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It’s a bit random which years I pick to go to the Labour Party Conference. Like the Boat Race, it’s probably more effective watching the event on T.V. rather than being there in person; the down side you miss out on ‘the atmosphere’.
The parliamentary party need time to get to know the Labour leadership which the public have selected. The thing is: this was not a minor victory by Corbyn, but a pretty decisive win across all parts of the party. Lord Mandelson is of course being pathetic when he calculates that the combined number of voters for three out of the four candidates is higher than that for Jeremy Corbyn. Mandelson might prefer the maths to the actual sentiment. But Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek Finance Minister, expressed quite well the sentiment: that increasingly people are grasping at dodgy metrics to prove their point, when in fact the quality is qualitatively poorer. He was in fact talking about schools and hospitals, but the reliance on measures is indeed pervasive in the rather rigid unemotional Taylorian school of management and applies well to the total quality management of ‘New Labour’.
It is quite difficult for the Blairites not to take it as a personal defeat – after all David Blunkett, Charles Clarke, Tony Blair, and Alastair Campbell, and many more, threw everything but the kitchen sink at the matter. But everytime they intervened, the Corbyn vote went up. A basic assessment of the situation, possibly wrong, is that voters could not adequately differentiate between the parties, viewed Labour as Tory Lite, and decided against Labour due to their ineptitude at running the economy and being so reliant on the SNP. To dismiss quantitative easing as ‘the money tree’ is a very Progress thing to do; not all change is progress, and not all progress is good. George Osborne’ been at QE for some time, except his money has simply got stuck in the banking system. It would be wrong to play the man not the ball, though. There is a plethora of reasons why a country’s economy is not like a household budget, and it is due to strict following of the rule book which has led the Labour Party to argue the unarguable for their grassroots voters. That is, is it aspiration to have libraries shut down, hospitals shut down, or law centres shut down?
I believe that it is this analysis of Corbyn’s agenda as fantasy which is not the point. Traditional economics, as implemented by George Osborne, the possible next leader of the Conservative Party, has been a fantastic disaster – with the deficit not being cleared to time, and with the national debt going through the roof. As Tony Blair was the first to admit at the Progress rally in the leadership race, there was no succession planning. Liz Kendall then reiterated this message on the last day. And Lord Mandelson has just reinforced this message. The Blair Government, with all its successes, can be blamed for not having developed a plan for ten years for the future. They adopted the Conservatives’ spending plans when elected in 1986, and because of that Labour ‘legitimately’ adopted the private finance initiative. None of the Labour leadership candidates wished to talk bout the private finance initiative except for Jeremy Corbyn. The issue is that a number of NHS Trusts have budgets out of control, with PFI debts, barely managing to maintain a safe staffing budget. This market failure is a major disaster whatever grand plans Labour had for public service reform.
It’s as if the Labour computer has lost connection with a socialist server. For me, it is noteworthy that Labour could not bring itself to mention 2 S words; one is socialism, but the other is State. When I was listening to Tim Farron, near ‘far left leader’ of the Liberal Democrats (as the BBC might call him), or ‘outstanding leader’ (as the Guardian might call him), the penny suddenly dropped. I had a clear lightbulb moment. I worked out why I am not a Liberal Democrat. I get the impression, and I undoubtedly will be told the opposite by Liberal Democrats, that Liberal Democrats like to see themselves as the more acceptable version of the Conservatives or Labour. I have always been struck by Nick Clegg’s tribal hatred of Labour (thereby alienating all Labour voters). I am bemused by Tim Farron wanting to hate Labour with one hand, and wanting to offer a hand of friendship on the other hand. But I am really struck by how Liberal Democrats can’t see the State as anything other than abusive or coercive.
First things first, Labour have made plenty of mistakes as regards abuse of power of the State, for example 42 days without trial. Clement Freud, Liberal MP, was one of the chief architects of the human rights legislation, but Labour enacted it in 1999. But on the other hand, the last Government started a clear attack via ATOS on disabled citizens. Whereas the State was meant to protect and enable people who are disabled, the State became its enemy. Jeremy Corbyn MP in my view can’t be frightened about talking about a State that is there to enable and protect people; and this can include a strong economy, and strong NHS. Social care has gone to the dogs in the last five years, and some investment now is urgently needed to stop the rot. Otherwise, the competition is literally between political parties who can offer the lowest council tax bill, offering bargain basement services. Conversely, the case for competition improving quality in services has not been made out at all, and has in fact taken the NHS down a dangerous blind alley.
