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GPs go forth

Why I'll leave RCGP if Julia Hartley-Brewer speaks at conference

Dr Tehseen Khan 



‘I see the River Tiber foaming with much blood; in 15 years time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.’ This quote, from the Rivers of Blood speech made by Conservative MP Enoch Powell in 1968, is etched on the memory of so many first-generation immigrants. My father came to England from Pakistan in the 1960s; the opportunities in the northern industrial cities were limitless if you were willing to work hard, and boy did he work hard. People were generally welcoming, but there were some harrowing experiences. One day, a skinhead gang beat his friend up, stamping on his head until he was unconscious, whilst shouting ‘dirty Paki’. Then there were the episodes of graffiti outside his house, declaring ‘Pakis go home’. And then Powell made his infamous speech and supported the fascists.

Why is this relevant now? Our esteemed College has decided to invite Julia Hartley-Brewer, ‘mainstream broadcaster and daughter of a GP’, to speak at the RCGP annual conference, as part of a Q&A panel. This inflammatory journalist has openly declared that she doesn’t ’see anything in the Rivers speech that he [Powell] got wrong’.

In response to a petition started by Dr Alan Woodall, founder of GP Survival, to decry JHB’s appearance at the conference, the RCGP has stated that ‘a key purpose of the RCGP annual conference is to provoke debate.. delegates are not expected to agree with everything they hear’. But this isn’t about healthcare, it’s about platforming someone who defends fascism. I pay over £500 a year to the College, and I’m an assessor for them. If JHB is allowed to participate, I will follow my peers who perennially ask why I’m still a member (’what do you actually get for that £500?’) and cancel my membership, as well as end my assessor role.

This isn’t about healthcare, it’s about platforming someone who defends fascism

I know some argue that free speech overrides snowflake sentiment, and I acknowledge this argument: why should JHB not have the right to express her opinion? There is an undefined line between free speech and hate speech. Powell’s speech was derided by many at the time - even The Times called it an ‘evil speech’. After it was delivered, there were incidents of violence against immigrants, who shouted ‘Powell’ as they attacked. This speech incited hatred, and any defence of it is indefensible.

I remember my late father telling me about how he packed a suitcase with essentials after Powell’s speech and had it ready under his bed in case he was ‘kicked out’. Even when I was growing up, that fear did not abate. He was insistent that I learn to read and write Urdu, so I’d have to be dragged kicking and screaming to after-school language classes. Years later, he told me that this was in case we were ever sent back to Pakistan by the Government. I remember laughing at this, but in truth, the atmosphere in recent years has become toxic, with the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment following Brexit, the Windrush scandal, and the rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia.

I, alongside 141 others, feel hurt by the decision made by the RCGP and have signed Dr Alan Woodall’s courageous petition. I really hope to stay a member of the college, but will not continue if this individual takes part at conference.

Dr Tehseen Khan is a GP in East London

Julia Hartley Brewer responds to RCGP's decision and explains the context for her 2016 'Rivers Of Blood' tweet

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Readers' comments (45)

  • Cobblers

    I am no apologist for the RCGP in fact the sooner it disappears up its own fundament the better (along with the BMA, GMC, CQC etc).

    However this has the hallmarks of the "Snowflake Flounce". Pick your battles. Other than to herself JHB is a nobody. That she is right wing is probably enough for GP Survival to deny her a platform.

    Let her speak. We both might learn something.

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  • Nhsfatcat

    Good Piece. JHB has a big enough platform already. She can spout off whenever she likes; she does not need to be in Q+A for the RCGP members to politely applaud her presence.I'd rather hear from someone that the floor could influence or be influenced by to promote quality primary care in the UK. Something along the lines of what the RCGP should be there for. I will donate 500 to a charity if JHB writes a piece extolling the virtues of GPs and the NHS without any mudslinging, bile, mention of gold plated pensions and part time working that reflects what we actually do.

