There is a variant of Dennis Healey’s Law of Holes which says: when you are in a wet paper bag, stop pissing. Most folk who spend much time in wet paper bags appreciate the importance of this law to their survival, but it seems those folk who inhabit the wet paper bag more generally known as the British Medical Association have yet to turn off the tap. At a time when there is overwhelming and very visible professional opposition to the Health and Social Care Bill, and so a real prospect of nailing the bill, the BMA has turned on a golden shower of pension reform objections. There is even talk of industrial action.
To suggest that this is perhaps a tactical error is like suggesting Napoleon’s invasion of Russia was perhaps misguided. The Tories, it is clear, are ideologues – how else can we explain their absolute refusal to listen to the overwhelming weight of professional opposition to their bill? – whose internal mantra is ‘privatisation at any price’. They are determined to ram the bill through parliament, and when ramming is the order of the day, any tactic will do.
There is no escaping the fact that, on the whole, today’s doctors are paid well, and their pensions, even with the proposed reforms, generous. They are gripes to be had, for sure, but the position is that most doctors will move from the Life of Riley Major to a Life of Riley only marginally less Major than it was before. They will still be, by any normal standards, very wealthy.
There is a Machiavellian view that the BMA, because it is a trade union, is solely concerned with the interests of doctors; and in this view, all its actions are guided by these self-serving interests. By choosing this moment, of all moments, to foam up the pensions reform row, the BMA lays itself wide open to accusations that its Health and Social Care Bill objections are little more than a political stunt intended to protect the interests of doctors; a cover for their real concerns about pensions and pay.
Dr No fails to see the logic of such Machiavellian positions, but ideologues are not ones to let a lack of logic get in the way of a good attack. Only this morning, La la had a go at the Royal College of Nursing’s outright rejection of the Bill, claiming that it was more about the RCN having ‘a go at the government … about pay and pensions … it’s a purely political operation’.
There is a grave risk that the BMA will suffer a similar attack. It needs to stop pissing about on pensions reforms now, and get back to the real business-in-hand, lest it the bottom fall out of its anti-Health and Social Care Bill bag.