29th January 2017 By Ian Middleton
Decisions, decisions. You know, I think sometimes we just don’t give our illustrious PM enough credit for the difficult choices she has to make on a daily basis. Should she go with the fetching tartan trouser suit, or power dress in the wrap over top with the shoulder pads. Maybe the famously pricey leather trousers would be best, or should she try to rock the ginger spice look with a union flag onesie?
In the end she chose a fetching sackcloth and ashes number. It came with built in knee pads and a welcome mat stitched to the back. Yes this was exactly what she needed to meet President Pussy Grabber in person. Or perhaps, given her haste to be the first premier to shake that stubby little hand, she just grabbed the first thing in her wardrobe.
It’s also a difficult choice for us to decide on which of the two British politician’s encounters with that great tangerine despot was the most toe-curlingly grim to behold.
Was it Michael-scoop-Gove, with his cub reporters hat on, oozing sycophancy on the side-lines like a fat lipped Uriah Heep, desperately trying to twist a few crumbs of indifference from Trump into a commitment to a future trade deal?
It’s easy to condemn May for her obsequiousness, but I’ll concede she had very little choice but to suck up big time to the man who has, however nonsensically, become the leader of the free world. The calls for her to condemn Trump or even to not visit the White House were naive. She can’t alienate our greatest ally, even if they have elected a childish psychopath as President. The USA isn’t North Korea, even though Trump may one day make telling the difference a difficult task.
On that subject it was interesting to see Laura Kuenssberg finally earn her pay as a political journalist with some forthright questions to the Trump about his views on torture and rendition. Characteristically it was laughed off by the man who, despite advice to the contrary from military advisers such as James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, seems to be positively salivating at the idea of waterboarding people he says ‘deserve it’.
The BBC political editor’s questions have apparently angered the US administration as it highlights exactly the kind of future Trump sees for human rights in his country. But then again, as Mrs May’s own views on human rights seem equally questionable, as they are in other areas of probable agreement with Trump such as immigration and defence. Maybe Laura could turn that steely stare homewards a bit more often in future.
Like her or loathe her, Mrs May is a seasoned politician, used to dealing with these sorts of situations. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she was inwardly cringing about the job she had to do as much as we were at watching her do it. Pouring praise onto a man who has rightly earned the opprobrium of a good deal of the globe and hoping no one noticed her fingers crossed behind her back.
Perhaps in describing Trump’s victory as ‘stunning’ she meant the way you feel after you’ve just fallen down a flight of stairs. If so most of us would agree with her.
I’d imagine it was an even more unenviable position for her as a woman, considering the well documented and unashamed contempt that Trump has for any female who isn’t blonde, subservient, and showering him with gold. The body language between them was bizarre in the context of two heads of state. The awkward hand holding has been much commented on, but to me it looks more like she’s helping an elderly relative down the stairs. It seems to have been instigated by Trump, but I doubt May had any option but to go along with it. What should she do? Snub him and risk offending this monumentally paranoid approval seeker? Even he seems to realise the impropriety of the act when he taps her hand to break the connection, but of course by then it was too late, the image was immortalised. It’s going to be great fun watching how The Queen reacts to this sort of behaviour when we see him meet her later this year. Not known for her touchy-feely personality is Her Madge.
May’s political position is as difficult as that physical encounter with Trump. As she presses on with alienating most of her former EU allies, any sort of relationship with the USA is really all she has left right now to show credibility on the world stage. She probably never expected to have to deal with someone like Trump, but he’s the best she’s got right now. A useful idiot, as the Russians would say, who she hopes will rescue her from the corner she’s been busy painting herself into for the past several months. A quick deal with the USA will vindicate her position, and she’ll do pretty much anything it takes to get it done. But in the long term that could mean a whole lot of hurt for the UK.
Much fire and brimstone was conjured up about TTIP by the Leave lobby during the referendum campaign. The idea that the USA would be able to dictate terms to us on any disadvantageous business deal and even take the UK government to court was seen a total anathema. But in truth TTIP was pretty much dead in the water by the time of the Brexit vote. Most of our EU partners saw it for what it was and rejected it. Recently, in a supreme stroke of irony, Trump announced America’s withdrawal from the TPP trade deal which is essentially the same as TTIP but with the Pacific states. Even he realised that the knife could cut both ways.
The irony of May now pushing for a US trade deal is that it’s very likely that any terms would be very similar to TTIP but probably heavily weighted in favour of the US. Given the disparity between our indigenous manufacturing bases and economies, as well as Trump’s stated desire to see the ‘Made in America’ stamp on everything, they’re going to have a lot of stuff to sell, but what do we have?
I’ve been speculating for some time that our most valuable asset in any such deal would be open access to our health care services and, just prior to her visit, Theresa May seemed to hint that this was exactly her thinking too. When asked to categorically confirm that the NHS would not be on the negotiating table, she rather ominously refused to do so.
US companies have been slowly creeping into the NHS for years now. Companies like the Hospital Corporation of America have been quietly insinuating themselves into the UK since 2006. I can’t see any free trade deal with the USA excluding unfettered access to the more lucrative areas of our health service. Only this time we won’t have the protections for the NHS that were, albeit vaguely, promised over TTIP. Everything is now up for grabs.
The US will drive a hard bargain on this as well. As Trump pushes forward with the dismantling of the US’s own half-hearted attempt at providing state health cover in Obamacare, it’s unlikely he’ll take any more benevolent view of the huge untapped potential for private gain that is represented by the NHS. This is a man who is about to leave 19 million of his own citizens without health cover. How much more empathy do you think he’ll have with us hapless and friendless Brits?
The increasing privatisation of the NHS is one of the biggest threats to its long term existence in anything like the form we know it now. Already we have GPs in Oxfordshire trialling a system of charging for appointments. How long before we see co-pay options on hospital visits and other procedures?
Despite claims to the contrary we already know that Theresa May has stamped on any hope that the NHS will receive the real funding it needs to avoid potential collapse within the next 10 years. In that context, it’s not a difficult reach to see her selling off huge chunks of it to US health care firms who already have the expertise and resources to squeeze profit out of illness and infirmity.
Her argument will of course be that the service will remain free at the point of delivery, but that’s a phrase that can so easily be perverted to mean much less free at all other times. Free at the point of need is increasingly being bandied about, as ‘need’ is a much more subjective term.
Despite its denials and spin, this government has a huge ideological problem with the NHS, and a nice neat deal with the USA could solve a lot of problems for them. As with other privatised aspects of the health service, it’s a lot more controllable to pay a private firm a fixed fee for a contract than it is to dole out money to an increasingly expensive public service. But the implications inherent with companies profiting from an otherwise free health care ethos are many and varied, not least the imperative for that profit to go into shareholders pockets, rather than be re-invested in the service itself.
It seems likely that our exit from the EU and May’s eagerness to secure a trade deal with the US will ensure that many of those profits will go into the pockets of American corporations. That means this country won’t even see the taxes on those earnings, assuming anyone bothered to collect them properly.
Even if Brexit does mean an extra £350m for the NHS, which of course it won’t, any additional spending would be heavily diluted in terms of actual benefit to patients if the NHS were to be gradually sold off to foreign investors, as so much of our other public services and infrastructure already has been.
While we’re all focused on the nature of the deal that will be done to release us from the clutches of the EU, we need to be equally wary of any new trade deals done with the rest of the world. Otherwise our eagerness to plug the hole that may be left in our post-Brexit balance of trade could easily allow the Tories to finally achieve their long held aim of selling off our most valuable public asset.