A strong State can think about solutions to the housing crisis too. Left to the free market without any intervention, housing benefit gets pump primed into private landlords. Foreign investors can buy up new builds thus distorting artificially property prices. The free market has patently failed to deliver in a successful housing policy. Likewise, the free market has not delivered value to the consumer in a number of monopoly-like markets, like the utilities and railways. Public ownership is popular, and generally voters are pretty good at knowing when they are being ripped off. ‘Aspirational hardworking’ citizens are also good when they are being fleeced by employers. The enforcement of employment rights, through the State enabling and protecting its citizens, is good for business; the workforce is happier, healthier, and is motivated into making their companies a success. You just have to look at the lack of growth in nurses pay or the troubles over the junior doctors’ pay to see how the State is critically relevant to much of society. It’s not all about making corporation tax the most competitive in Europe.
I personally have voted Labour all my life. I am glad now it is having this discussion, whereas it seemed to defer this discussion previously. But I think it’s time for Labour to think how it can form an intelligent and popular narrative. This story should be, I feel, how the State can enable and protect its citizens. This can be taken into all policy areas. For example, is it the collective view of the parliamentary party that the best way to defend the State is through TRIDENT? It may not be effective against a suicide bomber, but it could be mechanism we need to avoid unilateral disarmament. Likewise, the parliamentary party could overwhelmingly decide that it is in the country’s interests not to leave NATO. Or, it could be not in the interest of Labour to leave Europe but the case has to be discussed – can the UK fare equally well in the world if it concentrates all its efforts in an internationalist way elsewhere such as the US or China? David Cameron clearly wants to sign up to a Europe which emphasises a free market, but it might be that the parliamentary Labour party has concerns about the rights of workers defined in an EU way. Labour should not be frightened of debating this in public, and Jeremy Corbyn should be prepared to support the party whatever they decide (and vice versa).
I, for one, feel energised by the discussion to come; Labour will have to crack a few eggs to make an omelette, and I am sure that when Labour comes to be in government it will be in a better place than if it had simply gone with the status quo. Free socialism – give Corbyn a chance.
I’m essentially in two minds about whether the NHS is ‘a political football’.
On the one hand, I don’t think it should be.
I felt the way Mid Staffs meant some hardworking staff in that region came to be pilloried and demonised by the media was more than indecent.
On the other hand, I think you can clearly apportion blame for the current Government’s performance about A&E waiting times and other key metrics.
On balance, I’d like Labour to have a strong majority to get through repeal of the Health and Social Care Act (2012), without say relying on the Liberal Democrats who enacted it in the first place.
There’s also important legislative work to be done in bringing together health and care; and also an Act of parliament to consolidate regulation of clinical professionals.
While I have much sympathy for NHS campaigners, I most certainly do not want a weak Tory-led Government because of incessant criticism of Labour.
There is a huge amount to discuss about the NHS.
I believe, for example, that the private finance initiative, whilst it had a useful aim in improving the infrastructure of buildings of the NHS, clearly did not represent value for money.
I don’t think it’s ever justifiable to bring in the private sector because the NHS can’t ‘cope’. I don’t see why you should want to bring in locums either, because of ‘unforeseen circumstances’.
And, in total agreement with Jackie Ashley at a fringe meeting of the Fabians this year, there needs to be had somewhere a discussion of how health and care sectors are to be properly funded.
There is almost universal agreement that the NHS cannot function at anywhere near its best with social care in such chaos.
I do blame a supine media for not allowing discussion of ‘whole person care’, or discussion of topics that even Labour would like to talk about (such as PFI; see Margaret Hodge’s remarks).
We’ve got some brilliant brains involved – Prof Allyson Pollock, whose brilliant analysis of PFI shines, has had some very pertinent points about the Clive Efford Bill with Peter Broderick. Yes, Andy Burnham MP does not support ISPS/TTIP, but this policy is still being left hanging in an uncomfortable way.
I am fundamentally a socialist, so I take the perspective that if we’ve got money for war we’ve got money for the health service. And I think with debt going through the roof, and with the economy being fuelled with insufficient till receipts, we are a long way from the energy which saw the NHS created in the first place from the spirit of ’45.
Whilst supporting Labour, I don’t wish this to descend into tribalistic nonsense. I will support anyone who has decided that the current performance of the NHS is unacceptable, but I have no intention of actively campaigning against Labour.
I personally wish to see policy for living well with dementia progress under Labour, irrespective of whether Ed Miliband can eat a chip butty.
Whatever, we certainly need there to be a public discourse about the NHS more than Europe or immigration, for example. Socialism is social-ism; if you want to see how collectively we can pull through, just look at the energy generated by Jon Swindon (here) or Eoin Clarke (here).
“All it takes for evil to succeed is for a few good men to do nothing…” is the famous saying by Edmund Burke.
Burke despised the abuse of power, so one can only wonder what he would have made of the enactment of the Health and Social Care Act (2012).
