Why did the government pay a private company to run the service? Because Boris pulled a Napoleon, of course, says Peter Kelly...
Not only have we had the misfortune of facing a pandemic, but it could not have come at a worse time in our political cycle. All politics runs in cycles. In 1945 Arthur Schlesinger Jnr wrote a book, ‘The Age of Jackson’, about the presidency of Andrew Jackson (1829-1837).
He wrote: “American history has been marked by recurrent swings of conservatism and liberalism. During the periods of inaction, unsolved social problems pile up till the demand for reform becomes overwhelming.
"Then a progressive government comes to power, the dam breaks and a flood of change sweeps away a great deal in a short time. After 15 or 20 years the liberal impulse is exhausted, the day of ‘consolidation’ and inaction arrives, and conservatism once again expresses the mood of the country, but generally on the terms of the liberalism it displaces. So with Jacksonian democracy.”
British democracy often seems to run in similar cycles to American democracy, and I don’t think you need to be an expert political analyst to know where we are currently in the cycle. We are being governed by conservatism and inaction. Unaffordable housing, poverty wages, rip-off university fees and foodbanks: nobody was really trying to solve these social problems before the pandemic, so we are in a period of inaction.
A pandemic is a problem that needs action, and decisive, competent action at that. We are being governed by politicians who, in their heart of hearts, don’t really believe in action and that is why they have been so indecisive and reluctant to act. That is the context of where we are.
Now let’s look specifically at NHS Test and Trace. The British government has spent £12 billion on NHS Test and Trace and to date it has failed to hit its targets. That is a massive failure. If this were a task on The Apprentice, Lord Sugar would not be happy: he would probably fire the whole team. But this is not a reality TV show, this is real life, so nobody gets fired.
The most interesting thing about the NHS Test and Trace system is that it was developed by a private company, not by the NHS. Bizarre, I know. There has been an interesting sleight of hand here. Skilled politicians have a history of using a crisis to do something they always wanted to do but may not have gotten away with if it wasn’t for the context of the crisis. Let me give you a couple of examples of this.
On 24 December 1800, there was an assassination attempt in Paris on the life of the First Consul of France, Napoleon Bonaparte. This became known as The Plot of the rue Saint-Nicaise. The Royalists had tried to assassinate Napoleon. The police caught the culprits but that did not stop Napoleon using the crisis to rid France of his Jacobin enemies. Some 130 prominent Jacobians were exiled from France as the result of a plot they had nothing to do with. The real culprits had already been caught.
George Bush played a similar move after 9/11 when he used that crisis to illegally invaded Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein. He would not have gotten away with it pre 9/11. In politics every crisis is an opportunity to further your own agenda.
The worst kept secret in the world is that many Conservative politicians would like to privatise parts, if not all, of the NHS. It is in the public domain that some Conservative politicians have financial ties to private healthcare companies. The Conservative MP for North Shropshire, Owen Paterson, disclosed in Parliament’s register of interests that he is paid £8,333 for 16 hours of work a month by Randox. You know where this is going. Randox has been awarded a £347 million Covid testing contract by the government.
Some of you might have heard the name Randox before - they sponsor the Grand National. The Grand National is run by The Jockey Club. Dido Harding sits on the board of the Jockey Club. She is in charge of the NHS Test and Trace. It’s all very interesting. in a nutshell, the government gave money to a private company to run NHS Test and Trace and it is failing.
Why was money given to a private company to run a public service instead of giving the money to the public sector? Well, Boris pulled a Napoleon. He used a crisis to do something the Conservatives have always wanted to do - redirect public money from the NHS to private companies.
And they have got away with it so far.
Peter Kelly is a stand-up comedian and community pharmacist based in London