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Three women showed me how bad things have got

Bryan Forbes reflects on Jacqui Smith, Jade Goody and a heroic doctor, and their respective lessons to us all about our corrupt polity and morally impoverished culture

22 April 2009

12:00 AM

22 April 2009

12:00 AM

Over the last week I have been pondering the lives of three totally different women. The first was our dim, weasel-worded Home Secretary, adept at letting others fall on their sword but unwilling to follow suit. Second, the late Jade Goody with her sad, manufactured martyrdom, and last a hard-working NHS doctor responsible for the operation of a large A&E department. In recent television programmes all three revealed different aspects of our fractured society and, more and more, I found myself becoming ‘as mad as hell’, like the character in Chayefsky’s film Network.

Jacqui Smith, inexplicably holder of one of the great offices of state, has proved herself totally incapable of admitting that she is truly shamed by her greed. Parallel to a squalid, unrepented chapter in her personal affairs has been the painful, public demise of Jade Goody, acted out for our delectation as defined by those wonderful creative minds who give us Big Brother. Finally, to redress the balance, I was greatly moved by the splendid A&E doctor in the Channel 4 series The Hospital, who spoke honestly about the broken bodies she tries every night to mend, but admitted that she was realistic about being able to bring about any change in the futile lives of vomiting hordes of feral teenage binge drinkers. If and when he forms a government, Cameron should parachute her into a safe seat and immediately make her Minister of Health. She is somebody who works at the coal face, not behind a desk, and knows the extent of the problem.

In contrasting the fates of these three different women (one sadly now buried with all the manufactured sorrow the celebrity media could generate), I was again struck by the way in which we are deliberately misled as to the true state of the nation’s woes and made victims of all the injustices that flow from Downing Street’s institutionalised chicanery. Ignore tragic Jade Goody’s deathbed fortune (ironically her best chance in life came when she was dying). Contrast the salaries plus expenses of ministers with that of the average A&E doctor. The vaudeville act of Beckett and Smith, before the proposed crackdown, were able to go for multiple houses. But if the good doctor portrayed in the television documentary manages to buy just one home, she will have to stump up the stamp duty and be unable to claim for a new kitchen, patio heaters or bath plugs. How, I wonder, does she view the inequality of her life compared to that of the ever-complacent Geoff Hoon, defence minister during the critical period of the Iraq war, who was unable to ensure that our troops were sent into action with adequate equipment, but managed to clothe himself in the fiscal armour of a property empire? As yet another legless teenager is deposited in her overworked ward, preventing her team from attending to genuine emergencies, does she believe anybody in government will ever have the guts to stand up and admit to the endemic dishonesty that has been its hallmark from the moment when Bernie Ecclestone parked his Formula 1 autos on Tony Blair’s lawn?

All too late, what we are now discovering is that, for more than a decade, we have been ruled by a gaggle of administrators, shuffled around like a poker dealer’s pack, none of whom proved to have any practical knowledge of the real world, and were controlled by instructions paged to them by non-elected spin doctors (viz. Robin Cook clinically told to ditch his wife). We can now read how we have been systematically fed lies because already a trickle of memoirs from this spent Labour government has started to appear and, surprise, surprise, they reveal the rotten core we have long suspected of an administration obsessed with soundbites, targets and cover-ups. The tomes that have already surfaced chronicle back-stabbing, petty jealousies, foul language, and the jaw-dropping incompetence of those who so diligently instruct the rest of us on how to conduct our daily lives.

The star performer, that ‘pretty straight sort of guy’, is revealed as somebody who only ‘did God’ once he was out of office and free to trouser thousands as he pontificates on the celebrity circuit. Am I alone in thinking that from the moment when that self-satisfied man first entered Downing Street after glad-handing the rent-a-crowd, politics and show business began to morph and overlap? From day one, while allowing a tsunami of stealth taxes to impoverish us, he basked in the reflected glory from showbusiness cronies and rewarded sycophantic arse-lickers.

The big difference between the world of Westminster and members of Equity is that the majority of thespians spend the greater part of their lives living from hand to mouth, since talent, alas, holds out no guarantee of recognition or monetary reward. Actors have been schooled to accept that they are like sculptors who carve in snow. On the other hand, we now know that many of those who prescribe, govern and increasingly deprive us of our hard-won historical liberties grant themselves a God-given right to be richly rewarded for their appalling lack of talent. Like Rank starlets, politicians are schooled to twist their facial muscles into what passes for a smile as they shake hands for the statutory photo opportunities, despite occasionally looking as though they have caught a venereal disease from the encounter.

I repeat, I am mad as hell, not just because as citizens we are now denied, indeed sometimes arrested for, employing common sense as we go about our lawful business, but because we have become resigned to it. We have been forced to accept that an Orwellian world is on our doorsteps (the bin men are watching us).

The tale of the three women brought home to me how events and behaviour that previously we would never have tolerated we now accept as normal: we are resigned to the fact that hospital staff are routinely assaulted, that our pensions and savings have been ransacked, that care of the vulnerable elderly and infants borders on the scandalous, that our urban railway system belongs to a Third World country and whole areas of our inner cities are beyond reclamation. Do we not notice any longer that our education system, tampered with every few months, spews out armies of illiterates because New Labour cannot tolerate any degree of selection, or accept that some children are actually brighter than others?

Is it any wonder that we have bred so many skivers and freeloaders when the example has been set by MPs of all parties and emulated by local councillors, legions of quangoes and the placemen elevated to the House of Lords? One day the smouldering anger of the silent majority will ignite and remind the occupants of Westminster village that they are our servants and need humbling.

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