It’s often forgotten that the original name of the Liberal Democrats Party is the ‘Social and Liberal Democratic Party’. Nick Clegg worked for Tory Grandee, Leon Brittan, so is bound to have been the recipient of right-wing ideological stardust. David Laws, Nick Clegg and others like them don’t like to describe themselves as “social democrats”, they prefer to describe themselves as Liberals favouring ‘the smaller state’ in the tradition of J.S. Mill. David Laws has described previous Labour governments as having too many collective social democrat experiments, and possibly feels as much hostility towards Labour as is probably felt towards ‘the Orange Bookers’ by Labour members.
The idea of Labour voluntarily wishing to go into a Coalition with the Liberal Democrats in May 2015 should frankly make you wish to throw up down the nearest toilet. Lord Andrew Adonis explains his version of events in the account in “5 days in May”, and from it emerges a clean narrative of how the Liberal Democrats only used their abortive negotiations with Labour to try to improve their bargaining hand with the Conservatives. The brilliant Matthew d’Ancona is consistent with his account too. Nick Clegg clearly wanted to ‘go right’, and not go left. Clegg had reached a judgment, despite policy overlap with Labour, that a Lib-Lab coalition was not going to work. To explain, in his book ‘In It together’ D’Ancona describes a tight social circle running the Tory side of the coalition – “old friends, their wives, ex-girlfriends, all joining each other for holidays and dinner parties and sharing childcare, now all ministers or Downing Street staffers.”
There were no negotiations between the Liberal Democrats and Labour on the ‘economic plan’. Vince Cable was not even on the LibDems’ negotiating team. Nick Clegg signed up to ‘faster and deeper’ cuts, and the full ‘Go large’ offer of welfare reforms. Clegg’s promise that he would negotiate first with the party which achieved the most seats had no constitutional precedent. This move was clearly to legitimitise an opening to the Conservatives, and to his own party.
The writing was always on the wall for the NHS too. Nick Clegg’s wife was formerly a partner in charge of competition law work for the large corporate firm DLA Piper. This global legal partnership has been heavily involved in European competition law is DLA Piper, who provide lobbying, public affairs and trade policy services, as well as advice on how to get access to public service delivery contracts. One partner of the firm who is part of the Liberal Democrat Peer who ended up being highly influential was Lord Tim Clement-Jones, in seeing new the competition regulations reach the statute books this year.
“Neoliberalism” is an updated version of the classical liberal economic thought that was dominant in the US and UK prior to the Great Depression of the 1930s. From roughly the mid 1930s to the mid 1970s a new “interventionist” approach replaced classical liberalism. It became the accepted belief that capitalism requires significant state regulation in order to be viable. And we are seeing Labour returning to the idea that unregulated markets do not act to the benefit of the consumer, in his attack on ‘energy prices’. The “cost of living crisis”, whilst not directly about the NHS, is entirely about the dialogue between the State and the markets, which has become so essential for the UK Labour Party to negotiate.
In the 1970s the Old Religion of classical liberalism made a rapid comeback, first in academic economics and then in the realm of public policy. Neoliberalism is both a body of economic theory and a policy stance. Neoliberal theory claims that a largely unregulated capitalist system (a “free market economy”) not only embodies the ideal of free individual choice but also achieves optimum economic performance with respect to efficiency, economic growth, technical progress, and distributional justice. This idea has lingered on in the neoliberal policies of all three major parties, in “personal health budgets” which should be more accurately described as “individualised” budgets. With the combination of health and social care budgets likely to form a thrust of Labour’s “whole person care” policy, the neoliberal concept of choice is potentially very much alive and well, but it will be for Burnham and colleagues to swing the pendulum back towards the inherent socialist (and left populist) notion of putting a ‘national care service’ on an equal footing with health. In this narrative, which Labour had thus far been reluctant to question before Burnham noticeably started making strong ‘anti-market noises’, the State is assigned a very limited economic role: defining property rights, enforcing contracts, and regulating the money supply. State intervention to correct market failures is viewed with suspicion, on the ground that such intervention is likely to create more problems than it solves. If Ed Miliband’s concept of the relationship between the State and markets is anything to go by, and this itself represents a marked departure from Tony Blair’s viewpoint, Andy Burnham is likely to be able to make inroads into this socialist agenda.
The definition of socialism is in fact well known to all members of the Labour Party, by virtue of their membership card. It is worth noting that recent policy decisions have been promoting neoliberalism, and the net effect has been that the Socialist Health Association has been asleep at the wheel. Competition is a massive shoo-horn into neoliberalism. Nearly exactly one year ago, I described how section 75 of the Health and Social Care Act (2012) would be exactly the sort of legislative mechanism which would impose competition like never before on the NHS. As Lynton Crosby himself says, “You should lock in the base, and then go for the swing?” In my view, the base is competition, the swing is the free movement of capital.
