Filming the photo-op on March 11th, when Green MP Caroline Lucas tabled the new National Health Bill (aka the NHS Reinstatement Bill), has embroiled Groundswell for the second time as a witness to an alleged incident involving privatisation expert Lucy Reynolds.
On this occasion a member of veteran campaign group KONP (Keep Our National Health Public) called me to say that Reynolds was under threat of expulsion from the organisation because of her alleged bad-mouthing of the Bill to an Occupy activist filming near us on College Green opposite Parliament.
My caller was concerned that Reynolds might be being unjustifiably targeted. Could I check whether she’d actually said the things she was accused of when we filmed her? She sent me videos posted on YouTube by the Occupy activist. Though Reynolds’ appearance at the photo-op had the frisson of an unwanted relative turning up at a family wedding, neither I nor my editor David Naden spotted her saying anything offensive about the Bill.
Reynolds, a persistent, vocal but respected analyst and critic of NHS re-nationalisation policies, says that she has also recently had two speaking engagements “de-booked”. She can at times hit with a broad bat but attempts to marginalise someone as valuable to the debate as her are just further examples of the enormous tensions and anxieties surrounding the Labour Party’s prospects and its NHS policy in an Election that is pivotal to the NHS’ future.
What the videos did show was Reynolds lucidly pointing out a few questionable sections in the National Health Bill, an enormous effort by universally admired Professor Allyson Pollock, a public health and social policy specialist, and lawyer Peter Roderick. But what she said carried perturbing implications.
If Labour doesn’t adopt the National Health Service Bill’s policies, which are intended to fully re-nationalise the NHS, with the rectifications she thinks are needed to completely insulate it from international trade and competition rules – under the rules any part privatisation will allow privateers to breach its defences – then it will leave the NHS fully exposed to market predators.
Which means that, in terms of saving the NHS, a vote for Labour could be a wasted vote. Indeed it could be a vote for the eventual privatisation of the NHS.
A major problem is that most pro-Labour NHS campaigners – like most MP’s and the public – don’t really know or understand the existing EU trade and competition rules, nor ones in the pipeline like the EU/US Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP), which pose such a grave threat to the NHS. And indeed to our other State-owned enterprises.
The urgency now for the National Health Bill’s proponents and their supporters is to get at least 100 MP’s, especially Labour, to realise the shortcomings of Labour’s NHS policy and back the Bill as the cornerstone for a new, rectified Bill to be presented to Parliament by any incoming Labour-dominated administration after the Election.
They want MP’s to commit to the Bill before the Election, when the Party is most vulnerable. That’s the best moment to exert pressure for changes to present policy. After the Election a new Labour administration’s leadership will be free to whip MP’s into the lobbies to follow its own agenda. And the leadership insist that their present policies do actually secure the NHS, despite growing misgivings in respected quarters.
The National Health Bill is a gauntlet thrown down to challenge the Labour Party’s leadership and policy makers. Time is desperately short. How will its proponents fare in their battle to sway MP’s to join their cause? How will Joanna and the Crazy Gang contribute to it?
To them this battle over the next 6 weeks is not just for the NHS. It’s for the principles the Labour Party used to represent, its lost soul. In publicly declaring her support for the Green Party Joanna, from dyed-in-the-wool Labour stock, is simply declaring where she best finds those principles currently represented.