the only inconvenience is that those on the higher tax rates (40% and 45%) pay more through general taxation than those on the standard rate (20%), and those who are unemployed or retired pay nothing in taxation. The redistributive element annoys the rich and greedy, but, to be blunt, their selfish obsessions are detrimental for society as a whole.

The Tories, however, disagree — as do those MPs of other parties who have investments in private healthcare providers and who stand to make handsome personal profits the more the taxpayer-funded NHS is destroyed.

Unfortunately, the enemies are not just in Parliament (and, as ever, in parts of the media). As we learned during the successful 2012-13 campaign to save Lewisham Hospital, senior NHS management has also bought into the alleged “need” for huge savings to be made to the NHS — largely through hospital closures, and some idiotic and poorly-conceived notion that people can be trained not to be ill.

For Lewisham, the NHS managers’ long-standing desire has been to downgrade Lewisham Hospital so that it no longer has an A&E Department, which would mean that it could no longer have a maternity department, and this, in turn, would mean that the entire population of Lewisham — 270,000 and rising — would have no maternity services. Try replacing Lewisham with Brighton, Hull or Newcastle, whose populations are similar, and suggesting that they should have their A&E departments shut down, so that anyone with any kind of emergency or potential emergency — first-time mothers, for example — would have to be sent to another city. It’s a ludicrous proposal, and just because the distances are shorter in London doesn’t detract from the reality that any neighbouring boroughs are already struggling to cope wth the demands of they own populations, which, of course, also run into the hundreds of thousands.

As I stated repeatedly at the time of the Lewisham campaign, every borough in London needs its own fully-functioning hospital, whereas the plans for Lewisham would have meant that three London boroughs — Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley — with a total population of 750,000 would have had only one A&E Department between them, in Woolwich.

Stop the cuts

In the end, the only viable solution for the NHS is for the £22bn efficiency plan to be halted until the NHS is at least able to function once more without being crippled by debts and shortfalls based on unattainable financial targets. At present, we have a ludicrous situation whereby billions of pounds of cuts are being made at the same time that billions of pounds are being put back into the NHS to stop its complete collapse — the kind of bureaucratic idiocy at which politicians and senior business managers excel.

And when the freeze on the £22bn cuts takes place, the only acceptable next step is for the NHS to be audited publicly and openly, and for those who are able to defend its importance honestly to be allowed to point out how much it costs run an adequately funded NHS and, as a result, how much we all will need to pay in increased taxes to ensure its survival.

I am sure that, if implemented honestly, this would be supported by a majority of the British people — although I should note that, when factoring in the demands placed on the NHS by an ever-aging population, I think it is only appropriate for wealthier retirees to accept that means testing should be introduced to assess their ability to continue paying for the NHS even in retirement if they are wealthy enough.

This, I know, is a radical proposal, as wealthier retirees vote in large numbers, and as a result politicians rarely propose anything that would challenge  them. However, on this, as on the need for an open debate to secure the necessary funding for the NHS’s survival, I can see no other way forward that is viable.

In conclusion, I am also prepared to accept that, in the UK as it currently stands, my conclusions mean that, officially, I am in dreamland, because, to bring about the above, we would not only need to get rid of most of our current politicians (including the lying advocates of the campaign to leave the EU, who lied so scandalously about saving £350m a week to be spent on the NHS); we would also need to disable the monstrous biased media operations in this country that persistently seek to destroy public services for malignant ideological reasons.

But, really, what other choice do we have? Do nothing, and moan about irrelevant issues, or distract ourselves with nonsense as the Tories, corrupt Labour MPs, greedy corporations and the corporate media turn back the clock back to a time before the creation of the NHS? I think not. We need to fight. As Nye Bevan, founder of the NHS in the post-war Labour government said, the NHS “will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it.”

Note: The photo at the top of this article is from my second photo set on Flickr from the TUC-led ‘Britain Needs A Pay Rise’ protest on October 18, 2014. The first set is here. Where is the trade union movement’s mass mobilisation against Theresa May’s useless government, I wonder?

