All Political Parties are Killing the NHS


Read all about it! Chronic understaffing is putting lives at risk in the NHS. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence ( NICE) believes there should be one nurse per eight patients, but we have a shortage of 20,000 nurses. And nowadays with anti-migrant feelings so high, importing nurses is, well, politically tricky. Staff cuts are being imposed but 44% of hospital trusts face the worst financial outlook for a decade. Around 800,000 people turned up at A&E departments last year, some because they could not get GP appointments. Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of GPs warns her sector is ‘teetering n the brink of collapse.’  Bed shortages are creating untold humiliation and desolation. The King’s Fund, a politically neutral health think tank, is persuaded that by 2015-2016, money could run out in the NHS. Whistleblowers are still not heard and often punished for speaking out. New research has found demoralisation among staff. One in four of those questioned claimed they have been bullied and harassed. Infection risks are still high in clinics and hospitals. Maternity wards are under severe pressure. Early cancer diagnoses vary dramatically between areas, which means different outcomes too, obviously. A survey by the Royal College of GPs found that the majority of practitioners fear they might miss life threatening conditions because of their impossible workloads. All this has been gleaned from newspapers over the last week or so. Enough to make us all sick.

But two questions need to be considered before the middle classes give up and turn to private health insurance: Is this deluge of bad news part of an ideological war between the centre left and centre right? Do politicians have a vested interest in making people think the NHS is in terminal decline? The answer is yes to both questions. The service is being suffocated by lack of adequate funding, poor management and endless restructuring but most of all by cynical politicking. Expect to hear more rows this week as the Tories and Labour accuse each other of failing to stop the decline.  

For the right, the NHS, now under Jeremy Hunt, faithful friend of business, is a statist monopoly, Soviet style, which must be broken up and sold off.  They call this ‘progressive marketisation’. ( See, for example, Sean Worth on the website of  the right wing think tank, Policy Exchange). To talk down the NHS eases this process by persuading people that privatisation is the only way to secure health care for our population in the future. Newspaper editors who lean that way are banner bearers of this destructive option. They ask if a ‘monolithic system’ is efficient and suitable for our times. Or praise in order to condemn: ‘ The NHS was founded, founded as a noble experiment in compassion. The principle of care from cradle to grave, free at the point of delivery was as revolutionary as it was fair. But society has changed enormously since 1948’. Yes, we aren’t recovering from a world war and are economically stronger than the creators of the service would ever have envisaged.

The left, meanwhile, Labour mainly, repeatedly uses the NHS as a club with which to beat the Tories. So much so, that the club is now cracking and breaking. This week we will get more of Milliband and Andy Burnham going on the offensive. Why don’t they ever defend the extraordinary achievements and resilience of the NHS, the staff and its purpose? I know the opposition must  criticise government policies. But they need to stay balanced, speak with integrity and defend what is easily defensible. A new play, This May Hurt a Bit, does just that with such feeling, audiences weep, for they know there are truths in this dramatisation that rarely are told anywhere else these days. It is by the renowned director Max Stafford-Clarke and his wife, Stella Feehily. He had a stroke in 2006, and this is the story of how nurses and doctors helped him to recover movement, hope and will. It is a thank you note, on stage.  Danny Doyle’s homage to our NHS in his Olympic spectacular did the same. Nurses and doctors full of vim, danced and sang, celebrated the best of British idealism and energy. I hope we never forget that.

Many readers ask me if I ever feel patriotic. Yes. I did when maternity units kept alive my babies during difficult births, when hospital A&E departments saved my life ( I am an asthmatic and nearly died of three times), when doctors and nurses made my mother comfortable and content as she was dying, when doctors patiently tested my daughter over several months to diagnose a health problem and do every time I  go to the GP or hospital. True, the waiting times are sometimes unbearably long, you don’t have your own GP any more, some receptionists are rude and nurses seem indifferent at times. But the service still looks after millions of patients. So whatever your gripes, contact your MPs and tell them how much you value it. Do it or all too soon we will be like the US, where good health is a privilege not a human right. And shareholders will own our precious NHS. 

