Peter Rhodes on NHS heroism, the future for Boris and battleships that were too big for battles

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

Too big to risk? (Tim Webb)
Too big to risk? (Tim Webb)

On Parliament's website is this plea for a petition: “Award the NHS the George Cross for it's bravery, heroism and selfless dedication.” Mad-apostrophe disease has reached the heart of government.

As for giving the NHS any sort of gong, can we wait until the crisis is over and the statistics assessed? Even at this early stage we are entitled to ask if our NHS is so wonderful, why have 42,000 of us perished?

History may record that the NHS of 2020 resembled the Royal Navy's Dreadnoughts of 1914. These super-battleships were so expensive and so wedded to our national pride that losing one in battle became unthinkable. And so the chief purpose of a Dreadnought was not to sink lots of enemy ships but to avoid being sunk itself. In the same way, from the outset of the pandemic, the aim was that the people must save the NHS, not the other way around. The strategy was successful. The NHS was not overwhelmed.

One thing the NHS and battleships have in common is that if you're not careful you can end up spending the entire national budget on them.

The George Cross petition has been rejected by Parliament on the grounds that it's not the Government's duty to award medals. The veteran pundit Charles Moore offers a better reason: “The needs of the population have taken a poor second place to the habits of (the NHS's) bloated administration.” Some individuals within the NHS went above and beyond the call of duty and laid down their lives for others – the classic citation for gallantry awards. They richly deserve medals. But the NHS as a whole? Hmmm.

And what of the man in charge?In May 2019, I compared the political divide over Brexit to the English Civil Wars of the 17th century, with the nation divided between Remainer Roundheads and Brexit Cavaliers. Back then, after a grim spell of Puritan rule, Charles II, decked in all his finery with a jolly roar of laughter and a train of mistresses, took the throne "and everyone rejoiced at the Restoration, even though, deep down, they knew he was a total wazzock."

With a bit of luck, Boris Johnson might have been the Charles II of our age, clearly unsuited for serious stuff but merry and generally popular with a booming economy. Instead, he's pitched into the grisly business of trying to balance the unbalanceable equations of deaths and jobs. It is rumoured that Johnson is depressed, running short of money and still suffering from the Covid-19 that almost killed him.

In theory, Boris Johnson could remain as PM until 2024. In the real world of online gambling, you can today get odds of only about four-to-one against him going next year. When it comes to political forecasting, never underestimate Betfair.

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