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

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45 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, following up on two disturbing developments relating to Britain’s greatest achievement, the NHS. In cahoots with the Tories, NHS senior managers are proposing £22bn of cuts, while at the same time the National Audit Office has pointed out that the NHS is at breaking point and needs further investment, not another massive programme of cuts. We need to get rid of the Tories, and any other politicians who support the privatisation of the NHS (usually for personal gain), and get a government that wants to save it. An honest audit might well show the need for increased taxation to fund the NHS – to support an ever-aging population, for example – but the British people would support it if they were told the truth (not that the corrupt corporate media will encourage them, of course).

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Cathy Teasdale wrote:

    Well said Andy. Death by a thousand cuts & Not His (body parts) to Sell. It breaks my heart.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Hunt still in charge – how disgusting is that, Cathy, and of course there’s the whole NHS tourism sham that’s supposed to distract us from who’s actually draining the NHS of money – and it’s not the hapless immigrants blamed for everything as usual, it’s the government and the greedy scum like Richard Branson out to make a killing from a privatised NHS – ‘Hospitals may require patients to show passports for NHS treatment’: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/nov/21/hospitals-may-require-patients-to-show-passports-for-nhs-treatment

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    A great response from doctors – Dr Simon Stallworthy described it as “disgusting”, saying it was not the role of the NHS to be “actively working to kick migrants out”. In an email to the Guardian he added: “Many doctors would boycott it. The NHS is founded on the principle that healthcare should be free and accessible to all and that we, as doctors, make our decisions about what’s best for our patients without external influence or pressure. Being forced to become part of immigration services and actively blocking vulnerable people from accessing much-needed healthcare is fundamentally incompatible with the ethical and moral obligations placed on us as doctors.”
    See: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/nov/22/doctors-threaten-to-boycott-plan-for-patients-to-show-id-for-nhs-care

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    The leech Branson – ‘Virgin Care wins £700m contract to run 200 NHS and social care services’:

    NHS campaigners warned that the history of previous privatisations of NHS services in other parts of England may mean the quality of care patients receive drops once Virgin takes over.

    “This is obviously part of a big push by Virgin to dominate the supply of community health across England. The experience so far from NHS outsourcing is that companies struggle to deliver the level of service that patients need and make a profit,” said Paul Evans, co-ordinator of the NHS Support Federation, which monitors NHS contracts being awarded to firms such as Virgin.

    “In too many instances outsourced healthcare has resulted in care being compromised to cuts costs. Patients need secure services that they can trust and rely on,” Evans added.

    See: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/nov/11/virgin-care-700m-contract-200-nhs-social-care-services-bath-somerset

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Cathy Teasdale wrote:

    Re.your first comment, I know, Hunt being reinstated/kept news was the next worst news after Brexit, utterly disgusting & wholly unjustifiable. Totally agree with the rest, & great response from the Dr. Things are getting even more scarily fascist under May. If only more people could see that & there could be a general election quick smart that elects Corbyn. Right now, it’s the NHS’s only chance.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    I think we ourselves need to do it, Cathy. I’m hoping there’ll be a renewed push to create a people’s movement to save the NHS as a response to the crisis it’s in currently. Cross-party support is required. Whoever is to blame (mostly the media, but also our fellow citizens on their own initiative), Theresa May is very popular right now, Jeremy Corbyn is not. A snap election would be a spectacular defeat for Labour and a huge victory for the Tories. It’s like a polite version of 1933, but it’s the reality we have to deal with.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Cathy Teasdale wrote`;

    Is she really popular? How can that be? Can so many really not see?!

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, the polling appears incomprehensible, Cathy – Tories on 42%, Labour on 28%. When asked, ‘Who would make the best Prime Minister?” 44% said Theresa May, just 18% said Jeremy Corbyn: https://yougov.co.uk/news/2016/11/18/voting-intention-conservatives-42-labour-28/
    It’s partly (a) that the media did such a prolonged hatchet job on Corbyn, when they weren’t making him invisible, but it’s also that (b) the left in general isn’t appealing to people in large enough numbers. (a) obviously affects (b) partly, but not entirely. At present, I’d say, we have to take the figures at face value. 1 in 5 want Corbyn, more than 2 in 5 want May, and the rest don’t know. Depressing.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    Seems like they are deliberately trying to break it

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Sadly, yes, Tashi, so that they can hand it all to private companies and make a ton of money through investments in those companies and being given lucrative non-executive directorships as a reward for services rendered.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    and to all who need it be damned

