I don’t know how many of you use Twitter – well, I know the editor does, because I ‘follow’ him, slavishly – but I have a look at what’s going on every day.
If you follow people who talk about stuff that interests you, it’s a good way to hear new ideas and contribute (albeit very briefly) to debate. You soon discover that many people you thought were interesting – Stephen Fry, for one – really aren’t, but it’s an easy matter to unfollow them.
Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I saw a tweet asking why The Times was so persistently opposed to the junior doctors in their dispute over the imposed contract. I replied that it might have something to do with the fact the paper’s chief leader writer was a drinking buddy of George Osborne and David Cameron.
It’s a measure of the vast network underlying Twitter that I received an indignant reply from Danny Finkelstein, the Times journalist in question. He pointed out that he hadn’t been the chief leader writer for three years. So I replied that I considered my wrist slapped but that my point remained valid, which prompted a further, not unreasonable, complaint from Mr F that he found it annoying when people accepted that they were factually wrong, but refused to retract their comment.
I had to explain that I didn’t retract it because my point was that close relationships with senior government members sat uneasily with editorial impartiality, and that the fact that he is now Associate Editor and weekly political columnist of that newspaper, rather than its chief leader writer, didn’t change anything.
Anyway, before all of this, I had become so hacked-off with the increasing difficulty of distinguishing between The Times and the government’s House Journal, that I had cancelled my subscription, after thirty-plus years of faithful readership.
I switched to The Independent, which promptly ceased producing its paper version, with the consequence that I now find myself reinvented as a Guardian Reader, an expression I had only ever used in the past as a term of mild abuse. Luckily, I already have most of the kit, including a sports jacket with patches on the elbows and a pair of sandals, although I draw the line at wearing the latter with black socks.
And you know what? It’s a really good read. I was worried that they might think Jeremy Corbyn was the country’s saviour, but they don’t. And there’s so much in it, that even after I’ve avoided the columns by journos who I know will induce frothing at the mouth, there’s still too much to get through every day. And the sports coverage is great; it actually recognises the existence of rugby league – probably because of the paper’s Manchester heritage.
But then, I suppose all you pinko medics already knew this, and I’ve forgotten why I bothered to tell you, unless it was to surmise that The Times is probably as gung-ho for the government’s education reforms as it was for Jeremy H’s attempt to crush the junior doctors en route to privatising health care. Because it strikes me that the two issues are just different manifestations of the Tories’ obsession with getting as many public services as possible into private hands – the proposed Academies with their executive boards offer no guarantee of improved educational standards, but they do remove schools from any accountability to the local population, via their local authorities. Then there’s Nicky Morgan’s apparent contempt for the role of parent governors.
Like many doctors of my acquaintance my politics has always been a weird blend of wet liberal and Attila the Hun, but here I am reading the Guardian and sympathising with the NUT. I thought I was too old to change, but it’s quite refreshing in a way. And it’s very rewarding to surprise and horrify your children at the age of 67; they were distraught when they came to visit and found the newspaper on the kitchen table – I suspect they thought I’d had a stroke, or was starting to dement.
It’s just a pity that it took the dismantling of our public services to achieve this renaissance.