How much do you think Britain’s amazing, selfless, tireless, angelic nurses should be paid for the incredible work they do caring for sick people in our National Health Service hospitals?
Should it be a) a thousand pounds an hour b) a million pounds an hour or c) a zillion billion trillion pounds an hour, plus seven days off every week for the sheer thanklessness, heroism and total amazingness of the amazing work they do?
On political discussion shows such as BBC Any Questions or Question Time the correct answer to this question, every time, is c). We know this because whenever the politicians, the Guardian columnist or the token comedian on the panel deploy it they always get a massive round of applause from the audience.
But the true reason for this applause, as Nigel Farage astutely notes in his new autobiography – serialised in the last few days in the Telegraph – is not love but fear.
“I know how sacred the NHS is to the people of Britain: everyone is frightened that it will be taken away. But the cost of that fear is that the political classes are terrified of even criticising it.”
Yes it’s “astonishingly good”, he goes on to say, at critical care: that is, say, if you need emergency treatment after a car accident, like the one a few years back in which Farage nearly lost a leg.
It is, however, quite often next to useless at diagnostics and preventative medicine, which is why, for example, its outcomes for conditions such as stroke, heart disease and cancer are far poorer than in countries such as France.
All this is self-evidently true both statistically and anecdotally. Yet no other politician, not even those of an outspoken, free-market Conservative persuasion, ever dares quite admit it because the National Health Service has more or less supplanted the Church of England as our official state religion.
The only reason Nigel Farage can get away with such heresy is because of his peculiar background.
No doubt when he had his plane crash, his car crash and his brush with testicular cancer they must have seemed at the time like very unwelcome and unpleasant experiences. But if you subscribe to the view that everything happens for a reason then what these incidents really showed is that God has always been on Farage’s side. Thanks, for example, to the fact that his left bollock once swelled painfully to the size of a “rock hard” lemon and was examined by countless NHS doctors and consultants, none of whom recognised the nature of the problem, Farage is better placed than any other politician to note just how unutterably useless the NHS can be at cancer diagnosis.
Had the cancer not been spotted by a private GP and dealt with by a private surgeon Farage would have ended up as just a statistic.
Under the current system we are asked not merely to accept the possibility that we might end up as statistics but are actually expected to be grateful for it: all right, so the NHS may occasionally miss the odd tumour till – whoops – it’s too late, but my God, it doesn’t have do us the power of good with all those anti-smoking ads it helps promote and all those marvellous statins which GPs are paid to dish out like smarties to the over-fifties.
Perhaps, if you’re the kind of person who volunteers to be in the Question Time audience you’re perfectly content with this situation.
But if you’re not then, like me, you’re probably grateful that Farage has dared say the unsayable. Of all the things I fear, I don’t think anything weighs on my mind quite as much as the prospects of getting old, with no heath insurance, and being treated under a state healthcare system which gets more overstretched and inefficient with each passing year, with a political class quite incapable of taking any of the radical measures needed to improve it.
Once again, Farage has spoken for the silent majority. I hope he is properly rewarded for this at the ballot box.