Having been in hospital from Monday to Thursday I watched more TV news than usual this week, and spotted a trend, one which is useful to Labour as the party conference begins.
It is that the Tory Government strategy, such as it exists, is essentially founded on the approach in that silly book ‘is it just me or is everything shit?‘
I was particularly struck by this whenever Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt came on. Here I was, in a busy London hospital, the Royal Free, getting a standard of care that was truly exceptional – from the specialist who admitted me and suggested I was daft not to have come in earlier, to the specimen analysts who checked out samples galore and quickly established the problem, to the other doctors and nurses and anesthetists and pharmacists and students and cleaners and caterers and porters and CT scanners and X ray technicians and all the other God knows how many people involved in sorting me out and getting me home. And on would come Hunt berating management, berating staff, suggesting he had to make all his incomprehensible reforms because things were so so bad. I defy anyone to go anywhere in the world and get better treatment from better people than I had in London this week. There has never been a better time for Ed Miliband to speak up for the NHS and its staff and speak up for Labour’s record on the NHS which this lot are determined to wreck so they can hand the whole thing over to their hedge fund buddies and donors.
He can speak up for immigration too. A London NHS hospital is like the United Nations and all the better for it. Without all ‘those foreigners coming over here taking our jobs’ (UKIP/right wing Tory DNA) the NHS would indeed collapse. I counted more than a dozen nationalities among the staff who at one time or another were by my bed. They were all bloody brilliant, to a man and woman, black, white, brown, yellow.
So speak up for the NHS. Speak up for immigration. Speak up for Britain. There is actually something profoundly anti British in the way the government runs everything down the whole time. Michael Gove casting around for the minority of bad schools and bad teachers to justify changes to the majority of good schools, and creating a crisis of places for the many by focusing on his potty ideas and 1950s vision for the few. Iain Duncan Smith portraying anyone on welfare as a scrounger when he knows full well most of his budget goes on pensions for an ageing population. Teresa May slagging off and sacking the cops. Eric Pickles slagging off councils and councillors and traffic wardens and binmen and anyone who takes a penny in wages from the public purse. Gove saying those who use foodbanks have themselves to blame. George Osborne’s daddy in law saying fracking is ok in the North East because the place is so desolate. The whole lot of them constantly sniping at the civil service who are expected to work harder for less and lose their jobs in droves and doff their caps to their Bullingdon masters when blamed for things going wrong. We even had the nonsense this week of Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood – a personal friend and a great guy without whom this lot would be falling apart even more – being given youth unemployment policy on top of all his other duties. What the hell are ministers for?
The current media narrative is that this is a challenging time for Ed Miliband and for Labour. Maybe. But they must not lose sight of this – this is an unpopular government and an incompetent government and an out of touch government and a government failing on its main objectives and that is a lethal mix and a massive opportunity for Labour, which has to be seized.
So yes this is the week policies have to be brought forward and the process begun of communicating them to the country. But it is also the week to land some blows on this bunch of posh-boy second-raters who are not fit the tie the laces of John Major, let alone three times elections winners Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair.
My old friend Roy Greenslade sent me an email a propos of nothing the other day saying simply ‘Cameron? Most useless Tory leader ever?’ IDS and Michael Howard might pip him on that but most useless Tory PM, certainly. And as for the Cabinet … Hands up who knows what Teresa Villiers, Owen Paterson, Michael Moore, David Jones, Justine Greening actually do? Cabinet ministers who could walk down most streets of the country they govern without a soul knowing who they are.
So Labour, this lot are there for the taking.
Hit back on the so called ‘mess we inherited.’
Show we live in the real world, and get the disjunction between Osborne’s claims of ‘saving the economy’ and living standards falling.
Stand up for Britain and for the people who make Britain work.
Show we understand the world of change.
Show we have the ideas for the future.
Show we have no fear of the most useless government in living memory.
And from top to bottom, show some energy and some fight. Every second of every minute of every day from now to the election counts. There are too many MPs who are complacent and think a poll lead means a win ahead. It doesn’t. They need to work harder, think harder, campaign better, understand that this government can be taken apart, and do it.
Finally – though out of hospital, I have lost over a stone and been told to take it easy but I still hope to be in Brighton on Monday for an Alcohol Concern early morning run and healthy breakfast and later a booze-free fringe meeting – 5.30pm Thistle hotel, Renaissance South – where I will be calling on Labour to back minimum unit pricing following Cameron’s spineless reversal of his position, and commit to more treatment for dependent drinkers who now number 1.6m. I shall also be signing copies of my new novel on alcoholism, My Name Is, and my old diaries at the conference bookshop at midday, also Monday. The novel is going really well despite – or is it because of? – the fact I had to cancel a week’s worth of telly and radio – and a reprint has already been ordered. This too confirms me in the view that alcohol and mental health are big issues and this is the time for Labour to show we understand that and show we intend to deal with a problem Cameron acknowledges but fails to address.
Enjoy conference. Love Labour. Batter Tories. Speak up for Britain.
Oh ps, it was – is – dysentery. Anyone who makes a joke about Burnley gets it. The doctors think it was probably Albania where – as a result of doing all of the above and more – our sister party won a landslide in the recent election and Edi Rama is the new Prime Minister currently heading to the UN General Assembly in New York. A dose of dysentery, and four days in the fantastic hospital where all my children were born, is a small price to play for having helped play a part in that. And anyway I think I probably got it driving past Jack Straw’s house in Blackburn on the way to our 5-0 win last weekend… well if can make jokes about Burnley fans eating bananas with their feet! (I think it was 5-0. I was a bit delirious by then as the infection took hold, but I distinctly remember Danny Ings scoring a hat trick, and Blackburn fans crying as they left the away end they couldn’t quite manage to fill.)