Archives for posts with tag: Health

an early un-edited edition of my latest Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Clarion magazine article…

There are many reasons to vote Labour come the General Election. Some might argue there is also reason not to.

I’ve written before in the Clarion about compromise, but some still feel a vote for the Greens is still the best way to deliver a left-wing agenda in Parliament.

The Greens offer much, but what can they actually deliver? The stark answer to this question is: very little without any MP’s – even Caroline Lucas will struggle to retain the Green’s only seat in Parliament. Recently though, the Greens do offer a leader to rival Labour’s own in terms of unpopularity – but that’s shallow thinking. The kind of which the media is so obsessed with.

Locally, James Greenwood – a prominent organiser for S.T.A.N.D. (Severnside Together Against Nuclear Development) – is a passionate and skilled public speaker and a good Green candidate, but his party’s support is, as our own Clarion Comment editorial states in this issue, starting from virtually square one.

So we turn to Labour’s Steve Parry-Hearn. How might he fare?

On core local Green Party issues he pretty much cleans up. Steve’s pledge card lays it down clearly: Parry-Hearn is against new nuclear power at Oldbury, against fracking in the Dean and against Trident renewal. All these policies are cornerstone reasons to vote Green. But you can get them locally and for real by voting Labour.

Furthermore, Steve Parry-Hearn is also a strong supporter of the NHS, apprenticeships and green industry but is equally passionate about scrapping the bedroom tax. The difference is, Labour can win here – the Greens will not.

Voting Green means the Tory will retain the seat (or possibly worse, what with UKIP having made the Forest a target seat). Either way, anything but a Labour win will mean your next MP will support Trident renewal, support back-door privatisation of the NHS and will be pro-nuclear.

Meanwhile Labour’s Parry-Hearn takes a risk with his position on these topics of nuclear power, fracking and nuclear weapons as Steve is running contrary to current party policy on all three issues. That’s good news for Clarion readers as it finally means we’ve got a candidate who is a strong independent voice in Labour. A man of conviction built from a bedrock of core Labour principles. What Clarion readers might recognise as one of their own.

But many will call this tactical voting. I call it pragmatic voting. It is all very well having a strong view on an issue, but to trade that passion for an unwillingness to compromise is a self-defeating way to hand victory to those supporting the exact opposite of one’s own view.

When I started writing for the Clarion many years ago I was politically adrift. Back then in 2003 I was secretary of our local Stop the War movement but I belonged to no Party. I had left the Communist Party of Britain because it could never win an MP in my lifetime. At that time I couldn’t join Labour because New Labour supported Bush’s war. So the Lib Dems temporarily won my vote but like many I was let down.

Now I support Labour which is post-New Labour. I do so firstly because of my desire to retain the NHS as Labour built it; but I am also in the Labour Party because Ed Miliband was the choice of the trades union movement – the voice of the working class; and I am proud to support Forest Labour’s Steve Parry-Hearn precisely because of his position on the topics mentioned above. All this would be for nought if a Labour victory didn’t represent the only realistic opportunity of keeping the right out of power in the Dean and in our Parliament.

Please join me in defeating the Tories.

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Why we need to shout ‘Post-New Labour’ is the Labour Party for us all

{a pre-release of my submitted article to the Forest Clarion issue #100, as part of my ‘Left Inside’ column}

Putting aside the debate about Ed Milliband’s populist immigration speech (as that deserves a whole article in its own right), the recent performance of Labour is otherwise a welcome shift to the left. While I might be convinced that I have joined a different party to that of the ‘New Labour’ period, it is with regret that the public are not so sure. And this poses our biggest single problem.

Here’s why I think I am in a ‘post-New Labour’ Labour Party.

For activists, one of the mistakes New Labour made was when it stifled inner party democracy. It created a gulf between those who made policy and those who fought to make it and, indeed, campaigned on it and lived by its principles.

