HIV is for life, not just World Aids Day

An HIV and health activist explains why he won't be wearing a red ribbon today.

It's that time of year again. In the past week I've been asked to flash my red pants for Aids awareness (I don't wear any); buy a fundraising red ribbon cupcake (I bake my own); and take part in a world-record-breaking HIV testing event in Soho (I had a test last month).

I'll put bets on who will have the glitziest red ribbon brooch on X Factor on Saturday (Gary); I'll guarantee (once again) that every well-meaning HIV exhibition where I work and study won't show images of gay men (apart from the stock holding-hands-taken-from-behind photo); and it'll be a sure-fire thing that a celebratory C-lister (probably white; probably straight; probably a woman) with a new single to sell will be the voice of HIV -- but just for today...

Please excuse my cynicism: it's World Aids Day again.

Despite the good news stories -- and, for once in the 30-year history of HIV, there are many -- once the red ribbons are packed away for another year (and there will be many more years), it will be business as usual. Business as usual for the millions of people throughout the world without access to HIV treatments; business as usual for the millions of people with no access to ways of preventing HIV or being tested for it; business as usual for the people with HIV, or at risk of acquiring it, who will continue to face stigma and discrimination; and business as usual for the millions of activists, educators, health workers and policy-makers around the world -- many of whom are living with HIV themselves -- for whom every day is "world Aids day".

Behind the fundraising events, the cake bake-offs and the world-record attempts lies the reality of many people with HIV or at risk of it. Despite the astonishing break-through in "new science" in the past two years, international funding for HIV treatment and prevention looks set to plummet as the Global Fund cuts funding for life-saving HIV treatment across Africa.

In the UK, new research from Sigma Research shows that Africans living with HIV face isolation and rely heavily on professional support services: the very health and social-care services that are at the forefront of cutbacks and budget constraints.

And data released this week from the Health Protection Agency shows that HIV diagnoses in gay and bisexual men in the UK are at the highest levels ever. Although some of the increase can be ascribed to recent drives to promote HIV testing (another of those good news stories), these data follow several years of cuts in local NHS funding to HIV prevention programmes for gay men. Last year the pan-London HIV prevention programme for gay men saw cuts of 20 per cent.

So, once again this year I won't be wearing a red ribbon (and I acknowledge that for many other they serve as a symbol of remembrance), flashing my undies nor marking World Aids Day. Instead, I'll be joining the millions of others around the world who research, lobby, campaign and educate around HIV. It'll be a day like any other day: business as usual.

Will Nutland is a doctoral student researching the acceptability of pre-exposure HIV prophylaxis among gay men in London. He used to be head of health promotion at Terrence Higgins Trust

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Why Philip Green's fall should bring down the honours system – but won't

Sir Shifty may fall in disgrace, but our ridiculous system will endure. No matter what's happening in the rest of politics.

Sir Philip Green’s Efficiency Review (2010) is his Das Kapital and it is still, happily, online. You can, if you wish, smirk at his recommendations to the government, which were solicited by David Cameron, I imagine, because when he stood next to Green he looked not like a 17th-century woodcut but like a tall, handsome semi-aristocrat.

“There is no motivation to save money or to treat cash ‘as your own’,” Green grumbles, before complaining, “There are inconsistent commercial skills across departments.” I am weeping with laughter at the whole report. But I’m not one of those BHS employees watching their pension ­vanish as the hideous cushions, throws and bedspreads pile up on the Green family yacht Lionheart. I instantly rename the yacht 14-Day Return Policy No More.

The days when Green could write efficiency reviews for people to ignore are gone. It is said that he could lose his knighthood, because that would be exciting and pointless. If so, I hope the ceremony features the formal rending of a garment from the BHS sale bin – perhaps a torn sock will be flung at his head? The Queen will not be happy, because de-knighting makes the ancient system of patronage look as ridiculous as it really is. Do intercessors between man and God make mistakes? Would they raise a man the Daily Mail now calls “Sir Shifty”? (I checked whether there was a Sir Shifty among the knights of the Round Table who flogged the Holy Grail to a passing tinker. There was not.)

Lord Melbourne advised Queen Victoria not to attempt to make her husband, Albert, a king, for if the people knew that they could make kings, they might unmake them. Green will discover this in his tiny way. But the elites should not hide their baubles. One fallen knight will not destroy the system (and I cannot think that Green will take £571m from his Lionheart cushion budget to save his knighthood by replenishing the BHS pension fund, because a knighthood is, in essence, just a tiny Bentley Continental that you wear over your nipple). One fallen knight should destroy the system but it won’t, because human conceit and docility are without end. Green will be shunned. Nothing will change.

One might have hoped that the Brexit vote would have alerted Cameron to the abyss between the electorate and the elected. (Even Alastair Campbell, chomping against Brexit, seemed to forget that he was as complicit in the alienation of voters as anyone else: government by sofa, teeth and war.) The response was glib, even for Cameron, a man so glib that I sometimes think he is a reflection in a pond. Brexit hit him like someone caught in a mild shower without an umbrella. He hummed at the lesson that history dealt him; he hummed as he left his page. It was the hum of the alpha Etonian caught out in a mistake, yes, but it was still a bloody hum.

His next act was to increase pay-offs to favoured courtiers against civil service advice and at public expense; then, it was reported, he nominated his spin doctor Craig Oliver and his former spin doctor Gabby Bertin for peerages, because the upper house needs more PRs. He has learned nothing. I wish him a relaxed retirement in which he will, apparently, write his four-page memoir, David Cameron: My Struggle (sub-subtitle: Eton Mess?). I hope he does not attempt to deny “the prosciutto affair”, because there is no need. It was not true. It was too pure a metaphor.

So the honours system, an essential part of our alienating politics, alongside dodgy donors, duck houses and George Galloway, endures in its worst form as conventional politics fails. It is a donkey sanctuary for political friends and Bruce Forsyth. I am not suggesting that everyone who has been honoured is dreadful – some lollipop ladies deserve to be patronised with an OBE (when there is no E any more), I am sure, and the lords, some of whom are excellent, are the functional opposition now – but the system can no longer be defended by the mirth potential of watching politicians ponder what light-entertainment celebrities might swing a marginal before being posthumously accused of rape. We must find something better before the house burns down. Perhaps a robust parliamentary democracy?

The problem is best expressed by the existence of a specialist consultancy called Awards Intelligence, which engages in “VIP brand-building” by soliciting awards. It sells “awards plans” from £795, which I could well imagine Philip Green perusing as he bobs about aboard Lionheart, were it not too late. The Awards Intelligence website tells us so much, though obliviously, about the narcissism of modern politics that I am tempted to reproduce it in full. But I will merely report that it asks:

"Did you know that you can join the House of Lords on a part-time basis as an Independent Crossbench Peer or a political peer affiliated to one of the main politial parties – even if you have ongoing work, family or community commitments!"

The message from Awards Intelligence, which boasts of a 50 per cent success rate, is clear: the legislature is part-time, it exists to “instil trust, add credibility and provide a platform for you to have your say” – and it can’t always spell “political”.

Sir Shifty and Awards Intelligence do not constitute the worst crisis in the history of honours, dreadful though they are. During the First World War the royal German cousins were stripped of their garters, so that British soldiers would not have to kill men of higher rank. But it is time for the Queen to stop pinning toys on nipples. They are part of a political system sweeping us, swiftly, towards the night.

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue