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Waiting for a train


Waiting for a train

NHS funding is a domestic political choice, and nothing to do with Europe

Independent proprietor Sid Dajani takes time out to consider the EU referendum

I’m holed up on the concourse at Waterloo station waiting for a train that’s four hours late. I’ve found free Wi-Fi from a restaurant. I’ve no idea where they are or who they are but, by way of thanks, have a mention.

The announcements drone on. Cycling and skateboarding are forbidden and security services will blow up my luggage if I’m careless. Welcome to London.

Lovers embrace and mid-embrace it’s hard to tell if they are about to separate or have just found each other. A man eats a roll poking out of a paper bag. I watch as he takes a bite of the bread and the top of the bag at the same time. He appears not to notice – they must taste the same.

A young girl wearing fluorescent trainers and a floral outfit that reminds me of the curtains of some of my elderly delivery patients, is hunched over her iPhone. Both thumbs dance over the keyboard, the software predicting her thoughts. Messages at the speed of a blur.

To my right is another minute keyboard specialist and I imagine a generation of pallid youngsters with poor eyesight, stooped backs and big thumbs that do technology 24/7. They can cross a busy street, avoid a lamppost, talk to a friend and chew gum, pin pictures to a global notice board, file their homework, update their Facebook page and send a direct message on Twitter – all without looking up or interrupting their flow of ‘Whatsagram’.

There’s a homeless person by the entrance; he wished me a nice day. His dog yawned at me. I watch the big news screen – the Brexit-Bremain thing has begun. I know, I know ... this is a pivotal time in our history and however we decide will define our nation for years ahead.

Prepare to be befuddled

The first shots have been revealing. Obama, Boris, Cameron, Gove are all queueing up to have their say. My simple rule; try and stick to the facts, the data and the statistics. Sadly, in politics it doesn’t work. People are prepared to look you in the eye and try to befuddle you.

The Brexiteers are at it already. They recognize the NHS is as British as Albion. If you are appealing to an audience of ‘patriots’, what better way to start than with our NHS? It was good enough for the opening of the Olympic Games, so it must be good enough for curtain-up Brin-or-Brout.

Their subtext is: “We can’t fund the NHS because we send our money to Europe”. Wrong ... NHS finances are short because George Osborne has an entirely arbitrary policy that he will balance the books and have a surplus by 2020. The consequence is austerity, cuts to public services and everyone trying to make one pound do the work of two. NHS funding is a domestic political choice, and nothing to do with Europe.

Fortunately, we can turn to the BBC Reality Check. It turns out that the £350m we send to Brussels, that we might repatriate, is not even the right number. Strip out rebates, regional aid, help for research in universities and companies and development funding, and you end up with about £135m. If we did leave we would probably have to utilise some (or all) of that as part of any new trade deals we entered into.

The big question

My question is: are these big-nobs of Brout careless, lazy, charlatans, snake-oilers, deceivers, unthinking, idle, confused, knaves, scoundrels, swindlers, gongoozlers, or just not up to the job?

I remember watching Michael Gove on TV and seeing his grovelling apology for being caught pretending that it was essential to his work, as a parliamentarian, that we bought his child a cot mattress! We have Nigel Farage, who’s someone the French would describe as the ‘le grand plonkeur’.

Then there’s Boris, with a presentation style that’s casual but seemingly informed, enthusiastic, evocative and humorous. He bumbles about on our TV screens, doing for politics what David Attenborough has done for the natural world. He may be the life and soul of the party, but he’s not the sort of man you’d want driving your daughter home at the end of the evening, or indeed one to let the facts get in the way of a good story. He did after all lose a previous job after falsifying quotes.

Both sides will be telling us the impossible, the unfathomable and the downright unbelievable, and I have no reason to believe the Brinners aren’t just as capable of cozenage, cunning and cheating. It certainly looks like the next month or so will be a mixed bag, from the devout to the doolally. I honestly don’t think either side could inspire me to sit in a puddle if my trousers were on fire, because I believe in the reality of finance and the facts.

In search of reality

Unfortunately, any reality is blurred because in the world of public finances there is no reality. We are dealing with visions and ideas. Reality is distorted by evidence-less policy, fond hope, imagination and a lucky rabbit’s foot. And some may add, deception and casuistry.

Reality, like the truth in this referendum, will be as tricky as holding on to a slippery bar of soap and predictions are for a tight race. I feel sorry for the losing side already – it will be like being locked in the back of a car heading in the wrong direction to a destination you don’t want to reach.

The only winners here are politicians who will seek opportunities to feather their hats and duck ponds in order progress their careers. While my sympathy lies with all my colleagues in healthcare businesses who are desperately trying to maintain business as usual, no matter how distracting, frustrating and expensive this exercise is, and despite the chaos and the brouhaha it is causing. If it’s not settled decisively or soon this whole sorry story will turn into a public act of cannibalism as people turn on each other.

Right now I’d like to swap this boring concourse for a place where I’m lying in the shade, watching the bougainvillea petals drift across the azure water of the pool, with thoughts of a light lunch on my mind. Lobster, Sancerre Les Monts Damnes, espresso and a brandy? Just the job, but first, where’s that blasted train!


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