The true scandal – is that ministers appoint these people [quangocrats], give them considerable powers, and yet it seems that ministers are completely unaccountable for what they do once they have been appointed.
No one seems to be in charge. No one is accountable. It is infamous. Instead of wasting everybody’s time and money with politically correct gerrymandering of public sector appointments, Patricia Hewitt should recognise that she is presiding over a massacre of local hospitals, and that it is her job – to justify the actions of her appointees.
Hewitt and her appointees are bad news for our hospitals and health
My temperament is so generally peaceable that some mornings I wake up and think I have no enemies in the world. I rub my eyes, and stretch, and wonder what it is I am fighting for, and who it is I am fighting against.
And then I open the paper, and I behold the visage of Patricia Hewitt, and it all comes flooding back. I see the Health Secretary, and I see her spectacles glittering with the sheen of politically correct triumphalism. I hear her on the radio, with her bossy Aussie twang. I listen to her set out her latest jargon-laden agenda for interfering in the lives and habits of British families, and after a few paragraphs of Hewitt I am afraid I am fit to be tied.
It is this Hewitt who has come from Australia – once a land of burping, string-vested virility, a land where women would actually chase you from the kitchen if you offered to help, brandishing cups of Milo – and who now tells us British men that we are to have six months’ paid paternity leave.
That’s right, folks, six months: when we know that this is likely to be inimical to the interests of British business, of British men, and above all of British babies. How can it possibly be good for very young children to be closeted with their fathers, for six months, when those men by the end are likely to be suffering from such acute cabin fever that they go half-mad in an intensifying hell of spilt Milupa and perfumed nappy sacks?
But of course Hewitt is not really interested in the children, or their fathers, or business. She cares only for dogma, and in particular feminist dogma. That is why she has just been caught red-handed trying to force a woman into a cushy £9,000 post in the South West Regional Development Authority, when everyone else agreed that a man called Malcolm Hanney was the best candidate.
In a sensational ruling, the High Court has decided that Hewitt was guilty of “unlawful sex discrimination”. Across Britain, in every household where there is a mildly paranoid, middle-aged, white, heterosexual male with no obvious disabilities, I can imagine that there will have been a certain amount of glee.
Hewitt blew it; she went too far, and she has been forced to pay Mr Hanney’s legal costs of £19,967 – almost the salary of a nurse. But there the matter rests; and that is the real scandal. Hewitt’s female appointee remains in place, and so do tens of thousands of quangocrats, across the nation, installed at the whim of ministers according to considerations of party politics, gender or simply because they are the wife or husband of someone useful.
The true scandal – and one of the biggest problems of British democracy – is that ministers appoint these people, give them considerable powers, and yet it seems that ministers are completely unaccountable for what they do once they have been appointed.
It is true that the regional development authorities are not yet as powerful as John Prescott would like them to be, and with the greatest respect to Mr Hanney and everyone who aspires to serve on one, the best thing would be just to scrap them.
But there are plenty of other quangos that have awesome powers, and none more terrifying than those in the health service, where Hewitt is now theoretically in charge. If we had any proper democracy in this country, Patricia Hewitt would now be explaining to Parliament and the public why there is an undeclared war on local community hospitals, everywhere from Yorkshire to Suffolk to Wiltshire to Hampshire to, yes, Oxfordshire.
Now that the election is over, and now that Gordon Brown is running out of money, we find that in towns across England, the Government is threatening to close local hospitals, in defiance of every promise they have made.
Did I say the Government? Forgive me: of course, the Government, when asked about this, denies all responsibility. Not me guv, say ministers, when you inquire why a loved and valued community hospital faces closure.
It is, say ministers, entirely a decision for the local strategic health authority, or the primary care trust, and so the Labour people wash their hands of it.
It will not do. It is in the first place wrong that these hospitals are facing closure, when we all know that the biggest problem in the NHS is the waiting lists, made far worse by bed-blocking in the acute sector.
Why on earth are we proposing to close community hospitals, when they are not only relied upon for immediate treatment by local people, but when they also provide a place for recuperation, and so relieve the pressure on big general hospitals?
And then there is the second and more important point. Even if there were a case for closing these hospitals – which there is not – it should be made by Patricia Hewitt. It should not be the job of some worthy health service hierarch, some beleaguered quangocrat, to explain this baffling and outrageous decision. These hospitals were by and large built and funded by local people. They have been loved and used by local people for generations.
They were nationalised by the Labour government in 1948; in other words they were taken away from the care and control of local people, to be run by national politicians. It is not good enough for those national politicians now to say that they have no responsibility for whether those hospitals stay open, especially since they have created the quangos.
It is not good enough for them to direct angry locals to write letters of protest to the strategic health authority, or to invite MPs to get in touch with the primary care trust. Apart from anything else, the Labour Government, having created the primary care trusts only three years ago, now proposes to abolish half of them. With whom are we supposed to be dealing, if we want to keep a hospital open?
No one seems to be in charge. No one is accountable. It is infamous. Instead of wasting everybody’s time and money with politically correct gerrymandering of public sector appointments, Patricia Hewitt should recognise that she is presiding over a massacre of local hospitals, and that it is her job – and her job alone – to justify the actions of her appointees.