An eventful week saw me launch a crowdfund campaign on Indiegogo, receive an unpleasant email from unnamed person(s) concerned about Groundswell, a visit to Darlington to home-movie Joanna and the shooting of the long-planned 999 Call Convention at Hammersmith Town Hall for national NHS campaigners and groups.
Because of the imminence of the Election I’ve had to launch our Indiegogo campaign sooner than I’d have liked. At a later stage, with a body of filming completed and reviewed, we’ll be in a better position to give the project a proper promotional push.
I filmed Joanna on a newly-bought domestic camcorder prior to the 999 Call Convention which she and the Crazy Gang organised. I hope the material I got conveys something of the intense personal pressures her venture has brought on her.
At the Conference the NHS Reinstatement Bill, instead of being a central talking point, got lost among a plethora of other subjects. We gleaned from Peter Roderick, the barrister finalising the Bill’s draft, that it’s to be presented by Green MP Caroline Lucas and has 4 MP’s so far backing it. Joanna got Roderick’s assurance at the end of the day for updates of the Bill’s clauses for 999 Callers to be able to evaluate.
One of the speakers Dr Bob Gill, a GP who’s standing as a National Health Action Party candidate at the Election, is proving particularly impressive in Groundswell. His inside knowledge of the harm done to his patients by the privatisation of healthcare and his allegations of damage to NHS campaign colleagues by the practitioners of the Dark Arts, is all the more powerful and convincing for his quietly-spoken, concise delivery.
What draws Gill, and other campaigners who claim experience of the Dark Arts manipulation of campaign groups, to a grassroots organisation like 999 Call For The NHS is its independent-minded, non-party nature. 999 Callers want critical and informed debate on an issue before jumping into bed with any of the parties.
The internet has opened their eyes to a whole new world of rapid, democracy-informing self-education on issues. By contrast, on Michael Cockerell’s affable Inside The Commons BBC TV series, the sight of MPs, more often than not only partially informed on issues they are to vote on, being herded by Party whips into the voting lobbies looked sadly behind the times. And also disturbing.
The campaigners I’ve met and filmed are unlikely ‘loonie lefties’ or whatever other name-calling used to discredit unpalatable thinkers. They come across as ordinary would-be Labour people who are appalled at the depredations of the free-market and at the co-opting of their political representatives by it.
They seem broadly ‘socialist’ freethinkers who actually have a profound belief in the principles of Parliamentary democracy but a despair at what has become of them. When I first met her Joanna said that her one regret was that Tony Benn, who’d recently died, wasn’t there to see the 999 People’s March For The NHS last Summer. I suspect he’d have felt right at home with them.
Media silence on NHS campaigns is a repeated refrain, as is the climate of fear that permeates those working in the public health sector. The contagious dread of Labour losing the Election, and how that’s affecting the positioning of campaigners and campaign groups, shadows the material we’re gathering. The Dark Artists are an expression of that fear.
It may well drive campaigners to accommodations on future NHS policy that will allow for any Labour and/or coalition government to bring in legislation with loopholes for the privateers. Will the 999 Callers be persuaded by the final drafting of the Reinstatement Bill?
The Convention also gave a glimpse of a potential longer term development – increasing grassroots activism taking direct actions to defend the NHS, including against the corporations and vested interests threatening its demise. Could the 999 Call story in Groundswell be part of that development?
From what I’ve seen in barely 6 weeks of working on Groundswell – more of this to come shortly – it’s hard to be optimistic about the Election, its process or its aftermath. The Old Politics seems to be grinding on and grinding down what’s left of public faith in its workings.