Pity Britain’s poor diplomats. Their suitably decorous celebrations to toast the departure of Boris Johnson as foreign secretary must have abruptly ended when they heard that their new boss was Jeremy Hunt.
You can just imagine the scene. “What on Earth’s the matter,” says young Simpkins having clocked George Smiley blanching and signalling to the staff to take away the drinks trolley. “Isn’t this good news? Didn’t you say Johnson was the worst foreign secretary in British history the other day?”
“Young man, I invite you to call up any of your friends who went to medical school. No, don’t worry. You can use my sat phone on this occasion. I don’t mind.”
Simpkins’s education in the realities of life under his new boss will have taken, what, five minutes? You can almost see the wintry smile on the face of his old mentor at the spectacle of him having to hold the phone away from his ear to protect his hearing from the volume of his doctor friend’s rant.
Actually, he’d hardly need to break protocol by affording his colleague the use of his fancy FCO equipment. Inputting the name “Sir Stephen Hawking” and “NHS” into Google would have done the trick.
You may recall Hawking’s broadside against Tory NHS policy in a talk at the Royal Society of Medicine. It took aim at the funding squeeze instituted by the party, Hunt’s oversight of the creeping privatisation of the service, the pay cap that led to the Royal College of Nursing reporting that growing numbers of nursing staff were using foodbanks, taking on second jobs and getting into debt.
Sir Stephen made an eminently sensibly call for health policy making to be based upon peer reviewed research and proper evidence. In response, Hunt had the gall to accuse the late scientific great of “pernicious falsehood”. That’s right, Jeremy Hunt, a sleazy politician, said that of a man whose life was devoted to the pursuit of fact. The Sunday Telegraph even afforded him the luxury of a column to vent his spleen.
And people wonder why journalists are held in low regard.
Instead of evidence based policy making, Hunt preferred to bandy erroneous claims that thousands of patients died unnecessarily at weekends in an attempt to grab cheap headlines with a plan to create “a seven day NHS” – which already existed – as a means of diverting attention from the myriad problems he was presiding over.
Care to guess who the nation’s medical professionals sided with?
Hunt’s attack on Hawking is as good an example of someone lobbing bricks from a house made of glass as you will ever see. But it should hardly have come as a surprise. Reports emerged of standoffs and rows between NHS leaders and the now former health secretary less than 18 months into his misrule, when he was accused of tearing up Coalition pledges to make the service operationally independent and free from political control.
A couple of years later, a House of Commons committee accused him of breaking pledges on funding and misleading the public on health service reforms.
Shall we move on to the way he managed to provoke a strike by junior doctors? It hardly seems necessary. When it comes to lowlights, there are so many you’re basically spoiled for choice. The publishers of Viz could create a new version of Roger’s Profanissaurus devoted to the colourful new oaths using Hunt’s name uttered by NHS staff during their all too rare breaks. No wonder a meme of them dancing in the corridors went viral after his departure was announced.
NHS managers are often criticised, and sometimes justifiably. But that they’ve managed to keep the service going under Hunt’s tenure is really quite something. Private industry take note. These guys know how to deal with p*** raining down from on high.
Hunt has described himself as a “one nation Conservative”. In reality he is a cynical climber, willing to throw Britain’s best loved institution, its staff, its supporters and anyone or anything else that gets in his way under a bus if it serves his political ends.
Johnson is often described as being free of principle. But Hunt, who has become a born again Brexiteer because that likely represents his best chance of winning the leadership of the Conservative Party when the time is right, is scarcely any different. What separates the two old Etonians is their style. FCO staff will soon find that they have traded a shotgun blast to the face for a knife in the back.
Before they know it, Britain’s US embassy will have relocated itself to Trump Towers and signed a sponsorship deal with McDonalds. And after the new foreign secretary has finished palling up with Brexit’s leading overseas advocate, Vladimir Putin, how long can it be before Gazprom’s logo is flying next to the Union Jack at Britain’s place in Moscow?
That’s why the champagne was put back on ice, Simpkins. You’ll be better served with a stiff whisky or three during the coming days.
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