Why the BBC and NHS spell trouble for the government…

EACH is represented by a three-letter acronym that needs little further explanation, even if the familiar letters span many knotted complications.

Conservative governments don’t much like the BBC and are nervous around the NHS. An irony here is that to small ‘c’ conservatives, both of these institutions represent much that is good about Britain.

Since the election the government has been engaged in much hostile battering of the BBC, and without warning or consultation enforced a budget cut equating to 20 per cent when George Osborne passed the £650 million cost of providing free TV licences to the over-75s from the Treasury to the BBC.

Just what logic was there for this bit of dodgy accounting other than to harm the BBC – an institution which, for all its faults, is loved by many and admired around the world? This was in effect a massive cut forced on the BBC to give a questionable benefit to the elderly – and, incidentally, another example of how older people are in general now better looked after than the young.

True, some elderly viewers may need the benefit brought by this act of official largesse – but so too will plenty of wealthy pensioners who could easily afford to pay the licence fee.

The hostility to the BBC among many on the right of the Tory party runs like a fever that sends their brains into meltdown. One example, as quoted by Nick Cohen in The Observer, is that some on the right believe that “BBC journalists asking business leaders if they think Britain should stay in the EU is evidence of bias”. Are these people completely bonkers or just so wedded to their one-track ideology that they can’t see anything beyond the end of their gin-soaked noses?

Apologies for the cliché – it’s quite possible that the noses will be wine-soaked or even dipped in the finest brandy. There is, I find, nothing like a reassuring cliché to lift the spirits when you are feeling annoyed.

If governments are to be judged on what they leave behind, and not merely on how they juggled the figures and how supinely they prostrated themselves before the Chinese moneylenders, then an administration which weakens and knobbles the BBC can only be said to have done harm to the cultural life of the nation.

Is that really what Conservative supporters with a small or capital ‘c’ wish to have as a legacy? Imagine the questions in the future. ‘So what did you do in the second Cameron government, Daddy?’ ‘What’s that you say? Oh, I see – well I helped to make sure that the BBC was nowhere near as good as it used to be. Proudest achievement in my life. Then I started on the NHS…’

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt is embroiled in a long and badly staged fight with junior doctors about his plans for a 24-hour NHS. Before pushing on further into this thorny thicket, let’s stop right there for a moment. That phrase about an ‘open all hours’ NHS is trundled out all the time – and yet in many senses that’s what we already have. So the label is toxic as it implies that if you disagree, then you must be against something that is obviously for the general good.

This week, Hunt escalated the dispute by offering what he says is an 11 per cent pay rise for 40,000 junior doctors – a crude but smart move, as 11 per cent sounds a lot. The doctors say the ‘rise’ is in fact a bad deal that will leave many of them worse off, and accuse Hunt of negotiating by soundbite and megaphone – or even, perhaps, by shouting soundbites down a megaphone.

Should we feel at all sorry for Hunt? Well that would go against the grain, but it is fair to say that a health secretary charged with facing down junior doctors in their pay negotiations is unlikely to make many new friends.

For many patients, junior doctors are the face of the NHS, and in an argument over a relatively small amount of money, Hunt has alienated the mass ranks of young doctors, leaving many to say that they would rather leave the country than accept the new contracts.

Incidentally, here’s a contrary thought, but should doctors even be allowed to go and work abroad so soon after all that money has been spent on their training? That will surely strike many patients and voters as less than fair.

Yesterday Hunt dragged his party’s manifesto commitment to a 24-hour into the argument, saying: ‘I cannot negotiate about a promise we made in a manifesto. I have an obligation to deliver that manifesto.’

Oh here we go again. Governments either ignore their manifesto pledges at will – or, when it is convenient, bang on and on about them. Most manifestos aren’t worth the price of the passing cloud they were written on. I’ve said it before, but here goes again: winning an election with a slim majority may give you the technical right to do what you want, but it doesn’t suggest that the whole country supports everything you wish to do.

So by the end of this government’s tenure, which of those two treasured acronyms will be struggling to keep those three letters stuck together? It’ll be a tight finish, but the BBC will take the biggest hit.

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