    The Independent, 12/5/2014 

Open Letter to Nigel Farage

Dear Nigel Farage,

This open letter will infuriate you.  I know from personal experience how your temper flares and torches detractors. Do you remember the last time we met? I’ve never forgotten. It was in an  intimate LBC studio, on the Iain Dale show. We were asked to review 2012, discuss key political events. Before I had got four words out, you went for me, like a well trained dog. (I don’t mean that to be an insult. Dogs are noble creatures, held dear by millions in this country, as are you.) You called me ‘a stupid girl’ because I said Ukip was anti-Europe. No, you barked, your party is against the EU not Europe. ITALS PREVIOUS 5wds. Fair point, but did you have to insult and bully me on air? I threatened to walk out and you grudgingly apologised.

I was at the BBC watching you and Clegg battling it out. A few of us were invited to dinner afterwards and I was so hoping for a reunion. But you didn’t show. I had criticised you on Channel4 the week before and we could have had another raging row. You were impressively combative in that debate. And smart. And captivating. One friend thinks you are really sexy and imagines you’d be a good spanker. It takes all sorts.

I, though, am not seduced. Your perpetual smile and famous charm is just a masquerade. And it works. Even did last week on the usually merciless Have I got News For You . They asked you about your expense claims and alleged sexual adventures and you smiled and smiled and smiled, though you must have been incandescent. Many Britons will have been impressed by that performance. Paul Merton and Ian Hislop didn’t pursue you as hard as they did Boris or the Hamiltons, those two now, of course, Ukip names. Perhaps because all broadcasters have been accused by you of bias against your party. To have been on Question Time over 26 times, forever elsewhere on the airwaves is obviously still not enough. You go on about how the Establishment hates Ukip, the party of the common man. This strategy of faux victimhood is working. Congratulations.

Let’s examine this anti-establishment posturing. You have been an MEP for nearly fourteen years on around £70,000 per year, plus the 2 million pounds expenses you boasted about in 2009. Your father was a stockbroker; you went to the private school for the privileged, Dulwich College, and then became a city trader. You employ your wife as a paid secretary and wear tailor made, pin striped suits, silk ties and shirts. Your backers are multimillionaires. You were in a two seater plane which crashed. You survived. What a hero. Later, medical bills for injuries sustained in that accident were, apparently paid by Sir Fredrick Barclay, one of the brothers who own the Telegraph and Ritz Hotel, which held a fiftieth birthday bash for you. You are a man absolutely of the establishment. Smoking and drinking pints does not make you a man of the people. But you, being the Paul Daniels of politics, have tricked many into believing that.

You slag off EU policies ad nauseam. So tell me Mr Farage, would you bring back smoking in public places, free people so they can die? Would you bring in the death penalty? Do you want adults to be able to thrash kids at home and in schools? Would you tear up the Human Rights Act?

You have sexists, racists, homophobes and cheats in your party. Some are exposed from time to time. You seem to think that doesn’t matter, that ‘eccentrics’ are fun.  That, to me, shows tacit approval of some very nasty people and ideas. I can’t see much divergence between Ukip’s views on forced assimilation of migrants and repatriation and those held by the BNP. You just make them sound reasonable and know exactly how to tap into widespread anxieties about migration. (By the way, that was a nice touch, expressing tender concern for workless Afro-Caribbeans who have lost out to Poles and Romanians.) Though you won’t join Marie Le Pen’s coalition of the far right, you still praise her and your party is close to some of those hardliners. Professor Alen Sked of the LSE left your party because it was, he said, too extremist.

 I feel you viscerally loathe cultures and peoples outside your mean little Englishness. You blame the EU, blame migrants and diversity for all the ills of the nation, which you must know has grown and maintained its position by being pro-European, open and cosmopolitan. Ukip MEP Marta Andreasen defected to the Tories last year saying you are a  ‘Stalinist dictator’ who doesn’t like women. I am a woman, Asian, Muslim and a migrant. I must repel you on all fronts. And I, in return, don’t like, trust or believe anything you say.

