Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Alan Johnson Is Maddeningly Smug

As Labour ministers go, I’ve often found Alan Johnson one of the more tolerable ones. He can come across as a human being, and even on occasion answers the question. So in many ways I’d rather not have heard his interview with Eddie Mair on PM earlier, where Mr Johnson was an unspeakably smug shit, far more interested in partisan point-scoring than in helping people with mental health problems. He patently just didn’t give a toss about mental health, smug, dismissive and bringing up an issue which has been shamefully ignored by Labour only to attack hapless Tory Andrew Lansley.

Andrew Lansley Puts His Foot In It Again

You may have heard that Tory health spokesperson Mr Lansley’s made a ‘gaffe’, which is the term for when a politician opens their mind and their mouth at the same time. In a piece he wrote about the probable mental health effects of a deep recession, he made an aside to the effect that some people might become physically more healthy, as they can less afford to drink, smoke and eat rich food. On the one hand, you can understand what he means; think of all those programmes about how healthy people were during rationing. On the other hand, what about people who because they can’t afford to eat well just get any old cheap crap, or people who are so depressed that they drink or smoke more to cope? I know that, stuck at home, unwell and getting little exercise, I’ve been Mr Comfort-eating and have put on masses of weight this year. But if Mr Lansley was dimly not considering all the effects, at least his main focus was on real health problems that the Labour Government’s done fuck all about, and if he was offensive and didn’t put enough thought in… Well, he may be a lot less bright than Sir Keith Joseph, but at least he’s far less offensive.

The reaction, of course, has been predictable. Labour has screamed that this callous, vicious Tory is so out of touch he’s preaching that the recession can be good for you. The BBC news page has ignored that most of what he wrote was about mental health. And the Tory Party has made him apologise and take down his article. While I think Mr Lansley was a bit out of touch and didn’t think through his point, I feel a lot more sympathy with him than with some of his attackers, particularly when mental health is something Labour has spent so many years underfunding and ignoring, presumably because mental health patients don’t look so good in a sympathetic photo-opportunity. It’s something Nick Clegg in particular has been banging on about for ages – in speeches as Leader, in his Leadership campaign last year, repeatedly in Prime Minister’s Questions – and so hearing Mr Johnson’s crocodile tears on PM today just drove me up the wall.

Alan Johnson and Labour Hypocrisy

The BBC went quite some way towards atoning for their online story with an intelligent and searching interview from Eddie Mair on PM tonight. The Tories wouldn’t put anyone up (though someone dragged out Edwina Currie). And Alan Johnson was detestable. After years of being so desperate to sound and act exactly like Tories, Labour are now gagging to refight the 1980s with a cry of ‘We might be crap, but the Tories are eeevil and they just love unemployment’ – yes, I can see how they want to damage Mr Cameron’s ‘caring’ brand, but the ’80s went so well for them, didn’t they?

Mr Johnson did the job he’s employed for – not speaking for the interests of sick people, that would be absurd, but laying into the Tories. He said he was trying to be kind to Mr Lansley, as he was sure he was a decent human being… But he’s proof that the Tories are eeevil and they just love unemployment (I paraphrase, but not by much). In a hammily ‘more in sorrow than anger’ tone, he ignored the question about physical health, talking about the terrible consequences of an economic downturn on mental health, then also ignored the point that Mr Lansley had raised that before he did when it was rightly put to him by Eddie Mair.

My stomach was already turning through all this, but that point at which I really became furious was when, after Mr Mair pressed him on the fact that there are huge waiting lists to see any sort of counsellor and that more people with mental health problems are just shoved full of anti-depressants, Mr Johnson became loathsomely smug. He boasted that, far from there being any problem with mental health provision, Labour was recruiting an extra 3,000 mental health professionals (though of what kind, and at what charge to patients, and whether full- or part-time, he didn’t say). Well, that’s good news, and it’s only taken them eleven years to notice the problem. But, hang on… I noticed, and I’m glad that Mr Mair did too, that Mr Johnson was boasting that the Labour Government had already planned for and started hiring these people.

