Newspaper editors make their own judgments over what they report and how they report it: with this I have no problem, and nor should anyone else. But the manner in which the wolfpack mentality is whipping up hysteria and hatred against foreigners has reached disturbing levels, culminating today in a coordinated assault on migrants for having the effrontery to use the NHS.
As so often, the main thrust of the attack has come under the forces commanded by the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, with a shrieking front page exclaiming “Health Tourism – The True Cost”. Now, while seasoned Mail watchers will know that any proclamation of “Truth”, “True”, or “Proof” tends to mean nothing of the sort, this is the sort of dog-whistle copy that sways the more susceptible.
This line was followed up by both the Maily Telegraph, with “Foreign patients ‘cost £2bn a year’” (note cautionary use of quotation marks), and the Express, with the rather cruder “SCANDAL Foreigners cost OUR NHS £2bn a year”. Note also that the NHS can go from being subjected to the most vitriolic attack to being “ours” when there are “migrants” involved.
So what facts can be gleaned? As the Mail admits – though far enough into the story for most readers to have made their minds up already – “The Government admits that today’s twin reports on the scale of the problem are, by definition, based on incomplete information and a series of assumptions and must be treated with some caution”. But what we do know is that the £2 billion figure is not just tourism.
The actual “health tourism” cost, and, again, this is subject to the same incomplete information and assumptions, is £70 million. The £2 billion figure is achieved by including all non-UK nationals who are entitled to NHS treatment, and here we are back with the loaded word of the moment, migrants. Many of those included will be EU nationals, and of course this applies both ways.
Many UK nationals use the health care facilities in other EU member states, especially Spain and France. For some reason, the press and its cheerleaders on the fringe of the Tory Party has no problem with this. Typical of the Tories all too willing to wade into the debate in order to gain personal advantage for Themselves Personally Now are Stewart Jackson and Douglas Carswell.
Hacks and editors will protest that they are only responding to their readers’ concerns, but there is something deeply troubling about their attempt to bring out the worst in others. While they, along with the likes of Carswell and Jackson, slowly drown in a sea of their own paranoid xenophobia, it is to be hoped that they do not drag too many others down with them.
In any case, the tactic will ultimately be unsuccessful. Britons are better than this.