There are two ways to approach Christmas this year I think.
There’s the obvious “let’s tighten our belts and fashion toys for our children from driftwood and orange peel, and we will make our own entertainment by colouring in old newspaper and doing mime”. Or the less wise but really quite appealing “I’ve worked hard this year and, thus, I shall overspend and to hell with the consequences. We shall have our own reindeer and a horse. And when black January comes I shall, if necessary, sell a kidney or go to prison”.
Personally I am running out of kidneys but an undervalued workforce shows its dissent in a myriad of ways, doesn’t it? And the easiest of those may well be shopping.
It is pretty clear that chancellor George Osborne doesn’t like the public services. Like most Tories he doesn’t really understand why anyone would want to spend their working lives creating things of value like health or education instead of doing something constructive like guessing the future value of stocks and shares that you don’t yet own. But it seems to go beyond that - not content with attacking our pensions, he is inducing real-term pay cuts with a pay freeze of 1% and looking to save further money by cutting jobs.
I’m expecting phase two of George’s war on good to be a bit more subtle. He may start with some name calling and rumour spreading. “Did you know that all nurses are really witches? Pass it on.” That may be followed by quicksand in hospital foyers. Or he may leave three-day-old fish in the cars of community nurses. Or get someone else to do it for him and call it job creation. Or he might just skip subtle altogether and head straight for some snipers? Or he could announce that, in future, Christmas will only apply to those people who work in the private sector. The rest of us? Well, we’ll just have to make do with Whitsun and the inevitable harvest festival.
Should that happen I think we can safely assume that the Royal College of Nursing might get quite cross. Indeed it may even send out a press release saying “steady now”. And should George not back down - should he move on to phase three and ban nurses from wearing shoes - then I suspect the RCN may even wag a finger and tut loudly. Who knows, it may even drag itself into the same century as everyone else and ask its members if they might want to oppose what is happening to them and the work they do by withdrawing their labour.
Perhaps its members may decide against taking strike action - but at least they will have been asked. They will have been given an opportunity to voice a view in the face of what is not just an assault on the salaries and pensions of individual nurses, but also on the value and purpose of their work.
As it is, nursing continues to appear quietened, submissive and demure. And if that submission is part of a strategy that expects government to eventually thank them for not opposing the cuts and reinstating Christmas and shoes then I suggest a rethink.
Have you ever seen a determined and skilful nurse say “no” in the face of a bullying patient, a nagging consultant, a needy manager? Formidable, isn’t it? Just imagine what a quarter of a million of them would be like. It is surely time to ask all nurses whether they feel that the time has come to say “no” together - if only out of professional self-respect.
Mark Radcliffe is a senior lecturer and author of Gabriel’s Angel.