This should be a blog reflecting pleasantly on a successful week. I feel like we’ve actually made a dent. Henry has been the centre of a lot of positive messages explaining to people why they should have their children vaccinated with the MMR jab.
I think he will be able to say that he saved some children from hospital, possibly from serious injury and perhaps even death. Of course, we’ll never know, which is just fine by me. Henry has appeared willingly on TV (Sky News, BBC One and Five News to mention a few) and in the newspapers, he has been photographed and questioned. He has listened to worrying conversations and his angry parents. He’s also had more heavy duty chemo that will hobble him and make his hair drop out. He is six and a marvel.
But I’m still livid about this outbreak of measles and I know why.
A million children in this country are at risk from measles. A million. Think about that.
Of course most of our anger is focused on the fraudster who started this tragedy. He is beneath contempt. I won’t spare more words on him than are strictly necessary. The anger here pales into insignificance against my ire with that conman. I am not comparing him to anyone and I am not equating his action with anyone’s. He should have been arrested and charged with Actual Bodily Harm and manslaughter years ago. He is a dreg.
Even so, there is a group of people who have been conspicuous in their silence and we are growing increasingly angry about this.
With a couple of honourable exceptions, our political leaders have been complicit in an unacceptable silence. What would speaking out have cost them? Why wait for a public health campaign, when every day, they have access to as much free media as they want to create? Why did none of them step forward to help avert an epidemic?
In that last blog I was critical of Margaret Thatcher’s view that there is no such thing as society. I argued that only by being a society could we defeat measles. But I think over the years since she and, for all his faults, Tony Blair left power, something else has slipped away from our politicians. They froth at the mouth and call each other names over dozens of paltry issues each week, when they see some infinitesimal political advantage to be gained. But where is the conviction?
Why, when a million children are at risk do we hear nothing? A million children.
This week at Prime Minister’s Questions not one of our elected representatives raised measles or questioned David Cameron about his Government’s plans.
In fact the only question asked of the Health Secretary was from Sarah Wollaston MP – who sits on the Health Select Committee. I had lobbied her to ask Jeremy Hunt about the threat of measles to children like Henry.
Fortunately that exchange was picked up by The Times.
Did the Opposition think to probe further? Did they point out that it had taken the government weeks to respond to an all-too-predictable crisis? Did they ask what the government was doing to prevent an outbreak of measles in older people? Did they do their job? A million children at risk.
Sarah Wollaston was incidentally the only MP on the committee to respond to me meaningfully; one said I wasn’t his constituent so he wouldn’t help; the rest (at the time of writing) were silent. My own MP has been unusually quiet.
A million children at risk. My beautiful son at the extreme edge of ‘at risk’.
Sometimes leaders have to lead. That means talking about things you would rather not. It means speaking up when you don’t think it will give you a bounce in the polls and it means engaging with issues that actually affect your fellow countrymen. And of all things, it means using the soapbox you are handed every day to do something. Step up David Cameron. Step up Nick Clegg. Step up Ed Miliband. Step up Jeremy Hunt. Step up Boris Johnson. Do your jobs.
I’m a great believer that politicians serve at the pleasure of the people. Service and duty – important words those. Above all I believe our children need to see examples of proper leadership in the first real crisis of their young lives. Don’t let them down.