Angela Eagle, the new Chair of the National Policy Forum, however, rightly seeks to redress this. She wrote to me stating that she understood “how frustrating it has been for those…with expertise, experience and ideas to engage in a meaningful way with the Party’s policy making process. That is why I’m so committed to changing it. We need to open it up, and give everyone a voice and a stake.”

Send your demands for a Labour Party policy programme more representative of its members’ wishes to PIP@labour.org.uk.

On the other hand, I read from the minutes from the FoD CLP Executive Committee meetings that its pre-occupation with the ownership of its meeting place in Lydney is still taking up precious time. All the while local people endure the most aggressively sustained attack on their livelihoods I for one have ever known. With backdoor taxes like refuse collection charges and parking charges, the danger of our community health services under threat of removal from the NHS, and our very woodlands returning to insecurity, now is the time for Labour to locally step up its game. In the face of an anti-democratic Council, local branches need to re-engage with the issues facing local people. Ownership of the boxing club site and whether local or national Labour hold the title to the site is, frankly, not on their agenda. We need to get it off ours!

Compare this to Andy Burnham and his team who, meanwhile, has done a great deal to expose the gap between Ministers’ rhetoric and what’s really happening in our NHS (read online at www.YourNHS.com) . The Tories are cutting 6,000 nurses, Labour pledges to protect them. One of the good things about the last Labour government was its investment in the NHS, with the net result that waiting-times were drastically cut. Under the Tories it is rising again.

Now that it is threatening the continuance of services of at least one hospital, Labour could do more to distance itself from the debacle of PFI (just one reason why I could never join New Labour), but in the meantime I am pleased with the 5 pledges: 1. Protect NHS founding values; 2. Prevent postcode lotteries; 3. Guard against longer waits; 4. Promote collaboration over competition; 5. Put patients before profits. The antithesis of these characterise the awful Health & Social Care Bill the Tories passed a few months ago. And that is why Labour has promised to repeal the Bill at the earliest opportunity. Only a Labour victory would enable us to do that.

Ed Balls too got it right on petrol duty. This saw the Tories cancel the expected hike the very same day Ed’s article appeared in the national press. “But the price of crude is down.” Argued John Humphreys on BBC Radio’s Today programme. Ed quickly reassured him that it may be down in the last month, but the price isn’t trickling down to the forecourts quick enough. To ordinary people, the price is still way too high, increasing the duty will make matters worse both for households and struggling industry. It might seem a long time ago we paid less than a £1 per litre but recently it got to nearly half that again.

My point is that Labour is at its best when it represents the ordinary lives of working people. The Shadow Cabinet is delivering on this. As long as Ed himself steers clear of pasties, we’re doing alright.

Our task, to all on the left, is to build confidence in this “post-New Labour” Labour so we can halt a Tory stronghold nationally and locally.

There is much to be done. It is up to us to move the national story away from the legacy of Blair and Brown and onto the party that truly reflects ordinary working people. This is the Party with the only viable chance of reversing the health bill, halting the attack on ordinary livelihoods, stopping the sell-off of our Forests and building against the kind of unfettered profiteering  Conservatism is ideologically grounded upon.

Most if not all the campaigns and struggles that I have been involved with have failed. But as any seasoned fellow traveller will tell you, that alone is not a reason enough to give up the fight. It only begs that we fight harder.

One way to do this is to learn from our campaigns. Forest of Dean Against the Cuts spearheaded the local SOS Again campaign, seeking to keep local community health services within the NHS. It opposed the formation of Gloucestershire Care Services (GCS) as a non-NHS, non-public sector provider of local health services.

But it was the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Morning Star group which kicked off local opposition against the savage cuts in public spending with UNISON’s Peter Short taking some of the lead. After a couple ofmonths we connected with a fledgling Forest of Dean group. Both sent coaches to the March 2011 march for Public Services in London, which was still seeing activists arrive at Hyde Park as the speeches came to a close at about 4pm that afternoon.

