When the miners went on strike to stop colliery closures in 1984, Mrs Thatcher wanted to take back control. She fought the miners with police batons and rhetoric, closed the pits and announced that there was no such thing as society.
She pushed for the breakup of the welfare state and was eager to sell off the NHS to the highest bidder. As the NHS was so beloved by the British people, MP Nicholas Ridley suggested they should set about denationalising the NHS ‘by stealth,’ the word he used in a report that became known as the Ridley Plan, ‘an astonishingly ruthless battle plan for privatisation,’ according to OpenDemocarcy.net (21/10/2019)
Fast forward to March 2020, Britain entered the coronavirus epidemic with 100,000 unfilled posts in the NHS, most for nurses. There were as many managers as doctors, an astonishing lack of PPE – personal protective equipment – and hospital trusts operated in a quasi-marketplace bidding for patients, now called clients.
How did this happen?
It happened by stealth. Once upon a time, nurses received a grant and worked four hours a day in hospitals getting experience while they studied. Now, a nurse requires a nursing degree that costs about £9,000 a year on a three year course. Unless nurses live at home with mum and dad, they will need a further £12,000 a year to meet the average cost of living.
Many young people from low income families were terrified at the thought of coming out of nursing school with £60,000 of debt and avoided the profession. That didn’t matter so much before Covid-19 because the Government had been able to poach trained nurses from the Philippines, Indonesia and the European Union.
This was jolly clever. The money saved on training nurses in the UK, plus cash from hugely increased university fees, could now be given back to the people in tax cuts.
If you cut taxes by, say, two percent, a person earning an average £25,000 a year will get an extra £500 in their pocket. That’s £10 a week. However, now that the Government has less money because of tax cuts, the after school violin lessons or football practice that used to be free will now have to be paid for – and will probably cost more than £10 a week. There will be a need for cuts in school budgets, provision for free school meals, outings for people in care homes.
On the other hand, the person earning £100,000 a year – heads of hospital trusts, university chancellors, newspaper editors, police chiefs, most Members of Parliament – will have an extra £2,000 a year from their tax cut. That’s enough to have a winter holiday or buy an electric bike and save the environment.
The Dominic Cummings Brexit-winning slogan Take Back Control was assumed by working people to mean that they were taking back control from the unanswered telephones and distant institutions that ignored their run down schools, lack of jobs, hospital waiting lists, broken roads, food banks, and all those things that weave together to create what we think of as society.
The slogan was brilliant because people believed they were taking back control, while control would in fact be gripped ever more firmly by those in control: Cummings, Johnson, Gove, Rees-Mogg, Farage and their billionaire backers.
Mr Johnson told us, ‘We have taken back sovereignty.’
What that means is the Government now has the sovereign power to lower wages, regulate trade unions, extend zero hours contracts, provide Iain Duncan Smith with a knighthood for introducing Universal Credit, continue the stealthy privatisation of the NHS and do all the things billionaires like to do with fewer workers’ rights or the oversight of the European Court of Human Rights.
Seventy years of negotiating and achieving greater social justice gone in a flash.
Austerity since the 2008 bank crisis has resulted in an exponential rise in food banks, more children in poverty, more evictions, more homelessness, more despair and mental illness. Working people have not taken back control. They lost what little control they had.
According to Full Fact, the independent fact-checking website (20/01/2020), during a 12 month period, 2,000 people forced to wait five weeks for their first fragment of Universal Credit gave up waiting and took their own lives.
Dominic Cummings is an illusionist, a trickster. For him, Brexit was fun, a game. His clever campaign with its easily digested slogans enabled the Conservative Party’s extremists with their subservient press to take back control and take the country out of Europe. Johnson never had a vision – except his reflection in the mirror – and sees himself as the golden child of Churchill and Thatcher completing Thatcher’s dream to create a land where there is no such thing as society – ie: no safety net – and control is back where it has always been, in the hands of those who wield the whip and write the slogans.
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