Tag Archives: labour

Bye Bye, Heidi

NHSpace reflects on the sudden departure of the Labour shadow health secretary.

To be honest, we were hoping this day would come. Meetings involving Heidi Alexander have all ended in disappointment. The shadow health secretary persisted in supporting Simon Stevens and his privatising Five Year Forward View. She was a damp squib when it came to the doctors’ strikes, and she did nothing to support the NHS Reinstatement Bill.

As one NHA executive member puts it:

“I have been in 2 meetings with HA. She refused to go on [junior doctor] picket lines. She refused to even wear a BMA badge. Her stance on health policy supported the ongoing privatisation in the form of Stevens 5YFV. Quote ‘I believe Stevens has the best interests of the NHS at heart’. A former UnitedHealth president here to complete the transition to an American style insurance system has her confidence. That says it all.”

Now that the Blairites liked Heidi Alexander are leaving Corbyn’s cabinet, there’s hope that JC will install someone who truly supports the NHS as his shadow health sec. Someone who will come out strongly in favour of a renationalised NHS, and recognise that things don’t have to be the way that Hunt and Stevens want them to be.

The STP hospital closure plans are already being rolled out, and it won’t be long before A&Es and DGHs start being forced to close in order to pay off local NHS ‘debts’. Labour need to start shouting from the rooftops about these sorts of healthcare issues. With the right MPs in charge, maybe they will.

Let’s All Bash Corbyn

Penny Ormerod gives us her take on the never-ending media assault on Corbyn’s character.

Hell hath no fury like an Establishment scorned. Jeremy Corbyn was elected to lead the Labour Party last Saturday, having inspired thousands of new members to join his party – the clear choice of full members as well as registered and affiliated supporters. The fury rising to hysteria of Tories and New Labour alike (LibDems, perhaps chastened by their own recent mauling at the polls, largely recognised no-one was in the least interested in anything they had to say on the matter) was increasingly evident as the leadership election got closer and voters (even those not weeded out as too Leftie) stubbornly refused to be enthused by the motley crew of neoliberals on offer as alternative leaders of Her Madge’s Loyal (forget that loyal at your peril!) Opposition.

It was hard to know whether to be amused or irritated as New Labour Chief Honchos, past and present, lined up to issue dire warnings about the apocalypse that would ensue should this mild-mannered, decent, anti-war, anti-austerity 66-year-old man be voted to the top job: political earthquakes, economic collapse, a threat to national and international security.

And then it happened: it seems Jez “he’s totally unelectable” could and did, winning nearly 60% of first-round votes. Was it possible now that his ideas might just begin to be taken a bit more seriously? At any rate by Labour MPs, who surely can’t have overlooked completely their party’s drubbing by former loyal Labour Scottish voters fed up with 18 years of Tory-lite?


“Our brave British media swiftly brought us back to focus on the real news – Corbyn’s refusal to sing the national anthem”


In my dreams! A roar of enraged astonishment at the sheer impertinence of his victory has filled the airwaves, newspapers, television screens and ether, with the BBC rubbishing Corbyn and his daft supporters as enthusiastically as the Murdoch press. Our shameless government held an Arms Fair in London last week. They’ve just signed a lucrative deal with the Saudi Royals – more bombs to slaughter children and factory workers in Sudan, swelling the tide of distraught refugees fleeing either to be quietly drowned or confronted by the razor wire, tasers and tear gas of Fortress Europe. But our brave British media swiftly brought us back to focus on the real news – Corbyn’s refusal to sing the national anthem, and whether his jacket matched his tie.

Trouble is, they can’t quite make up their minds whether to sneer, snigger and deride or to go for the jugular of the unpatriotic, hard Left zealot now leading Labour. Is Corbyn, and those who espouse his progressive political outlook, gullible and stupid or dangerous and evil? The Today prog bows to no-one in its daily derision: Humphrys’ sniggering contempt is vigorously endorsed by his chorus of “experts” – politics guru Norman Smith relishes every opportunity to put the boot in, with regular sniping from business pundit Simon Jack on what is laughingly dismissed as “Corbynomics”. Cosy interviews with reliably anti-Corbynite Charles Clarke and Frank “Whatever possessed you – signing that ballot paper!” Field set the tone from Monday onwards.

