Mark Steel: Stop the NHS prioritising parakeets

The Housing Minister will say a local council built a town hall out of Wedgwood china


One difficulty with being a government minister must be phrasing a statement so that it can't be misinterpreted, as it might then appear you've been dishonest in some way. So it's helpful that the Government has introduced new guidelines to prevent this, by establishing that ministers can make up whatever they like.

For example, you can now condemn the Human Rights Act, by making up a story that a criminal was allowed to stay in the country because of his cat. As Theresa May becomes used to the new system she'll be more imaginative, and say, "Now the Human Rights Act says we can't arrest Colonel Gaddafi because he has an imaginary cat. And the judges in Strasbourg have ruled that as it's a timid little thing we have to let him carry on running Libya because in The Hague there's an imaginary Alsatian."

Similarly, instead of explaining the spending cuts by using vague and complicated economics, they're described more simply as improvements. Because all they're cutting is waste, which is why Housing Minister Grant Shapps persists with his made-up story about a council that employed a "Twitter Tsar".

Now he can add to it, telling us that a council in Birmingham built a Town Hall out of Wedgwood china, or a Labour authority in Sheffield spent £1 million employing Beyoncé to sing the proposed changes to the one-way system.

So cuts in services are given names such as "Putting People First", as if the problem was that the Health Service had so much money it was prioritising parakeets and balls of wool but now they can concentrate on people at last.

There's the proposed change in employment law, so no one will be allowed to claim unfair dismissal unless they've worked for the employer for two years, as the old system "prevents jobs from being created".

Because some economists say unemployment is caused by irresponsible speculation, others that it's part of an economic cycle, but in fact it happens because employers aren't allowed to sack staff unfairly if they've been there for only a year. This must be what happened in the 1930s. A law came in that you couldn't be sacked for no reason after a year so businesses said, "Well in that case there's no point in carrying on", and the next thing we were all at war.

Now, with this new system, instead of wasting time with half-plausible explanations, our ministers can simply announce that they happened to be in certain places with certain friends on the other side of the world as pure coincidence. Any minister accused of poor judgement or a conflict of interests only needs to add that he can't resign as he has a sensitive tadpole in his office who might get upset if someone new takes over and his job will be safe.

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