The big unspoken question behind all that we’re seeing on Groundswell is Labour’s lost credibility from its New Labour years. How can NHS campaigners trust a Party, which so enthusiastically embraced the free market and sold off swathes of the NHS in the debacle of PFI’s (Private Finance Initiatives), to truly de-marketise and properly secure it from the privateers?
Yet how will they live with the consequences of an NHS-Terminator Tory government if they fail to back their God that failed? Campaigners face a daunting black hole, just like a huge number in the movement.
For many MP Clive Efford’s recent Bill on behalf of the Labour Party does’nt inspire confidence. “Crap” is 999 Call For The NHS‘s Joanna Adams’ succinct on-camera verdict to the NHS Reinstatement Bill’s legal eagle the diffident, well-liked Peter Roderick. Labour’s follow-up actions since then, including hiring a QC to rewrite the history of Labour’s commitment to the NHS, haven’t helped.
With only 9 weeks to go our ‘rushes’ of the recent 999 Call’s Convention don’t convey a buzz of unity and purpose. A taut altercation across the cavernous Hammersmith Town Hall between a senior NHS campaign group member and a podium speaker over her claims of Labour leaners in the group seems a metaphor for Labour’s divided self.
But the evolving Reinstatement Bill is getting a cautious welcome among the 999 Callers subject, as ever, to satisfaction on key questions. The devil of any Save Our NHS legislation will be in its detail. Will it truly secure the NHS from breaches by the privateers under international trade and competition laws?
The PFI’s remain a big problem. The scale of the debacle is staggering. The repayments due on £54 billion of all PFI’s, including hospitals, schools and other public facilities, will cost £300 billion over 30 years – £10 billion a year. Most of these deals were enacted by New Labour. The present Bill’s draft proposals for letting the Treasury take responsibility remain questionable to the doubters.
In the Le Carre-like atmosphere of intrigue and speculation there’s also anxiety among 999 Callers at the main actors and their motivations. A known Labourite opposes the Reinstatement Bill being advanced before the Election. Is that fear of rocking the boat when the Party is at its most vulnerable in the run-up to the Election? So that, if they get in as a new government, they will then be free to operate their own agenda, as one of our filmed campaigners says, unfettered by troublesome doubters? Will signers-up to the Bill simply see it being rewritten to suit the Party’s mixed-economy NHS leanings after the big day, as happened on the Efford Bill?
A campaigner recounted a TTIP meeting last year with Shadow Minister Of Health Andy Burnham at which, expressing exasperation at anti-TTIP campaigners’ wan view of corporate America, he made a political autistic’s casual joke “Are you UKIP then?” This clearly didn’t encourage her faith in Labour Central.
Political autism is also suggested by allegations of continuing New Labourite top-down control-freakery and a culture that my agent, once a staunch Party member, describes as “just bullying”. Groundswell is becoming the unwitting receptacle to witness testimony of that culture, with more allegations of ‘astroturfing’ – a successful campaign group not toeing the Party line finding a meeting swamped by Labourite seat-fillers, its committee and agenda taken over and altered, and dissident protesters shellshocked into acquiescence or sickened withdrawal. Divide and rule seems the name of this game.
In an age of brand and spin symbols and theatre retain their power of magical thinking. Banners, placards, marches and demonstrations are photo opportunities for political figures and factions. An image of an MP on a podium proclaiming support for a protest crowd’s cause isn’t just a wedding photo. It’s an advertisement for what that MP represents. And the crowd is a display of support for that representation.
All these images vying for moments of visibility in the tsunami of 24/7 media represent battles for ideas. And the big battle at the moment on the socialist end of the spectrum is over Labour’s lost credibility, particularly in its historical commitment to public ownership.
Joanna and the Crazy Gang, the Party Poopers who refuse to be tagged with any party brand, are at the sharp end of the battle. Their ‘New’ politics of non-party, issue-led, internet savvy campaigning is a threat to the Oldies, particularly those still smoking the free-market joint but claiming not to be inhaling.
The Oldies’ cult of Fear of the Other may do the trick on many. But on Joanna & Co at 999 Call For The NHS? From our recent filming it seems that won’t work. They feel that the real problems lie in the City and Brussels. And in Labour’s continuing failure to distance itself convincingly from their grasp.