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    And it seems, Tashi, that the vultures are beginning to circle in Canada too – ‘Cherry-picking the healthiest, wealthiest patients: the reality of private pay healthcare’: http://www.nationalobserver.com/2016/11/22/opinion/cherry-picking-healthiest-wealthiest-patients-reality-private-pay-healthcare

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    Yes. We have certain kinds of health coverage here in Ontario but of course, if you can pay, you get better service, better care, better outcomes. If you are using the public system, you take whatever you can get, meaning longer wait times, worse services. Thankfully, it’s not like the States where some go into debt or lose their fortunes, savings, homes, due to health problems. I think the British system is great and it is socially conscious and very human to provide vital services to all. Now of course, people are putting profit before humanity. I even read that they want people to produce passports before they’ll receive help from NHS. Omg, “you’re dying of a bullet wound? Let me see your passport. Oh, you forgot it on the sidewalk when you got shot? Farewell then.”

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Sorry to hear that your universal system is being eroded, Tashi. I’m pretty convinced the “health tourism” story is a desperate ploy by the government to detract attention from the National Audit Office’s profoundly troubling criticism. Politicians wheel it out over and over again, but the doctors aren’t interested. That’s not what they signed up for,and it’s difficult to see, with the British system, how it could be enforced. Plus, it’s not a lot of money compared to the overall costs of running the NHS. Great article here from Rachel Clarke, a junior doctor in Oxford – “I’m a doctor, not a gatekeeper turning ‘health tourists’ away”: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/22/doctor-health-tourists-passports-patients-migrants-nhs-government-cuts

    The opening paragraphs:

    What better way of diverting attention from the government’s failure to address NHS underfunding ahead of the autumn statement than to turn up the heat on immigrants? You know, those hordes of NHS-clogging health tourists who come over here, steal all the GP appointments and make you wait half the night in A&E. Makes you sick, doesn’t it? No wonder our poor NHS is struggling.

    Except, as Chris Wormald – the Department of Health mandarin whose comments have dominated front pages – knows better than anyone, the cost of so-called health tourism is a drop in the ocean of NHS spending. An estimated £200m a year is spent treating people who have travelled to the UK with the deliberate intent of obtaining free healthcare to which they are not entitled. That’s a mere 0.3% of the overall NHS budget.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    Andy I’ve been making similar observations against a flood of indignation that anyone “foreign” might be getting benefit from our hospitals and their medical staff. The whiff of alt-right racism is barely concealed in their angry attempt at sounding reasonable and rational. It’s very dispiriting and discouraging to feel that once again we will have to fight the battles and arguments of the 1940s/1950s/1960s/1970s all over again

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    The thing is, David, cynical governments seeking cheap support for bashing “health tourists” is nothing new, but the current climate is so disturbing that if the authorities also suggested that any foreigner, either visiting or living here, should also be made to wear some sort of badge indicating their status, there would be millions of people who would endorse such a plan. A six-sided yellow star, anyone? (as the Nazis used through out Europe to identify Jews)

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Oh, and also, David, I’ve been thinking about “alt-right” and I think it must always be followed by a qualifying explanation. What do you think’s best? “white supremacists” or “far-right”?

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    By the way, David (and anyone else who might be reading), I make a suggestion like that of an identifying badge for foreigners not just because I think it could theoretically be proposed and accepted by millions of people, but also because I think we need to be actively pushing back against these opinions, and others like them, and constantly challenging them. I’m not sure if the people already monitoring press bias are getting the word out pervasively enough. I think we need people dedicated to exposing it constantly.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    In this case we should think of the ‘crowd’ not as a gathering group on the street but rather a group that convenes in society – pushing forth their ideas upon the whole, such as ‘benefit scroungers’, ‘medical tourists’, ‘migrants takeover’ and so on. These ideas congeal into new accepted forms of rational thought. In that sense, ‘rationality’ is used against us as a weapon of conformity. Being attached to the ‘crowd’, a part of the ‘crowd’ becomes ultimately more import than the sense of ‘right or wrong’ and hence, we witness a repetition of dangerous ideologies overtaking any sense of compassion or empathy. As we are not individual but rather connected beings that depend on one another for our survival, we are likely genetically designed to follow the ‘group, crowd, mob’ mentality for our very survival.

