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The following is inspired by a true story. Contributor Charles Strachan lifts the lid on a shocking experience he had within an NHS Trust in June last year…
The next section popped up on my laptop screen:
“You are a Ghanaian Midwife, you are carrying out a prenatal visit at a patient’s home. You go into the living room, your patient and her partner are sitting on the sofa. On the coffee table you notice some far-right literature. Are you in danger?
I stare at the screen with my mouth open.
This, dear reader, is one of the questions in the staff training intranet in an NHS Trust I recently worked for. The section was on ‘Prevent’ – being aware of how to spot extremism. I knew what to expect. Half a dozen questions designed to skirt around the ‘I’ word. Euphemisms galore and the vast majority of the questions aimed at hunting out those frightful Nazis and racists of the far right that we all hear so much about.
What I wasn’t expecting was utter idiocy.
I looked across the group of desks at a colleague, raised an eyebrow and shook my head with a grimace. She was on the phone and, looking at me across her screen, she put her free hand over the microphone and mouthed: “Prevent training?” I nodded. She gave me a sympathetic smile and rolled her eyes.
I fiddled with the mouse. A prompt flashed up:
“You seem to be taking some time to answer this question, would you like more time? If you are really finding the answer difficult, then please book onto a Prevent training course using the HR Intranet.”
I clicked “Yes” for more time. And concentrated on the question.
I realised that this was exactly the sort of dilemma that Franz Kafka could have penned. Our hero, faced with a bureaucracy of staggering stupidity, finds himself either damned by his Gods if he betrays logic or destined for a merry-go-round of self-criticism sessions if he stands by his principles. The Emperor’s New Clothes indeed. “Who the hell wrote this question?” I snarled to myself and cursed foully under my breath. Probably some perfect haired 20-something HR manageress with a Degree in Interfering from the University of Lenin, or a pastel shirted male counterpart with a ‘Ross from Friends’ haircut, a chunky fashion watch, orange tan, bad aftershave and a blog where he discusses his guilt as a CIS man, and a name like ‘Darren’ (apologies to every Darren reading this).
Well I knew what they wanted me to say – they wanted me to click ‘Yes”. So that our plucky West African heroine, seeing a copy of Mein Kampf on the coffee table, thinks:“the nice couple sitting on the sofa in woolly jumpers are quite clearly not all they seem and are secretly planning a revival of National Socialism, with all its loathsome trimmings. OK, Poland – Russia – lebensraum doesn’t really work when you’re on an island and your borders are waves and spume but maybe they’re going to recolonise Ghana! They want the old Gold Coast back and they want their lebensraum there – in the tropical jungles! Britons will be leaving their Surrey suburbs and their Midlands mono blocks and leaving their bleak and wet land for my homeland! What’s more, if they’re NAZIS then they are almost certainly RACISTS! And, I’m from Ghana and black! I am obviously in danger and better get the hell out of here.”
I know that they want me to click ‘Yes’. I know that they want me to play along with the thought process that the mere presence of such a book in someone’s house suddenly points to a potential KKK lynching. And, don’t forget, there’s no actual explanation of what ‘far right material’ actually is here (there never is – failing to define the limits is how they keep us silent). I pulled Mein Kampf out of my head because – well, I’m reading it at the moment (and predictably – 30,000 SJW Chekists shout “Proof! Strachan’s a Nazi!”) and I’m of the generation who were taught and understood the difference between ‘conservatism’ and ‘National Socialism’. But what they mean by ‘far right material’ could be anybody’s guess. I assume it is up to our plucky heroine to know what she’s looking for. A Skrewdriver CD perhaps? A copy of the Daily Mail? A UKIP leaflet? A book by Tommy Robinson? A Brexit flyer? A pair of polished jackboots with a nicely pressed brown shirt? Apparently ‘far right’ is entirely subjective – it’s up to my girl to decide. Well let’s hope she’s got a good grasp on what actually constitutes far right material that is dangerous in 2017 or she could end up reporting an innocent couple of history teachers to the police.
I know they want me to press ‘Yes’ but I physically can’t bring myself to do so. I cannot throw 47 odd years of Aristotelian logic out of the window. Just because there’s a copy of Mein Kampf on the coffee table does not mean that the nice couple with the tea and biscuits, the Labrador and the Volvo, are secretly planning the Fourth Reich! There could be hundreds of reasons why there’s a copy of Mein Kampf on the coffee table… perhaps Mr Green is an academic? Perhaps he is a journalist? Perhaps he’s just interested in understanding how anyone could actually get the whole way through such utter nonsense and tedium (which is why I am reading it, snowflakes)? Maybe he has a friend or a nephew who is studying history or politics? Hell, they might even be sorting through a pile of second hand books choosing some to sell at the Church jumble sale… whatever the reason to come to the conclusion that the mere presence of such a book means that me, a black midwife, here to care for their unborn baby and the health of the mother, is in imminent danger requires a pretty big leap of logic – that – or an unquestioning willingness to adopt the post-modern rubbish zeitgeist that racialises everything. I depressingly and instinctively know that it is the latter.
But this is a point of principle – I am not willing to throw logic, common sense and reason out of the window – even if it is to just jump through a hoop. I simply cannot do it. It goes against every bone in my body and, Mr O’Brien you might as well put those rats and pokers away and take be back to my cell, because I am not going to suspend reason. Not now, not ever.
I click “No”
“Incorrect answer,” it flashes up before carrying on…
“The Presence of far-right material means that you could be in imminent danger from far-right extremists. Leave the property immediately and call the police as quickly as possible.
“Please click here to register on the next available Prevent training course. Until you do this, you cannot proceed with your training.”
This is the reality of life inside Britain’s National Health Service…
Follow Charles Strachan @C_J_Strachan on Twitter!
Standing up for those without a voice in Britain