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MRSA: a metaphor for the diseased body politic

spiked editor Mick Hume's Notebook in The Times (London).

Mick Hume

Mick Hume
Columnist

Topics Politics

This is a bit of random text from Kyle to test the new global option to add a message at the top of every article. This bit is linked somewhere.

  • Sadly none of the 3,500 election candidates quite seems to reflect the views of somebody like me, the libertarian Marxist on the Walthamstow omnibus.

I might be inclined to vote for anybody, of whatever party or none, who was prepared to stick his head above the parapet and raise the need for some Politics with a capital P. But it will not be Respect, the left-wing coalition led by George Galloway.

Respect acts as a reminder of why I describe myself as ‘on the left, but not of it’. It has been accused of flirting with the Islamic lobby in its campaign against the Iraq war, and it is noticeable that its manifesto commitment to defending civil liberties against the Government makes no mention of defending free speech against new Labour’s incitement to religious hatred laws. But even worse than that is Respect’s embrace of today’s fashionably backward Western prejudices, opposing everything from GM foods and nuclear power to more animal research and road building. As the Left turns into the enemy of progress and the embodiment of self-loathing, Respect sometimes sounds like the most conservative voice in this election – a pretty remarkable achievement, given who it is up against.

  • How has such a microcosm as the MRSA bug been blown up into one of the biggest issues in the general election?

Call me an old Utopian, but I thought this was supposed to be a clash between competing visions of the Good Society. It looks more like a televised race to see who can best scrub a hospital ward. Perhaps we should rename the contest ‘Mop Idol’.
Of course, dirty hospitals are bad for patients. It was grim when I was rushed into A&E with acute appendicitis, and a nurse warned us not to let my visiting children play on the filthy floor. However, the way that these mundane matters of hospital management have become the focus of national debate on the health service seems to me a symptom of an ailing body politic.

Michael Howard’s Tories made ‘Cleaner hospitals’ (not even ‘clean’ hospitals) second only to ‘more police’ in their manifesto wish-list, seeking to recruit the spirit of Hattie Jacques from Carry on Matron.

The Tories were rightly accused of scaremongering this week for exaggerating the numbers of MRSA infections in hospitals. But they are far from the only ones exploiting the politics of fear here. New Labour’s manifesto makes great play of blaming the last Tory Government for the spread of MRSA, as if it weres some sort of Thatcherite poll tax on patients.

The MRSA bug is microscopic, thrives on filth and preys on the weak and vulnerable – rather like the political content of this entire election campaign. The politics of low expectations surely cannot go much lower than looking for dirt under hospital beds. I do not much care whether Mr Howard or Tony Blair has the biggest mop. But it seems that those who want to raise horizons may have to wipe the floor with the lot of them.

  • The Sun newspaper sent red smoke up a chimney on Wednesday to signal that it had decided to support Labour.

A good joke, and one that brought home some parallels between our election and that of the new Pope. We are a passive audience, as much spectators to the political machinations of an elite as were the faithful gathered in Rome. Like the conclave of cardinals, the election contest often appears to be going on in another place and another language. Where the Rome pilgrims waited for the smoke to inform them that their leader had been chosen, we are supposed to wait quietly for the next opinion poll to tell us who our leader will be.
True, unlike ordinary members of the Catholic Church, we are all still allowed to cast a vote (although few will do so with anything approaching religious fervour). But the real business of British politics now takes place within an isolated political class where little cliques and personality cults manoeuvre for position, as close to the wrangling of a medieval court as anything in the Vatican.

One difference is that unlike in Rome, the Conservatives are not going to spring a surprise victory. Will new Labour win a third term? Will turnout be terrible? And will the next Blair-Brown Government be even more dull, demoralising and disengaged than the last one? Is the new Pope a Catholic?

Mick Hume is editor of spiked
This article is republished from The Times (London)

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics

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