Yours sincerely

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown 

 The Independent, 21/3/2014






Thrive by Ariana Huffinton. Book Review



WH Allen, 2014.

Pp 342. £16.99

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

There were no psych-fix or self-improvement books on my shelves. Now there is one: Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Happier Life.  Don’t laugh. Never ridicule or underestimate this author, journalist, editor-in-chief, ( ex) politician, America’s biggest and busiest networker, entrepreneur, multimillionaire, spiritual, mental and health guru who looks just great and never has a bad hair day. I present to you Arianna Huffington, ( previously known as Arianna Stassinopoulou) a woman who has been gifted amazing powers of self-regeneration ( and reinvention) by the Fates. Born in Greece in 1950, she migrated with her mum to Britain, got a scholarship to Cambridge and became, say some, ‘the most upwardly mobile Greek since Icarus’. But unlike the recklessly ambitious Icarus she never burns out or melts down.  

In the 70s, she hooked up with the cerebral Bernard Levin, wrote an anti-feminism book (The Female Woman) and won many, helpful male admirers. In the 80s she moved to  the US, quickly made friends in high places, turned frightfully right wing, married Michael Huffington, a rich Republican who eventually confessed he was bisexual. They parted but the surname stayed, opened doors. In 2003 she stood against Arnold Schwarzenegger for the governorship of California and lost. Two years later she founded the eponymous online Huffington Post ( liberal, centre left) which was sold to AOL for 305 million dollars. It is now a global brand, read and taken seriously by readers, writers and unpaid bloggers.  

This Greek goddess never fades, never regrets, always astounds and awes. The Greek word ‘arete’ means excellence, effectiveness, living to one’s full potential. Arianna is its embodiment. 

In April 2007, she fainted and fell  in her home office.: ‘I was on the cover of magazines and had been chosen by Time as one of the 100 most influential people. After my fall, I had to ask myself, was this what success looked like?’ No, dear Arianna, it’s what middle age feels like. But Ms Huffington didn’t get to where she is by accepting inevitable life changes.  She wrote this book. 

So what is the ‘third metric’? There’s this stool of life, you see. Two legs stand for the pursuit of money and power. The third is what humans apparently need to be fulfilled and stable. (And not fall over. ) We must slow down, reflect, relish each moment, unplug devices and give.: ‘[Gazelles] are my role models. They run and flee when there is a danger- a leopard or a lion approaching- but as soon as the danger passes they stop and go back to grazing without a care in the world’.  

We know vast ambitions can lead to mental disharmonies, stress and perpetual dissatisfaction. The world would be a better place if bosses and nations were not so greedy, were kinder to themselves and others. However, Huffington’s heroes reach this nirvana after they get rich and powerful. They don’t leave or lose the rat race. Steve Jobs meditated and wanted a book by an old Indian yogi handed out at his memorial. And John. F. Kennedy took soothing naps. Huffington too goes on long, invigorating hikes, is keen on sleep and spirituality, values personal relationships. Ameliorated capitalism and soft power play is self-gratifying. It does not make the world more just or equal.

That said, the book offers persuasive arguments, is full of fascinating research, much fire and passion. Huffington draws people to her, commoners was well as captains of industry, the media, arts and cultural establishments. What gall- an outsider, scorned for her outsiderness, shows them again and again. I wish she would choose me to be her new best friend.    

    The Independent 23/3/2014  

Song for Secularism


Ukip hogs the limelight but the hot issue of the moment is religion in modern Britain. Cameron declared this nation ‘Christian’ and wants believers to be more evangelical. Must be why humble proselytisers rang the doorbell this Sunday- Seventh Day Adventists, and other messengers of Christ. I politely told them I would not be converted and that I kept my faith matters private. They were kindly, though disappointed, and two said they’d be back. Oh, please, no.

