New NHS poster boy Sir Rod Stewart's decades of as tax exile shouldn't be forgotten: David Behrens
I’m not saying he’s wrong; just that his actions seem disingenuous from someone who spent the best part of 40 years as a tax exile, avoiding the burden of helping to pay for the health service in the first place.
He left Britain in 1975 at a time when Denis Healey was taxing the rich at the rate of 83p in the pound. So did many other musicians, actors and business people. So would I in their position.
Rod and his family remained in Los Angeles until just nine years ago, when he decided he wanted them to be more British.
Well, he got his wish, didn’t he? What could be more British than standing in line for treatment that people in other countries have on tap?
It was two months ago, after having an MRI scan himself, that he turned up at a mobile unit outside his local hospital and paid for everyone there. He offered to do the same elsewhere but complained that trying to get a response from the NHS was “like banging your head against a brick wall”. Welcome to Britain, Rod – just wait till you try to see a dentist.
He had obviously not realised that certain aspects of national life have deteriorated since the days when he wielded his microphone stand on Top of The Pops.
But no-one else will have been surprised by the revelation this week that fewer than half the nation’s children had their teeth checked last year or that one in four adults are going without NHS dental treatment because it’s too expensive. Parts of Britain had become dental deserts, said the Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey; people were resorting to DIY dentistry to remove their teeth rather than get them filled.
Rod should turn his hand to that, too. A swift whack with the thick end of that mic stand would be enough to take anyone’s choppers out.
In fairness, he is not alone in being caught on the hop by the social changes that have swept the country since the Seventies, and not just in healthcare.
Only this Monday, we learned of a trend amongst workers to take their firms to employment tribunals if they’ve been offended by their colleagues’ banter. Scores of hearings had taken place in the last year involving comments intended as good natured joshing but which caused hurt feelings, said a firm of lawyers who suggested we all be told to mind our Ps and Qs or, better still, shut up.
This is a worrying trend. Most reasonable people, if taken aside and told they’d upset the shy bloke in accounts, would take the hint and tone down their language. Hiring a lawyer seems extreme, unless you’re trying to make a wider point.
That, of course, is exactly what Dominic Raab believes happened to him. He was the scapegoat of “activist civil servants”, he claimed, apparently oblivious to the oxymoron.
He lost his job as Deputy Prime Minister on the basis of just two upheld complaints about his combative behaviour, spanning four years. Combative in this case meant expecting staff to raise their game and calling them out if they didn’t.
Was he tactless? Or were his subordinates, in the current vernacular, snowflakes: people with an unwarranted sense of entitlement, too easily offended and unable to deal with opposing opinions? Probably both.
But any sense of schadenfreude his accusers may have felt when they read his resignation letter will have been tempered by the realisation that they had written their professional death warrant.
For no sooner had Raab left the building than the government let it be known it was considering allowing ministers to choose their own staff in future, including some with overt political affiliations. “We need to be more robust and less mealy mouthed,” said the Conservative peer Francis Maude, who will make recommendations shortly to the PM.
Critics will say that politicising the civil service in this way is dangerous; that the old system of checks and balances will be upended in the pursuit of radical new ideas. And after an autumn of Liz Truss, no-one wants to see that.
But neither can we indulge lethargic officials who can’t cope with being told that their work isn’t up to scratch.
What we need in public life is proactivity – the resolve to get things done by doing them differently if necessary. And right now, the only person in Britain who seems to be embracing the idea is Rod Stewart. Denis Healey never reckoned on that.