As acronyms go, it’s the tits-up PITTs, but for many concerned about the NHS, it is a pile of shit. Presented as a partnership, TTIP – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – is, depending on your point of view, either a sensible deregulation of transatlantic trade and investment that will free up a few extra bob for the folks back home, or Ernst Stavro Blofeld writ large, hell-bent on a grim SPECTRE TM – much more of this, and Dr No will need treatment for acronymitis – of corporate world domination at the expense of the nation-state. At the crux for health care is a TTIP proposal to allow private capital to sue sovereign states in ‘ad hoc’ tribunals for loss of profit. Claims of this sort have already happened under other trade agreements: in Europe, the private Dutch health insurance company ACHMEA recently sued Slovakia after a new government introduced a more socialised health service that threatened ACHMEA’s profits. The outcome appears for now at least to be in Slovakia’s favour: the tribunal said it had no jurisdiction – ‘the design and implementation of its public healthcare policy is for the State alone to assess’ – meaning, in effect, ACHMEA had lost.
Despite the crack in the Union that threatened to appear as things got tighter and tighter in the run up to the vote, the headlines this morning are Scotland Says No. This result is both a golden example of democracy at its best, with the turnout a credit to the Scots, but also a reminder that democracy, though the best of those that have been tried, is not necessarily a good form of government. Instead, it is the least bad. The headlines are misleading: Scotland, the nation, is an abstraction that can no more decide its fate than it can decide what socks to wear in the morning. Instead, it is the people of Scotland who decided, individually, with the referendum result a binary outcome based on counts of millions of individual decisions. The outcome is pure democracy, rule by the majority in the interests of the majority, but as always, and starkly in this case, where for every fifty-five Scots who voted no, forty-five voted yes, there is a substantial minority for whom the outcome is not what they wanted; the result not, as they see it, in their interests. The Union Jack may still be intact, but the Union has been jarred.
The unfortunate tale of Ashya King, which the media has devoured as a starving man might devour a double burger and triple fries, has by and large cast everyone as a villain, except the patient himself. The Southampton doctors failed to maintain a working relationship with the parents. The parents became Drs Google & Google, and removed their son from hospital without warning, though it wasn’t ‘without consent’, or even kidnap or abduction, as some have suggested. The hospital delayed telling the police Ashya was missing, and the police, when they were told, responded by firing a high energy proton beam of a warrant, the European Arrest Warrant, at the parents, who ended up in the Spanish nick while their son languished in a distant Spanish hospital. The gruesome cogs of the Court of Protection ground into action, and the parents were left crushed, ex-parents in all but name, as Ashya became a ward of court. Even the private Czech Proton Beam Therapy clinic has been accused of profiteering on the back of Ashya’s media coverage. All the while, the media frothed itself into a foaming frenzy, and on the white waters of the frenzy, thousands of commentators bobbed up and down, each more determined than the last to finger their choice of the true villain. As the froth piled up, facts sank like stones. It became a tale in which all are villains, and none heroes.