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It’s not ‘us and them’ – we really are in this together

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As the UK prepares to take to the polling stations, NT’s politics blogger, Chris Hart, questions how the election results will reflect recent policies and events

Theresa May wanted this to be the ‘Brexit Election,’ when she won an overwhelming majority for her interpretation of the result of a simplistic yes/no referendum. But I suspect, when people look back, the Manchester and London Bridge atrocities will provide the enduring imagery for the 2017 vote due to the visceral horror of the deaths of so many people, including children, in two of our major cities.

“What sort of country do we want to live in?”

There is a link, however. And it’s not in the facile debates about whether or not Jeremy Corbyn would welcome terrorists in with open arms were he elected prime minister. Nor the impact the cuts made in the name of ‘austerity’ have had on our ability to respond to the current terrorist threat and its origins.

The real questions are, what sort of country do we want to live in? What sort of people do we want to be? What do want to pass on to future generations?

Moreover, this cannot be the ‘Brexit Election’ because neither major party has debated it properly. The prime minister has barely got beyond “Brexit means Brexit” but we are not just leaving the EU. Her aggressive rhetoric is already damaging our relationship with Europe’s leaders, even before we get into negotiations. ‘They’, she says, are trying to undermine our election i.e. her. ‘They’ want to undercut ‘our’ best interests.

At the recent G7 Summit she pointedly took time out for a private meeting with Donald Trump to discuss trade. The same Donald Trump facing allegations of obstructing justice as the FBI pursues its investigation into his campaign’s links with Russia and the latter’s real interference in the U.S. election.

“Trump, Theresa May’s strongest ally, is the builder of walls and advocate of protectionism on trade”

The same Donald Trump who has pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord, threatens the NATO Alliance and denigrates the European Union, who admires Marine Le Pen, and who disgracefully misquoted and attacked London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, after Saturday’s terrorist attack. All with no criticism from Ms May.

Trump, Theresa May’s strongest ally, is the builder of walls and advocate of protectionism on trade. Who wants to reduce taxes for the wealthiest while cutting benefits, education spending and public service jobs and slash healthcare for millions of Americans. See any policy similarities with the Tories?

Germany’s Angela Merkel laments that Europe can no longer rely on its old allies, Britain and the United States. The world is further dividing. A new ‘us and them’ is developing.

“The NHS hangs together by a thread. Our public services are on their knees”

After seven years of Conservative rule, real incomes are falling. Inequality is rising. The NHS hangs together by a thread. Our public services are on their knees. Our transport infrastructure is a joke.

A tiny vignette illustrates the problem. The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, owned a 48% stake in a company called Hotcourses. The £35m sale to Melbourne-based IPD Education in January 2017 saw Hunt pocket almost £17m. Figures released by Companies House show Hunt also secured a final payday with a £1m dividend.

How can he ever empathise with nurses – or anyone - having to use food banks?

Addressing these problems is at the heart of Labour’s policies. In daring to shift from the neoliberal consensus that has dominated politics in most nurses’ lifetimes, and suggesting higher earners and huge corporations can pay more tax to fund public services, and that there are benefits to having nationalised industries – as all of Europe has – they have given the country a genuine choice for the first time in decades.

Theresa May set out to make her ‘strong and stable’ leadership the key issue, in large part to highlight Jeremy Corbyn’s supposed weakness. But, as soon as you think about it, ‘strong’ leadership, particularly when so focused on an individual, always has its downside. And you don’t have to just stop at Donald Trump as an example.

“This is Queen Theresa’s unnecessary election”

In contrast with Labour’s costed plan, Ms May implies, ‘Trust me. I’ll cut immigration but won’t tell you when or by how many. I’ll reduce the deficit but won’t say how or by how much. I might raise taxes but you don’t need know the detail. Some pensioners will lose their winter fuel allowance but I won’t give you a number. Some people will pay the so-called dementia tax but… You can trust it will be for their own good.’

If you don’t trust her, you’re a saboteur, an enemy of the people. Not one of us. One of them.

This is Queen Theresa’s unnecessary election. She wanted to crush all opposition, particularly Labour but also the House of Lords, even those few in her party who question her, and scoop up all UKIP’s voters by incorporating the dangerous ‘populism’ and policies of Nigel Farage and his followers. So she’s taken a hard line on Brexit that could cost the country billions of pounds, and made it a matter of principle to walk away with no deal at all. This is a Mephistophelian compact with the political devil and there will be a price.

UKIP values are seeping into the Conservatives’ DNA in the same way the Tea Party infected the Republicans in the USA. That was what gave us Trump. If May doesn’t pull the government far enough in the direction her right wing and Farage demand, they’ll get a leader who will.

“England’s populace now sits on opposite sides of a metaphorical wall”

All the while, the United Kingdom is fragmenting like never before. Scotland is far more likely to leave. England’s populace now sits on opposite sides of a metaphorical wall, opinions drifting further and further apart on generational, geographical and economic lines. May’s narrow agenda, following “the will of the people on Brexit” only widens the divisions.

While political wisdom has it that elections are won or lost on the economy, in 2017 it’s more like we’re engaged in culture wars. Europe is used by Ms May and her ministers as a weapon. Debating immigration policy is code for we want fewer ‘foreigners’ in the country. Some aspects of the political response to the dreadful terrorist attacks threatens to demonise millions of Muslims – just as the terrorists want.

Strong government means no one who can alter the course Ms May has set the country on. Stable government signals we will have more of the same – austerity, cuts, divisions, increasing hostility to Europe and immigrants and an even closer relationship to Trumps’s America.

And all the Tories’ meanness comes together in a fatal cocktail for the NHS. ‘Extra funding’ for the health service is running at no more than 1% a year after adjustment for inflation, whereas annual increases of 4% after allowing for inflation is needed just to keep it standing still. Meanwhile EU applicants for nursing posts have declined by 92% since Brexit and there has been an increase of EU nurses leaving the NHS of 62% in the same period. And why, oh why, has nursing’s leadership failed to speak up for our European nurses and the need – both moral and practical - to guarantee them the right to stay?

Where will another five years of the same policies leave us, as nurses, and the people needing our service?

“This is the action of a tiny number of people who represent no one but themselves”

As I suggested at the beginning of this piece, the enduring images of 2017’s election may well be the terrorist outrages of Manchester and London. But as a consequence of the actions of a few fanatics – and we must always remind ourselves, this is the action of a tiny number of people who represent no one but themselves – we saw phenomenal bravery and compassion from the public, the police and all emergency services.

But where did the surviving victims go? To the NHS. Where nurses, doctors and healthcare workers drawn from countries across the globe treated them, cared for them, with compassion, grace and fortitude. They worked cooperatively and collaboratively, gave of themselves as nurses do everyday, in so many settings. And not just for the victims and relatives but for the common good, recognising that we are all bound by a common thread and what is good for one is good for all.

Those are nursing’s values, which bind us together as nurses, wherever we work and however we nurse.

And, as nurses, we should vote for politicians who embody those same values and will bring the same principles to bear in our society, recognising that we stand or fall together and division only favours the strongest and damages the vast majority.

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