People who have a religious faith say that it affects everything they do, though it mostly goes unstated. I suppose that political convictions are similar. It is wrong for doctors to use their clinical relationship with patients as a platform for political proselytisation, but health and health care are deeply political matters. In a job like mine, you have to maintain working relationships with people who are elected to political office, and with the civil servants who serve them. On the whole, this is not particularly difficult, but it can put you in some unusual company.
I would be very lonely if I only formed warm relationships with people who shared my political views. Although I do not belong to a political party, my beliefs are strongly held and viscerally felt. Most politicians are perfectly pleasant to people who they regard as experts, and there is rarely any reason to talk politics with them. Mostly I try to keep my work and my politics well apart, although I expect my general attitudes are obvious, as they usually are. In the run up to the campaigns for last week’s elections, I attended two party conferences, in order to talk with delegates about mental health policy in Wales. That bit was ok; all parties are sympathetic to improvement in mental health services at present.
The experience was a prelude to a long and really unpleasant election/referendum season, which is far from over. I am always shocked by the periodic re-emergence of xenophobia and frank racism in the mainstream of British political discourse. Some of the distortions and smear tactics that have been deployed have not been very different from the fabrications beloved by twentieth century racists, the most notorious of which is the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (not just a forgery, but also a work of plagiarism). On the left, Ken Livingstone’s insistence that Hitler was once a Zionist was matched on the right by Nigel Farage’s less publicised assertion in Llandudno (and elsewhere) that the EU only benefits big banks “like Goldman Sachs” (what about JP Morgan, a larger bank which is also anti-Brexit?).
Zac Goldsmith and senior Conservative Party figures tried to smear Sadiq Khan as a terrorist sympathiser. Unaccompanied refugee children were portrayed as the sentiment-baited vanguard for hoards of grown-up Syrian migrants until public opinion suddenly swung around. Surely we should be far past this appalling atavistic hatred of minorities and migrants? Surely if you won an election by these means, it would be at the price of a total loss of self-respect?
Racism seems to be the perennial British election dirty trick, brought out expediently in the foolish belief that it will obediently get back in the box afterwards. Although we pride ourselves on a national tradition of tolerance, organised racist thuggery is a permanent political presence in the UK. Britain First and the English Defence League were preceded by the British National Party, the National Front and British Union of Fascists. They are less politically isolated than they sometimes appear, because they are dependent on their agenda being legitimised by mainstream politicians. Neo-fascists wear tee shirts bearing the image of a Sanskrit scholar turned Tory front bencher, Enoch Powell.
Despite everything, mainstream politics sometimes delivers uplifting moments. The election of Barack Obama was one. The resounding victory of Sadiq Khan in the London mayoral election, and the utter rejection of a racist political agenda in the capital of the financial world, was another. This is only slightly offset by the election of Neil Hamilton to the Welsh Assembly. I am not quite sure of his party’s strategy here. He was on UKIP’s Regional List. It is hard to think of a more discredited figure in English politics, not just because of the circumstances of his fall from grace, but also because of long-standing allegations of far right sympathies. Parking him in Cardiff Bay does not give a particularly attractive message to the Welsh people.
Meantime, talks over the Junior Doctor’s contract have resumed. Pretty soon we will know whether Jeremy Hunt has found the courage to shift his position over an explicitly discriminatory contract or whether, as many suspect, negotiation was an insincere election day stunt to sway public opinion.
I find it hard to respect some politicians, whether left or right. I find it impossible to feel any warmth towards the bankers who caused a global financial crisis through greed, got bailed out by everyone else and who then, assisted by sympathetic politicians, have spent eight years taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich. My antipathy is a reaction to their behaviour. It has nothing to do with their ethnic or religious backgrounds. Overt affiliations are sufficient to explain the connections between politicians and bankers. Covert affiliations through hidden kinship networks have nothing to do with it.
Back in 2012, Ry Cooder released an album called Election Special, reflecting his disgust at the Republican Party at the time. There is a nice video for one of the songs, No Banker Left Behind here. Mr Cooder could not have imagined that the Republicans would exceed themselves by going on to select Donald Trump as Presidential candidate, surely the USA’s most grotesque purveyor of bigotry since George Lincoln Rockwell.