I’ve never had the clap. Except that minor, erm, “irritation” in my early twenties, but nobody needs to know about that – apart from the thousands I have bedded who won’t talk to me again (in my dreams) – and so the less said about it the better. Just don’t tell anyone else.
It seems, though, that clapping is quite the thing nowadays – and it seems it’s not something to be embarrassed about.
Quite the opposite in fact. Clap at your front door.
Sure, most of it is well-meaning. Fine. And if it’s personal, then absolutely.
But a lot of this 21st century mawkishness seems to me as though people just enjoy, now and again, to wallow in a jacuzzi of self-indulgent bubbles and they don’t really care who is blowing them or to what end (and that’s no reference to West Ham).
It’s like a mindfulness spa break – just without the price tag or those strange flip flop slippers that never quite fit on your feet. Or the try-too-hard “locally-sourced” gut-crippling offal served up by a good cook who has gone off the rails by watching too much “Great British Menu” (and yet can there ever be such a thing as “too much” Prue Leith? Not to my mind. But the other stuff? Definite indigestion.)
All that death clapping is – if you can leave cynicism at the turnstile – almost endearing.
“What is nothing more – it really isn’t – than a healthcare
funding and administration service happily laps up
the credit for individuals that break
their necks trying to help others“
Plus, it’s free. So what’s not to like?
A bit like the NHS. That’s free. Or to most people’s minds it is.
And so when I was enjoying a medicinal glass of freegan-ed aquafaba, wheatgrass and turnip juice last Thursday, while trying to puzzle my way through Imperial College’s coronavirus modelling – try it; it’s even harder than the Times Cryptic Crossword or trying to work out what some critical illness contracts actually mean – I was stirred by the clapping that echoed down my street in Peckham in South London, in the-bit-that-isn’t-posh-but-isn’t-not-posh.
And the street clapped. It was eight o’clock and so they clapped almost as if they had been told to clap at eight o’clock.
They “Clapped for the Carers” (a noble sentiment taken over, sinisterly, by something called #lightitblue, more of which later).
My daughter clapped. She loved it.
But then again, bright as she is (well, isn’t everyone’s daughter – especially mine more than most, obviously) she’s six years old and we’re still currently wrestling with the blatant truisms that distinguish “leader” and “dictator” and “human decency and kindness” and “socialism”.
The sentiment behind Thursday evening’s eight o’clock “Clap for the Carers” – the syrup is threatening to stick around every Thursday until people get bored (it’s what people do – they do whatever’s #trending for a bit and then get bored) – is well-meaning.
Of course we all salute every single individual that is working to tackle coronavirus. And yes, like most, the NHS has given me the best of times and deserves a thank you.
And yes, like most, it’s given me the worst of times too.
And if I tried grabbing a scalpel or a bedpan or a MRI scanner or a mop or a ventilation machine or the medicine cabinet (don’t give me the keys to that, whatever you do) I would be told to leave – quite rightly, because I would be rubbish at it.
So maybe I was sulking.
But it still struck me that people who thought they might be “clapping for the carers” might also be, unwittingly, signing up to a political project.
Because as that creepily benevolent NHS Blue was cast like a net over
London Babylon on her knees, the clapping and the celebration that should have been about the “carers” offered an irrevocable ballot paper to the capital and the rest of the country with one choice on it.
“‘I’ve set up one of those naff petitions – not to climb Kiliminjaro at someone else’s expense – to say that while we all love the NHS, other funding mechanisms for healthcare work very well too. I’ve only got one signatory so far (me)”
It was a one-choice ballot paper that even the most tinpottish of tinpot dictatorships would feel embarrassed about. It was about the relentless, merciless expansion of a state-controlled, tax-funded, monolithic, ever-growing system that isn’t – don’t believe the hype – “the envy of the world”.
From Wembley Stadium to the Millenium Eye and from the Royal Albert Hall to the National Theatre, that cocktail NHS Blue got the capital drunk and sentimental.
Outside of the capital, Lincoln Cathedral enjoyed a sip of NHS Blue, just to be sociable, before it was over to Wales, where Cardiff’s Principality Stadium poured a proper measure.
