Category Archives: A Better Politics

Farage: Immigrants Made Me Late For A Meeting

UKIP leader Nigel Farage has gone as far as to blame immigration for his missing a meeting in Wales after heavy traffic on the M4. UKIP’s desperation to blame immigrants for everything gives away their only real election tactic – to create a climate of fear and capitalise on this by promising an authoritarian clamp-down on immigration and civil liberties. One can only wonder how much of UKIP’s transport policy depends solely upon reducing the migrant population.

UKIP are also doing this with the NHS:

Losses due to so-called health tourism are a fraction of one per cent of the NHS budget – a drop in the ocean of underfunding. But it’s a useful lie for UKIP – who want your vote but not to tell you about its own plans to privatise the NHS – and for the government as a smokescreen for its own failings.

The actual cost of people coming to Britain specifically for free healthcare (as opposed to falling ill or having an accident while here on holiday) is estimated to be around £70 million – which is a lot of money, but just 0.06% of the total NHS budget. So even if it the practice was wiped out completely, the NHS underfunding problems would remain. That is the truth.

If you’re waiting for your GP and a person of a different colour goes in before you its easy to think “If they weren’t here, I’d be seen sooner.” If you go to A&E and the people sitting next to you are conversing in a language you don’t understand, it’s easy to feel they must be interlopers. You’re sick, you’re stressed, you’re not thinking straight. But the politicians are thinking straight. They have the facts, they have the figures, but they’d rather play on your fears and anxieties to gain political advantage than own up to where the blame really lies.

So now the government is planning to spend more money checking up on foreign patients than it can ever hope to recover in savings. It costs the NHS, it put more pressure on practitioners, but it’s useful PR in their desperate electoral fight against UKIP. Meanwhile UKIP are rubbing their hands that focusing on immigrants stops voters noticing their preference for privatising the NHS.

Should Clive Peedell be invited on Question Time?

The BBC’s Question Time has a well-known panel format – since 1998, a panel of five has been invited for each episode. Usually this includes a representative for each of the ‘big three’ parties, often augmented by a leading figure from a smaller party. The remainder of the panel are non-partisan.

The BBC has been criticised, and not infrequently, for inviting UKIP to the panel a disproportionate number of times – 21 appearances since 2009, compared with 11 for the Greens. George Galloway’s Respect party, the SNP and Sinn Fein have also featured, and there was even the occasion back in 2009 when the BBC invited the BNP to appear, resulting in protests at the studio gates.

Given that the format is open to smaller parties, it begs the question – should Dr Clive Peedell be invited to at least one episode of Question Time between now and the 2015 General Election? We give our reasons below:

  • Subject matter: the NHS is a key election issue. An Ipsos Mori poll in September found healthcare to be one of the leading electoral issues (29%), second only to immigration (30%) and the economy (31%). Clive Peedell’s area of expertise is thus as important to voters as Nigel Farage’s beloved immigration issue.
  • Balance: with the new ‘big four’ parties all offering similar neoliberal policies, it would bring much-needed balance to the panel to have someone speaking against the privatisation of public services.
  • Quality: Clive Peedell has a known ability to provide good copy on national media, including Sky News, Channel 4 and Radio Five Live. His opinions are well-researched and where possible based upon current evidence.
  • Variety: it may well be refreshing to have someone who isn’t a career politician appear on the Question Time panel. Equally, it might be a break from the norm to invite someone who doesn’t just want to debate populist topics like immigration.

Loss of Representation in the Two Party System

The UK’s political system, as it currently stands, is a two party system. This has been in large part due to the First Past The Post (FPTP) system, in which only those voting for the winning party in their constituency are actually represented in parliament. If your favoured candidate doesn’t win, then your vote is essentially discarded.

Contrast this with proportional representation such as used for European Parliament elections, where constituencies are larger and elect a small batch of MEPs. In this system, the winner still gets the most seats, but the second and even third place parties are also rewarded in proportion to the votes they receive. If your favoured party doesn’t win, you don’t automatically lose your say on who gets elected – and more voters are actually represented in parliament.

As a result of First Past The Post, it’s common for the two largest parties to gain a disproportionately large number of seats in parliament. Worse, most of these seats are ‘safe’ to varying degrees, meaning they are unlikely to change hands. The outcome of each election depends on a small number of ‘marginals’ where undecided swing voters decide which mainstream party gets to have an MP in that constituency. Whoever wins back the greater number of marginal seats wins overall power (unless of course there’s a tie, in which case either a hung parliament or a coalition government will emerge).

As a result, we see a system where one party will have a clear majority, and will be able to push more or less anything they want through the Commons. To make sure that their MPs all vote the ‘correct’ way, each party will have up to fourteen MPs nominated to be party whips – so-called because they whip their fellow MPs back in line. Failing to follow a party whip’s instruction can lead to an MP being expelled from their parliamentary party, so they will usually toe the line. With the exception of free votes and outright rebellions, MPs will therefore vote the way that their party tells them, rather than doing what their constituents want.

The Scotland debate showed how much voters value the NHS

This article by Rufus Hound was originally published in the New Statesman on 9th September 2014.

Whatever else it has done, Scotland’s referendum debate has finally woken many south of the border to the once-creeping, now-galloping privatisation of their own NHS. Hell, even Andrew Marr talked last weekend, on prime time Sunday morning TV no less, about the dangers of TTIP – a trade partnership between the UK and US – for the health service. So THANK YOU. Thank you Scotland for shining a light on the pillaging of our national health service.

When I stood as a candidate in the Euro elections in May, I found that while most people supported the NHS, most were pretty much in the dark about what this government – and, sadly, the Labour government before it – have done to undermine the principles that hold the NHS together. I spent a lot of time convincing voters – and sceptical journalists – that what is happening is actually happening. It shouldn’t be hard, what with all the provable facts, but it’s all so unbelievable that most people prefer the comfortable lie to the horrifying truth.