Eddie Mair asked Alan Johnson, flat out, how the system would possibly cope if they were only just hiring people to cope with the crisis in mental health provision that already exists, but the recession’s just about to create a surge of people with mental health problems. We’ll have enough people, said Mr Johnson, bored now, we’ve planned for it. In a tone of incredulity, Mr Mair asked, “So you factored in the effect of the recession before you knew there’d be one?” But Mr Johnson just brushed it aside in the most bored, complacent, utterly smug answer I’ve heard even from a Labour Minister in a long time, just repeating languidly “Yes, of course” that there would be enough people to cope. When he evidently doesn’t have a clue, and doesn’t give a toss, the unspeakable shit. He may as well just have held up a sign saying, ‘Look, bored now, I don’t really give a toss about this issue, can’t we get back to the main topic which is that Tories are eeevil and never mind the small print?’

This, on the same day that Health Minister – oh, look – Alan Johnson has decided that, rather than doctors issuing sick notes to say how ill someone is, because their professional training is to make diagnosis of health problems, they must from now on issue “Fit Notes” to say what people can work at. Because, obviously, making doctors benefits enforcers is in no way a conflict of interest that might get in the way of them helping people to get better, and GPs are in no way busy, and have nothing better to do than be amateur work counsellors writing out long lists of possibilities. Presumably it’ll let Labour cut the jobs of people who are actually skilled in working out what work people can do, though, so they’ll see this eye-boggling stupidity as an efficiency gain.

Work To Rule

This latest piece of authoritarian drivel from a Labour Government intent on turning every organ of the state into a petty, prying, suspicious boss that orders us into what it thinks is good for us is all of a piece with what’s been Gordon Brown’s big idea since he first became Chancellor, and which is now exploding more out of control than ever before. He sincerely believes in the morally improving nature of work. So, it follows, everyone not in work is immoral. Look at the stigmatisation of benefits and the beneficence of tax credits, twisting people through every possible hoop to spoon out a pittance to working people and not the sick or the unemployed or the otherwise undeserving poor (choosing your own life? Pah!).

It’s Labour’s rule that you must work, or you must be Frowned at. The Tories simply hate the poor; Labour hate the ‘undeserving’ poor. With such a choice, it’s difficult not to hate both of those parties, isn’t it?

I didn’t write about it at the time, but the last Labour Minister interview that really infuriated me was with James Purnell, on the Today Programme towards the end of last week; of course, that was with John Humphrys, so it had the added difficulty that the interviewer was offensively smug and stupid as well. This one was about the Labour Government cracking down on people so evil as to be on benefits, forcing them to find work or have their already poverty-line benefits cut by 40% (40% below the minimum for survival!) if they were ill, or parents, or other such unproductive malingerers. The Labour Government’s own advisers had just told them that, in a recession when unemployment is spiralling, enforcing their moral views on parents was a luxury that no-one could afford, would cause more poverty and made no sense, so why not put it off so that people desperate for jobs can compete in the crapulent job market – a close friend of mine, for example, had a business that went under earlier this year after a decade of trading, and despite hundreds of applications still hasn’t managed to find a job – while parents who want to look after their kids can actually do that, which is also something positive for society? No, said Mr Purnell, he was having none of it; people really wanted jobs, and the Labour Government would help them attain that wish they didn’t know they had on pain of death. But what about there being no jobs, because unemployment’s spiralling? No, said Mr Purnell, people want to work, it won’t be put off (it didn’t help that Mr Humphrys said that, of course, no reasonable person could disagree with these proposals in better times, a statement so breathtakingly offensive that it had me wanting to hit the radio so hard that it might knock some sense into him). But what about parents who were concerned that their kids would grow up better if someone was there to look after them, and didn’t want to be forced away from their kids and into work? No, said Mr Purnell, people want to work, it won’t be put off. But what about there being less than a hundredth the childcare places needed with so many more children unable to be looked after at home? No, said Mr Purnell, people want to work, it won’t be put off. Seriously, it was like there was a string in his back.

And all because Gordon Brown, moralising workaholic that he is, demands that only people in work have any virtue, that scrubbing a loo in McDonalds is infinitely more rewarding than making your child smile. If there wasn’t such a shortage of mental health professionals, I’d suggest he gets his head examined.

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I love you, you know that? You even RANT better than me!

BTW, have you seen this: http://community.livejournal.com/dw_academy/85575.html There's rumours that The Grand Moff wants to cancel SJA. It better not be true.
Nah! Just at greater length, but with far less frequency, and only when really grumpy ;-)


And he'd better not. Sarah Jane's fab.
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