In Scotland, Glasgow’s SSE Hydro mixed it with some Buckfast, before picking a fight and then hugging Northern Ireland, where it downed the rest of it with Belfast’s Titanic Signature Building as the best of friends.
Back over at Gateshead’s Millenium Bridge, which was also Blue but a bit wobbly by now, it seemed time to go home, but not before stopping off at Manchester Central for one last quick shot of Blue before heading back to London. Some adventurous souls even ventured into the socialist jungle of Brighton, where the Pier cast an alluring Blue, like a mermaid luring a tired, drunken sailor towards his watery doom.
And everyone clapped along.
I almost did. It felt warming. Aquafaba, wheatgrass and turnip juice (with six shots of NHS Blue) tends to do that.
But then it wore off, I got a headache and I felt the nagging, hungover Fear of someone that had done something they can’t quite remember but that they regret nonetheless.
Because what is nothing more – it really isn’t – than a healthcare funding and administration service was lapping up the credit for individuals that were breaking their necks trying to help others.
An administrative healthcare funding system – there are hundreds more around the world by the way – was taking the credit, while actual people wiped up the piss, shit, blood and puke.
As NHS staff, neck deep in the relentless piss, shit, blood and puke of coronavirus took a breather, the Firm – the NHS – was the big winner at the end of the day. It always is.
Because as the admin staff, the consultants, the facilities staff, the healthcare assistants, the lab people, the porters and the nurses were neck deep and head down in the relentless piss, shit, blood and puke of coronavirus while everyone clapped, the Firm – the NHS – was banking Treasury bullion and credit notes – and will be doing so for years to come.
The NHS brand is stamped – irreversibly – on the nation’s psyche. Fanciful notions of different funding options have gone up in smoke.
As Professor Henry Brubaker of the Institute for Studies puts it: “Once you have a health system in place, you are basically stuck with it, whatever it is.”
“Clap for the Carers” was the brainchild of an evidently sane and quite clearly charming lady from the Netherlands who, while living in the UK, was touched by a similar gesture carried out by her fellow Dutch citizens back home.
Why not do the same here, she thought, and with all good intentions.
Good for her. I agree. Yes – of course we should thank and applaud everyone involved in tackling coronavirus.
But why clap for “the NHS”?
In her home country of the Netherlands, citizens there receive some of the best healthcare in the world. There, basically, everyone is covered.
The social health insurance system in the Netherlands, like in places like Switzerland, Germany and Belgium – are universal insurance systems administered by private insurers. Every legal resident of these countries has health insurance.
“Guess what? Citizens of the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland haven’t been cast adrift Up The Coronavirus without a paddle any more than we have”
People who can’t afford the premium receive a subsidy, while insurers are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of individual health status.
Insurers can’t cherry-pick because of a scheme under which insurers that end up with a disproportionate number of good risks have to pay a compensation to insurers that end up with a disproportionate number of bad risks.
That means that from an insurer’s perspective, insuring a person in poor health gives them as much dosh as insuring a person in good health.
And guess what? Citizens of the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland haven’t been cast adrift Up The Coronavirus without a paddle.
Quite – in many cases – the opposite. Healthcare outcomes are, in the main, higher.
And so as I stood there, listening to people clapping at their front door and banging pots and pans out of their kitchen window, I thought of all the names of private and mutual sector organisations that fund healthcare and deliver it.
The insurers, the mutuals, the friendly societies, the cash plan providers, the private hospitals owned by venture capitalists, the independent sector hospitals owned by charities.
I thought of the hospitals – the private/independent sector hospitals – and their staff that are now going hell-for-leather to tackle coronavirus.
Would it not be just as weird if I stood on my doorstep clapping and shouting out the name of a random, tax-funded healthcare system or the names of insurance companies?
“Many non-NHS workers in social care – in domiciliary care or in care homes – that work exhaustingly, day-in-day-out, all year round are neck deep in the piss, shit, blood and puke of coronavirus – they just have to deal with even more of it”
I thought of the treadmill of brow-beaten Secretaries of State for Health & Social Care and their rainbow NHS lapel badges (why Health and not Transport? Or Education? Or, erm, Wales or whatever?).
