Sunday, 31 July 2011

Discipline and Fear

Oh, I was doing so well. It's been a beautiful few days and I've been taking the opportunity to get outside, watch some sport, enjoy the sunshine and generally not get upset or offended by anything. Of course, then I happened to flick briefly through the liberal press, and at the risk of mixing my metaphors, I discovered a proverbial turd in the ointment.

Enter Oliver Letwin, Conservative MP for West Dorset. This craven Thatcherite relic, exposed by his regressive plans for local government as far back as 2001 when he occupied the position of Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, has already been a policy leader in the government's proposed breakup of the NHS. If that were not in itself a reason to despise him, he has now attacked those very workers who are responsible for ensuring that the country's most essential services are delivered for the benefit of those who need them the most.

The Guardian yesterday reported Mr Letwin as having said the following:

"You can't have room for innovation and the pressure for excellence without having some real discipline and some fear on the part of the providers that things may go wrong if they don't live up to the aims that society as a whole is demanding of them."

Firstly let us bear in mind that Mr Letwin is a banker, and by extension of his profession, can probably teach us all something about letting society down. We should also bear in mind that he went into hiding in 2001 as a result of his disastrous work on that year's Conservative election campaign. Yet, in a manner contrary to his own suggestion that failure should carry consequences, he has now risen phoenix-like to a position specially created for him in the Cabinet Office.

It is also worth mentioning that Mr Letwin's ill-advised comments were made at a report launch at the headquarters of KPMG, a private consultancy firm that has been among the first to benefit from tendered NHS contracts. In these times of cuts to health and social care budgets, I'm comforted to know that consultancy firms are still raking in hard-earned money from the taxpayer. As everyone familiar with consultancy firms knows, they rarely recommend that you waste less money on consultants.

I could go on and on about how Letwin is a figurehead in a government whose policies are in no way ameliorating the UK's perilous financial position, or that it is a truly horrible thing to expect fear of joblessness and resultant poverty to act as a motivator for excellence. The reason that this matters so much is that the changes proposed by this Tory-led government will have a massive effect on how the UK develops over the medium to long-term future. It may seem obvious to state, but many of the cuts being made by the coalition are resulting in real hardships for many and the services and expertise being lost are not easily replaceable.

Public sector workers will shake our heads and batten down the hatches. We are used to continual abuse - both from our paymasters and the public we serve. Tomorrow they will attack us again - threaten our conditions, our pay, our pensions, always spreading lies about how much better the service will be when it is being provided by a private firm with a profit margin and absolutely no duty of care. No doubt if he ever needs an ambulance, Mr Letwin would want his privately-paid paramedics to be highly focused on their jobs as a result of his proposed reign of terror. Let's just hope that they're not too scared to go to him in the first place.

Public sector workers - your doctors, nurses, taxmen, binmen, social carers - know that we deliver a great and improving service on a consistent basis, and it is only a flagrant and unforgivable lack of resources from central government that prevent us from improving further. No matter that we are already disciplined enough to put the needs of others above the opportunity to earn higher wages elsewhere. The public sector already feels the fear, and does it anyway.

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