My article on the Socialist Health Association website is here, long before Polly Toynbee and David Nicholson were reporting as thinking that competition was a problem. Once capitalism had become well established in the US after the Civil War, it entered period of cutthroat competition and wild accumulation known as the Robber Baron era. In this period a coherent anti-interventionist liberal position emerged and became politically dominant. Despite the enormous inequalities, the severe business cycle, and the outrageous and often unlawful behavior of the Goulds and Rockefellers, the idea that government should not intervene in the economy held sway through the end of the 19th century.
What explains this political difference between large and small business? The mood music appears to be that Labour is intending to refine its pledge of ‘being the party of business’. Ed Miliband in his conference speech of 2013 made quite a big play of ‘standing up to bullies’ rather than ‘the weak’. It would therefore make no intuitive sense for Miliband to become very pro-corporations and ignoring SMEs. And this makes complete sense when you understand the relationship of the symbiotic relationship between the State and big corporations. When large corporations achieve significant market power and become freed from fear concerning their immediate survival, they tend to develop a long time horizon and pay attention to the requirements for assuring growing profits over time. They come to see the state as a potential ally. Having high and stable monopoly profits, they tend to view the cost of government programs as something they can afford, given their potential benefits. By contrast, the typical small business faces a daily battle for survival, which prevents attention to long-run considerations and which places a premium on avoiding the short-run costs of taxation and state regulation. This explains the radically different positions that big business and small business held regarding the proper state role in the economy for the first two-thirds of the twentieth century. It is no particular surprise that some of the G8 dementia summit agenda has had textbook ‘corporate capture’, in going down the road of personalised genomics medicine rather than care.
To some extent, this “horse has bolted”, and it is to his credit that Andy Burnham MP has vigorously said the marketisation of the NHS went far too far. For example, in his first ever Healthwatch Conference speech,
“I think we let the market in too far. The time has come to say that and to draw a line and make a break with it. If you let this market in too far, I believe, in the end, you will destroy the whole, what is so fantastic about the NHS, that ethos that Danny Boyle captured so memorably at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.”
Andy Burnham, as Shadow Secretary of State for Health, has pledged to repeal the Health and Social Care Act (2012), which will go some way to discredit the extremely poor arguments for competition which have emerged from prominent healthcare analysts in recent years. There is no doubt, for example, that the merger involving Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch hospitals NHS foundation trust and Poole Hospital NHS foundation trust was a particularly low point. All the people whom I have spoken to in private think that Andy Burnham MP and all members of the Shadow Health Team really firmly believe what they’re saying, in standing up for the NHS. This should in theory be low hanging fruit for Labour as Labour is consistently many % points ahead of the Conservatives on the NHS. It should also be in theory low hanging fruit for the Socialist Health Association.
Having failed so triumphantly in having warned about the threat posed by this pro-competition legislative instrument, the Socialist Health Association is at risk of being asleep at the wheel yet again over a second and equally crucial matter. Some analysts argue that globalisation has produced a world of such economic interdependence that individual nation-states no longer have the power to regulate capital. Free movement of capital is described as being “at the heart of the Single Market and is one of its ‘four freedoms'”. According to the European Commission,
“It enables integrated, open, competitive and efficient European financial markets and services – which bring many advantages to us all.”
Tony Benn has described graphically how he considers “free movement of capital” to be a threat to basic democracy in socialism. Benn argues that this particular free movement imperialism under a new form: only the agents of imperialism are companies rather than countries. To this extent, the media excitement as to whether you should provide NHS treatment for migrants bring something to mind: “smoke and mirrors”.
And what about the EU-US Free Trade Treaty? This is the second big issue nobody wants to talk about, as it is the “swing” part of neoliberalising “our NHS”. The aim of the Agreement, according to the Commission, is to remove ‘unnecessary obstacles to trade and investment, including existing NTBs, through effective and efficient mechanisms, by reaching an ambitious level of regulatory compatibility for goods and services, including through mutual recognition, harmonisation and through enhanced cooperation between regulators’. (Art 24) It is mooted that the EU-US treaty would set in stone all liberalisation and privatisation measures already achieved at the time the treaty is signed and bring all future regulations within the restrictive provisions of the agreement. This treaty, if passed, would represent an enormous challenge to public-owned health services across Europe. There was very little awareness in Europe, even among those wanting to defend public services, to the implications of the EU-Canada agreement. Debbie Abrahams has become a lone voice virtually in discussing this in parliament. It would now be very desirable that campaigns in Britain pay serious attention to the US-EU negotiations and link up with campaigns in other EU states, and the Socialist Health Association as a national entity affiliated to the Labour Party should have a clear view on this. It would be even more helpful for its members if this settled view were consistent with a definition of socialism ‘as we know it’.
