‘Calling for kindness and moderation in East Devon in 2023’

Paul Arnott 

May I wish all readers a happy new year, and mention as I do so a few of the wider comments posted on the internet from some councillors I greatly respect? They want 2023 to be informed by kindness and moderation in the way we all speak to one another.

Which of us would disagree? It’s been a central tenet of many faiths from Buddhism to Christianity that the world would be more harmonious if we all lived by the maxims of tolerance and respect.

Unfortunately, there is another factor at play when it comes to national and indeed regional and local politics. It’s almost impossible to hold this meek and worthy line when figures in power are prepared to tell such whopping lies.

2023, however, gives us the greatest opportunity this century to reform these ways. Why? Because in 2022 we all got a PhD in how politicians can lie for the heck of it. And because we now have no alternative.

The key evidence at the start of 2023 is about our health service. When a distinguished professor who chairs the British Medical Association says that the health service is dying, that 500 extra people will certainly lose their lives at A&E per week this winter because the system cannot cope, there is no glib answer a politician can give.

Like many others in East Devon, thousands I think, I became fully aware that the NHS was not safe in the hands of the Conservatives about ten years ago. The scales dropped from my eyes.

May I perhaps offer a fictional comparison? In a healthy society, if a massive great hole appeared in a school playground, parents, teachers and locals would come together to work out why it had happened, what to do about it, and how to commission the work. Cost would be an issue, so this work would be tightly controlled by a local project team.

That is not how the Conservatives have approached the NHS for many decades (though I am content that many voters did not realise this).

By their methods, on hearing that the hole had appeared, one of their number would contact their mate, either the CEO of Fill-A-Hole PLC, or, if Covid is an example, was fortuitously just about to set up that very company.

By the time the first public meeting was called, a plan would be done and dusted, leaving locals to wonder what had just happened. Filling the hole would then become part of Fill-A-Hole PLC’s “work-stream”, the actual fulfilment of the repair put in the hands of a recent graduate who could take the blame if it went wrong.

This is where we have got to with the NHS. Leading members of the Conservative party have believed their entire adult lives that the health service would be better delivered by private companies. Not even the havoc of privatised railway companies has cured them of this obsession.

As it happens, their pals will not let them forget this, if for some reason a Conservative becomes a bit wet round the edges, because private finance, its lobbyists, and its many billions of US cash looking to invest, is always knocking at the door. Usually at Conference time bearing a healthy donation to the party.

So, this is the truth, which if accepted can lead to kindness and moderation. People like me saw, at the point where in-patient beds were shut in Axminster, Honiton, Ottery and Seaton in recent years, that this other private sector agenda riddles the government’s handling of the NHS like a disease. First break it, then privatise it.

The Tories have broken it – the next stage is up to us, the people. Will we passively accept what is happening, or use our votes and voices in 2023 to demand the unvarnished truth?