Nurses, cricket and anti-Semitism

We should value nurses' distinctive qualities, not force them to take degrees

One of the great diseases of the modern era - somebody once called it the "diploma disease" - is to require ever higher qualifications for what used to be straightforward jobs. Librarians once needed only a love of books, accountants a head for figures, and journalists, as the late Nicholas Tomalin put it, "rat-like cunning, a plausible manner, and a little literary ability". Now, they all (in practice, if not formally) need degrees. By 2013, if the health minister Ann Keen has her way, nurses will join the list.

My concern is that, in order for nursing to be accepted as a degree-level discipline, the essentials of the job will be submerged in spurious academic theory. Medicine has two sides to it: the "bedside manner", which involves reassuring, cosseting and encouraging patients, and the technological side of drugs, surgery, kidney machines and so on.

Before the 20th century, the first was medicine's only useful function; nearly all the "treatment" doctors gave made patients worse, not better. Now doctors focus successfully on the technological side but most of us still value the "caring" functions of nursing. Indeed, while doctors are regarded with growing suspicion, nurses retain high levels of public esteem and trust. We should value their distinctive qualities, not turn them into people who have the same skill set as doctors but at a lower level.

I often wonder what would happen to the driving test if academics ever got their hands on it. The history of the motor car, the physics of the internal combustion engine, the chemistry of petrol, the psychology of pedestrian movement - all these and much else would be deemed essential for safe and competent driving and add up to a three-year degree course. At least the roads would be less congested. I cannot think of comparable benefits for nursing.

Sky's the limit

I dislike finding myself on the same side as Rupert Murdoch, but I am uneasy about the proposal that cricket's Ashes matches between England and Australia should be free-to-air, instead of being shown, as they are now, exclusively on Sky. The Ashes are the only cricket matches that command wide public interest and, if he didn't get them, Murdoch would pay little, if anything, for other cricket. What
worries me is not the loss of funds for the “development" of young cricketers - English sportsmen are now "developed" more than any previous generation, and little good it does them - but the possibility that Murdoch will imitate another media magnate (and his fellow Australian), the late Kerry Packer. Denied TV rights to cricket in the 1970s, Packer bought up all the top players and put on his own matches. Cricket was thrown into worldwide turmoil. Murdoch is rich enough - and may be spiteful enough - to do the same.

Never mind the bullock

My heart sank when I saw John Humphrys in the chair for BBC1's Question Time after David Dimbleby lost his argument with a bullock. Humphrys's confrontational style may suit the Today programme (though I have myself stopped listening since I started to find his contrived indignation too strong for my increasingly delicate morning constitution), but it certainly won't do for Question Time. The silken Dimbleby is the more effective ringmaster for a panel of over-stimulated egos and an audience jostling to get their five seconds of on-screen glory. As the BBC's default commentator on royal and state occasions, he exudes gravitas and authority. Most panellists and audience members, I suspect, treat him with deference because, subconsciously, they think he's royalty. Humphrys, by contrast, is more like a pub landlord who, when a brawl breaks out, eagerly joins in.

T for trouble

I am a victim! I am among the several thousand T-Mobile customers whose personal details - name, address, mobile number and date of contract renewal - were stolen and sold to rival providers. Now I know why I received mildly annoying cold calls offering "excellent rates" if
I switched my contract. The Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, is in a rage, demanding jail sentences for those responsible instead of the "paltry fines" now available.

While grateful for his concern, I find myself lacking a sense of grievance. I hope Mr Graham keeps an eye on anybody selling details of my bank accounts, credit cards or phone calls, but I am not sure why he is so excited about a list of names and numbers that merely allowed one bunch of capitalists to try stealing a march on another. Once, people aspired to heroism; now everybody craves victimhood. I am clearly as deficient in the qualities required for the latter as I was for the former.

The Israel lobby

The journalist Peter Oborne is a brave man. The inevitable accusations of anti-Semitism are already flying around after his Channel 4 programme on Britain's pro-Israel lobby. Given 20th-century history, anti-Semitism is just about the most damaging epithet that can be used against anybody, far more so than Islamophobia, and Israel's defenders rarely hesitate to use it, even against critics who are Jewish.

But one point is usually ignored. Anti-Semites may actually support the state of Israel, on the grounds that it keeps lots of Jews away from everybody else and if strengthened could attract many more. This position is common in eastern Europe and you can trace it back as far as the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which committed the British government to support a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Its most fervent opponent was Edwin Montagu, the secretary of state for India and an anti-Zionist Jew. He explained his objections in a memorandum entitled "On the Anti-Semitism of the Present Government".

Peter Wilby was editor of the New Statesman from 1998-2005


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Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 23 November 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Green Heroes and Villains