Levelling up

by Rick Johansen

In the main, the reaction of the Great British Public to King Charles’s cancer diagnosis has been exemplary. The overwhelming wish is that the old boy is cured and resumes his duties as soon as possible. There have been some snarky comments, some downright unpleasant ones and many honest and constructively critical reactions that go beyond “Get Well Soon”. It is the media guff that has triggered many people’s emotions. It is also how people with cancer have reacted to the king’s preferential private treatment to their own experiences. But let’s start with the media.

The BBC’s normally excellent Today programme on Radio 4 came up with an absolute gem this morning when a presenter said this: “Everyone who has cancer will feel the King has thrown his arm around them.” This is what is technically known as bollocks. Sure, some people with cancer will feel that way but having seen and read comments on social media and elsewhere, the king’s diagnosis is of zero significance to their own lives. Unlike him, some people have said, they have had to wait months for a diagnosis and then even longer for treatment, in some cases for just a treatment plan. We know why this is.

The royals enjoy the best private health care (our) money can buy. They talk in platitudes about “our wonderful NHS” but they don’t use it. This is one reason why so many of them live deep into old age. But let’s try to be positive about this. They enjoyed privileged access to health care that most of their subjects could never afford. If Charles can get his cancer treated within a day or so of having it diagnosed, then why can’t we?

We know that the NHS has been underfunded since the Conservatives came to power in 2010. And 14 years of cuts has led to delays in treatment, to the extent that over eight million people are now on waiting lists. There would be many more had many others not gone private. This inevitably means cancer treatment for some, maybe many, will be delayed. And that is not what you want to hear when you have the disease. But rather than attack the king for queue-jumping, which he effectively has, why not demand that we, his so-called subjects and the people who ultimately fund his exclusive private health care, have access to the same standards of treatment?

I’m deadly – sorry about the use of the word deadly (I’m not really) – serious. We are told how much the king loves his country and his loyal subjects so presumably he wants them to be healthy.  And surely he would not want His people to have to wait for urgent treatment when he didn’t have to wait at all? Obviously, I don’t know the bloke, but he does God and he talks a good talk. The God he worships doesn’t demand that poor people suffer, does he? I thought he was meant to be the good day?

A dear friend of mine had to wait eight weeks for his cancer surgery and another eight weeks for the biopsy report. Happily, it looks like he is in the clear now, but can you imagine how those 16 weeks felt to him and his family? He’s a lovely, decent family man. Doesn’t he deserve equal treatment to someone who, after all, was simply born into privilege? If you say no to that question, I’m not sure I particularly want to know you.

Al ‘Call me Boris’ Johnson made up this thing called ‘Levelling Up’, whereby he pretended that he wanted to make everyone better off, as well of as, let’s say him. It was bollocks then and it’s still bollocks today – Michael Gove is in charge of it, so how could it be anything but bollocks? – but Johnson is many things, and he isn’t entirely stupid. He knew that the term “levelling up” would appeal to people because they hoped it would mean they would be better off. So, why not mean it?

When I were a lad, as they might say in Yorkshire, for example, I don’t remember delays in being seen in hospital. We had doctors’ surgeries all along Wick Road in Brislington (Briz, as it is known by Bristolians) and you just walked in to be seen, no appointment necessary. We had NHS dentists all over the place, including one at the end of the road we lived on. I was even sent for psychiatry as a 12 year old, when I went bonkers, suffering from panic attacks, night terrors and Christ knows what else. It’s all different now and a lot shittier. But the thing is this: there are far more people, and so more taxpayers, today than there were in the 1960s and 1970s. The government is always saying, “More people in work than ever before.” If this is true, where’s the money gone and where’s it going? Michelle Mone? David Cameron? Boris Johnson? Every company that fucked us over during Covid? Rishi Sunak’s wife?

The story of the king’s cancer we hope will end with a traditional happy ever after. And the fact that he got preferential treatment will not blind us from what will hopefully be a positive conclusion. BUT. There has to be a but. Let us call on the government, let us demand that the government makes such treatment available for all us because, if it really, really wants to, it can. If the people, the lumpen proletariat as Rishi Sunak probably sees us, want and demand something, it is ours.

Let’s not take our eye of the real goal. Sure, be critical of a system which allows the rich and privileged to jump queues in the NHS, and everywhere else, but let us not be blinkered and whinge about the king or Kate Middleton who have benefited from such privilege. Let’s not call decent health care a privilege. Let’s call it a right.


Photo: Cold War Steve. Used without permission. I’ll take it down if he wants me to.


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