It’s not surprising. Politicians haven’t told us the truth about the NHS and their plans for it for years. When someone is planning to stab you in the back, they don’t look you in the eye. To the Scottish, watching from the sidelines as NHS England has been pulled apart, the view has been clearer – hence their fear of following England’s road. And the debate has given the English a view of their own NHS through Scottish eyes (‘Och eyes’ ?).

Realising that the future of the Scottish NHS was going to be the clincher for many undecided voters must have hit all three party leaders like a wet blancmange. Politicians don’t blanch at the prospect of the Big Lie – but the standard practice (whenever the subject of the NHS comes up) of pointing at one another and saying, “Look! Over there! He’s the liar!” wasn’t going to work this time. This was going to have to be synchronised lying.

“Look! Over there! He’s the liar,” they cried, with one accord.  Naughty Alex Salmond was hiding £450 million in cuts that he’s planning to spring on the Scottish NHS once the dust has settled, and they had the documents to prove it.

Even then, the poll numbers didn’t slide significantly No-wards. It was time to bring up the big guns. Someone in a tartan hazmat suit was given the secret combination, the silo was unlocked and out rolled Gordon Brown. Better Together was going nuclear.

Who couldn’t be moved by the passion with which everyone’s-worst-enemy-turned-new-best-friend declared that, “We can guarantee that the National Health Service will be in public hands, universal, free at the point of need, as long and as ever the people of Scotland want it!”  This was a true: “READ MY LIPS – I will not allow the Scottish NHS to be privatised’ moment.  Masterly stuff from the man who, in office, watched the English NHS swirl down the privatisation plughole.

I could spend hours analysing what Brown’s trenchant statement did, and didn’t, say. But what’s key is that he had to at least appear to say that the NHS privatisation in England would never, ever seep north. He had no choice – any nation that has grown up with a NHS loves it and will want to keep it. That’s why none of the Three Stooges could make that speech. Because they’ve all got to get up tomorrow and say exactly the opposite to the English – and make them think that’s a really good thing.

The problem is, there’s nothing easier to lie about than the NHS.

UKIP are past masters: Fact 1) “I was sat behind some Indian bloke in A&E.” Fact 2) “There was a woman there didn’t even speak English.” Fact 3) “And she had three children.” Statistic: “Health tourists cost the NHS £2 billion a year!” (A steaming pile of lies of course, multiplying the true cost by a factor of between 25 and 35, but you get the idea.)

Anyone can do it. Try believing this. Fact 1) A Labour Government re-organised the NHS on the Tories’ market model, welcomed in the private sector to finance its building plans with private finance deals that came back to bite the NHS on the arse. Fact 2) Before the 2010 General Election, David Cameron scornfully vowed there would be no “top-down reorganisations” if he was Prime Minister. Fact 3) Within months, the Coalition announced the biggest top-down reorganisation in NHS history and, in the name of “patient choice” forcing it to compete within itself and with outside companies for our “business”, instead of co-operating for our health. Statistic: £10 billion a year to run the internal market! £3 billion for the Tory shake-up! Or shake-down, depending on how you look at it! (The costs of the private contracts terminated due to poor performance are only just starting to roll in.)

Hard to swallow, maybe, but sadly true. Everything in the NHS is now up for grabs. Let that sink in for a moment. Not just catering contracts or cleaning, but your operations, your cancer care – everything. Since private contractors can hide behind the NHS logo, you probably won’t know anything about it until things go wrong – when you’ll negatively impact the profit margins of these economic interlopers and be promptly shipped back to the NHS. When you hear statistics about what goes wrong in the NHS, ask yourself where the figures on private medicine’s mistakes and failures go. Behind the wall of commercial confidentiality, that’s where.

But it’s mostly privatisation by stealth: a nudge towards queue-jumping here, a suggestion that we should pay to see a GP there. ‘Why should this or that treatment come from the public purse at all?’, asks the Daily Mail. And one day soon we’ll have a two-tier system with the noble idea that the poorest families can expect the same quality of treatment – the same respect – as the richest families, as dead as the kids with no healthcare.

I hope that Ed Miliband has learnt something from his Scottish foray. He is rumoured to be considering an increase in NHS funding if he wins the next election. That’s good, although tinkering with general taxation would be fairer than National Insurance. But that’s not half enough for the party of Nye Bevan: he must also end the internal market by any means necessary. He must have the courage to admit the mistakes of PFI and put them right.

Hmust, over all, remember what the NHS is. And for that, he could do worse than re-read Nye himself. “One thing the community cannot do is insure against itself,” wrote Nye. “What it can and must do is to set aside an agreed proportion of the national revenues for the creation and maintenance of the service it has pledged itself to provide. This is not so much insurance as a prudent policy of capital investment.”

As for the Tories, the day after the Tory Health Bill was announced, Andrew Neill asked Michael Portillo on This Week, “Why didn’t they tell us?” To which Michael Portillo replied: “Because they didn’t think they could win an election if they told you what they were going to do.” Too bloody right. But now we do know.

That’s why I stood in the elections. I won’t be standing in the General Election, but a bunch of my colleagues will, and I’m looking forward to them causing some upsets. Lewisham Hospital campaigner Dr Louise Irvine is taking on the Health Secretary himself – she’s already beaten him twice in court over the threatened closure of Lewisham Hospital, so, hopefully, she can do the same at the ballot box. I mean, she did grow up in Scotland, and now we know what political ground can be gained when Caledonians defend Bevan’s egalitarian dream.

Fingers crossed it works in Godalming, too.