Imagine a health service where our top-quality, highly trained A&E nurses and medical practitioners are well paid, and have shorter working hours than average, because of the exceptionally high mental and physical demands of the job, and because we have plenty of them, and we value them all.
Imagine a health service where consultants don’t divide their time and attention between their NHS work and their private patients. They don’t do that because their worth-striving-for NHS contracts give them the best pay and conditions in return for agreeing not to go moonlighting – and they don’t mind, because working for the best NHS in the world is well worth it.
Imagine an education service that included the funds, the facilities and the ambition to start building world-class, publicly owned research institutes, imagine universities with the resources and the ambition to train the next generation of top-quality NHS staff.
Please take two minutes to listen to this, and think about why we aren’t being allowed those things…
Now please think about all the things our government has chosen to pour billions into instead of the NHS, and why they might be doing that, and why the opposition are not being clear about what we want…
Why do both Labour and Conservative MPs talk endlessly about how expensive the NHS is, about how they pour vast amounts of money into it, but never say whether that money is going to pay staff and buy resources, or whether they’re pouring it into the bottomless pockets of private contractors? Ask them why, ask them about PPE contracts and track-and-trace, and ministers’ mates’ deals, every time you see vehicles and facilities with things like “partnering with our NHS” printed on them, because whilst it is mostly Conservatives who seem so prone to handing contracts to friends or relatives, there are prominent members of the other parties, including team Starmer, who accept large donations from private health care companies. It would be good to know what they are expected to do in return – is to delete troublesome words like “publicly owned” and “reinstatement” from their policies?
We were robbed
We had a Labour Party a while back that had those imagined ideals in its manifesto. It all went wrong, and it was stolen from us. My local Labour Party now seems to be entirely devoid of politics. You talk about NHS reinstatement, or what the plans of people like Starmer and Streeting really are, and they ignore you. You get angry and criticise their candidates, they get abusive. It does not occur to them to debate politics. It’s infuriating, but the answer is growing before our eyes.
It doesn’t matter whether you liked Corbyn
We did have a movement in Labour for a while that seriously wanted to rescue our National Health Service, and to create an equally excellent National Education Service but it was destroyed. There are lots of rows now about how and why it failed, but it’s too late now, so let’s just look at what happened, so we don’t fall into the traps left behind.
Reinstate the NHS
Labour members came to the 2017 Party Conference armed with extensive policy documents. We’d been busy with political education and debate all over the country, and our input was supposed to be in those documents. It was, to some extent but there had been interference. In particular, in the document on the NHS, members’ contributions about reinstatement had been filtered out.
For anyone not familiar with the background, when our NHS was set up, the government legislated for it, and made our politicians directly responsible for provision but, in recent decades, governments have carefully dismantled that legislation to allow access to private profiteers. That’s why we urgently need a reinstatement bill to once more make our government directly responsible for providing our health and medical care. Back in 2017, it was the people who are now in charge of the Labour Party (then in the background) who took steps they hoped would stop reinstatement being discussed or voted on.
At that conference though, members demanded a reference back on those policy documents, so that an actual, unequivocal demand for full reinstatement was included. This is what right-wing politicians mean when they say the left is ‘not business-friendly’. It does not mean the likes of Jeremy Corbyn object to you going self-employed or starting a local company. It means democratic socialists won’t allow the creep of profiteering into what we require to keep as national services.
So, when team Starmer were back in charge, they set about clearing out activists – they weren’t really worried about whether you’d been seen in a lefty zoom during lockdown – I don’t even think they were really worried about lefties, or anti-semitism. What they wanted to clear out was activists – the kinds of people who read policy documents, and debate them. The kind of people who notice, when their NHS is being quietly dismantled.
What we need to remember
What we need now is to acknowledge that there’s no mainstream party that’s seriously trying to save our NHS. Yes, we need to vote the Tories out at the next election, if we can’t tip them out before and yes, many of us will choose to vote Labour to do that, but we need to remember that for all their fancy words, the Labour Party we have now will not save our NHS, so we need to do it ourselves.
We have an active, ambitious and fast-growing trade union movement, and many single-issue campaign groups focused on the topics that concern us all – NHS, education, transport, climate crisis, homelessness…at the moment, probably most urgent on many minds is the cost-of-living crisis, and the criminal suppression of wages. Those who can are fighting back through their trade unions. Those who aren’t in organized workplaces are coming along to meetings and demos under the #EnoughIsEnough and #DemandBetter banners.
Please join in, please keep going. None of the mainstream parties seem willing to stand by our ideals for the NHS, for education, for housing or for the end of war and deprivation – but most people do stand by those things. We are the majority. We are the many. Please keep going along to those rallies, please keep thinking up new campaigning ideas. We are the people we need, and when there are enough of us working together, the politicians will have to do what we want.
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