01 January 2011

Let them eat cake

You may think that curmudgeonly Dr Grumble celebrated the New Year by staying at home with Mrs Grumble and drinking a cup of hot cocoa. But no. Dr Grumble has actually got a few friends and he went for a New Year's Eve supper with Mr and Mrs Short who live across the road. They are both teachers. Both are scientists: one a chemist, the other a physicist. One of their children, state educated, is a medical student at Cambridge. Dr Grumble likes the Shorts. They are nice hard-working people who have no airs or graces. One of them was born on an estate - a council estate.

Teachers are a bit like doctors. Like most doctors most teachers work in the state system. And, like doctors, through their work, they engage with all strata of society. They know what life is about and their politics tend to reflect this. In short they have a better feel for the world that many of today's politicians.

When the Grumbles visit the Shorts inevitably the conversation eventually drifts towards politics. Last night was no different. The Shorts are well informed. They know about the NHS and what threatens it and they know about state schools and what threatens them. Like the Grumbles they didn't much like New Labour and like the Grumbles their suspicions of the ConDems are growing. The Shorts pointed out that:

  • the economic crisis is being exploited to make it appear that when it comes to unpalatable policies the ConDems have no choice

  • that the Lib Dems had reneged on their tuition fees promises

  • that the Cons had promised no more top down reorganisation of the NHS and that Andrew Lansley was coming over as a lone loose cannon.

Things seem to be going wrong quite quickly for the ConDems who are beginning to look like a folie à deux.

There's trouble at Mrs Shorts' work. They are trying to charitise part of the service. This is, of course, a ConDem policy but it was around with New Labour and the Witch Doctor's and her Black Cat have been warning for some time of its creeping progress. The details of the changes at Mrs Shorts' work are interesting because Grumble has heard it all before. The managers think that they do not need teachers to do the work. Somebody less than a teacher will do. Mrs Short is quite sure that the work is so difficult that this is definitely not the case and the plans are inevitably doomed. But nobody listens. In any case the charitisation process will distance the misguided managers from the consequences of their decisions. Distancing government from the delivery of services was a New Labour aim as well. Modern governments don't want to have to take responsibility for services. They just want to dole out our tax money to independent organisations and blame them if things aren't right. Better still they will get the public to pay for the services directly. We are all to give our small change to charities to bolster the public services we will no longer get. It's not very British. We don't give much to charity compared with other countries. It is not because we are not nice. It is because we want the vulnerable in our population to be looked after by the state and we want to pay for this fairly with our taxes.

Changes are afoot. Perhaps this is what Cameron's Big Society is about. But, as Dr Jest's friend has quipped, the difference between the Big Society and the Big Issue is that nobody buys the Big Society. With jokes like this circulating, the honeymoon may be over for the ConDems. Certainly they are beginning to cause annoyance in the Grumble household where these are the questions being asked:

  • Just who are these people in charge who think that the common man has enough money to give away to well-meaning amateurs and faith groups for them to plug the gaps in services that should be provided by government?

  • Just who are these people who think that the only option is for students to pay their own university fees?

  • Just who are these people who, with no public discussion, think that virtually the whole of the NHS can be run from GPs' surgeries?

Unfortunately very few of them live in the real world, few of them have had real lives outside politics and few are acquainted with the problems of the common man. The debating society at Eton may have taught Dave to talk confidently without notes but can anybody remember anything meaningful he has ever said? And neither Nick or Gideon with their top public school credentials are quite your average man next door. These people may have been born on estates but they were certainly not council estates.

But Grumble is going to reserve his teacher friends' vitriol for the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt. He too, in case you haven't already guessed, went to a top public school: Charterhouse no less where he was head boy. Now Grumble doesn't particularly object to that. But what he does object to is Jeremy Hunt's views on state schools. This is what he said in an email to a constituent:
Michael Gove's vision is for state schools to have the same ethos as independent schools where the children are proud of what they do.
Now remember that Grumble's children were entirely educated in the state system and are now all doctors or medical students. And the Shorts children were also state educated and have done well with one at Cambridge. Our children were proud of what they did. And we are proud of what they did. How out of touch do you have to be to have such an unsavoury view of state schooling?

