The NHS surcharge debacle reveals a government both cruel and useless | Jonathan Freedland

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During a pandemic the public expects compassion and effectiveness. They seem to be in recklessly short supply

Voters will occasionally forgive a government they deem heartless, if they reckon it has the steel to get the job done. They might even, though rarely, forgive a government they deem incompetent, if they believe its heart is in the right place. What they will never forgive is a government that is both uncaring and useless. And yet that is precisely the judgment that now hovers over Boris Johnson and the administration he leads.

Johnson had surely intuited as much when he performed his rubber-burning U-turn late on Thursday, ditching his previous insistence, reiterated 24 hours earlier, that foreign-born NHS and care workers must pay an extra fee for the privilege of using a service that could not function without them. The notion of such a surcharge reeked of meanness of spirit, the demand that it increase from £400 to £624 stank. The hypocrisy was particularly pungent: even Scrooge didn’t clap on the doorstep for those from whom he was squeezing every penny.

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