There are certain things that, on the face of it, are perfectly inoffensive expressions of taste or belief, but cannot be comfortably said in our country.
On a recent holiday, I arrived at our accommodation to be greeted by what I thought was a sheepdog, a belief reinforced by the fact that it kept trying to round us up.
When it jumped on me with an enthusiasm wholly unfamiliar to me, I said, “Oh I really don’t like dogs.”
The dog’s owner, a very English gentleman, wearing cardboard shorts and winter socks with sandals, looked as though I had stabbed him in the liver.
“Oh, don’t mind Rex, he’s lovely,” he said, with the implication that my distaste for dogs is rash and will be wholly recalculated now I am having my groin pawed by Rex.
“The implication that my distaste for dogs is rash and will be wholly recalculated now I am having my groin pawed by Rex”
But this won’t happen, and I want to say: “I already hate Rex.” But that isn’t polite, is it? Whereas letting your slobbering dog jump on tired strangers is the height of good manners.
“I don’t enjoy cooking” also results in similar reactions. I cook often, mostly because people are hungry and it’s my turn. I don’t aim high - if the food is cooked safely, that’s my work is done.
But to confess to finding cooking dull is deeply unfashionable, and invites judgement, particularly alongside a dislike of dogs.
Despite my propensity to talk about the politics of healthcare in this column I don’t, believe it or not, pay much attention to a lot of policy discussion or associated politicking.
What does interest me, however, is the way consensus is constructed and maintained.
My view is that, once a belief is widely established, the policy that follows becomes inevitable.
Take the obvious example of austerity.
Many people who want to lay claim to being sensible will contend that austerity is inevitable, what with the recession and the deficit. Once that premise is established, it is widely assumed that restricting wage increases for nurses is unquestionably the right thing to do.
Indeed, for nurses to oppose pay restraint, they would have to step outside the common consensus and be - loving this new phrase by the way - ‘austerity deniers’.
“Indeed, for nurses to oppose pay restraint, they would have to step outside the common consensus”
It is perhaps one of the traps nurse negotiators are caught in.
On the one hand they know that nurses deserve a proper wage increase as opposed to perpetual real-term pay cuts that demoralises and devalues them.
But they also seem to feel the need to prove themselves to be realists; politically mature and aware of the difficult economic situation. Or to put it another way, not like those irascible scamps who represent tube drivers.
So what to do?
There are three obvious options and I suspect we’ve already opted for the first: to accept austerity and the repositioning of public services as an optional extra in a modern economy.
“We could say no, draw a line in the sand and say the redesign of healthcare standards and the devaluing of nursing are not morally acceptable”
The other two are harder and as a consequence far less likely.
We could say no, draw a line in the sand and say the redesign of healthcare standards and the devaluing of nursing are not morally acceptable and we will oppose them.
Or we could challenge the consensus. A small example of that was the #ImInWorkJeremy twitter campaign in response to Jeremy Hunt’s assault on Hospital Consultant working contracts.
“Nursing deserves better than it is getting”
Either way, nursing deserves better than it is getting and surely needs to find a way of protecting itself and of challenging the underpinning and permissive consensus that seems to enable politicians to treat it with such on going contempt.
Mark Radcliffe is senior lecturer, and author of Stranger than Kindness. Follow him on twitter: @markacradcliffe