According to this clip, making Jeremy Hunt Culture Secretary was reckless in the extreme. Dr Grumble is inclined to agree.


Jobbing Doctor said...

Qu'ils mangent de la brioche, indeed

Dr Grumble said...

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

NorthernTeacher said...

Dr Grumble
It's even worse than you think. In the Guardian the other day at http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/dec/28/coalition-charity-donations-cash-machines we find that ATMs are going to prompt us to give money to charities. It's not just the small change that's wanted!
Happy New Year!

Dr Grumble said...

Thanks, Northern Teacher. It seems that my suspicions are correct and that the government wants to abandon us all to our own devices. The rich will go on getting richer and the poor will go on getting poorer. It is not what a civilised society should be doing and, since there is not yet an alternative to vote for, we need to be blogging our views like crazy and maybe even marching on the streets to get the message across to the ruling class that this is not what we want and that they need to offer us another way.

There really is scant difference between the policies of the ConDems and New Labour. If we are persuaded to vote for some form of PR there is a continuing likelihood of more coalition governments and continuing rule by lowest common denominator guided (or misguided) by modern-day chummy aristocrats whose only inspiration is derived from management consultants, city slickers interested only in themselves and discredited bankers.

Anonymous said...

Off topic but: Dear Dr Grumble, please extend my best wishes to the Shorts, if indeed they are the same ones that taught me at school. Jody Aberdein. jodyaberdein at doctors dot net dot uk.

Julie said...

There was a fuss a while back, about a charity called First Response who are a volunteer ambulance group. They started out as an RAF based rural first response, but have now branched into London with motorbikes and NHS logos. They came to our attention oop north with Kinloch Rannoch a year or so ago http://juliemcanulty.blogspot.com/search?q=third+kind

Are they still going?

Sam said...

"The rich will go on getting richer and the poor will go on getting poorer"

Then everybody, who is poor, will just reach for each other's throat and perhaps eliminate each other too under so many ficticious but seemingly justifiable banners, like religion or patriotism, for example, and that will just give the desired extra space for the rich to get richer and enjoy the fruits of that too!

That's called 'Globalisation' , or 'Money rules'... all!

I'm not against globalisation and the opening of borders for 'all' to touch and interact for the betterment of 'all', which can happen if the idea is handled correctly. But the direction the current ideology is taking, as you say, is be rich or it's doom ... and that's unfair and is not right.

Peace and happiness in the new year Dr G, when do you intend to go on this march? :-)

Dr Grumble said...

I don't know anything about First Response, Julie. Is this anything to do with them?:


Sam, I don't think I mentioned globalisation in this latest post, but I think you are right that the issues are intimately, to use a Witch Doctor word, intertwingled. The issues of student fees, cutting back on public services and charitisation are, I think, to do with international competition on tax rates. The wealthy can look after themselves whatever the level of public services. If you can afford private healthcare, private schooling for your offspring and a decent house where you need to live, your only concern is the level of taxation. Greed knows no bounds.

It is a curious thing that the current government wants to cut back on immigration but at the same time is trying, partly through minimising taxation, to attract businesses here which need expertise which often has to be brought in from abroad. (Many of the bankers and financiers I see as patients are foreigners with special skills.)

In any case, as far as I know, we have no control over immigration from elsewhere in the EU - and Ireland has become such an economic basket case that we can expect all those who went there for the boom times to move to the UK now it is bust.

A lot of this immigration control stuff is about pandering to the fortress UK brigade - which may be appear seductive but is not an option given that we live in the world and that the world is now very small.

I don't think we can solve some of these tricky issues until we all get together and try and equalise taxation throughout the globe and deal with inequalities wherever they may be. We are along way from being able to begin to do that. I don't even see it on the agenda yet.

As for the march, I have learned from Mrs Grumble's protest against the Iraq war (Dr G stayed at home) that even if it doesn't alter what our masters do you should protest when obviously wrong decisions are being made.

