Here at 224 we try to be politically open-minded. Though we are very definitely lefties, we consider it important to be patient and understanding when in discussion with those we disagree with. But right now, we are very, very, very angry. It’s been a rough time for Britain’s reputation as a tolerant, intelligent, outward looking nation. Two recent pieces of Tory policy stand out as being particularly horrific.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced plans to publish the proportion of foreign workers a company employs, in order to shame them into employing more British workers. But if the government plans to encourage a sense of shame at employing foreigners, then they will create an environment where managers strongly consider hiring less qualified British workers over their more qualified immigrant rivals. The solution to underemployed British workers is not to rig the hiring process in their favour, but to invest in opportunities for British talent to be trained, to be able to compete with foreign workers on an even basis. The problem needs to be addressed at the root. That takes patience, intelligence, and money.
Though he now has a long track record of working against the interests of the NHS, Jeremy Hunt’s latest announcement is particularly ill-thought out. He has announced a plan for the state to invest an extra £100m for 1500 more doctors a year, which is at the very least a step in the right direction. But in return, doctors would be required to work for the NHS for four years or pay back a large proportion of the £220,000 invested into their training.
In recent years there have been a number of doctor’s suicides in which the NHS workload seems to have been a factor in their death. Others have talked about being ready to kill themselves at the end of a stressful first year as a doctor, so think how much more stressful it would be to know that they had no choice but to suffer through three more years of the same. Think about that sense of constriction. Of knowing that your choices are to return to an overworked and understaffed hospital, or to be hounded for a huge sum of money. If newly trained doctors know that they have no choice but to suffer through an impossibly long dark tunnel, the number of suicides can only be expected to rise. And it’s quite possible that this change would mean that more talented young Brits would decide against training to become doctors.
The solution to a shortage of British doctors isn’t the stick, but the carrot. The state needs to invest patience, intelligence and money in nurturing British talent, to create an environment where they want to stay and work for the NHS, rather than one in which taking their skills to Australia seems more appealing.
Theresa May has said that foreign doctors will only be allowed to remain in the UK for an ‘interim period’ – so why should a foreign-born doctor in two minds over where to take their valuable skills remain in a country which doesn’t seem to value them?
In addition, Jeremy Hunt wants these doctors to reach consultant level by 2025. But the radical left-wingers at the Telegraph have pointed out that it takes five years of university medical training, two years as a foundation doctor, and eight to twelve years as a junior doctor to reach consultant level. Hunt’s targets are massively unrealistic.
There is nothing wrong with a government which protects it’s own people – in fact this should be one of the primary purposes of government. But this Tory government has no interest in protecting the people, only in pitting locals against foreigners to shift the focus away from how little our government cares for ordinary workers, whatever their place of origin.
In recent years, this Tory government has announced plans to scrap bursaries for nursing students. This can only make a profession which requires a huge amount of patience and selflessness seem less appealing. The Tories have overseen above inflation pay rises for NHS managers, but below inflation pay rises (effectively pay reductions) for nurses. Research by the Social Market Foundation in 2015 found that the wealth of the top fifth of the British population rose 64% between 2005 and 2013, while the wealth of the bottom fifth fell by 57% over the same period. A recent study by the Money Advice Service estimated that 16 million Brits have savings of less than £100.
It’s actually now tempting to be nostalgic about the Cameron-Osborne government. Yes, they shifted focus away from growing inequality by claiming to be ‘fixing the roof while the sun was shining’ on Britain’s economy, but at least that deception wasn’t built on xenophobia.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that a government ran by Theresa May behaves in such a way – after all, this disinterest in facts and tendency towards scapegoating foreigners was typical of how she ran the Home Office. When a single school was found guilty of helping international students cheat on a test, she ordered the deportation of all 48,000 students who’d sat the test. Unsurprisingly, a judge later ruled that their logic had “multiple frailties and shortcomings”. May personally spread the false claim that an illegal immigrant couldn’t be deported because he owned a cat (it was actually because the Home Office didn’t follow its own guidance) in order to ‘prove’ the ludicrousness of the Human Rights Act. It’s still not clear whether May was aware that it was her own incompetence which foiled her, or whether she was too ignorant to appreciate how ignorant she is. According to former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, during the coalition government, May’s Home Office was repeatedly “trying to insert erroneous facts into this report on freedom of movement,” to imply that there are far fewer Brits living in Europe than is actually the case. Fortunately for May, it wasn’t convenient to Clegg’s career for him to take a stand at the time.
We have been repeatedly told that Theresa May is ‘a safe pair of hands‘, someone who people of all political tendencies can unite behind. But her track record, both in the Home Office and her early days in Downing Street, show that this is not the case.
In retrospect, it’s astonishing that neither Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats or the Miliband-Balls led Labour opposition did more to highlight May’s failings as Home Secretary. She has also been helped by the fact that she has an aura of professionalism that Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt and several others lack. Basically May became Prime Minister by standing in the background and being quietly inept while her rivals were loudly inept.
It takes patience, intelligence and money to nurture British talent. That requires that the government take hardnosed, evidence-based choices on which decisions will enable our people to flourish. Instead, May has a history of shifting responsibility onto the shoulders of foreigners, inventing or ignoring evidence as required to allow her to do so. Her philosophy as Prime Minister looks set to be more of the same, making us a more divided kingdom in the process.
Having accidentally led the United Kingdom outside of the EU and overseen an increase in support for Scottish independence, David Cameron will surely be remembered as one of the most incompetent British prime ministers ever. But Theresa May has put in a strong start towards challenging that record.