Most of all, though, I thought of the many non-NHS workers in social care – in domiciliary care or in care homes – that work exhaustingly, day-in-day-out, all year round, looking after our old and vulnerable relatives and neighbours. They, too, are neck deep in the piss, shit, blood and puke of coronavirus. Just even more of it.
They are the front line before the so-called front line.
Many of them received a pay “rise” this week when the National Living Wage went up to a giddy £8.32 per hour. Their efforts were overshadowed by propaganda for the NHS.
Friendly societies – the working-class mutual insurance associations – which had historically provided health insurance for the vast majority of people on modest incomes, and independent (now called “private” aka “evil” hospitals) got skewered by the state. Thanks, Bevan.
It was their death-knell and now we’re left with the current mess – and it’s political suicide to say anything else.
Even so, I’ve set up one of those naff petitions – not to climb Kiliminjaro at someone else’s expense – to say that while we all love the NHS, other funding mechanisms for healthcare work very well too.
I’ve only got one signatory so far (me).
Perhaps we should actually just clap for the carers – and not whatever administration system pays them.
While I was thinking – it doesn’t happen much – I also spared a moment to mull the situation of individuals and companies that often have gone without other stuff to invest in medical insurance or healthcare expenses schemes.
Other individuals and companies might have spent their money on, say, anything other than healthcare or education. COVID-19-themed pornography, perhaps (it exists, really). Or spa breaks. Or pet insurance. Or STAY-AT-HOME-PROTECT-THE-NHS-SAVE-LIVES Darth Vader emojis and t-shirts?
Those individuals and employers that did decide, in the pre-virus world, to spend money on healthcare – and pay an absurd insurance premium tax and to be blackballed nonetheless as selfish pariahs by meatheads for doing so – won’t, for now at least, be able to call on that investment. The private hospitals are full with patients who have paid a pretty paltry National Insurance contribution – and some who no doubt think that private healthcare is immoral.
In the meantime, independent sector schools – charities and private – are also feeling the pinch as parents draw the purse strings and the schools close up shop while the rugrats add even more strain onto an education system that already can’t afford to stay open five days a week.
Less time for the independent schoolkids crowbarred into crowded state classrooms, less time for vulnerable kids in the same classrooms because of the independent school incomers. Plus, more burden on the taxpayer. What’s not to like?
“I love them all, but saying this means I’m taking on the Royal Family, pop stars, Premier League footballers, miserable Jim at the local, Ant & Dec, the Prime Minister and every politician everywhere
– even Clare Balding, too”
And so back to #lightitblue for the NHS, because that makes even less sense than possibly anything else.
The #lightitblue campaign was started by someone called Gary White, who is managing director of something called White Productions, and someone called Chuck Crampton, who is a self-described “freelance production manager”.
White Productions is behind a number of memorable events, including the BBC’s annual smugfest, the “Sports Personality of the Year” where
former professional footballer crisp salesman and “journalist” Gary Lineker and The Charming But Confusingly Omniscient Clare Balding do their thing.
Gary White’s brilliantly-named White Productions is also the kind-hearted, generous-spirited brains behind IDEX, a trade show that each year “creates excitement for the exhibition and allows the UAE Armed Forces to showcase their equipment and military skills in theatrical, spectacular fashion”.
I’m not entirely sure how the tub-thumpers that clap every Thursday night at 8pm for #lightitblue for the NHS quite square their circle with a celebration of the UAE Armed Forces “showcasing their equipment and military skills in theatrical, spectacular fashion”.
I don’t have an opinion – but they do.
I’m not even sure if Yemen counts in their bizarre rush for bountiful bog roll and moral authority.
It’s none of my business. Everyone’s as mad as each other. And by saying this, I’m going up against the Royal Family, pop stars, Premier League footballers, Ant & Dec, the Prime Minister and every politician everywhere – and, most terrifying of all, Clare Balding.
Either way, I’d never ask for the clap from anyone.
But if you do give the NHS one, please remember: it’s just a healthcare funding system.
Nothing more, nothing less.