Marcus Stead

Journalist Marcus Stead

Why it’s time to stop the weekly ‘Clap for Carers’

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ON THE evening of Thursday 25 March, I opened up my balcony shortly before 8pm. The sun had just set on a cool, early spring day and I put Sky News on in the background to await the first ‘Clap for Carers’.

One minute before the start, I turned the sound down on my TV because I wanted to appreciate the noise around me from my neighbours and in the adjoining streets. What followed was something very special. For around five minutes, I could hear applause, cheering, and the banging of pots and pans in all directions. When it ended, I turned up the volume on my TV to listen to people being interviewed in all parts of Britain, who had just taken part in an act of mass appreciation.

I was glad to have been a part of that. With the lockdown still new and COVID-19 cases rising rapidly, I was happy to have done my bit to show my appreciation to doctors, nurses, porters, cleaners, social care workers, the armed forces, the other emergency services, supermarket shelf-stackers, postmen and women, lorry drivers and the many others who were doing their bit to save lives and to keep this country functioning under exceptionally difficult circumstances. Indeed, I was one of the people who called for it to become a weekly occurrence during a media appearance in the days that followed.

But as the weeks went by, my enthusiasm for it began to wane, but now, nine weeks later, and with its initiator Annemarie Plas calling for next Thursday’s 8pm clap to be the last, I feel able to articulate why.

There are three reasons why I am no longer comfortable with it:

  1. Am I clapping in appreciation of doctors and nurses, or for the institution of the NHS?

I have a tremendous respect for what doctors and nurses have done, and continue to do, during the pandemic, and by joining in the Thursday night ‘clap’, I felt I was doing my bit to thank them and to give them a small morale boost.

But we should all be careful not to confuse our admiration and respect for medical professionals with worship of the NHS as an institution. The NHS is not a religion. To ‘love’ it is absurd – love should really be reserved for people and animals.

To ‘love’ the NHS is to stand in the way of rational, intelligent debate as how to best provide healthcare during the next half century. The NHS was a consequence of the Beveridge Report of 1942, to which both the Conservative and Labour parties committed to implementing at the end of the war. The Labour Party often likes to inaccurately claim the NHS as its sole achievement, and of Aneurin Bevan as its founder. Indeed, Bevan deviated massively from Beveridge’s vision of an NHS run through local health centres and regional hospital administrations, favouring a state-run body. This led to the politicisation of the NHS from its inception.

Furthermore, Beveridge’s vision of the NHS was built on three assumptions, all of which sounded very reasonable and logical in 1942, but which turned out to be unsound. They were:

  1. As people became healthier, demand on the NHS would decrease. In reality, people are living longer, healthier lives due to expensive drugs and medical advances, so demand has increased exponentially.
  2. Demographics would remain roughly the same. In reality, the average lifespan in 1931 was 58.7 for a male and 62.9 for a female. In 2011 it was 79.0 for a male and 82.8 for a female.
  3. The whole thing could be paid for by ‘the stamp’, what we now call National Insurance. In reality, that ended many decades ago, and the NHS is now paid for out of general taxation.

It is not difficult to find politicians and advisers in both the Conservative and Labour parties that know the current funding model of the NHS is unsustainable, and they both hope the other will be in power when it collapses. They both know that even debating it is a ‘sacred cow’ and that any change will be unpopular with the electorate.

However, the reality is that the current Government mass expenditure through furloughing and the increased pressure on the benefits system isn’t some long, boring holiday at the state’s expense. It is borrowed money that will have to be paid back through a mixture of increased taxation and cuts to public expenditure. The so-called ‘austerity’ of the David Cameron and George Osborne years will seem minuscule by comparison to what is to follow in the decade ahead.

The ‘default’ argument in defence of the NHS is to tell horror stories from the USA about working class people being left to die because they cannot afford medical bills. But how much do most people in Britain know about the healthcare systems in, say, Germany and Singapore? Are they better systems than the NHS? And when we ‘clap for the NHS’, are we implying that our doctors and nurses are doing a better job than those in other countries? Are we saying that the NHS is better than systems in other countries?

By engaging in the cult of ‘NHS worship’, we are preventing an open and honest discussion as to whether the NHS system of healthcare is either desirable or affordable in the years ahead.

