My daughter, who is 11, has a thing for animals.
Over the last couple of years, it has become less of a “oh, they are so cute, why can’t I have a cat/goat/horse/dragon?” and more of a “Daddy, why do people think it is OK to eat a pig but not a dog?” Or, more worryingly, “Daddy, what would happen if we rescued all the chickens? We could do it at half term. Please, Dad?” And of course the distracted response of “I’m not sure half term is long enough to rescue all the chickens, love” is met with the immediate realisation that I am in fact conceding that the chickens need to be rescued and all that is to be negotiated now is how many of them we can save before she has to go back to school.
Anyway, she decided to watch a TV programme about cats recently called Joanna Lumley: Catwoman in which she says the presenter said: “I don’t have a cat.” And was met – from my daughter with “so why are you doing the programme? Dad, why is Joanna Lumley doing the programme?!” And all I had to offer was “Well … she used to be in The New Avengers.”
In truth, the experienced and soothing voice of Ms Lumley probably attracts more cat interest than the standard cat lady so I think it makes sense that we do not require a cat expert to reflect on all things feline for us. This is common, I suppose. We are drawn to celebrity; it reassures us, it seems. If you were to phone into a radio or television programme with a personal problem, you are less likely to be greeted by a counsellor or Citizens Advice expert these days than by Peaches Geldof. Who wasn’t in The New Avengers.
I don’t know why the world is like this and I don’t have the space here to guess but I do notice that someone famous with an interest in something has more potency than someone unknown with an expertise in it. As ably illustrated by the column inches dedicated recently to Sean Penn chatting about the Falkland Islands. I wonder if we are afraid of expertise? Or bored with it? Or threatened by it?
I mention this because prime minister David Cameron has been busy arranging the chairs and cutting the crusts off the sandwiches for a Number 10 summit meeting about his government’s health reform bill. Everyone was going to be there. Well, not everyone. The British Medical Association was not invited, nor were the Royal College of Nursing or the Royal College of General Practitioners. Number 10 refused to say who had been invited but rumour had it that someone who had once used the NHS was going as is at least one footballer’s wife. Other imagined guests include Dave’s former butler, Gerard Depardieu, the reunited Steps and several businessmen looking for investment opportunities. Maybe.
Actually, I have no idea who went and I mean no offence to any professionals who did attend and lent their insight to the process but I can’t help but notice absentees and they include the organisations that exist to represent the services, professionals and patients who are running the health service.
Politically speaking, one wouldn’t expect a government with such a clear sense of self-interest as this one to listen to people disagreeing with them. Nor – it seems – can we expect them to value expertise in healthcare provision. However, that level of disregard surely demonstrates an arrogance and a contempt not just for the leaders of the various professional organisations but also for the knowledge, experience, insight and labour of their members.
Mark Radcliffe is a senior lecturer and author of Gabriel’s Angel.