Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Rambling thoughts about company loyalty, the NHS, governments and politics...

Today's blog may well end up as a bit of a window on my mind. I suspect that is not a good idea and may disturb. You have been warned. Something that fascinates me is how trains of thought form and develop. It happened to me, just yesterday. On a bus.

So, sat on a bus yesterday morning, unsurprisingly various people were getting on it. I think that's normal. One of this morning's passengers got on without clearly showing her ticket (weekly bus pass or whatever) to the driver. Whether this was her fault or whether the driver wasn't paying full attention (long line of passengers) I'm not really sure, but he was quite diligent and got up from his seat and called the lady back to check her ticket and ensure she was entitled to ride said bus. Someone made a comment about the driver being very diligent. And that really got me thinking.

I have done various part-time jobs for various corporations and I have always tried to do my job properly but I've often found a general apathy about my employer as an entity. Not deliberately and not consciously but definitely real. Let me explain. When I worked for a major supermarket, I remember people who worked on the customer service desk being genuinely annoyed by customers who would try and get refunds that they felt weren't justified. They seemed to feel a certain anger on behalf of the company that someone was trying to take advantage of them. To me, that seemed entirely reasonable and morally right - in essence to make a spurious claim for a refund is theft. But I found that I didn't really care. I couldn't bring myself to care. The actual loss to the company was small and the small saving that you could make by deterring and preventing spurious refund claims would be so much smaller than the loss you would make by losing the good-will of customers with genuine claims. However, even so, I just can't bring myself to really care if the company was losing out in this way. Partly that's because it was only ever a part-time job and I think that changes one's perspective but also because the company was and is extremely profitable and simply making money doesn't really matter to me.

I do not think that making a profit is in any way immoral and companies have to make a profit in order to exist in the first place and the economy has to work in order for it to work. However it's just not inspiring to me.

These days, of course I work for the NHS. That changes how I feel quite strongly. I really does bother me if people take advantage of my current employer and 'play the system as it were.' On one level, I simply work for the government, the NHS is a state organisation but on another the NHS is entirely different and so much more.

I don't think there's any doubt that the NHS is a unique institution with a very special place in the public's mind. This isn't all good. The NHS is also a national joke in some ways - the health service is often jokingly referred to as doing things on the cheap. In the Western world we are increasingly cynical about our governments and I suspect this is where the cynicism about the NHS comes from. The fact the the only positive comments tend to be from politicians about what they have done or will do is probably the reason for this. That and the media obsession with pulling down the NHS. I wrote to a national newspaper recently, challenging them to publish only positive stories for a month. They didn't rise to the challenge. Given that over 95% of patients are happy with the care they receive and given how much the NHS does it would not be difficult but because the media don't do this there is a subtle but very real and pernicious bias in the reporting we see. Good news remains no news.

My final destination on this thought pathway was how spoilt we are in the western world to be able to be cynical about governments.

I am not for one second, suggesting that everything the government does is good. I am not for one moment proposing that governments are infallible or that we should be uncritical. What I am saying is that Cynicism is equally simple-minded and deluded as naive optimism.

A very famous and entertaining celebrity in the UK who is known to be out-spoken made the comment the other day that the UK is a third-world country. Now, I know he was saying this for effect but it still really annoyed me. It is so blind to the realities of our world. Britain is a country where there are laws and (in general) they are applied to all fairly. Britain has a massive infrastructure, roads, railways etc. Britain has free education, universal healthcare and a welfare safety-net that means no-one need starve. None of these things are a given; they don't exist in all countries and they have not always existing in this country. They came about by many processes but including governments making the right decisions - such as the introduction of the welfare state after the second world war. My grandmother was born before the NHS and before the welfare state. Governments serve us. How well they serve us is the key question but the cynicism that says they don't serve us at all is breathtakingly arrogant and denies the privileges we have that so much of humanity don't enjoy.

The end-point of such cynicism is the failure of democracy because then people stop bothering to vote and governments loose their accountability. Now, when it comes to democracy, I'm with Churchill Democracy is the worst form of government... ...except for every other form of government. People think that democracy works because people get what they want. This is not true. Our elected representatives serve us best by representing us not necessarily by doing what we want. The genius of democracy is that governments are accountable. It is accountability that makes democracy work. In a messy and complicated way, sure but ultimately work.

I guess for my poor readers, it is lucky that it was only a 10 minute bus ride - wow that was a lot of rambling...

AFZ

1 comment:

muldoon said...

I agree. People shouldn't just trust government to do the right thing without any scrutiny but cynicism has gone so far (more so in the US than here) that it's difficult to get anyone to acknowledge what good things are done in our name.

Mistakes are made in the NHS but overall it does a huge amount of good on barely adequate funding in the face of criticism completely out of proportion with its shortcomings. Of course, the criticism is mostly from papers with space to fill and the NHS can't fight back, so it's an easy target.