Whatever one’s precise definitions of privatisation and nationalisation, in the context of the NHS, it is clear that the public have some views about national identity and state ownership of assets. This is borne out by the electoral successes which are widely predicted for UKIP int the European Elections next year. So far, we’ve had the debate, but with no thanks to the BBC, of how the NHS is being outsourced and privatised without anyone’s knowledge. It is essential that the Socialist Health Association is fit for purpose in influencing Labour policy in 2014, in having a view on whether it wants to see primary care as well as services in NHS hospitals being run by private domestic and multi-national companies for maximisation shareholder dividend. This of course would be a tragedy in a year in the run-up to the General Election on May 7th 2015, though this is as much about a battle for the soul of the Labour Party as it is about winning an election.
In 1945 Herbert Morrison was given responsibility for drafting the Labour Party manifesto that included the blueprints for the nationalsation and welfare programmes:
“The Labour Party is a socialist party and proud of it. Its ultimate purpose at home is the establishment of the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain – free, democratic, efficient, progressive, public-spirited, its material resources organized in the service of the British people.”
But also – all it takes for evil to succeed is for a few good men to do nothing.
My blog on ‘Living well with dementia’ is here.
There’s an argument from some that more trenchant tax rises, such as VAT or income tax, and ‘getting more from less’, will be enough to see through an incoming Labour government led by Ed Miliband.
Put quite simply, I don’t think this will be nearly enough. It would the best Labour could come to retoxifying its own brand, reestablishing its credentials as a ‘tax and spend’ government. In fact, for the last two decades, the taxation debate has got much more complicated due to an issue nobody wishes to admit. That is: you’re not actually using taxpayers’ money to go into the salaries or wages of employees of the State, you’re increasingly using this tax to subsidise the shareholder dividends of directors of outsourced public functions (such as beneficiaries of health procurement contracts). Whether you like it or hate it, and let’s face it most people are ambivalent to it, resorting to this would ignore all the groundwork the Miliband team has done on “pre-distribution”. Forgetting this actual word for the moment, making the economy work properly for the less well-off members of society should be an explicable aim of government on the doorstep. Putting the brakes on the shock of energy bills, from fatcat companies, is a reasonable self-defence against an overly aggressive market which has swung too far in much favour of the shareholder and director. Paying people a living wage so that they’re not so dependent on State top-ups to survive is as close as you can get to motherhood and apple pie. Even Boris Johnson supports it.
Of course, Ed Miliband’s natural reaction as a social democrat would be try and survive government as a social democrat. But that doesn’t get round the problem experienced by a predecessor of his, Tony Blair. When Tony Blair had his first meeting with Robin Butler (now Lord Butler of Brockwell), Butler asked, “I’ve read your manifesto, but now what?” Ed Miliband has low hanging fruit to go better than Tony Blair on his first day in office if he can come up with clear plans for office and government.
Let’s get something straight. I don’t agree that the scenario which must be proven otherwise is that Ed Miliband will come into Downing Street only enabled by Liberal Democrat voters. There are plenty of former Liberal Democrat voters who feel deeply disgusted by Nick Clegg not acting as the ‘brake’ to this government, but as the ‘accelerator pedal’. They have seen Clegg’s new model army vote for tuition fees, privatisation of the NHS, and welfare reforms, as if there is no tomorrow. And for many of his MPs, there will be no tomorrow. Clegg’s operating model of supplying votes for whichever party happens to be his employer is clearly unsustainable, as within two periods of office, his flexible corpus of MPs would end up repealing legislation that they helped to introduce to the statute books.
In answer to the question, “What do we do now?”, Ed Miliband does not need to reply with a critique of capitalism. Miliband will have to produce a timeline for actions which he has long promised, such as implementation of a national living wage, controlling seemingly inexorable increases in energy bills, as well as other ‘goodies’ such as repealing of the Health and Social Care Act (2012).
Andy Burnham MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Health, has already explained some of the ‘and then what’. Burnham has insisted that he will make existing structures ‘do different things’. But while getting of compulsory competitive tendering, Burnham needs to put ‘meat on the bones’ on how he intends to make the NHS work without it being a quasimarket. Burnham’s challenges are not trivial. Burnham seemingly wishes to maintain a system of commissioning, while intending to abolish the purchaser-provider split. Burnham also seemingly wishes to support local A&E departments in not being shut down, but has as not yet stated clearly what he thinks will work better than the current amendment of the Care Bill going through parliament for NHS reconfigurations. Furthermore, Burnham in advancing ‘whole person care’, in sticking to his stated unified budgets, may have to resist seeing the merging of the non-means tested NHS being merged with the means-tested social care. This might easily lead to ‘mission creep’ with merging with welfare budgets. And this brings up a whole new issue in ‘integrated care’ which Burnham has long denied has been on the agenda: “top up payments” or “copayments”. Reducing health inequalities by tackling inequalities social determinants of health should of course be well within the grasp of a socialist-facing NHS delivered by Labour. With patient safety also, correctly, a top priority for the National Health Service, especially for how frail individuals received medical care in hospitals, Burnham has in fact five timelines to develop fast as top priorities: health inequalities, commissioning, reconfigurations, whole person care, patient safety.
