Why did so many people get out into their local woods to protest about the sell-off of our forests? Plainly it took our government by surprise. Even Dr Grumble was impressed by the number of people protesting in his local wood.
But some protests are not a surprise. When Grumble's local hospital was under threat even more people were on the streets. Just as in the case of the woods, these were just ordinary people with very limited resources organising themselves to protest. Whenever this sort of thing happens people power prevails - especially if the hospital is in a marginal constituency. The NHS is so important to the electorate that it has even resulted in the election of a single-issue MP. That should surely sends signals to our government that meddling with the NHS is dangerous.
The trouble with the public getting involved in these issues is that sometimes there can be more heat than light. Passion can impede progress. Sometimes it is the right thing to close smaller hospitals. Certainly the NHS estate needs rationalisation. In theory a centrally-managed government-owned service should do this well. The reality is that successive governments have signally failed to even take on the problem.
Every single hospital (and there have been scores) Dr Grumble has worked in has been in need of some form of rationalisation. London is held up by those in charge as being the place with the biggest problems. The problems have been there for a very considerable time. Sometimes governments have made them worse. Westminster Hospital used to be across the bridge from St Thomas'. Despite opposition, it was closed. But then soaring property prices and a hospital sale enabled a triumphant Mrs Thatcher to create Chelsea and Westminster Hospital only a short walk from Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith itself not very far from, yes, Hammersmith Hospital. The reasons why hospitals fail to be closed when closure is necessary are political. Sometimes unnecessary hospitals or polyclinics are built for the same reason. What all this shows is just how important the NHS is to politics in this country.
Politicians may be prepared to send young people to die in unnecessary wars but difficult decisions about the NHS seem beyond them. It is this underlying problem that has led governments to the bizarre conclusion that they can deal with their own failings by privatisation or quasi-privatisation. The idea is that hospitals are made to fail in the market. Planning, which has failed to close hospitals, will be replaced by cut-throat competition. Some hospitals will just wither on the vine. There is a blind faith that the market will get right what politicians have not.
But none of this has been thought through. Do politicians really believe that when a local hospital closes because of market forces the local populace is going to accept that? Do politicians really believe that local GPs are going to be able to persuade their patients that their local hospital is no longer needed? Do they really think really think that the electorate will blame GPs for what happens rather than their local MP?
The woods and the NHS are more similar than some might think. We love our woods much as we love our NHS. Why didn't the public want the woods sold? It was because the woods are part of England. They are a part of England which belongs to us all. We want to be able to use them without incurring exorbitant charges. They should not be sold off. They are inviolable.
What does the public think of the NHS? They love their NHS. It is a part of Britain which belongs to us all. We want to be able to use the NHS without incurring exorbitant charges. It should not be sold off. It is inviolable.
So why don't we see the public outside their local hospital with placards? It is because of the soft focus on what is about to take place combined with lots of obfuscation and the ConDem's secret weapon: pitch-rolling. Since this article is so Anglocentric, it is unlikely that any North American readers have got this far. Lest they have, Dr Grumble needs to explain "pitch-rolling". If you have been to a great English public school, as have both the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, you will know that on Wednesday afternoons in the summer you play cricket. You may have heard of the playing fields of Eton. That's what we are talking about. (There were playing fields in the state schools but they were sold-off for development.) But if you are wealthy you will still have access to a green field and a cricket pitch. Now a cricket pitch needs rolling. It's a backbreaking job but at Eton they have a flunky or two who go out before matches to roll the pitch. The longer you roll it the better it is. They have been rolling the pitch at Eton for nearly 600 years which is why it looks so good. If you don't roll it the ball will bounce all over the place and the boys will get restive.
When it comes to the NHS there has been an awful lot of pitch-rolling. New Labour were masters at it. It has taken an amazing number of forms. Knocking GPs has been one. Who do you think feeds the misleading headlines? Faux consultations have been another. Anybody who filled in the latest forestry consultation will understand. Motherhood-and-apple-pie questions with only one answer cannot be called consultation. And there have been questionnaires about NHS services. When people are happy it goes unreported. Problems, on the other hand, get highlighted - even tiny problems. At one time Grumble found this very odd. Why should government be knocking the very service it was responsible for? The answer is that it is all part of a very prolonged pitch-rolling exercise. It is designed to create dissatisfaction with the NHS and the conclusion that something must be done - usually fed to the public as "no change is not an option".
This pitch-rolling is very powerful. It is a euphemism. If you say something often enough people may believe it. But they are not always taken in. They weren't taken in over the sale of our woodlands. But then there wasn't any