The Forest side of the Morning Star group joined what had now become Forest of Dean Against the Cuts. But the national movement faltered. For sure, UK-Uncut was doing good work with their bail-in’s against legal tax loop-holers like Vodafone, but it was Pete Stanway of the Forest group who brought to the local agenda the issue of community hospitals and health services that were under direct threat through the creation of GCS.

GCS had all the right acronyms: it was to be a CIC(Community Interest Company) created in the guidelines of the SET (Social Enterprise Trust). But, as we warned, GCS was not a charity, and it was not part of the NHS. And it was not in the public sector even, irrespective of how it classified its surplus, not for profit or otherwise.

FoD Against the Cuts bailed-in into Lydney Tesco to highlight the price of public sector cuts, which would, of course, affect the health budget. Meanwhile Tesco was named amongst the biggest legal tax avoiders. There was an almost weekly rant by the group’s activists in the letters pages of the local press, and gradually the profile of our opposition was steadily raised. We were aware, however, that we couldn’t fight a battle on two fronts. The national NHS reform bill and public sector cuts were an entirely different issue to the formation of GCS. What was happening locally was, instead, a warning of what would happen nationally under the reform bill. Either way, the GCS takeover would happen irrespective of whichever way Parliament would vote on the national issue.

So, the takeover of formerly NHS-run local community health services by GCS became the sole preoccupation of the group, which was guided by the 1st October 2011 go-live of the new company.

We believed that few people knew of this out-sourcing, and ever fewer had had the opportunity to voice their opposition to the most fundamental change to our local community NHS health services.

Out of this anxiety and tight deadline arose our first strategic error. In a rush to oppose the formation of GCS we were sloppy with our wording of the petition. It referred to the ‘privatisation of community services’ with specific reference to Lydney and the Dilke hospitals. In my opinion the word ‘privatised’ is publicly loaded with ‘profit’, and this is exactly as Harper read it, and rejected it. Thus when we presented the 2,000 or so signatures to Mark Harper MP, he discounted the claim out of hand and would not countenance any public debate precisely because of the petitions’ wording.

Granted, a Tory MP is unlikely to rebel against his own government on the national issue (of the NHS reform bill), but on the local issue of GCS we at least had Harper on the fact that he had come out in favour of the SOS campaign first time around, when he was in opposition. What should have been awkward and embarrassing for him was brushed aside because of his rejection of our petitions’ claim. No wonder he was happy to write and explain this personally to all 2,000 who had opposed the take-over.

We argued that the spirit of the petition revealed that there was a real fear among the public, that the overwhelming majority of those asked to sign did so gladly and had heard nothing of GCS and the changes –highlighting the lack of proper consultation. But while this enabled us to dissect his position, it still didn’t change the fact of the petition’s wording which is how he was obliged to accept it. Incidentally, when pushed on why he wouldn’t hold a public meeting and/or debate on the topic he simply declined saying ‘He didn’t have to,’ and ‘Didn’t want to.

Our meeting with Harper wasn’t helped by a number of us seeking to oppose both the local issue and the national NHS reform bill at the same time. This presented a mish-mash of opposition based on ideology alone, not solid argument. He clearly thought we opposed what was happening by default and took none of our claims seriously. These two separate issues was used by Harper to belittle our concerns for attempting to mix them. Despite assurances that we knew they were separate we failed to present a coherent opposition at that meeting and had no solid demands of our MP. He was good enough to entertain our views for 45 minutes or so, but that was the extent of it. Otherwise we had handed him a useless petition which he would rebuff in his own letters to signatories, and without a voice for our argument.

Bruised but undeterred we sought to organise our own public meeting. We arranged good speakers from both the Royal College of Nursing and UNISON NHS.

But here again, we failed to present an entirely coherent front sending mixed messages over whether or not people should challenge GCS execs at a forthcoming presentation to the Dean Health Forum, for example.

