week saw the British Government announce a disaster
plan. It was designed not for airports and the supposed
Al Qaeda threat but for hospitals. Whereas most
governments when they devise disaster strategies
are of a mind to either avoid catastrophes or deal
with them when they occur, 'Yo' Blair's ministerial
gang is actually planning to create one.
announced that through the Private Finance Initiative
(PFI) six hospitals would be built in Britain at
a cost of £1.5 billion. Not content to slavishly
emulate the debacle of President Bush's foreign
policy, Prime Minister Blair is eager to score the
same low marks when it comes to domestic economic
concerns. Letting the private sector get its claws
on the US education system has reportedly left American
schools in danger of producing pupils as clever
as the country's president.
Major had just secured his second term as prime
minister in the spring of 1992 when it was decided
to launch the PFI assault. Once the public's vote
had been pocketed then the public be damned as far
as the Tories were concerned. A bucketful of autumnal
blues was its reward for having returned a fourth
consecutive Tory government. Major, holding to the
principle that people deserve the government they
get, set about giving the people what he felt they
deserved - a good dose of bad health. The Ryrie
Rules, operating within some semblance of a social
democratic framework, were to be abandoned in deference
to a more rampant economic liberalism.
the Fiend from Finchley had sidestepped PFI on her
watch, there remained enough Bram Stoker-type things
of the night in her party to make the puncture marks
in the neck of the public purse, thus allowing leech-like
profiteers to bleed it dry.
PFI was a shrewd ideological move by the Tories.
Spun as a means to improve Britain's ramshackle
health service and crumbling education facilities
it was a rich man's solution to a poor man's problem.
Hospitals and schools would be built without raising
taxes. The rich while escaping higher taxation would
be doubly advantaged by usuriously draining money
from the public fund as payment for building centres
of health and education, not to mention prisons
and other ventures.
1997, the year of the Blair accession to office,
doctors studying the plans of the proposed PFI flagship
hospital, Cumberland Infirmary, were so alarmed
they predicted a doss-house rather than a hospital.
As soon as building was completed, it literally
began to crumble. Before a decade had elapsed it
was estimated that by 2025, £100 billion would
have flowed from the public purse into the bottomless
pockets of the profiteers. Yet, with alarm bells
sounding, and the Tories long since sent to repose
in their crypt by a disillusioned electorate, Blair,
eager to show he was the perfect moll to hang on
the arm of big business, was not for turning. His
government continued, as Guardian columnist George
Monbiot charges, to negotiate 'on behalf of the
corporations and against the public interest.'
Finance Initiatives are public frauds. Private contractors
are supposed to pay the cost of the initial building
project which the taxpayer would then, spread over
decades, pay back the contractor. In practice the
£95 million scammed off early by private companies
as a result of a PFI venture at the Norfolk and
Norwich University Hospital showed the con in all
its sordid splendour. Money that should have went
to purchasing medicines like Herceptin, a potent
drug capable of fighting breast cancer, came to
lie in some fat cat's bank account accruing the
interest that will make the cat even fatter.
Blair government continues to exploit an anomaly
at the heart of popular sentiment; a demand for
better public services coexisting alongside an anathema
towards higher taxation. The government and the
business cartels get their way in the end because
the money to pay the private sector ultimately comes
from the taxpaying public which not only underwrites
the cost of building but must also fork out the
cost of the profits to be creamed off. The public
pays to have itself robbed while the wealthy profit
in the North on the matter has not been wholesome.
Our political class, when given a little ministerial
rope, decided to follow the Tories and hang their
poorest constituents with it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer
wrote the famous lines that after they had come
for the Jews, then the communists, then the trade
unionists, there was nobody left to speak up. Just
like here, when they came for the patients.