“He’s a disaster, he wants to take us back the 1980s!” Seriously? We’re being ruled by overgrown Bullingdon Club bullies, hell bent on privatising everything that moves – but apparently it’s Jeremy, droning on about outdated irrelevancies like climate change, TTIP, zero-hours contracts, fracking, who’s stuck in a time-warp!

But… is it just wishful thinking or has the tone changed – just a tad – since PMQs on Wed? Maddeningly for the Corbyn-haters, Jeremy failed to fall flat on his face. He didn’t sing the Internationale or even verse 1 of the Red Flag. He didn’t mention Marx once.

Instead he raised real concerns from real people, and something rather peculiar happened. In the quietness of the new opposition leader’s integrity, Flashman Dave’s patronising platitudes fell a bit flat. The Tories, under strict orders not to gloat or jeer, gave up and went to sleep. The Blairites looked hard at their feet, then glanced a little wistfully at the front benches they had so recently vacated after nobly ruling themselves out from shadow office posts they hadn’t been offered. And – hang on: some of the younger and more open-minded MPs started to cheer him on.


“He claims he wants a more inclusive and democratic kind of politics. That’s the kind of language the NHA has been aching to hear from a Labour leader since its inception.”


For the past 30 years, Thatcher’s vision of unfettered capitalism and neoliberal (renamed Austerity after the Bankers’ crash of 2007/8) economics has been the only show in town. It’s worked pretty well for a tiny elite, but it’s been little short of catastrophic for the majority, not to mention the environment. Yet never has it been more clear that the senior politicians of all three established parties are united in outraged condemnation and disbelief that there can be any serious alternative to the Omnipotent God of the Free & Unregulated Market (and His representatives on earth, the champagne-swilling, coke-snorting, fraudulent banksters).

I listened a few hours ago to Jack Straw indignantly defending his entitlement to earn £5,000 a day (but welfare caps and benefit sanctions are just fine & dandy, eh Jack!). The Establishment were right to fear Jeremy Corbyn – his election is the first real threat to the cosy consensus that has seen the relentless slashing of public services and ever more grotesque inequality. He claims he wants a more inclusive and democratic kind of politics. That’s the kind of language we’ve been aching to hear from a Labour leader since its inception.

Our post-Lansley NHS is close to collapse, its staff exhausted and demoralised. All three parties have betrayed it, relentlessly underfunding, fragmenting and commercialising it. Jeremy Corbyn needs now to reach out beyond his own party and listen to some home truths about how it has been systematically let down and – even more importantly – how to get it back on its feet again, as the electorate have repeatedly and insistently said they want it to be. With the policies of New Labour Top Command almost indistinguishable from that of Cameron, Hunt & Co (leaving aside, as so many voters did too late, their LibDem collaborators), the expertise of the NHS campaigners is right here to be tapped. If Jeremy genuinely wants to formulate health policies that will restore a healthy, solvent NHS focusing on patients rather than profits, we are ready and willing to advise and educate on everything from lifting the stranglehold of PFIs to the huge savings to be made from abolishing the market.

Come on, Jeremy, call Clive and book an appointment with the doctors (nurses, paramedics and patients) today.  You really do need to talk about the NHS with a party that knows how it works. Your own party members want proper health policies, and the country deserves to be offered them in 2020.

And you know, this Real Opposition lark might actually catch on!

No Child Wasted: Why We Have A Responsibility To Vote

An NHS campaigner shares their thoughts on why it is vital to exercise our right to vote.

Children can’t vote. So they rely on the rest of us to cast ou​r votes in a way that will protect them. Protect them from hunger, deprivation, exploitation, lack of hope, so that they can grow up healthy, happy and productive. And therefore able, in their turn, to exercise the same protection for the next generation. That is why voting is not just a privilege of adulthood but a responsibility – however onerous and frustrating it may be.