    Emergent norm theory suggests that crowds come together because a crisis occurs that forces people to abandon prior conceptions of appropriate behavior and find new ways of acting. When a crowd forms, there is no particular norm governing crowd behavior and no leader exists. But the crowd focuses in on those who act in a distinctive manner, and this distinction is taken on as the new norm for crowd behavior. As this new norm begins to be institutionalized within the crowd, pressures for conformity and against deviance within the crowd develop, and discontent is silenced. This silencing of alternative views contributes to the illusion of unanimity within the crowd.

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/9780470674871.wbespm432/full

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Scary stuff, Tashi. I wasn’t aware that part of what Trump and Farage have been doing – or have tapped into, or have precipitated, even perhaps without consciously intending to – had been analysed in such detail by academics. For context, that’s an article, ‘Emergent Norm Theory,’ by Mikaila Mariel Lemonik Arthur from the Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social and Political Movements.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Weird, here’s an examination of ‘Emergent Norm Theory’ from 1998, in the context of the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 1993: http://fseg2.gre.ac.uk/heed/participants_area/work_area/resource_documents/aguirrebe_wtc93_collective_b.pdf

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    Andy In the present climate the best hope for keeping Trump’s more extreme tendencies contained may lie in Congress with centre-right and other conservative politicians in the US for whom the bigotry is too much. Spiked has a centrist article defending Bannon from the white supremacist charge but not from the bigot charge. It seems a relatively modest demand from Left, Centre and Right that Congress block this appointment even if they strongly disagree with the cry of “fascist” coming from liberal circles. This man is the last person who should be advising a vulnerable narcissist like Trump. That’s not to say that activists shouldn’t be lighting a fire under their representatives.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    I think you’re right about the need – the moral obligation – for Bannon to be blocked, David, but I’m reluctant to trust Spiked on anything, as they seem to be the kind of disgruntled former lefties who often end up defending right-wing positions.

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote, in response to 22, above:

    Andy, I don’t think it is weird. I think it is well researched, well understood and well planned. It is a massive scale of movement in a desired flow according to the manipulative forces of cause and effect. To use our own genetic predispositions against us is quite brilliant, if you think about it. For someone who believes in ‘self determination’ as a concept, it would be doubly disturbing because one can actually be tricked into thinking that one is actually making choices while all the time they’ve been consistently pushed in any number of directions.
    I am really impressed that you found that article. I will have to read it in more depth when I get a chance.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    I only meant weird in that it’s about the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, Tashi – the precursor to 9/11, which, of course, has come to be the main focus of my working life over the last ten – nearly 11 – years. Thanks for your analysis, btw.

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Melani Finn wrote:

    Another issue is there’s reciprocity – the very real health tourism of Brits who travel to countries like Bulgaria for major operations (and get preferential treatment too). It’s definitely a media management ploy (the media being all too happy to comply with the agenda to prove apparent competence) and only those who know better are not fooled.

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Melani. A very good point. Here’s the Mirror’s analysis: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/how-much-health-tourism-actually-9307953
    The hypocrisy strikes me as similar to that regarding how those who come to this country are described – as immigrants – compared to British people who go to live elsewhere, who, for no valid reason, are called ex-pats instead.

  29. damo says...

    the nhs is dying its slowly being starved to death …..hmmm i wonder how many…many..many tories have….freeloaded from the nhs……15 more years of austerity …….save the children makeing pleas for starving children …in this country ….and the royal parasitical vampires get 365million to tart up buckingham palace ……speaking to spannish friends in spain …..what is going on in your country have people gone mad…….your country and its people are heading for catostraphy……..thats what people are saying and thinking …..wtf

  30. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, it’s madness, Damo. The Tories don’t know what they’re doing, but they won’t admit it. Everyone is treating those who voted to leave the EU with kid gloves, even though their position doesn’t make any sense. Did you see the comment by an FT reader that’s been doing the rounds. Here it is:

    So, this is how the debate reads so far. I kid you not, it’s practically verbatim:

    Remainers (left holding the Brexit baby after the Leavers… left) “WTF?”

    Leavers “We voted Brexit, now You Remainers need to implement it”

    Remainers “But it’s not possible!”

    Leavers “The People Have Spoken. Therefore it is possible. You just have to think positively.”