  1. I don’t like anything that’s ‘compulsory’.

As one of life’s stroppy non-joiners and proud outsiders, feeling forced to join in anything, no matter how noble it may seem, sits uncomfortably with me. I am reminded, in a sense, of the ‘Two Minutes Hate’ in George Orwell’s 1984, or of the forced jollity of the Boy Scouts or those hideous youth movements dictators love.

I am also increasingly aware of various forms of compulsion individuals, public bodies and private businesses feel obliged to join in with in the name of diversity and political correctness, which is increasingly intolerant of any form of dissent.

For example, during the course of the last few years, public bodies, private businesses and voluntary organisations have been cajoled into joining in the annual festival of rainbow flag-displaying as part of the ‘Pride’ movement. What this really means is that a quiet tolerance of homosexuality is no longer enough. You now have to actively approve, and be seen to be actively approve, or face ostracisation and your name, or the name of your organisation, blackened by the ‘woke’ mob.

It may well be the case that you find aspects of the Pride movement distasteful. One look at the Twitter hashtag during last year’s Pride weekend in my area showed a large number of people openly boasting about looking for casual gay sex. It appears I’m expected to actively approve of this behaviour as well, even though I’m in no doubt many decent homosexuals would find it unhealthy and inappropriate, as indeed would anyone who believes that sex should only take place as an act between two people who are wholly committed to each other. I am also reminded of a mother I know who, two years ago, put her six-year-old son to bed at around 8pm during Pride weekend, but found he could not settle due to the thud of bass of music from the live stage in an open park more than a mile away in the city centre, that did not stop until well past 10pm. Neither she, nor the male friend of mine who had an early start with work the following morning, felt they could complain to the council or the police about the noise for fear of being branded ‘homopbobic’. That’s the society we now live in.

I was already starting to have feelings of unease about the Thursday night clapping after week three or four of the Thursday night clapping. But a real turning point came during an incident two weeks ago. As 8pm approached, I was walking in my local area towards a supermarket. Surrounded by flats and apartments, applause and the banging of pots and pans broke out. Upon realising it was 8pm, I stopped walking, and joined in. I smiled at the two young women who had come to their front doors immediately opposite where I was standing, and we waved at each other.

After around two minutes, the applause began to fade, so I stopped clapping and continued with my journey. As I started walking again, a faint ripple of applause continued from a few especially-enthusiastic people. One such person, standing on his balcony, bottle of beer in hand, shouted down at me, in a flat, northern accent, “F*****g clap!”. Needless to say, I ignored him and walked on.

That was a major turning point for me. Since this minor incident, the Thursday ‘Clap for Carers’ has felt not like a voluntary act of appreciation, but something people feel compelled to join in, much like the rainbow flag compulsion we now see every summer.

  1. It has become politicised.

The first ‘Clap for Carers’ felt like a genuinely uniting experience. Political differences were put aside as the nation showed its appreciation for frontline workers. Boris Johnson, just a day before he announced he had coronavirus, stood outside 10 Downing St and joined in the applause, as did prominent figures from all the main parties from outside their homes.

Yet within a week, some vicious trends were appearing on social media, saying things like, “If you join in the Clap for Carers and voted Tory, you’re a f*****g hypocrite” and far worse. Quite a number of people on the left think they have a monopoly on care and compassion. They glibly ignore certain uncomfortable truths, such as that NHS spending has increased year-on-year, or that the biggest drain on NHS resources are payments due as a result of the PFI arrangements Gordon Brown put in place to pay for new hospitals from the time Labour came into power in 1997, and lasted well into the 2000s.

Yes, old, Victorian hospitals that served us for well over a century have been closed down and replaced with gleaming, modern buildings, but the PFI arrangements Mr Brown put in place mean that they still haven’t been paid for, nor will they be for many years yet to come, long after he has departed frontline politics. This is just one example of governments of all colours pretending the NHS is more affordable than it actually is.

As the weeks went by, the tweets became more vindictive and scathing. The hard left increasingly claimed the weekly clap-a-thon as its own, and used it to promote its aggressive agenda.

Annemarie Plas is right. The ‘Clap for Carers’ has served its purpose. It was a good turn, but it went on too long. A voluntary act of national appreciation became something altogether more political and sinister, and it is time for it to cease.

Written by Marcus Stead

May 23, 2020 at 5:15 am

Posted in Comment, Health, Opinion

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