Most of us in Britain have grown up protected, at least in principle, by a system that was created after the Second World War to ensure that no child should ever again be wasted – as poverty, ill-health and inequality had wasted British children by the million in generations gone by.

After 1948, a child born in the NHS would be nurtured and cared for – free – until he or she reached adulthood. Would be educated – free – to reach their full potential as citizens. And, if his or her potential was such, would be supported through a – free – university education. And when these children had children of their own, they too would all have access to decent housing – privately or council-owned – regular employment and world-class healthcare, free at the point of need.

In this way, it was hoped, no child in the post-war world would suffer the full effects of the poverty or disability or death or separation of their parents. No child would be penalised for their parents’ inability to advance the career of their children through their own wealth and contacts.

A terrible war had shown that every person had something to offer; henceforth no child would be wasted. That was the promise the post-war Welfare State made to all the people who had fought, together, for freedom against the forces of darkness and destruction.

It wan’t a promise that was always fulfilled by any means. But for the passage of a generation there was no real challenge to the idea that the protection of all our children, collectively undertaken and collectively paid for, was a noble – a sacred – trust.

But then, even as the nation as a whole became richer, a new force, a new idea, started to gain ground in some elevated circles, which argued, “Why should the rich and powerful pay to put their children on a level playing field with the children of the poor?” This was not an electoral pitch that would gain sufficient votes to secure power from the necessary non-rich of course, so it had to be couched by the grandees in slightly different terms if it was to appeal to the masses.

The appeal to selfishness of, “Why should you pay to support the well-being, and the prospects, of someone else’s child?” – which attracted the immediate, obvious, riposte of mutual benefit and therefore greater security for all – also required that the “someone else” be demonised in order to work to an electoral asset. Demonised as foreigners wherever possible of course but, as Enoch Powell showed, that could be counterproductive. However no one seemed to have any interest in defending the foreigner within – the “undeserving poor” of the Victorian era, now revived and reinvented to play The Other again in right-wing demonology.

The more recent pejorative of “council-house kid” was clearly no longer of any use as an alienation tool once doctors, lawyers, movie stars and Cabinet ministers nurtured by the Welfare State could boast proudly of having been a council-house kid themselves (thus showing that it was nurture, not nature that had kept the poor down for so long). But, in this new vision, anyone who was lucky enough to secure one of the deliberately dwindling supply of council houses was to be envied by many, and so could be dubbed with the working-class insult “scrounger” – and if they could be shown to be foreign too, so much the better.

And, even if not literally foreign, they could be made to seem so. With the eager assistance of a crass and compliant media, the affectionate chavi, meaning child in the Romani language, quickly became a viral hit of hatred that dubbed the disadvantaged child as a separate nationality, confirming just how alien it was to respectable society: The Chav. Even if they had money, and few did, they spent it on the wrong things, the wrong clothes, the wrong food, the wrong home gadgets. So there was no point in taxing away your hard-earned money just to waste it on a Chav child.

Even before the coining of the term ‘Chav’, the groundwork for this was well-laid. In 1974, Sir Keith Joseph warned that “our human stock is threatened” by the breeding of young mothers in social classes 4 and 5. Where once our proud British commitment was to every child that was born,now we were told that: “A high proportion of these births are a tragedy for the mother, the child and for us.”

And by the time these “tragedies” had reached the age of 11, their educational future was in the hands of this same Sir Keith Joseph. It had been placed there by Margaret Thatcher who, in her own “milk-snatcher” days at Education had, according to Cabinet minutes: “Said that she had been able to offer the Chief Secretary, Treasury, rather larger savings than he had sought on school meals, school milk, further education and library charges.”

And it was Thatcher who, as Prime Minister, destroyed our manufacturing base in which so many of these “tragedies” one day hoped to work, sold off our houses in which they one day hoped to live and raise a family, and gave away our national and municipal assets that served to keep those families’ needs within the reach of a single living wage.