    Remainers “And do what exactly?”

    Leavers “Come up with a Plan that will leave us all better off outside the EU than in it”

    Remainers “But it’s not possible!”

    Leavers “Quit with the negative vibes. The People Have Spoken.”

    Remainers “But even you don’t know how!”

    Leavers “That’s your problem, we’ve done our bit and voted, we’re going to sit here and eat popcorn and watch as you do it.”

    Remainers “Shouldn’t you do it?”

    Leavers “It’s not up to us to work out the detail, it’s up to you experts.”

    Remainers “I thought you’d had enough of experts”

    Leavers “Remain experts.”

    Remainers “There are no Leave experts”

    Leavers “Then you’ll have to do it then. Oh, and by the way, no dragging your feet or complaining about it, because if you do a deal we don’t want, we’ll eat you alive.”

    Remainers “But you don’t know what you want!”

    Leavers “We want massive economic growth, no migration, free trade with the EU and every other country, on our terms, the revival of British industry, re-open the coal mines, tea and vicars on every village green, some bunting, and maybe restoration of the empire.”

    Remainers “You’re delusional.”

    Leavers “We’re a delusional majority. DEMOCRACY! So do the thing that isn’t possible, very quickly, and give all Leavers what they want, even though they don’t know what they want, and ignore the 16 million other voters who disagree. They’re tight trouser latte-sipping hipsters who whine all the time, who cares.”

    It’s by someone called Ishtar Ostaria, and the cartoonist Chris Riddell has illustrated the exchange here: http://chrisriddellblog.tumblr.com/post/153512597659/the-brexit-debate-by-ishtar-ostaria

    And in the meantime the disaster rolls on, unchallenged by any of the grow-ups.
    In his autumn statement yesterday, Chancellor Philip Hammond “conceded that Brexit will blow a £59bn black hole in the public finances over the next five years,” but he didn’t once mention that all our woes are because of the idiots who voted to leave the EU: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/nov/23/brexit-will-blow-59bn-hole-in-public-finances-admits-hammond
    John Crace wrote a column suggesting that he attacked the Leavers in his own party, but, you know, it’s all part of the usual House of Commons sparring: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/nov/23/philip-hammond-warned-against-brexit-and-no-one-listened-now-its-payback
    And in the meantime, Jo Cox’s murderer got a life sentence – and was called a terrorist, which is unusual for a white man, but entirely appropriate. Her husband and friends delivered moving tributes to her warmth and humour and energy, but no one in the media dared to spell out that we – they and the politicians, primarily – have helped to foster the kind of hatred that killed Jo Cox, and still no one is publicly speaking out against it: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/nov/23/thomas-mair-found-guilty-of-jo-cox-murder
    https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/nov/23/brendan-cox-youve-heard-so-much-about-jos-death-wed-like-to-talk-about-her-life
    https://www.channel4.com/news/jo-cox-terrorist-thomas-mair-jailed-for-murder
    I saw shocking footage on Channel 4 News yesterday of violent white racists – calling themselves ‘White Lives Matter’ – gathered on the streets of Margate, like cockroaches who had crawled out of the sewer, loudly proclaiming their genocidal filth, emboldened to be in public because of the tolerance of racism right here, right now. I cant find a clip, but here’s a news story: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/white-lives-matter-uk-margate-far-right-racism-a7379201.html
    So here we are, sinking, as the Resolution Foundation think tank has pointed out today. The Guardian headline? “UK living standards squeeze ‘will be worse than after global crash'”: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/nov/24/uk-living-standards-squeeze-will-be-worse-than-after-global-crash
    But when John Harris (in an article mainly questioning why Corbyn and McDonnell’s Labour Party is so useless on Brexit) went on a recent fact-finding visit around Brexit Britain, the only people defending this madness were the old white people still obsessed with getting us out of the EU RIGHT NOW, even though none of them can explain why it’s so important, or what we will gain from it – they can’t come up with a single positive thing. The young people, meanwhile, generally didn’t want to leave and aren’t obsessed about immigration. One old woman even admitted, “My granddaughter says I’ve buggered up her future.”
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/23/eu-brexit-labour-leadership-article-50
    No wonder your Spanish friends think we’re idiots.

