Posted inOpinion

In Sickness and in Wealth

In the 1990s, a callow and fresh-faced Brit lived in New York City, working his way up to becoming the youngest Vice-President of Chase Manhattan Bank, at the bright age of 25. This knack for financial services blossomed into a near-20-year career in the City. Deutsche Bank proved especially auspicious to him: a director in 2000, a managing director in 2004, and in 2005 Global Head of Emerging Markets Structuring. He became a Board member in 2007 after a profitable sojourn in Singapore where he sold CDOs (an activity which was a fulcrum of the 2008 financial crash), meaning that, by 2009, his yearly earnings would have netted him a handsome £3 million.

This millionaire, Sajid Javid, now runs our NHS. Crucially, he now is responsible for the NHS’s financial management; a man who has spent his professional life in the private sector is at the helm of the UK’s largest and most treasured public utility. 

History, Marx thought, repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce. But here it seems that the Marxian formulation is upside down: Hancock was farce, Javid portends tragedy. Hancock was a sitcom Secretary – having affairs, standing uncomfortably close to reporters, singing karaoke and pretending to play football. Javid, on the other hand, is a committed, Ayn Rand-reading Thatcherite who espouses the ‘virtue of selfishness’. I agree with the theologian John Millibank, who said of Javid’s Objectivist affiliations, ‘It is extraordinarily disturbing that any mainstream politician should express any admiration for Ayn Rand.’

Admiration? No: devotion. Javid’s wife threatened divorce if he suspended his practice of reading The Fountainhead aloud to her. (He takes especial interest in the courtroom scene, wherein one man, a narrative metonymy for the importance of the individual, hollers his beliefs, caring not for the clamours of the populace.) Javid’s Randian obsession hearkens to a cultish myopia towards Maggie Thatcher, whom Javid admires for ‘sorting out the country’ after the grey 1970s using her free economy-strong state dialectic. Javid, supposedly libertarian, would do well to recall Thatcher’s love of freedom when she relentlessly suppressed the poll tax demonstrations of 1989. Even on the ‘free economy’ end of the seesaw, Javid astigmatically refuses to examine how free the means of accruing capital actually were. Gordon Brown, in his book Where There’s Greed, has persuasively argued that privatisation – the chief instrument in Mrs Thatcher’s toolbox – is merely synonymous with monopoly, although the former Chancellor was not averse to selling off public services himself. Influences considered, I hesitate to be hopeful about Javid’s occupation of the DHSC.

True to form, Javid, in 2015, was the one to announce that the Government would be suppressing the rights of trade unions by criminalising ‘unlawful’ picketing and allowing business-owners to employ staff whose job was solely to break down strikes. The legislation would also have a third, more tacit, function: to complicate, interrupt, and asphyxiate the provision of union funds to the Labour Party. The opposition party – an immovable feature of a healthy democracy – undermined by a (forgive my facetious waspishness) libertarian? Javid’s freedom-loving credentials must be reconsidered. Waft away the smoke, clean the windows, and press where his ideology takes us. Reductio ad absurdum. See here how unfree the free market can be; be witness to the ways in which Javid’s hypercapitalism can put in the boot heel.  

It seems as though Javid has an unconscious gravitational attraction to working for large banks; he can’t avoid it. After his embarrassingly short Chancellorship (he didn’t deliver a single budget!), he became a humble backbencher, no doubt deluding himself of a Churchillian propinquity. As everyone knows, the backbenches are gutters in which MPs eke out a paltry living of just £81,932 a year … it’s hard even to maintain the sarcasm. But Javid couldn’t handle the pay cut: he took a second job as a senior advisor to the American bank JP Morgan. It’s vogueish for modern politicians to resign and take up remunerative positions at major lobbying firms and international banks (who could forget the David Cameron-Greensill scandal of 2020?), and it betrays the sad state of the Labour Party that Tony Blair, highpriest of centrism, was hired in precisely the same capacity as Javid back in 2008. 

Let us return now to Wall Street, 1992, and Javid’s pseudo-monastic vocation in the private sector. The new, lucre-loving Health Secretary was described by Banker-in-Chief Jorge Jasson as ‘good, off-the-charts good.’ It strikes me that no one remembered to ask him at the time, Good at what? Doubtless Jasson was not touting Javid’s bedside manner, or his inestimable compassion for NHS employees, who see less than virtue in selfishness. 

There are those, speaking anecdotally, who argue that Javid’s experience with JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank produced us, most graciously, with a man who sees the world in numbers; who crafted his own compass when charting choppy financial seas; who can salvage the NHS. To those, I need only belabour that Tory salvage does not preclude selling-off. Javid, I expect, will run the NHS like a business. But it’s not. It is much like a patient under the stethoscope, in need of care and an expert hand – and, yes, in need of cash. Do not, however, just accept corporatisation and privatisation as an inevitable consequence of NHS impoverishment. In the composition of the Commons to the right of the Speaker there is something to note: similitude. Where the Conservatives sit, there is a propertied, moneyed ideological consensus, which is why they refuse to supply the most effective medicine for the NHS’s ills. Like their friends, their clients, their donors, they have the wads but lack the will. 

Illustration by Emily Perkins