Cancelling the NHS charge to migrant workers may be one U-turn, but it’s also a clear sign of systemic incompetence

Posted on

The Johnson government has suffered its first, and quite humiliating, U-turn. As has been widely reported, despite Johnson's staunch defence on Wednesday of the charge made to migrant NHS workers to use the facilities which they have come here to help provide, yesterday the government had to backdown on this issue and cancel the charge.

This matter is, for a number of reasons. Firstly, and very obviously, it matters to those who have been affected, many of whom are on low pay and for whom this was a massive additional tax charge. That was grossly unjust, and I am delighted that it has been reversed for their sake.

Second, this matters because it makes it clear that there are now many others who are also making this deeply unfair tax payment, quite inappropriately and despite the immensely valuable contribution they are also making to the UK economy, as a result of which they are already paying the same taxes as everyone else. The gross and deliberate injustice that the government is creating as a consequence is even more apparent when one part of the charge has had to be cancelled. The demand for change will not go away, and as awareness of the injustice grows, the inequity of the situation will become even more apparent.

Third, this government promotes casual, but entirely deliberate racism. I have no doubt that it does this because it thinks that it is popular. There are, however, always points where the reality of injustice becomes clear. This charge is a case in point: there is an injustice, and some Conservative MPs could not face it with good conscience. They were pivotal to this process of change. I hope that this will not be the last occasion on which they suffer such doubt: there will be many others when the failure to live up to that most basic of moral instructions, that others should be treated as you would wish to be treated yourself, will require them to speak out.

Fourth, it is very apparent that the government misjudged the mood on this issue, at least within Westminster, but very likely in the country at large. The paradox of the Prime Minister imposing an additional tax charge on those whom he had personally praised for seeking to save his life has not gone unnoticed. Given that the whole, supposed, appeal of Johnson was his ability to communicate, matched by a supposed Kennedy or Clinton like ability to read the public mood, the failure to do so in this case is significant. If there ever was a Midas touch, it appears to have been lost. With this government only a few months old, and in deep crisis, not least because of the very obvious incompetence of so many of those in the Cabinet, this is profoundly worrying for the country, whatever your political persuasion. We urgently need competent government, and we very clearly have not got it.

In its place we have a Prime Minister who appears intent on hiding from public view.

And we have a blunt refusal to face reality, not least over the potentially catastrophic consequences of refusing to extend the Brexit transition.

Whilst it is not just those who have come to help the NHS who face economic stress: maybe one in four people in this country will be unemployed soon, with many others facing reduced income.

When competent government is one of the touchstones for confidence in such situations we lack it, and once more, whatever your political persuasion, that matters. If, as seems to be the case, we have a government that is almost clueless as to how to act when the right thing to do is readily apparent how can they be trusted to make the right judgement when facing issues as complex as those now being addressed? I suspect that faith in their ability will continue to fall.

This government will have to make a great many more U-turns before it falls, as I now think that it will inevitably do.