Tuesday, 28 February 2012

David Cameron - Master Magician

"For my next trick, I will make your pension disappear"
An expert magician is a master of deception and misdirection. As the virtuoso conjurer distracts your gaze – and blinds you with dazzling patter – his hands work feverishly out of sight before revealing his confounding trick.  The audience is left baffled and dumbfounded in a daze of shock and awe. The trick is left unexplained and irreversible.  The magician is sworn never to reveal his secret.

David Cameron – with Andrew Lansley as his glamorous assistant – is a maestro of political misdirection and ideological sleight-of-hand, but the left cannot let itself fall victim to the coalition’s relentless trickery. 

The proposed restructuring of the NHS has understandably caused widespread outrage. Over 100,000 people have signed an ePetition calling on the government to abandon the Health and Social Care Bill, it has met with opposition from health professionals, activists and trade unionists, and derision has come from unlikely ideologues such as Stan Collymore and Rio Ferdinand.

The mobilisation of opposition to the Health Bill is inspirational, but it is important not to see the struggle as independent or isolated from government policy elsewhere. Cameron’s retention of Andrew Lansley – whilst numerous commentators have suggested his position is untenable – represents a willingness to court controversy. Lansley could have been purged as a scapegoat in an attempt to detoxify the Health Bill, but instead he has been retained as a villainous stooge to attract vitriol and detract attention from other unsavoury policy.

The Health Bill is the apex of a creeping barrage of stealthy privatisation which seeks to auction off profitable elements of the public sector in an effort to kick-start economic recovery. The tactic is short-termist, irrevocable and will create gapping inequity.

The Conservatives cannot be allowed to use the NHS hubbub to mask the systematic dismantling of the welfare state: from the constriction of the benefit system to the rise of free schools and city academies. The education sector in the UK is worth an estimated £2bn and – since the coalition came to power – the number of academies operating outside local government control has increased by nearly 800% to 1,529. With focus trained on the NHS reforms, this has gone almost completely unnoticed. Furthermore – and unlike the Health Bill – these developments have received no opposition from the Tories’ yellow-bellied Lib Dem bed fellows. 

Whether it’s concerned parents worrying about schools being taken over by big business; students agonising over the withdrawal of EMA; or cancer patients stressing over work-ready assessments – activists and campaigners will usually be interested in single issues. It therefore falls on the Labour Party to cut-through the impenetrable mystification, unite the struggles and be at the forefront of each of these conflicts. These are not independent policy decisions and the Labour Party must ensure that the synapses of struggle are connected so people can understand the ideological assault on public services.

Ed Miliband has been at his strongest when acting as a respectable insurgent fighting entrenched power – particularly against News International and bankers’ bonuses. Now is the time to intensify and unite the struggle. Miliband has the not just the opportunity, but the moral obligation, to define and shape the debate. It’s time for him to break the magician’s code and let us in on the trick.
This article was originally written for Labour List

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