A new venture has come up whilst The Crunch and Getting Real remain marooned in Development Hell. Last September I joined the welcoming crowds for 999 Call For The NHS’ 300-mile Save Our NHS Jarrow March to London. In Trafalgar Square 20,000 listened to 999 founder Joanna Adams’ speech whose forthright passion and vision shamed the mealy-mouthings of most politicians and their entourages.
The 999 March, the Scottish referendum, big planning applications being unexpectedly rejected in our high Tory constituency thanks to local activists, plus my own experience in our local 38 Degrees internet campaign group (its eclectic mix includes a youthful hairdresser, an elderly actor, a shrink, a young internet entrepreneur, an acupuncturist and “a lifelong Tory”) inspired a hunch that there’s something refreshing in the stale air of politics – the stirrings of a broad popular movement against the ruling free-market order of the last 35 years. Until now that’s been the stuff of my filmmaker’s imaginings as in The Crunch.
I learned about the NHS Reinstatement Bill group, whose aim is to de-marketise the NHS and restore it to its public service role, and of (Lord) David Owen’s central role in it. I was intrigued that a retired political warhorse, who’d been a precursor of New Labour’s pro-market evolution, would feel so passionate about the threat of the NHS’ demise at the hand of those same market forces. His acknowledgement of the need to connect with internet-savvy grassroots supporters to advance the Bill also rang bells.
I wrote an outline titled Groundswell and the great observational documentarist Charles Stewart agreed to participate. 999 Call For The NHS were recommended to me as an authentic grassroots campaign group and I readily accepted my outline being forwarded to Joanna Adams. Four days later I got the news that she’d checked Charles and me out with Ken Loach. He’d been positive about our trustworthiness.
Joanna’s caution was understandable. There are natural tensions among campaigners about aligning themselves with Labour given its role in the NHS privatisation drive initiated by the Tories and its trimmings to high finance and corporate interests. The 999 Callers need to be vigilant about preserving their independent, non-party position from the kind infiltration that has apparently occurred among campaign groups.
Within days Charles, his partner Pat and I were trial filming Joanna at her pigment-sales workplace and family home in Darlington. Next day we accompanied her and some of her bright, funny, “all a bit mad” colleagues – singer/artist Jo Land, Jo’s partner/writer James, and young Jack Black-like stand-up comic Icarus – to Stafford for a day-long 999 conference of fellow campaigners. There was nothing ‘mad’ about this well-planned, informative and pragmatic event.
Back in London, describing my first encounter with Joanna and her Crazy Gang to my adviser the veteran documentary editor David Naden, I got a lump in my throat. I was getting a 999 Calling! How better to explore the stirrings of People Power and its future than through them and their ups and downs as this vital Election approaches?
Two days later a friend put up seed money to pay for basic materials and travel costs. That was 11 days ago. Groundswell was on the runway. But will it take off?