I was shocked to hear that David Cameron had managed a hospital visit so that noone could tell him how bad things were. Oh no, I wasn’t. The joy of 13 years of working for various facets of Her Majesty’s Government, means the only thing shocking about it was that it was news.
Labour mastered an art which I first bore witness to, at a visit to a hospital in Basildon, (edited months later- was it Basildon? Was it Virginia Bottomley?) being visited by Peter Lilley in the long gone days of the last Conservative government. My adorable sister with her ginger curls and blue eyes was chosen to add the right ambience to the visit. For Mr.Lilley to poke at adoringly as he confirmed he was not afraid to touch the sproglets of proles.
During a project called the ONE project( the pilot which led to Jobcentre Plus and a culture change which led to workfare), we were subject to many visits by politicians. In each visit, those of us with an opinion, or those of us who were not inclined to say that 12 weeks to get a basic claim running was fine, and it was ok that none of the IT had worked, and the hardship we were having to ignore was acceptable, were shunted off to different jobs. Different rooms. Occasionally given an extra break. As long as the politician and photographers accompanying got their shots and quotes.
During the ‘teething stage’ of computer system that Ed Balls decided needed to cripple Childrens Services at all costs, those of us who had found ourselves in dangerous situations with no information were not chosen to tell our local councillors that this computer system had directly caused that. Those who had been left completely unable to address situations to prevent immediate harm to the children we worked with were hidden. When discussions about the failure of local projects run by leading media friendly charities was raised, it was in confidential meetings where the only suggestion on the table was ‘wait for the service level agreement to run out’.
All pub sector workers are bound by a confidentiality clauses which mean losing your job if you break it.(except the MET for whom confidential information is a source of new conservatories and second holidays).
The Unison activists over the years, who have found that their questioning of Labour’s good intentions to the services they were kicking to death, were not only unwelcome on politicians visits, but were drummed out of their union and their jobs. They didn’t just lose a chance to speak up, they lost their only way left of participating in democracy.
This is an art perfected by Labour. The art of managing the message, regardless of the reality. The shock that this is how our political media and politicians hide the reality of our public services is encouraging, the outrage that this is a Tory invention seems a bit misplaced. And a bit unwise This is how modern politics works. This is how the Labour Party works. The Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives. It is how we run public services year after year, against evidence. And the people carrying out this role have nothing like ideological conviction deciding which party they obfuscate for.
As a source of dysfunction it needs to be addressed. As a way for Labour to score points, it seems unwise.