Our PM neatly passed over the Reformation, the break from Rome etc.  And the ongoing sectarianism between Christ’s people in Northern Ireland. In this Jerusalem, Catholics were and still are sometimes treated as second class, or suspect citizens. Some Christians matter more than others. When the coalition government – honourably and impressively- pushed through gay marriage laws, the phalanx of multi-faith objectors tried but could not stop parliament. Millions of Christians oppose this law. Was this not a Christian country when it was passed?

A group of eminent academics, writers, scientists and artists including Philip Pullman, Ken Follet, Professor Steve Jones and Professor Jim al-Khalili  – who presents science programmes on the BBC- reacted to the PM’s thoughtless and incendiary comments. Interestingly most savvy faith communities didn’t object. Of course they didn’t. Britain’s highly organised Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and others know and rejoice that the man in charge is not a proper secularist. If they support his Christian mission, he will grant them influence in public affairs. Religion and politics are getting closer. God help us all.  

I have faith and pray and avoid the company of noisy, atheist wolves. Religion is a vital part of a decent, civil society. When Archbishops speak up for the poor ( and irritate Ian Duncan Smith) , when Rabbis offer support to asylum seekers, when Sikh priests give food to the hungry in their temples, when Muslim Imams encourage charity, when faith leaders oppose state violence, they are the nation’s conscience. But bit by bit, religions are demanding special rights and dispensations and with well honed piety, are emasculating human rights, equality and autonomy. ( They actually use the concepts of human rights and equality to get their own fiefdoms, segregation and legal adjustments) 

Here are a few examples: among Gove’s free school fiascos are not only hardline Muslim academies, but Christian, Hindu and Sikh ones too which secede from mainstream education and brainwash kids to unquestioningly follow what they are taught. And to think of themselves as members of that community and not our multipart nation. The Law Society has just issued a briefing note to lawyers about Sharia inheritance diktats which give females less or no inheritance at all. For Orthodox Jews, divorce is only possible if the husband agrees. That agreement is called ‘Get’. Without his permission she is a chained woman. The 2002 Divorce ( Religious Marriage) Act stipulated that without Get,  a civil decree absolute can be denied to the wife. Within Hindu families, religious texts are used as alibis to steal property rights from widows. The law does not protect them.   

Cameron’s call is religious braggadocio put out for political effect.  And it did fly. At the weekend, LibDem president, Tim Farron, confessed he was a committed Christian; Lord Rowan Williams ruefully spoke about empty churches and our ‘post-Christian’ age;  Jack Straw backed the PM; Tony Blair called for another Crusade against ‘evil’  Muslims and Muslim Baroness Sayeeda Warsi joined the unholy choir: ‘Politicians didn’t talk about their faith because they were seen as odd to do so…people don’t feel they can dress in a Christian manner, [they] can’t talk about Christianity and faith.’ And that, claims the Lady, our minister of faith, leads to increased support for far right groups. Silly comments, from a ministry of utter folly.

Let this go on and we could end up with abortion laws that kill women.  (Read Savita by Kitty Holland on the young Indian woman who perished because medical staff in a hospital in Ireland couldn’t perform a life saving abortion) And with kids never playing with those outside their religions. This is happening in faith schools of all denominations. My own daughter was treated as an outcast by some staff and parents in a Church of England primary school which my taxes help pay for. And with religious apartheid in Universities- already well progressed. And religious relativism.

Nick Clegg is right: disestablish the Church of England and cut the links between crown, state and church.  We must also stop religious leaders from getting into the Lords, phase out faith schools or make them mixed, and ensure there is one law for all. Politicians should be  democrats, not avatars of chosen gods.

This column is a song for secular democracy, the only fair, safe and universalising governance system. America, hyper-diverse and the most fiercely Christian nation in the west, is a secular state. Yes we can be too. And must.

  The Independent, 28/4/2014