Quite a few people read this blog (including those close to government) so writing may be the best way for me to try and protest for the time being - but I do think that something rather more is needed to get our masters to really listen.

Anonymous said...

It's easy for them to achieve the cutbacks they want, because they have attacked so many groups at once that there is a lot of infighting, with each group trying to argue that they are more deserving than others. Some people are trying to unite people against the cuts, but it's difficult.

I'm sick and disabled. People have been sold the line that the cutbacks won't affect the genuinely sick and disabled with almost daily press releases about scroungers, so they are quite happy with the reforms.
They don't want to know about the people in residential care who'll lose their DLA mobility component, or what will happen when the lower rate care component is abolished.

It's the same story whichever vulnerable group you look at. The media and the government together are doing a very effective job of selling the cuts.

Dr Grumble said...

The government can be forgiven for doing their best to sell their policies but I am unimpressed with the media which repeatedly lazily swallow the press releases and act as compliant conduits for the government's propaganda.

Doctors are very familiar with these government tactics. Attacks on GPs with their high salaries have become a recurring theme. At least doctors can try and defend themselves but when it comes to vulnerable groups government tactics like this are simply unethical, dishonest even.

Dr Grumble said...

I wonder if this Daily Mail article has a government purpose. It is plainly an attack on students at a time when the public has expressed concerns about the level of debt students will be saddled with as a result of this government's policy. Is this article about medical student revelry really news? Or is it government propaganda? Fortunately the comments on the Daily Mail web site suggest that the public are unimpressed with this as a story.

ptl said...

It's not very British. We don't give much to charity compared with other countries. It is not because we are not nice. It is because we want the vulnerable in our population to be looked after by the state and we want to pay for this fairly with our taxes.

we give about half as much as the US but the striking difference is that here, the rich give less, a lot less, as a proportion of their income/wealth, than other groups. Really I doubt that can be explained by a greater commitment by the rich to supporting others by paying taxes.

The "give to charity at the ATM etc." is in that context even more of a disgrace.

Dr Grumble said...

Perhaps, plt, you are right. But maybe the rest of us feel that the rich should should be made to pay their fare share of taxes to support the less well off.

I include myself in the rich by the way so I can speak for myself. The trouble is that many of us who are rich fail to realise just how rich we are compared to the average person. Of course we are not very rich compared to the public school types I have been referring to but we are certainly very rich compared to those at the bottom.

Sam said...

"but we are certainly very rich compared to those at the bottom."

"I think you are right that the issues are intimately, to use a Witch Doctor word, intertwingled."

Hence, your view of yourself as on top is a wrong 'assumption'! Especially now, with all the cuts, rising costs of living, threat of unemployment, inability for professionals like yourself to influence policy ... etc, etc ... these are not issues the true rich worry about!

Dr G, the 'setup' of the world is changing! The new setup pushes those who don't play the money game into a new poverty line ... to include those once considered prosperous professionals! ... that's what I find scary!

"I don't think we can solve some of these tricky issues until we all get together and try and equalise taxation throughout the globe and deal with inequalities wherever they may be."


The big players 'combined', with all the tricks and the cards under their sleeves, can't get China [one country] to uplift it's currency to a level playing field with the rest of the world! ... and you want a whole one fits all system for the whole globe?! ... I know the world is getting smaller in many ways, but definately not when it comes to the big hynas big money, they'd be prepared to rip flesh apart for that!

Your optimism surpasses forever opimistic moi on this one Dr G! ... you want one 'financial' system for all?! Wot? no loop holes or offshore hide away places too?! You want to catch the rich in their game!

... maybe!

Dr Aust said...


I agree with every word, of course.

The "narrative" of "there is no alternative" that the political class are pushing is giving the Govt a chance to push their ideology unopposed by anyone except the grassroots - and, as Anon 16.14 points out, there is also the good old "Divide et impera", favoured by all Govts with unpopular policies, as people and organisations fight like ferrets in a sack not to be the ones who get sacked or shut down. This is certainly evident in Higher Education.