We did, at least, have a letter prepared on the national issue and Diana Gash personally delivered the letters to Harper’s Westminster office on the day of the Bill’s next reading in Parliament. But Harper was undeterred and supported the Bill’s onward progress.

Someone in the audience that night raised what seemed like an odd question at the time, asking why hadn’t we done something before? October by that point was barely weeks away. This seemed obtuse – we are all voluntary activists trying to do what we can with what we have – but, on hindsight, it was a point well made, even if the questioner didn’t realise how pertinent their enquiry actually was.

In fact, the issue only came to light after we had repeatedly been fed by GCS and its allies that the decision to outsource the services was not made by GCS, but by the board of the Gloucestershire Primary Care Trust (PCT) and that we had to direct our questions and opposition to them.

In what I see as the last days of the local campaign, we finally got to the nub of the problem and it all began with New Labour. In reality we had missed the policy created by the former government which gave rise to GCS, and the legislation which sought to split commissioning of services with provision. The stark reality is that we had missed the point at which our opposition should have started.

The original SOS campaign had halted closures of our community hospitals, but in its wake the New Labour government had created the NHS Operating Framework (in2010). This sought to split PCT commissioning so that they couldn’t be providers and commissioners of their services at the same (you will recall the new NHS reform bill seeks to achieve this with GP commissioning and ‘any willing provider’). This has left the door wide open for what many see as creeping privatisation in the NHS.

All of this should have been uncovered at the start of our campaign. We had passion and anger in spades, but I feel we failed to take responsibility for our claims and for the detail. Of course, as a member of the group I too hold that responsibility and had failed.

We missed the boat and should have opposed the original policy and legislation first came into being. Perhaps it was – but I am unaware of any such local attempt to oppose it, and therefore any such attempt failed.

It was all too little too late. We had some victories, though. Ironically, the local Labour Party executive issued a statement against the formation of GCS, pushed by our lobbying of it.

As the countdown to the 1st October transfer finally came a last minute legal challenge seems to have postponed GCS at the last breath. This seeks to oppose the transfer based on irregularities of the tendering process. But in a letter issued to GCS staff on the back of the challenge, the PCT said: “If taken to its logical conclusion the challenge would mean that community services would be competitively tendered with the result that bodies both within and outside the NHS sector could respond.

Well, YES, that was kind of OUR point, which is why we were worried. We don’t want private companies wading in. But you can be sure the PCT will hide behind the policy instruments. Even if we won that contest, we’d actually be bringing forward our worst fears. It is a risky strategy.

Perhaps a groundswell will enable us to oppose the national policy now – now that we can see the consequences of it. But I rather doubt we will get the Tories to reverse it when their national NHS reform bill seeks to put the GCS project example into legislation at best, ‘any willing provider’ at worst.

The lesson learned is that we came to the argument too late. For sure, we asked GCS some embarrassing questions in public meetings and got about 100 people to our own meeting at the Miner’s Welfare Hall. But the question really was spot on when it was asked ‘Why haven’t we done anything before?’

This is more philosophical than it first appears.

How is it possible for activists let alone concerned citizens to be aware of all policies, legislation and boardroom decisions and their ramifications all of the time? Whose duty is it to impart this information? How accessible is this information, both physically and intellectually? How can we hold governments and local public bodies to account, particularly when policies go across the floor from Parliament to Parliament even with a change of government?

Perhaps it is this powerlessness which is truly the best example of what it really means to be living in a ‘Broken Britain’.

Perhaps it is from this powerlessness that the ‘occupy’ movement is drawn. The anti-war march of 2003 proved that marching alone probably isn’t enough anymore.

This is a personal view and does NOT represent the views of Forest of Dean Against the Cuts, The Clarion or the SOS Again campaign. On the national NHS reform Bill, please ensure you write to as many Lords as you can to ensure they don’t allow the Bill to proceed.