In a move which can only be described as either hilarious or jaw-droppingly insincere, talented health secretary,
Jeremy Hunt has launched an urgent inquiry into the level of junior doctors’ morale and welfare as large numbers threaten to quit the profession over being forced to accept a new contract. [*1]
In other words, taxpayers (hard working families, not Google, obviously) are now going to have to cough up the costs of an inquiry into the bleedin’ obvious.
Anyone other than a thickskinned politician bent on an ideological rampage might have observed it was his very actions and sayings which were causing the damage [*2]. Not Mr Hunt.
Here is a video [*3] of Hunt walking away from a junior doctor, failing to answer his reasonable questions. A more capable person, unable to spare the time to talk to a doctor, would have asked an aide to fall back from the convoy and discuss the subject courteously with the doctor. Not Mr Hunt, who seems to be more intent on demonstrating a failure to relate to other humans at even a basic level than even to pretend he is interested. Inadvertently, the honesty of his response reveals his contempt for doctors. Clearly they are just an irritant.
The Independent reported that … the respected Liberal Democrat peer and former cabinet minister Baroness Williams told The Independent that the Government’s clash with junior doctors risked becoming “a confrontation that could end the NHS”.
Lady Williams, who retired from Parliament this week, said it was a “serious mistake” to “press on with the imposition of a new contract at a time when it’s already quite clear that we are short of doctors and nurses”. “This could be about the whole future of the NHS and not just about this particular contract,” she said. [*4]
As an example,
the Royal College of Nursing, which warned that its own members were “increasingly anxious” the Government would act to cut their out-of-hours pay next. [*4]
Lady Williams, a politician for whom I have a great deal of time, is clearly predicting the future if Hunt and Cameron do not change their attitude. On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely is it, do we feel, that they will change their attitude?
What is a leader?
It is clear that any useful concept of servant-leadership has been banished from the corridors of poltical power (whichever party, whether in government or opposition) for many centuries.
One assumes that the political concept of a leader is someone who tells other people what to do (if you’re lucky it is because they are “visionary” or, God help us, a “conviction politician”) and beats punishes people if they disagree or fail in the “leader”’s eyes. Mr Jeremy Corbyn would appear to be a good example of this sort of person.
I beleive that the most a leader should aspire to is to be primus inter pares. Whether he likes it or not (and whether I like it or not), if the bulk of the labour party is in favour of renewing our weapons of mass destruction, at a cost in excess of £100,000,000,000, then that is the decision Mr Corbyn needs to back. He does, after all, have an unfair advantage over other party members in that he has the ear of the news media, various rights to speak in parliament and in the media, and party platforms on which he can make his case. If he still can’t persuade them, well…
There are plenty on articles on leadership on this site which I won’t replicate here.
It boils down to two things, the first of which is: leaders create a ‘facilitating environment’ in which the individual, the team and the enterprise thrives
In the case of a senior politician, there are several “teams” which might be the object of his or her attention: constituents (whether individuals voted for the politician or not); members of the political party of which he or she is a member; other ministers, if he or she is a minister.
I am adamant that being a leader is an attitude, not a set of behaviours, so it is entirely possible to be a leader in more than team simultaneously. Indeed it is obligatory. Issues arise, however, where the needs and aspirations of the teams are in conflict (as is the case with (a) employees of the National Heath Service, and (b) government members who are notionally ‘in charge’ of the NHS but actually have a mutually exclusive, destructive, private agenda of their own).
If I were minister for, I don’t know, zoos, I think I would be clear that the group which has the first call on my time, attention, services would be the people who work in zoos, the animals who have to live there and, depending on the remit, the people who visit zoos.
(The reason why the people who visit zoos don’t come first is that the quality of their experience at the zoo depends wholly on the prior treatment of the employees and animals.)
So, we need to ask the extent to which Hunt creates a ‘facilitating environment’ in which doctors, nurses—all employees—thrive individually and collectively, and in which the national health service—both the NHS and, of course, private health providers—thrives.
Hunt’s management and leadership credentials
In a contribution to the Radio 4 panel game, Any questions, in february 2016, David Blunkett (socialist MP for many years, now a lord) said
I would have kept [my head] under the surface if I had been him [Hunt] because he lacks leadership skills [applause]. And that can be best demonstrated this week. Fancy having a letter with a deadline of 3 o’clock on the day of the strike; fancy saying that the chief execs of foundation trusts had signed up to it when many of them hadn’t [*5]; fancy being belligerent at just the moment when you were offering something extra, because that’s what he claims he was doing in terms of the extra pay [*6]; above all, not grasping that, unless you trained the extra doctors first, all you do, like a piece of elastic, is stretch it over seven days rather than five, not pay people extra for working above those five days, thereby making the service as a whole worse over seven days. [*7]
To be honest, it had never occurred to me to wonder whether Hunt lacked “leadership skills”—or even management skills—since, so self-evidently, he has richly demonstrated he has neither. But then, to be fair, noone else in this cabinet and all previous cabinets has demonstrated them either—nominations welcome for cabinet members with leadership capabilities in the past hundred years to the usual address, please.
… in the three years I worked for Jeremy Hunt, from the September of 2000 to the same month of 2003, [writes Luke Turner] I think I got a pretty good idea of what was going on. I was an employee of Hotcourses, a company Hunt owned with an old friend, Mike Elms. Hotcourses was (and is) an educational publishing company…
What made it the worst three years of my life was the working environment, and the expectation put onto the staff by Mr Hunt and the other managers. When a deadline approached, we were expected to work late into the night for no overtime or recompense. Rarely were we thanked for our labours. There was a general air that we should be grateful for the remarkable opportunity that this endless admin offered. There was certainly a different attitude toward employees who’d been to private school, or Oxbridge, than to the rest of us. In such a high pressure environment yet producing such mundane work, stress levels rose. I know of good friends and colleagues who suffered near nervous breakdowns from the experience of working in such a vampiric, morale and confidence-sapping operation. Everything was secondary to the operation of the business. …
I distinctly recall one presentation after a period of company expansion. All of us, old stagers and new recruits, were gathered together in front of a Powerpoint screen. On it were projected smiling photographs of various members of staff, the heads of sales, IT and so on. The company had recently outsourced much of the data entry work to a centre in India. … We gasped in horror as our “new colleagues in India” were introduced: there glowed a slide that featured row after row of the same cartoon clip art Generic Brown Person, sat behind a computer. [*8]
There are plenty of similar stories in this article.
(1) The individual and the team. Hunt’s attitude towards individuals is clearly shown in Luke Turner’s piece, quoted above, the video, cited above [*3], and other references, including [*2].
(2) The enterprise (ie the health service). To be added
(3) Hunt’s skills. Back in 2013, Oliver James, a highly respected psychologist and therapist, wrote
Jeremy Hunt, in whom the BMA today [24 june 2013] passed a motion of no confidence, epitomises the decadent, hypocritical and toxic nature of our ruling elite. …
Shortly after Hunt was promoted to health secretary, he lambasted the key figures in the Mid-Staffordshire hospital scandal. Last week he expressed disgust at incompetence and corruption of the Care Quality Commission. [*9][*10]
In this article, James takes us back to the heady days of the Leveson inquiry (“a judicial public inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press following the News International phone hacking scandal, chaired by Lord Justice Leveson” [*11][*12]) when Hunt was culture, media and sports secretary. James reports that it was discovered by the inquiry that
… the staggering truth was that [Adam] Smith [Hunt’s special adviser] had been passing confidential and market-sensitive information to [Frédéric] Michel [a BSkyB consultant] on a daily basis for months. Undeniably, conspiring with Michel to help Murdoch achieve his goal, Smith passed him “absolutely illegal” data.
Confronted with all this at the Leveson inquiry, Hunt claimed he had no idea it was going on. Special advisers are handpicked by their ministers, not the civil service. The adviser’s utterances are regarded as almost indistinguishable from those of their boss. They are more up close and privy to what is really going on in a minister’s mind than anyone. Furthermore, the ministerial code is pedantically explicit about the minister’s total accountability for all the special adviser’s actions.
This leaves us with only two conceivable possibilities regarding Hunt’s claim. The first is that Hunt is a bare-faced liar: he knew precisely what Smith was doing, and in fact was the origin of many of the communications—Smith was merely doing his minister’s bidding. The second is that Hunt was telling the truth, in which case, he is not only a lousy judge of who to employ, he was a spectacularly incompetent manager. Either way, he should have been sacked on the spot, not promoted to a position which required credibility when pronouncing on the competence of health service managers. [*10]
The remainder of James’s article, and much else, is beginning to show Hunt lacks the talent to create a facilitating environment of any sort divorced from his own self interest:
We have to swallow the idea that he is not a liar, and then listen to this supposedly super-inept manager lecturing public servants on their moral turpitude and inefficiency. [*10]
Some interesting information arrives from The slog [october 2012] about Hunt’s preferment which rather implies that fitness to do the job was not uppermost in the eyes of his betters—it was, and isn’t it always?—about who you know:
Jeremy Hunt, who partnered Newscorp in his educational supplies business, went to New York to broker a change of Newscorp’s Party preference from Labour to Tory, and then was quite coincidentally put in charge of adjudicating on the Newscorp bid for BSkyB. As we all know, that ended in tears [see above].
