From his time working with Brexit and Conservative lobby groups, Shahmir Sanni argues that the people in power in the UK actually despise social services, despite their praise of them during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I have worked for Conservative lobby groups. I have worked for the Brexit campaign. I have drunk with the people running this country; partied with them; cried with them; dined with them; and loved them. They were a community that supported me, people who came to me for compassion and emotional support. I was the friend they called “wet” for my liberal beliefs, but “smart” for my prowess in the digital landscape.
Before the Coronavirus hit Britain, conservative thought leaders were reintroducing eugenics into political discourse, arguing in favour of its legitimacy under the guise of ‘free speech’. The idea that one person is better than another because of their genetic makeup, or because of the cards they were dealt with before they were even born, is an ideology rooted in the very fabric of British society. ‘Better’ in this day and age translates almost always as being more economically productive or ‘smarter’. We have come far. But not as far as Britain would like to believe.
I have been in rooms with Conservative politicians and hacks where discussions around the NHS have centred around its privatisation. Behind closed (and sometimes even open) doors, the ideas are the same and often lack much nuance. Just pick up some research papers by Tufton Street think tanks and see for yourself.
Discussion centres around a simple idea that anything funded by the state is wrong. Many of these people reiterate the same one-liners to each other so much that they are convinced that there is no other way. At private dinners, I have heard public workers depicted as enemies of progress, the civil service conveyed as pointless and many key public services that make Britain what it is referred to as a nuisance. Whether it is care workers, teachers, nurses, doctors, civil servants, it does not matter – all of their roles can be replaced by the private sector and, in the eyes of many Conservative politicians, they should be.
“The NHS doesn’t need reform, it just needs to be sold-off,” is a phrase I have heard used at these private dinners. Along with: “Publicly-funded care workers aren’t essential, if people are getting old they should have worked hard when they were younger. Why should taxes pay for their laziness?” I have heard them jest “but what about Grenfell!” at the television whenever someone who asks for more funding for the NHS is being interviewed.
There is a deep-rooted culture, disseminated by influential lobby groups who are platformed by the media, of seeing public funding as an enemy of progress. It is purely ideological, based not in economic theory or academia, but entirely on a regurgitation of political statements.
The public is cognitively dissonant to this because the actions of politicians are not critiqued by our journalists or media broadcasters. People are fed lies about how politicians are seeking to help them, rather than being told that there are vested ideological and financial interests in the policy decisions being made by these politicians.
As someone who has given up years of his life and experienced so much trauma merely for trying to protect British democracy from corruption, I know that we are in the middle of, not just a public health crisis, but a political one too. Disinformation is rife, hypocrisy even more so. While we must all unite to come out of the Coronavirus crisis, we must critique the very systems that have made us ill-prepared, and also understand how our livelihoods can be put at risk as a result of political decisions.
Boris Johnson and his Cabinet do not love the NHS, they are ideologically against the very fundamental idea of public healthcare. It goes against every research paper and book they love; against the desires of the millionaires who set up their lobby groups and policy think tanks. It is fundamentally a project that does not fit in their free market utopia.
I implore Conservatives to pull themselves out of this bubble and see the bigger picture, to understand the nuances of policy decisions that have been made and take action to protect the NHS. We must also appreciate that the hands that ‘clap for carers’, are the same hands placing a cross in the ballot box to vote in individuals who I believe do not have their best interests at heart, least of all when it comes to the NHS.
Johnson’s handling of the Coronavirus may be perceived by some to be an example of strong leadership. But, when this crisis is over, that same leadership will be turned against the very things we cherish most in times like this.