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    Oh, and here’s Ian Cobain’s article about the – largely unchallenged – rise of the far right in Britain today, ‘Britain’s far right in 2016: fractured, unpredictable, dispirited … and violent’: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/24/britains-far-right-in-2016-fractured-unpredictable-dispirited-and-violent

  32. damo says...

    my spannish friends are horrified they lived hear in the 90s and loved it now they dont want to come hear and there urging other spannish friends still here alonge with uk friends to leave its funny all those old white people who are screaming leave now over the last 40 odd years theyve prospered becouse of the eu…..do they want to go back to the bad old days becouse if they were working class they were treated like shit and had nothing the aristos and the middle classes have allways had it easy as for ……..white lives matter…..lol f..king hell they cant even come up with a good name lol they gather in places like margate who should have refused them ……becouse if they gathered up hear they would get there heads kicked in…….and rightly so

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    It’s so depressing hearing about your Spanish friends, Damo. The UK – or its sub-culture, at least – used to be such a welcoming place for people from all over Europe.
    I agree with your comments about the old white people who seem to want to turn the clock back. Their dream is the 50s, or perhaps the 60s or early 70s, but they’re forgetting – or they don’t even know – who destroyed the jobs that made their lives so good at that time; not the EU, but their own politicians and their masters in the banks and big business.
    My only quibble with your comments is about the middle class, many of whom are now finding their livelihoods threatened, as the neoliberal monster continues its destruction. In contrast, some working class people are doing quite well – those builders servicing the rich, for example – but many of them seem to have joined the whingers who make up so much of modern Britain – the people who are actually doing quite well, but who think they’re not, like the wealthy pensioners rattling around in their really quite spacious houses, whose have no right to complain about anything.

  34. damo says...

    your right andy im hard on the middle classes they to are starting to suffer like the rest of us yep your right working class wideboys grabbing up money are just as bad people are suffering the news says its as bad as 70 years ago were are the mass protests

  35. Andy Worthington says...

    Where are they indeed, Damo? I think many natural protestors sold out to the bizarre Lexit dream, and the majority of those in the centre of politics aren’t the protesting type. They need to wake up – but how long have I been saying that to our generally somnolent fellow citizens?
    I had to look up the 70 years story, and sure enough, there it is: ‘IFS warns of biggest squeeze on pay for 70 years over Brexit’:

    Workers in Britain face the biggest squeeze on their pay for 70 years as Brexit knocks wage growth and stokes inflation, according to an analysis of the government’s latest tax and spending plans.

    Picking over Philip Hammond’s autumn statement, the Institute for Fiscal Studies said real wages in the UK – pay adjusted for inflation – will still be below their 2008 level in 2021.

    Paul Johnson, the thinktank’s director said: “One cannot stress how dreadful that is – more than a decade without real earnings growth. We have certainly not seen a period remotely like it in the last 70 years.”

    See: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/nov/24/ifs-warnsf-biggest-squeeze-on-pay-for-70-years-autumn-statement

  36. damo says...

    fidel castro died the end of an era the end of part of the 20th century ……watching the news this morning i see the tories are now going after the state pension they wheeled out the vile little weasel steven crabb spouting gibberish talking in tongues to confuse people even the most hardcore leavers know this will …is….going to be a disaster……..surely

  37. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, Fidel will be all over the news – good and bad, I think, Damo. His health and education policies were wonderful, but he was also pretty hardcore authoritarian. I wonder how different things might have been without the US’s cynical, ideologically-motivated embargo.
    As for pensions, I’m almost surprised the Tories haven’t suggested that poor people will get nothing, as that’s what they’d like to do – bring back poorhouses and people dying in the streets.
    Reports here: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/state-pension-changes-cuts-autumn-statement-triple-lock-2016-latest-2020-a7434206.html
    http://news.sky.com/story/stephen-crabb-time-to-scrap-triple-lock-pension-pledge-10672278
    On Brexit, meanwhile, no, the madness continues. The Leavers have just one monotonous mantra, which they repeat, despite it making no sense, as trained by the parrot-trainer Theresa May – ‘Brexit means Brexit.’ Brexit actually means hacking away thousands of laws and treaties and agreements developed over 43 years, but hey, why let the complexity of reality get in the way of a steamroller of ignorance and bile?