A consensus on the utter worthlessness of The Others was built up through a co-operative media under the governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major, but did not die with the massive public rejection of Toryism in 1997. Tragically, it remained largely unchallenged through the ruthlessly vote-chasing years of New Labour, which abandoned Old Labour’s principles of solidarity for its “hard-working families” mantra. For reasons of its own, the party machine shunned association with the millions cast to the bottom of the pile by unemployment – even in areas strip-mined of employment by Tory policies.

By the time New Labour collapsed in a morass of unregulated bankers, super-casinos and ID cards, even Dave “hug a hoodie” Cameron and Nick “scrap tuition fees“ Clegg offered a more hopeful and humane vision to a wavering, betrayed and bewildered electorate.

Once in power, of course, it was business as usual with the likes of Lansley and Duncan-Smith unleashing a venomous assault on The Others that Thatcher and Joseph could have only dreamed of.

Money is drained from the budgets of the poorest families with a VAT hike that subsid​is​es a cut in the higher tax income rate for the rich. Money is drained from the education of all our children to subsidise the education of those in new, privately run “academies”. Money is drained from the benefits safety-net we all pay into, in order to subsidise corporation tax cuts for below-living-wage employers. Money is drained from our National Health System to subsidise tax-dodging corporations who spy a profit to be made by taking small bites out of it, and who walk away leaving a service bleeding if it turns out there isn’t.

In 2015, the ranks of The Others are now bursting at the seams and, it seems, could soon encompass us all. If you are a child whose parents are unemployed, you’re in. If they are working, you still have a pretty good chance of being in. If they – or you – are disabled or have mental health needs then you are definitely in.

And even if you are not included in the ranks of The Others today, your prospects of staying out for long are dwindling fast. By 2020, on this government’s own figures, 21% of British children will be living in absolute – not relative – poverty, up from 17%  in 2010-11.

So take five children: one will live in a financially secure home 2020 (so long as it is spared family bereavement or bankruptcy); one will be in absolute poverty (and possibly homeless); the other three teeter somewhere between, hopeful to rise and fearful to fall.

Currently, at least all five would be guaranteed the very best medical care available, free at the point of need, through our NHS – although hunger and poor housing would put some in more need of it than others. In 2020 that may no longer be so. In a Britain incalculably richer than the one that set up the Welfare State, it seems we will no longer be able to afford, as they did, to give them even an equal chance to be born healthy.

Already we can see how, as in Morecambe, the drive to marketise the NHS has helped to cause the actual deaths of actual babies. Get used to it. As the drive to privatise our National Health System drains more and more money from what it offers,​ free and equal to all, and pushes more and more services into ability-to-pay disparity, this will only get worse.

And, horribly, all that this Labour Party seems to be offering is that it will all get worse a fraction more slowly.

But look back to the beginning of this article and to the commitment that the post-war Labour government made to all the children of Britain – born and yet-to-be – in 1948. If it still seems to be as sane, humane and worthwhile a commitment to you as it seems to us, then all you have to do is vote for it to bring it back into our national life. Not just in the coming general election, but there and within your union and within any other bodies you belong to and with your feet and with your voice and on the streets and wherever you can make yourself heard.

How can it make sense to vote for anything else?

It’s Time To End Political Corruption

UK politics is systemically corrupt. The examples are almost too easy to find:

The weaknesses of the UK political system are there for all to see. We have a First Past The Post system that encourages a two party state in which most seats are safe and ‘swing voters’ opt for the lesser of two evils. The majority of party funding comes from private donations. The largest donations come from big companies and rich individuals, and there is no limit on donation size. Politicians are allowed to vote on bills where they have a conflict of interest, and once they leave government they are free to take up a highly-paid role in a private corporation that benefited from said votes. The end result is a corrupt government passing laws to benefit itself and its corporate sponsors.