The global financial crash should have given some impetus to the Marxist critique of capitalism, but it didn’t. Tony Benn said famously that, when he asked to think of an example of ‘market forces’, he would think of a homeless person sleeping in a cardboard box underneath Waterloo Bridge. Benn further pointed out that the NHS was borne out of war, where normal rules on spending went out of the window: “have you ever heard of a General saying he can’t bomb Baghdad as he’s overrun as his budget?” However, it was not the global financial crash which caused there to be far too many people who feel disenfranchised from politics. Capitalism always drives towards inequality. It also drives towards economic and political power being rested at the top. The reason why people are well off tell you it’s important to do more with less is that they have a fundamental poverty of aspiration about this country. They don’t particularly care as the most well off are getting even more well off. This is an economic recovery for the few. The economy is not going to grow on the back of a record people with zilch employment rights under “zero hours contracts”. The economy is not going to grow either on the back of a property-boom based in London, even if a sufficiently large number vote Conservative as a result of a bounce in their property prices.
What there is a risk of, however, is socialism being popular, and this of course goes beyond the follower number of a few certain individuals on Twitter. Across a number of decades, particularly in Sweden and Cuba, we’ve been able to learn good lessons about what has happened in the worlds of communism and social democracy, as a counterpoint to capitalism. Tony Benn, when asked to give an example of ‘market forces’, would always cite the person sleeping rough under Waterloo Bridge. The Labour Party, most recently, in large part to Tony Blair being ideologically being ‘of no fixed abode’, has run away from socialism, meaning narratives such as Jacky Ashley’s recent piece are consciously limp and anaemic, a self-fulfilling prophecy of utmost disappointment. There is no sense of equality, cooperation or solidarity, and these ought to be traits which are found to be at the heart of Labour’s policy. If Ed Miliband hasn’t thought of how the answer to ‘Now what?’ fulfils those aims, it’s time he had started thinking about. With this, he can not only build a political party, but build a mass movement. With people choosing to become members of unions, and there is no better time with such a naked onslaught on employment rights, the Labour movement could become highly relevant, not just to very poor working men. Labour has to move with the times too; it needs to move away from reactionary ‘identity politics’, and seek to include people it hasn’t traditionally engaged in a narrative with. This might include the large army of citizens who happen to be disabled or elderly. There is no doubt that a socialist society needs the economy to succeed; if it is really true that the UK sets to be in a dominant position in Europe by 2030, surely the media should be helping the UK perform a positive rôle as a leader. The economy involves real people, their wages, their energy bills, their employment rights, so while it is all very easy to be po-faced about “the cost of living”, or have foodbanks in your line of blindsight, Labour needs to be a fighting force for many more people who otherwise don’t feel ‘part of it’. It should be the case that a vote should buy you influence in shaping society, in as much as the way to buy influence, say in the NHS, is to become a Director of a private health multinational company. This fight against how capitalism has failed can indeed become the alternative to commercial and trade globalisation; a peaceful transition into this type of society is one which the more advanced economies like ours is more than capable of.
Where Labour has thus far been quite successful in trying to make its policies look acceptable to the wider public is courting the opposition. Many would say they have taken this too far. Labour might wish to ‘look tough on welfare’, but Labour can easily advocate employed work being paid for fairly, while being fiercely proud of a social security system which looks after the living and mobility needs of people who are disabled. A radical look at ‘working tax credits’ is possibly long overdue, but Labour will need to get out of its obsession for triangulation to do that. If Labour merely offers a ‘lighter blue’ version of the Conservatives, members of the public will be unimpressed, and boot Labour out asap. Whilst Wilson and Blair both won a number of periods of government, the jury is out especially with what Blair achieved in reality aside from the national minimum wage (which was only achieved with the help of the unions). Many people feel that privatisation was a continuous narrative under Labour as it had been for the Conservatives, and many Labour voters feel intrinsically disgusted at the thought of Tony Blair being Margaret Thatcher’s greatest achievement. People instead of being liberalised by markets have now become enslaved by them. Across a number of sectors, there are only a handful of competitors who are able to rig the prices lawfully between them. The consumer always loses out, and the shareholders with minimal risk receive record profits year-on-year. Of course, rejection of privatisation does not necessarily mean nationalisation, in the same way that decriminalisation of illegal drugs does not necessarily mean legalisation. But it cannot be ignored that some degree of State ownership is a hugely popular idea, such as for the NHS, Royal Mail and banks. Where Ed Miliband might be constructively compared to Fidel Castro (in the days when things were going well for Castro) is that Miliband can set out a vision for a sufficient long period of time for people to become attracted to it (not disenfranchised by it). Thatcher, for all her numerous faults, was very clear about what she intended to achieve. As Tony Benn put it, she was not a “weather vane” but a “Weather cock which is set in a direction… it just happened that I totally disagreed with the direction which she set.”
