If the case of Jeremy Hunt was unique then we could deal with it. But dissembling and evasion appears to be the default approach of Government, one which is not just limited to the Conservatives. I spoke with two people yesterday, one 20 year old and one of 50 who simply view all politicians as devious, narcissistic money grabbers. They considered these vices to be endemic, a basic fact of life which meant there was little point in trying improve the situation. Now, like many other people I fully accept that Government has to keep certain information and discussions confidential. National security is the obvious example. But the UK Government assumes secrecy as a default.
Back to Jeremy Hunt for an illustration. On 8th February The Independent newspaper reported in this article that both the NHS Employers and Hunt’s own Department of Health were prepared to accept a proposal from the British Medical Association (BMA) thus averting the impending Junior Doctors strike. Here it gets a little murky as the paper reports it was ‘sources’ close to the BMA which claimed that Hunt personally intervened to block the deal and crashed the negotiations. ‘Sources’ means that the claim was unattributed and thus not subject to public verification. The following day, however, Hunt was asked directly about the assertion in the House of Commons by Shadow Health Minister Justin Madders. You can view the interaction here.
Instead of answering the question put to him, Hunt takes the usual path of answering his own question. If he did veto the deal then we need to know the reasons. The Department of Health is not his personal fiefdom to do with as he likes. It is not as if Jeremy Hunt hasn’t had other opportunities to set the record straight. For example he could have dealt with it in this article a few days later on 12th February for Conservative Home.
So maybe the real reason is that Hunt’s aims for the NHS are too toxic to be revealed openly to the public. In 2005 Hunt was co-author of a book titled Direct Democracy: An Agenda for a New Model Party which clearly advocates a privatised NHS (note that other co-authors include UKIPs only MP Douglas Carswell as well as Mark Reckless – worth recalling next time either is on Question Time!). An analysis of the important points of the book as it applies to health along with a link to the book itself was provided here on the blogsite What would Virchow do?
I have already drawn attention to the issue of the Transatlantic Trade and investment Partnership (TTIP) and the corporate giant Maxuimus who run the DWPs Work Capabiility Assessment system. As I pointed out here, Maximus have reported that they made a loss on the contract to Autumn 2015 rather than the handsome profit wich was forecast, largely because of the difficulties in recruiting doctors to carry out tests. How convenient to have a pool of doctors disenchanted with their job and looking for pastures new! Fortunately the MEPs of the EU Parliament have held up progress of the TTIP and there is a possibility of the Partnership being rejected. This, however, does not rule out the possibility of a UK only version of the agreement, or failing that, Hunt continuing to pursue a privatisation agenda in any case.
Hunt is symptomatic of the malaise affecting our democracy. It can be seen most clearly at Prime Ministers Questions where David Cameron uses a range of techniques including ridicule, personal attacks, quoting irrelevant statistics as well as answering his own question. In an open society where the Government is working for the people it is expected to be responsive and accountable. To facilitate this the system of politics must be transparent and the rules and institutions which prevent arbitrary actions by Ministers must be capable of bringing them to account if their actions require it.
It is clear that the depressing lack of faith or confidence in our system expressed by my two interlocutors in the conversation mentioned earlier derive at least partly from our secretive system. Politicians need look no further for reasons why they are viewed in such poor light.