  38. damo says...

    i dont know im kinda bored and sick of nearly everything thats going on at the moment not just here but everywere and i think we all long for sunnier days for the people just to be given a break ……the ticks…….just to stop draining our blood…..weve ranted and raved and talked and talked and talked about this and its getting worse by the week there is no grown up adult joined up thinking
    there was a great program last night about british soul presented by jazzie b about his era music and life the 80s yes it was the nightmare of stop and search thatcher high unemployment ……but there was something differant about people espesh the people at the bottom of the economic pile they realy were unified and energised and inclusive…….
    watching the pro torie boreing andrew marr …….anything remotely left or socialist …..he tries to put down……theres a labour mp talking about cubas exelent health and education service which is light years ahead of hear now……….what has andrew marr ever given to the world………….yeah nothing ……..but a lot of irritateing noise

  39. damo says...

    im watching marr now giveing…….gove…….of all people a platform lol lol to even speak lol marr just sucks up to the tories….any tories like a bitch in heat lol

  40. Andy Worthington says...

    I can understand your boredom, Damo. “We all long for sunnier days” – yes, when life still seemed to hold possibilities, when there seemed to be hope.
    I remember well the Jazzie B days, but that era was very difficult too – the years following my arrival in London in 1985.
    A key change at that time, of course, was AIDs, which decimated gay communities, and also precipitated a sea change in promiscuity in general, via the tombstone advert that terrified straight people: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMnb536WuC0
    http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/1210462/
    That said, although Thatcher also did her best to destroy the travelling community and the free festival scene, it was also the time when ecstasy arrived in the UK to break down the inhibitions of countless people – and particular the repressed hooligan types, of whom there were many! – and Thatcher then introduced the poll tax and there was widespread resistance to it leading to the Battle of Trafalgar Square (police on horseback charging at civilians! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mala4_ElCcE) so that it genuinely felt that we were engaged in a civil war – and that continued into the 90s via the rave scene, anti-raids protest movement, Reclaim the Streets and the general hedonism of life under the inept John Major until Blair came in with his psychic cosh.
    My particular memories are even more conflicted because I was living on an estate that Thatcher wanted to privatise, via what she called Housing Action Trusts, and I spent the whole of 1987 thinking I and thousands of other people at six locations around the country would be made homeless, as a precursor to widespread clearances of all Britain’s housing estates. It probably politicised me for good, but it was a genuinely harrowing time.

  41. Andy Worthington says...

    We need a proper national campaign against BBC bias, Damo, as well as a proper national campaign to boycott the Daily Mail.

  42. damo says...

    moveing to hastings in 82 saved my life got me out of london and kept me as a young lbgt person safe i returned in 89 right into the eye of the storm i heard about hiv/aids but here it was right before me and it scared the shit out of me terrified me ….everybody died i lost most of my friends a truly hideouse time but as i wrote earlyer there was during that time something that made people who were lityeraly on the margins fight back …come together…protest from the poll tax riot in trafalgar sq ..which i was at to the reclaime the streets to critical mass it was during the thatcher /major years a very difficult time …but there was commradery we were all….all the groupes fighting for a better future….i want to see a mass return of that commradery

  43. Andy Worthington says...

    I want to see a return that camaraderie as well, Damo, as it was a very powerful thing before Tony Blair wielded his psychic cosh. I will always feel fortunate that, in the mid-90s, I was part of a big community in Brixton where, for a while, everyone knew one another, and there was very little strife (despite the amount of drink and drugs generally being consumed!) and I think we have to start finding ways to get people together, away from their devices, away from their atomisation, to start being together again.
    Any chance you could make it to Deptford a week on Saturday (the 10th) to see my band play? I’m hoping it’s part of this process of trying to get like-minded people to meet and mingle.
    https://www.facebook.com/events/964594886979916/

  44. damo says...

    yeah id love to come andy …ill see wot i can do yeah ill try and make it though i need to know were your playing

  45. Andy Worthington says...

    Great, Damo. So it’s at Vinyl, which is at the bottom of Tanners Hill near where it crosses the A2 and, after a little wiggle, becomes Deptford High Street.
    There’s a map on the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Vinyl-Deptford-1384791638413451/
    Nearest stations are Deptford on the main overground – from Cannon Street, I think, or Deptford Bridge on the DLR.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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