I think Ed Miliband will surprise people, exactly as he has done so far, in winning the general election on May 8th 2015. I also feel that he will surprise people by having answers to the “And then what?” bit too.
A call for a new SHA committee to look at how socialism is implemented across all SHA policy threads
Val Hudson has recently written a brilliant article called “Wither the Socialist Health Association”, which was recently knocked off the front page by a sudden flurry of other blogposts, curiously by the Director, Chair and Vice-Chair of the SHA. However, Val’s post is as relevant today, as it was a few days ago when it was first published.
Recent discussions here and beyond have confirmed an unofficial sentiment amongst some members of the Socialist Health Association that the Association does not appear to be advocating socialist principles for the NHS, currently. This would not be a problem of course if the Association were merely a group hoping to provide useful and relevant input to the Labour Party on health, but it has the word “Socialist” in its title and claims to espouse socialist values:
for example on the homepage
A longstanding member of the SHA even opined recently:
“there is precious little socialism in the day to day workings of SHA. This needs to change.”
In talking about Mid Staffs, Richard Bourne, Chair of the SHA, recently remarked that, “The situation … must be seen as an opportunity, not a response to “failure”. ” But the problem, arguably, comes from a comment made by Martin Rathfelder, Director of the SHA: “If socialism only means nationalisation then we are sunk.” A sensible response therefore is for there to be an accountable Committee within SHA, with card-carrying Socialists participating, which can oversee on behalf of the senior members of the SHA that the implementation of all policy strands is consistent with a reasonable interpretation of ‘socialism’ in relation to the NHS. Any exceptions deviation from this standard could be discussed as exceptions or issues in a coherent, mature and balanced way, within an acceptable band of tolerances. This would also help to restore the trust, reputation and confidence in the leadership of the SHA that the conduct of the SHA is taking place in a way which reflects the views of its socialist members.
There is no escaping from Martin Rathfelder’s view, that entire state ownership of the NHS is impossible, given how many contracts of the services ‘in the name of’ the NHS are being awarded to entities in the private sector, including social enterprises in the private sector. However, there has been concern by Colin Leys and others that the ultimate outcome of progression of activities into the private sector is that the NHS is left with the difficult, ‘unprofitable’ cases, with the private sector having ‘cherrypicked’ the more lucrative business (see for example Colin Leys’ article from merely 3 days ago.) The existence of a hybrid ‘mixed economy’ may be consistent with a ‘third way’ definition popularised under Tony Blair and Prof Tony Giddens (as described in Wikipedia today):
Major Third Way social democratic proponent Tony Blair claimed that the socialism he advocated was different than traditional conception of socialism, and referred to it as “social-ism” that involves politics that recognized individuals as socially interdependent, and advocated social justice, social cohesion, equal worth of each citizen, and equal opportunity.
However, this is not a definition of true Socialism, and this ‘mixed economy’ poses substantial problems not only from a professional perspective but also from a macroeconomic one. Prior to the parliamentary debates about the Health and Social Care Bill, Sunder Katwala reported on ‘Next Left’: “”We are all socialists in a funny way when it comes to the NHS”, Tory MP David Ruffley told Newsnight, explaining why Tory MPs are so nervous about Andrew Lansley’s proposed health reforms.” However, the concern with the ‘mixed economy’ is that you end up ‘privatising profits, and socialising losses‘ a saying attributed to Andrew Jackson as long ago as 1834.
Members of this Society have indeed warned relentlessly about the dangers of embracing privatisation in any form, regardless of any abandonment of socialism. Michael Moore could not put any more graphically than this why the US healthcare system is a disaster:
“The case for a free, high-quality national health service in the USA is absolutely clear. The United States spends twice as much on healthcare compared to any other advanced industrialised country yet 47 million Americans are without health insurance. For those fortunate enough to have coverage, they are slowly being crushed beneath exorbitant monthly premiums. For all this Americans have a lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality rates than any other advanced industrialised country.