How do you end political corruption on such a scale? NHSpace has a few suggestions:

  1. Put a cap on donations – both for individual donations and the total amount a party can receive.
  2. Put an embargo on MPs and peers having shares in private firms. They can easily do without.
  3. Make it harder for MPs and peers to support bills where they have a conflict of interest.
  4. Close the ‘revolving door’ and end the outsourcing of government duties to private firms.
  5. Link MP’s earnings to the minimum wage and cut back on extravagances.
  6. Make it easier for constituents to remove their MP from parliament.
  7. Make the move to a proportional voting system and end the two party system.

Open Letter To Harriet Harman

Jessica Ormerod and Deborah Harrington have some advice for the Labour deputy leader.

Have we really not moved on since 1953? Take one look at Harriet Harman and her pink campaign bus and you’d be forgiven for thinking we haven’t. The idea that Labour are going to sweep up the mummy vote with a pink bus and a patronising wink from Harriet as she talks woman to woman would be laughable if it weren’t so vomit-inducing.

Since the coalition stumbled into power we have all been the losers, but women and children have been hit the hardest. Labour are neither saying nor doing anything to stop the horrific effects of austerity on the most vulnerable in our society.

I can tell you, Harriet, just what keeps us women folk up at night. Like you, I live in South East London. Unlike you, my children go to the local comprehensive school and over the last few years I have seen families made homeless by the wicked austerity agenda. An agenda that your party defends. To use the patronising parlance of government, these are ‘hard-working families’ who have been turfed out of their houses because the landlord has decided to ride the property market and sell the flat, leaving families with no recourse but to pack their bags and go to the housing office. Because there is no housing stock left in Lewisham, these families are re-housed in the appalling conditions of so-called ’emergency accommodation’, often far from their jobs and their children’s schools. Mummy lies awake listening to the drug addicts and alcoholics shouting at each other in the room next door, worries about the three buses they will need to get to school the next morning, worries if she’ll even be able to get on the bus because if there’s one pushchair on there already the driver shoos you away. And anyway, everyone will have to be up at 5am in order to make the journey of 5 miles because buses are late, buses get stuck in traffic and there’s always a walk at the end with three miserable, tired children who might not have eaten because, and here’s another worry, Harriet, there’s not enough money for everyone to eat breakfast.

Women bear the brunt of plummeting household finances, they go hungry to keep their children fed, they take their children to hospital, they work zero hour contract jobs, they get beaten up by their partners and have nowhere to go…

So, Harriet, let’s talk about what women want:

Housing

Women, and especially women with children, are most affected by the unaffordability of decent homes. They are more likely to have inadequate incomes and suffer from draconian reductions in benefit. Don’t just talk about building more homes, talk about what kind of homes. Council homes at council rents sounds good. Don’t use that awful term ‘affordable’ which mostly is only marginally less affordable than current market prices. How about decent jobs in areas where homes are standing empty so people can live happy lives there?

Childcare

Don’t offer more ‘free’ hours and vouchers, these have led over the last 20 years to the cost of nursery places in England being the highest in Europe – put more money into any given area of the private sector and the prices go up (but not always the standards). Build on local council provision instead, or provide more kindergartens attached to primary schools.

Social care

Do something urgently about the drastic reductions in local authority social care budgets which hit women harder than anyone. Women already provide a lot of the care for the generations below and above them, and what support and relief they were getting has been torn away by this government.

Health

Women bear the children and also tend to look after their household’s health. If they suffer inadequate housing, low wages, failure of local provision of service, their health suffers – and then who looks after the children?

Domestic violence

Where can we take our children to be safe from abuse now that the refuges have been savagely cut?

Education

I want to send my child to a normal state comprehensive but I am faced with an array of foundation schools, academies and free schools that I don’t trust and I don’t like.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. I say, get out of your bus and get real about what is actually happening to women: to their children and their partners; to their everyday lives. Don’t tell us what we worry about – ask us and we’ll tell you.

We want a new politics. We want a healthy NHS. We want a better Britain.