Thatcherism taught us to distinguish cost from value - Veterinary Practice
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Thatcherism taught us to distinguish cost from value

PERISCOPE continues the series of reflections on issues of current concern

THE death of Lady Thatcher has reawakened old hurts and grudges and has demonstrated the rather ugly side of human nature.

Street parties celebrating the death of a politician are fairly standard fayre on our TV screens but they are usually in some far-flung part of the world that has been subjected to a dynastic dictatorship for several decades.

When they are happening in London and Glasgow and the politician in question has been out of power for more than 20 years, they are a little harder to understand. Especially when some of those demonstrating were not even born when the then Mrs T was ousted from power.

What is especially unpleasant about the present “celebrations” is that the motivation for most can be nothing more than revenge or the desire to gloat. Whereas the aforementioned death of a dictator can be legitimately welcomed by the people in the hope that unimagined freedoms may now come to pass, Lady Thatcher’s death changes nothing.

Those cheering her death were equally free to stand up in Trafalgar square (or on You Tube) at any time during her life and vociferously and peacefully denounce her policies and poke fun at her. To do so now smacks of cowardice and a misunderstanding of the democratic process.

It is often written that one either loved or hated the Iron Lady but this is surely an oversimplification. I for one fall into neither camp, being able to admire her (and applaud her) for some of her actions, yet recognise that many of our current problems are almost certainly the result of the behaviour changing greed that many other of her policies encouraged and celebrated.

Conviction politician

And although I am perhaps being naïve, I do still believe that she was one of the last conviction politicians who lived by a certain set of principles and who was prepared to fight for those principles even if it made her unpopular.

I cannot imagine her claiming expenses for second homes that she was “renting” from family members or allowing Denis to claim for hiring his Saturday night “porn” films. In fact, I can’t imagine Denis watching porn films on a Saturday night but, I repeat, I may just be being naïve.

The reason I have chosen to write about Lady Thatcher is that coincidentally she came to power the year that I graduated as a veterinary surgeon. So my whole career and I suppose by extrapolation my whole adult life has been shaped by her policies and the legacy that she left.

I was in practice on Tyneside during the miners’ strike and I saw at first hand the hardship that she caused to those who opposed her policy of pit closures. I saw people in mining families struggling to pay their rent and their vet bills.

I also remember some fairly heated political arguments with one nurse in particular who I would have described then as a “hard working Northerner” whose family had no doubt been Labour supporters since the party was formed. In those days I was most definitely a Tory and fed up with the power of the unions and Mrs T seemed to have the strength and the resolve to deal with them.

Floating voter

I have been a floating voter ever since and have put my cross against the names of all of the mainstream parties (and The Greens) at various times over the years.

The profession has changed a lot since those days in the early eighties. The rise of the corporate veterinary companies was not even a twinkle in anyone’s eye and 24-hour emergency clinics were the sort of service I had seen in the USA but were still a far off dream to those of us struggling to meet our RCVS obligations and maintain a life outside work.

Many of these changes have been for the better of the veterinary surgeon’s health and sanity but one could argue not necessarily for the client and the animals involved.

But although there are down-sides to these changes, I still cannot help but be amazed about how caring the profession still is, both vets and vet nurses, when it comes to going that extra mile in order to help sick animals get better and to accommodate the very real hardships that some clients experience in paying their veterinary practice.

Sure there are exceptions to this, which frequently grab the limelight, but there is a whole host of anecdotal evidence that those involved genuinely care about their patients and clients, and go out of their way to give the best care that they can. The veterinary profession seems to have been able to escape the less virtuous traits of “Thatcherism”.

One of the main gripes of Lady Thatcher’s detractors is that she destroyed communities and destroyed the idea of Society whereby communities helped and supported the individuals that were contained within.

In my younger years I think I too succumbed to Lady Thatcher’s way of thinking; that most things could be measured in terms of monetary value and that anything else was froth.

More relevant

Fortunately, such thinking didn’t last for too long and I could see the value in “old-fashioned” values of stewardship and philanthropy which are perhaps even more relevant today than ever before since we now have the ability and technology to pillage and lay waste to the whole world if we so desire.

Hearing some of the interviews since her death, it appears that Lady Thatcher was herself somewhat surprised with how things turned out, apparently believing that the more money individuals were able to accumulate, the more philanthropic they would become.

With notable exceptions she clearly got this wrong and the pursuit of money above all else is almost certainly the root cause of the banking crisis and the financial mess that the world currently finds itself in.

I am satisfied that up until now the veterinary profession has been able to avoid some of the worst excesses exhibited by other professions but there is certainly no room for complacency.

As a profession and/or as individuals we should have views on all manner of things from intensive livestock farming to conservation and the trade in wildlife products. We should look on the experiment that was Thatcherism as something that worked in parts but which also taught us about the need to distinguish between the cost and the true value or worth of something.

Caring for animals, people and ultimately the planet cannot simply be boiled down to the figure staring out at us from the “bottom line”.

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