The US healthcare system is a monumental testament to the lies of pro-capitalist ideologues who preach that private industry is more efficient than publicly-run programmes.”
So, Richard Bourne is right. Treat this as an opportunity for those of us in the Socialist Health Association who wish to discuss how socialism can be implemented across all SHA policy strands. One assumes that most managers in the NHS have some sort of basic training in organisational culture (one hopes, but one cannot be certain): in management speak, this involves ‘breakdown the explicit and implicit barriers’, i.e. making the ethos and language of socialism one which should be pervasive in all the Society does. If it cannot do this, the Socialist Health Association in my mind has certainly failed, and cannot be relied upon by the UK Labour Party to provide reliable advice while called ‘the Socialist Health Association’.
Finally, I remember, shortly after chatting with Shamik Das (@shamikdas) outside ‘Starbucks’ during Manchester for the Labour Party Conference in 2010, I was greeting by a very pleasant lady in her 80s, who handed me this badge:
She was an activist in Labour, and I do not wish there to be a ideological schism between the “Socialist” Health Association and the contemporary views of actual members of Labour (and of the leadership of the UK Labour Party itself, for all I know). There is a lot of grassroots support for the NHS, as this nurse who attended the rally today showed (ht: @marcuschown).
Due to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, Labour does not have to be ready until May 8th 2015. This is a luxury that Labour can afford, despite the burgeoning deficit. Whilst senior members like Tom Harris seem to embrace discussion of how Labour should adopt the centre-left as if there is no sense of urgency, Labour will be relieved when its long-awaited policy review becomes published. The facts are that many prefer David Cameron to Ed Miliband as a person, even so far as a person you should wish to spend an evening down up the pub, despite Labour – as a political party – being ahead in the polls.
I don’t know what Labour has done with all its straw polls and focus groups, so beloved of Philip Gould and Peter Mandelson, but they should spend some time talking to my friends in Labour. They tell me out of a choice of three Tory parties it is little wonder that voters will pick the genuine article. Nick Clegg is politically dead, and so is his Party. They see a party which has deserted its core values of a hundred years back, of fairness, justice and equality.
If you were a corporate CEO, there is no way you would wish to vote Labour, even if Labour were business-philic through extremely favourable corporation tax. You will have received a very pleasant tax cut from this Government, whilst thousands of disabled citizens through the Cameron Axe have been taken off the claimant register for no reason at all. This is a party which will do anything to advance the interests of a few people, through ‘no fault dismissal’ hire-and-fire culture, and not give a monkeys about hard-working nurses in nurses in unions such as UNISON in Hinchingbrooke.
So long as Labour has lost its core vote, in being impotent in looking after the sick or the disadvantaged, it deserves to fail. The problem with the view that Labour can only win from the centre left is that it disastrously ignores the people who will literally stop voting at all if they totally hate the party they grew up with. New Labour has taken the pendulum of politics to the right, so unless Labour actually promotes socialist values Labour deserves to die. It deserves to die if it is unable to promote the socialist ethic of the National Health Service, and is happy for billions of cost savings to be made while the NHS is flogged off to the highest bidder. Labour has disgraced itself in its handling of the legal aid cuts, and was utterly impotent in the face of the tuition fee rise, although I am pretty positive that the Liberal Democrat MPs who enabled this move will mostly lose their seats in May 2015.
A further reason that people give me is that the Tory-led BBC will never report in a good light anything favourable by Labour, unless it adopts a centre-left stance. Admittedly, it only reports on the Unions when it is claimed they threaten a strike, but it is woeful if senior Labour voters are that impotent. They cannot allow the BBC or Sky to dictate policy. For those who think that the BBC has left-wing bias, maybe they would like to explain to me why there has been no reporting of the shutting down of law centres or the privatisation of the NHS?
The Unions are scared to fart out of place, and the whole situation has become tragic. I wish Ed Miliband well, but the party is more important than him for me. I am not a Member of Parliament, or a Councillor, nor indeed ever a political wannabee, so I don’t mind irritating yet more people. No doubt, I will meet some of my friends and colleagues in a fortnight at meetings of the Fabians, Labour Left, Socialist Health Association, and Chinese for Labour, but am I proud of my party? No – I wish Ed Miliband well. I like his wonkish arguments, being a wonk. For example, for me it’s perfectly clear that privatisation has failed the consumer as the imperfect competition -which has resulted from an oligopolistic market returns no value but massive profits for the shareholder – is completely predicted by application of game theory.
But as for the direction of the party in standing up for core members of my party, my party currently disappoints me. This battle will not be won on the centre ground, as the numbers leaving in droves since 2003 will testify. Unless the policy review heralds a return to values including public ownership of the NHS, there is no way on earth I’m sticking around.