Article - RAF and the NHS

I recently overheard someone who was evidently a local explaining to someone who was clearly a tourist, that this was a very unusual summer because the sun was shining and England were doing rather well in the football.

As someone who isn't very fond of football and who has been hoping for rain for some time now, I felt slightly curmudgeonly. But I reflected that the local could have gone on to explain this is also a period in which we are celebrating the anniversaries of two great British institutions of the 20th Century - the RAF and the NHS.

In many ways, of course, these two institutions couldn't be more different from one another. One of them is designed to fire deadly weapons at enemies of the state, consists mainly of a few colossally expensive pieces of equipment and a small number of brave and highly disciplined people, and would ideally never be used at all. The other is designed to cure people of diseases and restore them to health, has the largest workforce of any organisation in the country, and is used more and more every day of the week.

But there are also various respects in which these two institutions are remarkably similar.

In the first place, we have depended on both of them. Without the RAF, our liberal democracy would have been obliterated by Hitler and we would not have been able to play our part in the triumph of NATO over the Warsaw Pact that brought down the Iron curtain. Without the NHS, we would be in the dark ages so far as the health and welfare of the population is concerned.

But there is another point of similarity. As well as being amongst the first of their kind in the world both of these institutions embody some of what is best about Britain.

Indeed, it wouldn't be too horrible an exaggeration to say that, between them, these two institutions express most of what is best about Britain. The point about our country is not just that it is the world's pioneer liberal democracy but that it is also a country which led the world in mobilising the state to serve the interests of society (as the NHS does), and a country which is willing to put up a stout defence of a form of state that provides freedom and security for society (as the history of the RAF so amply demonstrates). 

Of course, while we celebrate the fine history of these institutions, we mustn't be complacent about either of them. The RAF will need to adapt and change with the advent of new technologies including unmanned flight; and the NHS has a huge task of integrating fully with social care and if persuading the whole political establishment to hack a proper and integrated system of national funding through a hypothecated tax so that the system can cope with the increasing needs of the frail elderly.

But, as we look into this challenging future, we should also remember the remarkable achievements of the past.