Northern Wreck (February 17th 2008)
We should not, I suppose, have been remotely surprised that on Sunday, after months of dithering, Gordon Brown's government decided to nationalise Northern Rock. An administration politically born and brought up on 1970`s socialism has reverted to type and fallen back upon 1970s solutions to problems that have been, to an almost total extent, of its own making.
Nor should we allow ourselves to be fooled into thinking that this miserable affair has been managed by the hapless man who lives for the moment in Number Eleven Downing Street and is described as The Chancellor of the Exchequer. This debacle has the Prime Minister's fingerprints all over it and it is hardly remarkable that a politician who has built his style upon micro-management of our Nation should have felt compelled to meddle.
Meddling by central government is the order of the day. Big Brother Gordon is, it seems, incapable of leaving anything alone for more than five minutes. Teachers must do this, policemen must do that and doctors must do the other. But never for very long. No sooner is one initiative launched than another, frequently conflicting, one comes along behind it. Then, just in case anyone is concerned that the latest five-minute plan might not work, there's an enquiry or a commission to look into it. Fifty two of them since Gordon Brown walked into the Prime Minister's Office!
The New Labour Peer and surgeon, Lord Darzi, now wants us to experience the joys of "polyclinics". These will replace some of the GP surgeries that only a couple of weeks ago we were being told would have to change their hours of opening because a few months before that the Government signed a contract that it cannot afford and now regrets!
"Polyclinics" will combine General Practice with all sorts of other services and state of the art diagnostic facilities and they will, presumably, be housed in larger, more expensive, shiny new buildings stuffed full of medics. I have news for Lord Darzi. They've been around for a long time and before we began the rolling reorganisation of the National Health Service they used to be called "local hospitals"!
My impression is that my constituents want, for most medical needs, to be able to see the same GP in the same practice locally and at a time that is reasonably convenient. For emergencies they want to be able to access a good out-of-hours service and for more serious matters still they want to be able to attend a clean, efficient, well-staffed casualty or A&E unit in a General Hospital that is not a hundred miles from home. That is what we spent ten years and a lot of political blood and sweat and tears and taxpayer's money working to achieve in East Kent and we were well on the way to achieving much of it when the latest round of reviews came along.
We shall have to wait for some bleak months yet and we shall have to suffer still more economic incompetence and pain before we have the chance to change the administration of the remains of the United Kingdom through the ballot box. We shall then, I trust, have a lengthy period of quiet reflection and small government while the professionals in public service, the teachers and the nurses and the doctors and the policemen and the firemen and those poor benighted civil servants struggling with Child Support and Tax Credits (and probably, by then, trying to "bar code" every home in the country!) are allowed to get on with their jobs without yet more interference from the Nanny State.
And who knows, what is left of the Northern Wreck may be re-floated. We can all dream, can we not?