Sunday, 18 March 2012

The jewel in the crown trampled underfoot

I wonder if the Tories are as exhausted dismantling the welfare state (and much besides) as I and fellow campaigners, trade unionists, etc, are trying to defend it. I blooming well hope so!

I've found myself rather belatedly campaigning to save the NHS. The crowning achievement of the post-war Labour government, the representation above all else of a post-war political settlement where even the Tories accepted that ordinary people had a right to expect decent healthcare, and that the market in health that had operated up till then failed them.

I picked up a book the other day which I wish I'd read sooner and which should be required reading for anyone who ever uses the NHS. It's The Plot Against the NHS by Colin Leys and Stewart Player.

Sounds rather conspiratorial, and I don't like that sort of thing, usually, but it's a fair title. It outlines the recent history of the NHS, under New Labour, first of all. How they introduced market mechanisms and allowed chinks where private healthcare companies could enter the NHS as providers.

Those cracks have been prised open by the lobbyists of the private healthcare industries. Now, in spite of not announcing it in their manifestos, the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government propose to open up the whole NHS to private providers, and much besides, which will probably spell the end of the NHS as we know it.

Our system will become much more like a US-style market for healthcare, with, in time, people paying for treatment through personal insurance policies. It's a system that is expensive and inefficient, that largely excludes poorer people from many treatments, and that exists primarily to make big profits for private companies.

I went to a last-ditch protest against this prospect at the Department of Health on Whitehall yesterday. The organised labour movement largely having accepted the inevitability of the passage of the Health and Social Care Bill this coming week were not present. Nor were representatives of all the health professional bodies, who also oppose the Bill.

The unions and the Labour Party could have, should have organised a national campaign to save the NHS, and a national demonstration. Instead, there was a last-minute rally last week, at which all the general secretaries stood up, wrung their hands, expressed their personal commitment to the NHS, and then sat down again.

On Saturday we were, instead, a motley crew of anarchists, UKUncutters, elderly health campaigners, and families with children. We occupied Whitehall for a few halcyon minutes, grouped around the Cenotaph - but taking extreme care not to disturb the wreaths.

There is ample reason to think that we got the NHS because the British ruling class was worried about how the returning troops would react in 1945 if they didn't get a better deal socially and economically. Someone held a banner for Lambeth Save Our NHS in front of the monument with the words 'The Glorious Dead' on it.

Then the riot police moved in to shove us all up Whitehall and off down the Strand. I pushed a woman in a wheelchair who was determined to keep up with the protest up the road while the police over-ran us and the traffic got flowing again behind us. One of the most miserable days of my life. If that gives any Tories comfort, I hope you fall ill in your old age and can't afford the treatment you need.

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