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  • please-delete-this-fucking-profile-i-cant-delete-it-in-my-account-settings

    this kind of approach to dealing with people who's opinions you don't agree with is really dangerous. get over yourself- you 'feel hurt by the RCGP's decision'?? are you for real??
    tell her why you disagree by all means but stopping her speaking and censoring opposition is what dictators do...please grow up

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  • Why wait. just cancel your direct debit with the RCPG and save £££. You won't miss them at all.

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  • Delighted to see the writer has such a balanced and nuanced approach. So I look forward to lots of petitions critcising Trump over his views on abortion, extreme right wing views, the persecution of Christians in Saudi Arabia, the withdrawal of all funding from India and Pakistan until they spend money on the poor instead of nuclear weapons, the abuse of women in Asian countries, the use of prisoners in China for transplantation purposes, the lack of medical treatment (except for Party Members) in Socialist Utopias) , the banning of Corbyn from all RCGP meetings and an active campaign against any possible Labour Government until he apologises for his support for terrorism and the abuse of those seeking human rights, antisemitism and all forms of racism and abuse. Just tick those your morals extend to. I do not agree with the intended speaker's views but then again, I don't particularly like anyone from any side of the political divide who spouts hatred and at least, as someone else said , she is hardly a Tommy Robinson but then again Momentum members are hardly Jeremy ( privately educated man of the people) Corbyn.

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  • Many GPs have left the RCGP for various reasons. No-one is compelled to be a member. If you choose to leave then do so without making it a threat. If you disagree when an opinion don't try to shout it down or use censorship. Instead, go to the debate and have intelligent dialogue. I would welcome a platform for anyone that does not share my beliefs, even those I find offensive...sometimes truths can be uncomfortable.

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  • Duncan, you're so right. He threatens to leave over this when far worse things have happened at the College? If I had not listened many years ago to someone who challenged my so called pro life views I would not now be passionately pro choice. I am not saying i would suddenly become right wing but we need to understand where these views come from so we can challenge them and prepare to be challenged ourselves.

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  • Firstly where's your evidence she defends fascism. She doesn't and there isn't any.
    Don't grandstand... just leave.
    Snowflake flounce is about right

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  • There is no evidence that Ms Hartley-Brewer is a fascist but she is certainly right wing. I support the RCGP in their position of allowing a wide variety of views to be expressed and more importantly think that it is the writer of thus article who is in danger of being a bigot by opposing the fundamental right of free speech. GP survival and their hair Alan Woodall are equally bigoted and also in breech of allowing and supporting free speech by their petition. That doesn’t surprise me though as I have seen how they have consistently allowed people to be hounded out of their Facebook group who hold any views that are not pro Labour, pro Mimentum and pro Corbyb. The left can be just as bigoted and intolerant as the right and GP survival an intolerant and biased group who have been given far to wide a platform In many GP circles.

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  • Gagging is not the answer, free speech is a key to U.K. life, whilst you may not agree with the speakers point of view, open debate and a just cause will see their arguments to be false and let the public decide
    I abhor racism of any sort and the right way to deal with this is to face it down by logical and reasoned debate
    Remember, the U.K. remains an incredibly tolerant society for people from all backgrounds and the vocal few get a disproportionate airing in the media, the vast majority of the U.K. people remain welcoming and reasonable, I am truly sorry that your life experiences tell you otherwise and your story is dreadful.
    In NI we have had 30 years of hate and killing in the name of “religious division” and it is awful but hopefully reason will prevail
    Tolerance is essential and gagging people you disagree with not the action of an open and free democracy because it leads to very dark places indeed
    I understand your viewpoint entirely and feel your pain, remember to rise above other people’s prejudices and accept that others have a different point of view, it may not be nice and cosy but our western democracies rely on us all collectively tolerating free speech even though it may cause individual pain, the alternative approach leads to a totalitarian system that controls what we can experience and that is a very dangerous road to take.....

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