Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Theory: Yvette Cooper is stuck in a stable time loop

The chair of the Commons home affairs select committee believes that we haven't been talking about immigration enough. 

I’m worried about Yvette Cooper. Is she stuck in a stable time loop? Is she desperately trying to escape it, banging on the walls of a bubble in the Web of Time, frantically trying to get a message to the outside world to send help, and quickly?

Or maybe she’s suffering from anteretrograde amnesia, unable to form new memories.

I just ask because Cooper is in the news today calling for “a debate” on immigration, saying that “there just wasn’t much debate about it; it was one of those things that people just thought was a bit too difficult to talk about”.

Really? She seems to be talking about the accession of ten countries to the European Union, most of them from Eastern Europe, and bringing with them a boom in migration into Britain. Except that cannot possibly be right, because I distinctly recall Tony Blair giving a speech about immigration, rather a long one, in Dover in 2005. That’s right; perhaps worrying that the speech wouldn’t be sufficiently on the nose in its own right, they did it quite literally by the white cliffs of Dover.

Still, Tony Blair hasn’t been leader of the Labour Party for a decade now. Perhaps she means under his successor, Gordon Brown. But wait, that cannot be right either, because in his first speech to Labour party conference as leader he promised “British jobs for British workers” and when he kicked off his re-election campaign he did so with a speech about, you guessed it, immigration.

Maybe she means after that? Well, Andy Burnham made talking about immigration a central plank of his campaign for the Labour leadership, not once but twice. Still, he didn’t win, and perhaps Ed Miliband didn’t ever talk about immigration, apart from when he engraved the promise to have “controls” on immigration on an eight-foot stone and brought a nifty series of mugs on that same theme.

If he really did sit mute for five years as leader, that seems a pretty damning verdict on him, and particularly his shadow home secretary. I can’t remember who that was. I think it rhymed with “Trooper”.

Then of course, Andy Burnham ran for the leadership again and once again immigration was a central theme: he had a whole spiel about some guy he met who had no friends at work because everyone else spoke Polish. That was in 2015. I seem to recall that Yvette Cooper ran for the Labour leadership, and went so far as to talk about immigration, suggesting that Labour had been too “squeamish” to discuss the issue.

At least I think that’s what happened. I’m finding it hard to tell with these Labour leadership campaigns. They blur into a fungible mess: basically, Twitter gets very angry and then Jeremy Corbyn wins.

And if I’m not mistaken, literally days before a referendum on our continuing membership of the European Union, about half of the Labour Party was suddenly seized by a desire to talk about the need to “reform” free movement. As doing this was probably the least helpful intervention imaginable, I find it hard to believe that politicians in general, and Labour politicians in particular, have a problem with talking about immigration.

It seems to me that Britain’s problem is not a deficit of debates about immigration, but a surplus. It feels as if, actually, we’re pretty clear what people think about immigration. About a quarter of the country thinks that immigration is a good thing and three-quarters are varying degrees of hostile to it.

I really don’t think what we need from our politicians is another “debate” about immigration. What we need is a policy that isn’t inhumane towards people seeking to come here, that sustains our economic model, keeps our universities world-leading, and can achieve public support.

My suspicion is that Cooper knows this too, but because she doesn’t know what that system would look like, she’s just going to the use the word “debate” again.

Unless she really is stuck in a time loop.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

PHOTO: GETTY
Show Hide image

Like many others, Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba was left in charge of a failing aircraft

Ony when enough hospitals shut down, and do so often, will those with true responsibility properly resource the NHS. 

The day Leicester trainee paediatrician Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba was struck off by the High Court for her involvement in the death of six-year-old Jack Adcock, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt posted a tweet expressing his deep concern about possible unintended consequences of the ruling. He was referring specifically to the impact on patient safety.

At a stroke, efforts to build a culture of open learning – a cause Hunt champions – had been set back decades. You don’t get people to talk honestly about critical mistakes by threatening them with prison and professional ruin.

There may be other consequences that Hunt didn’t anticipate. Comparisons with another safety-critical industry – aviation – are instructive. On the day Jack died, from undiagnosed sepsis, Bawa-Garba was functioning as would a first officer on an aircraft. The plane’s captain was elsewhere, training other pilots on a simulator in a different city. The chief steward had failed to report for duty, so Bawa-Garba was expected to oversee cabin service as well as fly the plane single-handed.

The aircraft’s IT systems had gone down, meaning one of the stewardesses was permanently occupied looking out of the window to ensure they didn’t collide with anything. Another stewardess was off sick, and her replacement was unfamiliar with the type of plane and its safety systems. And Bawa-Garba herself had just returned from a year’s maternity leave. She’d done quite a lot of flying in the past, though, and the airline clearly believed she could slot straight back into action – they arranged no return-to-work programme, dropping her in at the deep end.

Not one of us would agree to be a passenger on that flight, yet that kind of scenario is commonplace in hospitals throughout the country. Critically ill patients have no awareness of how precarious their care is, and would have no choice about it if they knew. Since the Bawa-Garba ruling, doctors have been bombarding the General Medical Council (GMC) for advice as to what they should do when confronted with similarly parlous working conditions.

The GMC’s response has been to issue a flowchart detailing whom medics should tell about concerns. But it has failed to confirm that doing so would protect doctors should a disaster occur. Nor does it support worried doctors simply refusing to work under unsafe conditions. This is akin to telling the first officer they must inform the airline that things are bad, very bad, but that they still have to fly the plane regardless.

Jeremy Hunt has responded to the crisis by announcing an urgent review into gross negligence manslaughter, the offence of which Bawa-Garba was convicted. This is welcome, and long overdue, but it still serves to retain the focus on individuals and their performance, and keeps attention away from the failing systems that let down doctors and patients daily.

An action by the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin is, arguably, more important than Hunt’s review. The organisation has written to Leicestershire police requesting that they investigate Bawa-Garba’s hospital trust for alleged corporate manslaughter. I sincerely hope a prosecution follows. I’m no fan of litigation, but change is only going to come when those who manage the NHS know that they are going to carry the can when things go wrong.

We need clear statements of what constitute minimum acceptable staffing levels, both in terms of numbers, and training and experience. When departments, or even whole hospitals, fall below these – or when unexpected problems such as IT failures occur – managers, faced with the real prospect of corporate lawsuits, will close the unit, rather than keep operating in unsafe conditions, as routinely occurs.

Only when enough hospitals shut down, and do so often, will those with true responsibility – Jeremy Hunt and the rest of the Conservative government – finally act to resource the health service properly. 

This would be an unintended consequence from the Dr Bawa-Garba case that would be welcome indeed. 

This article first appeared in the 15 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The polite extremist