Another nasty tactic in our neck of the woods is the one I just posted about on JD's blog. If you will forgive a cross-post:

"Oop 'ere in our corner of Northernshire, one of the favoured dodges in the last days of New Labour (and continuing apace under the ConDems) is/was to transfer responsibility for certain services from the NHS to local authorities - the same local authorities that are facing massive budget reductions.

The upshot of these budget cuts for the said services is utterly obvious to anyone with a brain - but since the service is no longer part of the NHS, the Minister can bleat piously about "ring-fencing" and "no NHS cuts" without strictly telling a fib. No wonder all politicians are lawyers."

Finally, having attended two quite well known public schools, I spent much of my adolescence amongst those of the Cleggaroon ilk; perhaps this explains my personal antipathy to them. I certainly wouldn't want them running the country, and my kids will go to fee-paying school over my dead body.

Anonymous said...

This post, and most of the comments, have an underlying thread of naivety that, frankly, is breathtaking. The country is in debt. Huge, society-threatening debt. Someone had to stop the spending. Someone has to start paying the bill. All over the country, members of each sectional interest are moaning and saying, “Yes, yes, the bill must be paid but our group cannot be expected to cut spending for we are too important”. I love coming here for my glass of Grumble-style champagne socialism. Grumble-socialism may be naïve but it is a refreshing change from, for example, the uber-right wing Wat Tyler. Sadly, though, Grumble-economics does not add up, for Grumble-socialists do not acknowledge that we are facing a financial catastrophe.

The education system has been destroyed by successive Labour governments. The Grumblers extol the virtue of state education and well they might for, as good champagne socialists, they live in leafy-laned suburbia and congregate around good comprehensives. Comprehensives that can attract keep good staff. How many of you live in Tower Hamlets? All well and good for medical Anthony Wedgewood Benn clones to enthuse about schools such as Holland Park comprehensive or St Olaves. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emily_Benn) As well paid middle-class professionals you have the dosh to live close to these schools. Comprehensive? Bollocks. Not from the pool they serve. And you guys complain about post-code lotteries! Diane Abbott was less hypocritical.

The question of funding university students is challenging. Easy for you to slag off the Coalition/ It’s always easy to criticise the status quo. But you don’t offer an alternative. Some one has to pay. Who should that someone be? Why not just pay for students out of general taxation? Matthew Paris wrote recently about how, when dining at his Cambridge College as a student he felt uncomfortable being waited upon by a pallid skinhead, moonlighting to increase his income out of which he was paying taxes to support Paris et al at Cambridge. Something wrong there. You can make arguments for the taxpayer putting the Grumble medical students through University, but please don’t ask the taxpayer to underwrite crap like a joint honours degree in "football and society" as offered by the University of Central Lancashire. And there’s lots of stuff like that around.

Middle of the Road moderate.

Dr Aust said...

The measures the Govt has adopted for funding University education will, by most analyses, cost the exchequer more than funding the places from general taxation - at least for a decade or two. The only reason it can be spun as "more financially responsible" is that the Govt borrowing to lend to the students will be off balance sheet - the same kind of off-the-books stealth PFI-type finance the ConDems have (with some justification) been trashing Grumpy Gordon et al for.

In the specific case of Universities the coalition's policy has nothing to do with financial prudence. it is about taking a whopping step towards marketised higher education, seen as a consumer product to be sold to those who can afford it, and with effectively privatised "upscale" Universities. I should know, because I work in one.

Julie said...


Why is it that the one sector of people who are not expected to pay for the financial crisis, are those who caused it in the first place? Why do market principles apply to everyone except the market? Why does finance work on the 'private profits and public losses' principle? If I started up a business and lent beyond my means, I would be expected to sort out any mess myself. Why are we not allowed to touch the people who caused this or their profits? I think it is them that are living in an alternate reality, free from the consequences of their actions, not us.

Sam said...

"This post, and most of the comments, have an underlying thread of naivety that, frankly, is breathtaking. The country is in debt. Huge, society-threatening debt."

To which Julie made a very sensible and in all people's minds reply ... and may I add;

Ordinary people are prepared to live on bread and cheese alone for the sake of this country when needed! But do so when they see that principals are applied 'fairly', Which is not the case as Julie said.

The problem is that ordinary people with families and livelihoods who are and will be badly affected by the cuts can't understand why they have to pay with their livelihoods to bail out the 'financial' institutions? That while those were bailed out and are still being supported by the tax payer, they nonetheless still enjoy well above any other hard hit professional basic wages ... and billions in bonuses in times of naught for everybody else too?! Does this make sense? Rewarding incompetence! The very thing the government is trying to cut from the public sector is being hugely rewarded because they are 'financial' institutions?!

And the idea that politicians are afraid those banks may just uproot and locate elsewhere if anybody touched their bonuses is feeble, because they won't! Where else can they go?! Apart from the west and USA, who are all in the same boat, where else in the world is a stable political system for those huge banks to trust and feel secure enough to move their huge business to?! Name me '1' country! ...

Sam said...

... and the Holland Park comprehensive was actually way below average till recently, has it been turned around? :-)

Sam said...

"You can make arguments for the taxpayer putting the Grumble medical students through University, but please don’t ask the taxpayer to underwrite crap like a joint honours degree in "football and society" as offered by the University of Central Lancashire. And there’s lots of stuff like that around."

Exccuse the multiple commenting Dr G, but I have to say that I fully agree with that above Anonymous.

... so, will medical students be helped? Given their course is twice as long, and double as condensed as most other 'good' courses? Meaning they graduate already old-ish for them to be expected to start yet another retraining nightmare if not found jobs in medicine, which may be the case unless someone with a heart steps in? ... and because of their expected 100k debt too? ... and the waste to the country after the huge sums spent?

Is it naive to ask this?

Anonymous said...

Ah! We got there. The bankers. They are, even as we speak, eyeing up their January bonuses. Of course it's obscene. But, once again, the champagne- socialist ethic prevails. Lots of criticism but no solutions. If you tax bonuses to extinction, the bankers will disappear. And there are lots of countries who will welcome them with open arms. Switzerland and the BRIC countries for starters. Don't forget what percentage contribution these bankers make to our GDP. There are other approaches that would help the public. Stop the investment scams. Did we really use to buy endowments? Stop the pension fund rip-offs. Pay the obscene bonuses but only to bankers who have been demonstrably successful. Much could be done without destroying the city as a source of income. And don't forget it was your very own Gordon Brown, now hiding somewhere on a witness protection programme, who was so anxious to cosy up to the bankers that he removed all effective financial regulation.

Medical students do already get some mitigation of fees in their final year. As earners they will be in the top 1% of the population and will have the privilege of pushing a vocational career with rewards in terms of status and personal satisfaction far greater than many others. Why should they not pay more than, say, a school teacher or a social worker?

Middle of the road moderate

Anonymous said...

"pursuing" not "pushing" in last paragraph above. Sorry


Dr Grumble said...

The system objected to the length of my reply to MOTRM so I have replied here.

Anonymous said...

Superb! I also am a teacher, my daughter went to a standard comp (as did I - followed by Oxford and teaching A level physics in a sixth form college) and got A*s across the board and is predicted to get top grades at A level. My students constantly get top grades, and indeed full marks. It makes me so cross. They are hardly going to get any savings by fees anyway, its just an accounting trick. Trying to save money in the wrong way and charitise etc. It is so wrong, and all of us working on the front line know that is so.

No One said...

some of the comments over at "conservative home" point out regularly that the public school oxbridge bias in the political system has gone too far, point out that we have an "equality" industry which promotes equality for only the chosen subsets of politically correct fashionably supported folk, and that large numbers of people are routinely discriminated against for their working class accents or where they were born

you should join in over there occasionally they need keeping on their toes

you would also probably find any comments you made to their posts on health read by far more people in power and in a position to actually influence