But Jeremy Richard Streynsham Hunt didn’t go down a snake like the luckless [Andrew] Lansley [his predecessor as health secretary]. He went two rungs up the ladder to become Secretary of State for Health…. As I blogged yesterday, Cameron didn’t want to give Jezzer the job. But Mr Hunt appears to have three very strong holds on the Prime Minister.
First, he is very—like I mean extremely—well in at Newscorp. “Jeremy is our man now: don’t mess with him”. Second, he is bankrolled by murky mega-donor JHJ Lewis—Chairman of the Groucho Club… and influential eminence grise in the Conservative Party. And third, he has the influence and contacts via [Virginia] Bottomley [now Baroness Nettlestone; former MP of SW Surrey, now Hunt’s seat; former health secretary; and, presumably still, Jeremy Hunt’s cousin] to oil wheels here and there in the gradual sale of an insolvent NHS to organisations like—and here I’m only offering suggestions of course—BUPA [Nettlestone “lobbies on behalf of the private health sector via her directorship of BUPA” according to The slog; although, according to Wikipedia, that directorship has now ended] and Nuffield [Hunt’s father, Sir Nicholas Hunt was chairman of the South West Surrey district health authority from 1990 to 1995 and then chairman of Nuffield Hospitals from 1996 to 2001, according to The slog]. [*13]
So there’s Jeremy newly installed as Health Secretary after just seven short years as an MP. This is a summary of his meteoric rise:
He made a fortune at the taxpayers’ expense as monopoly supplier to a notorious quango [The British Council, according to The slog] where, by happy coincidence, his cousin sat on the Board. He became MP for SW Surrey where, by happy coincidence, his cousin had been MP previously. He became Minister in charge of Media & Culture where, by happy coincidence, he wound up steering his pals at Newscorp in the right direction. And he became Health Secretary partly because, by happy coincidence, his cousin is a lobbyist for the private health sector. [*13]
I predict that, such is the degree of antagonism which Hunt has created (there is such a thing as going too far) [*14], he will be sacrificed by Cameron in time for someone else (the fragrant Mr Michael Gove, perhaps) to take on the nurses.
[*1] Jeremy Hunt launches urgent inquiry into junior doctors’ morale (Jon Stone, news item, The independent, 11 february 2016)
[*2] Jeremy Hunt: infuriator extraordinaire (Simon Kelner, comment piece, The independent, 12 february 2016)
[*3] Video shows moment Jeremy Hunt refuses to talk to junior doctor outraged at new contract (The independent, 11 february 2016)
[*4] Junior doctors: BMA ‘considering all options’ for opposing new contract (Charlie Cooper, news item, The independent, 11 february 2016)
[*5] “Jeremy Hunt’s claim to have the backing of 20 NHS bosses for his decision to impose new contracts on junior doctors unravelled overnight as three-quarters of the names on the list said they had never agreed to support forcing the deal.” in Health chief: letter backing ‘whatever is necessary’ on contracts was not agreed (Jessica Elgot, news item, Guardian, 12 february 2016)
[*6] “An eleventh-hour offer by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, which made some concession on the key sticking point of unsocial pay, was rejected by the British Medical Association…” in BMA rejects Hunt’s final offer on junior doctors contract (Selina McKee, Pharma times, 11 february 2016)
[*7] Any questions (BBC Radio 4, 12 february 2016, available apparently in perpetuity)
[*8] Oh happy days: a personal recollection of working for Jeremy Hunt (Luke Turner, The quietus, 2 june 2012)
[*9] Wikipedia entry on Oliver James
[*10] When Jeremy Hunt can become health secretary, it’s a sign Britain is sick (Oliver James, opinion piece, The guardian, 24 june 2013)
[*11] Wikepedia entry on the Leveson inquiry
[*12] Leveson inquiry official website
[*13] The Hunt-Bottomley link (John Ward, The slog, 10 october 2012)
[*14] This was Jeremy Hunt’s make-or-break moment—and he just blew it (Nash Riggins, blog, Huffington post, 5 november 2015)
> Leadership guide
> What is a ‘facilitating environment’?
> Leadership is an attitude
> Hunt v doctors [blog]
> Hunt v doctors—3 [blog]
> Let’s be clear about politicians’ purposes [blog]
© 2016 Jeremy Marchant . last amended 21 april 2016 . image: Free images