Of by-elections and discrimination
In Tony Blair’s day, New Labour were the masters of spin – at their most effective when they did it so convincingly that we didn’t even realise the facts were being spun, or else we were led to believe that we could see through the spinning, when in fact that presentation was the intention all along.
Now, it seems, that’s all gone. Yet, oddly, it hasn’t been replaced by the honesty and straightforwardness we were promised – an honesty many would say was incompatible with politics – but rather by terrible attempts at spinning.
Take the Henley by-election: Instead of pointing out that this is a Conservative seat and virtually ignoring electoral defeat, the omnipresent ‘Party Sources’ are mumbling about victory being secured if Labour keep their deposit. They’re saying that anything over 5% is some kind of win. Oh, brother.
And all the while, Harriet Harman is squeezing out plans to support ‘positive discrimination’ – another bizarre New Labour oxymoron. Discrimination is discrimination is discrimination – whether or not it’s positive or negative depends on your standpoint. Is selecting a member of an ethnic minority to balance out a sea of white faces still ‘positive discrimination’ if you’re a serial killer, or does this only apply when we’re handing out things perceived as rewards?
The same propsals also, apparently, ‘ban ageism’ – the government pretended to do back in October 2006, as covered on this very site. I note that Ms Harman is bounding about stating that doctors should only refuse treatment to elderly patients on clinical grounds – not on the basis of age. Three points: Firstly, doctors are already required to do their best for patients, regardless of age. Secondly, is age not part of the clinical picture any more? Thirdly, does this mean that twelve year olds should be openly prescribed the contraceptive pill? We wouldn’t want to be discriminating purely on the basis of age.
Ageism goes two ways. Why is it that this government consistently pretends that ageism only represents discrimination against the old, just as they pretend that racial discrimination only represents discrimination against ethnic minorities?
And let’s not forget that much of the economic policy underlying the NHS is based on QALYs – Quality Adjusted Life Years. That is to say that if an operation costs £30,000 but will lengthen someone’s life by 30 years then the cost per year gained is £1,000. Such measures in and of themselves discriminate against older people – an 80 year-old’s life far less likely to be extended by 30 years than a 20 year-old’s. The same treatment is less likely to be cost effective in the 80 year-old purely because of their age. Is this to be overlooked in future? How is NHS rationing to take place now?
I sincerely hope that this is a crappy proposal put forward to distract us all from Labour’s impending Henley hammering. It’s not the best of ideas, because it shows Labour in a bad light, but perhaps not quite such a bad light as being deeply unpopular.
On the other hand, if this is a serious attempt at law-making, then we’re all clearly doomed.
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