The following article appeared in the Totnes Directory in January
I’ve spent many years in politics fighting for equality, fairness and decency. The past few months have been heartbreaking to watch - a decade’s descent into shabby populism and poor decision-making has resulted in a frightening NHS crisis. And as the social fabric of our country continues to unravel I have a plea for our current government: Get talking! Before Christmas a few brave members of the Conservative party did in fact break ranks and called on their ministers to sit down and talk to the striking nurses. I noticed that sadly our MP was not one of them. Those few understood that the only way to end a dispute like this one, which could quite literally endanger lives, is to try and reach a compromise. As I write this in January, there is still no sign they will come to the table. The government’s basic position on how much it would cost to fund the nurses’ pay demand was blown out of the water by BBC Full Fact, so why not get round the table? To me there is something unsurprising, yet rather depressing, about a male prime minister, chancellor of the exchequer and health secretary refusing to talk to the women who represent the nurses’ union - a union representing a workforce that is 90% female.
Would it be seen as weak to actually listen to what the nurses are trying to tell them? Macho, populist politics has come to dominate public decision making. But real weakness is the inability to listen to the opposite party, and not being willing to negotiate. Weakness is acting like a bully, refusing to soften your position.
We have all seen enough last-minute government back-tracking over the past years to know the foolishness of such positions. If I were in government I wouldn’t underestimate the nurses or the public support for the NHS. I’d get around that table fast, because if it doesn’t happen thousands of nurses currently in the profession, who are exhausted beyond belief and struggling to make ends meet will see no other option but to leave and the problems will just get worse. We need their experience on the wards. We owe them more than a hand-clap and a thank you. We simply cannot afford to let the system collapse and we must not fail them. Talk is precious – it’s time to spend it wisely.