Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Our Health Service and our Labour Party - a personal view


The National Health Service is, of course, the greatest achievement of democratic socialism in the United Kingdom. The popularity of our NHS is the rock on which the waves of privatisation are breaking.

The NHS gets a lot of stick because – in this country – information about our health service, its strengths and weaknesses, is public information (meaning that it is easy to access information about, say, how your local hospital is doing – because, unlike in the USA, this information isn’t “commercially confidential”).

But as much as those, in Government and the media, who would like to use criticism of this or that shortcoming of the NHS to undermine our health service may try they cannot shake the support of the British people for our health service.

Whilst we should not be complacent, as it is unwise to underestimate the capacity (or the urgent need) of capitalism to open up new opportunities for capital accumulation, I saw some compelling evidence of the popularity of our NHS a couple of weeks ago.

Attending the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath (in the heart of true blue Mid-Sussex) I saw, proudly displayed upon the reception desk, a 70th birthday card to the NHS from the local Labour Party.

There, in somewhere which is as close to a Tory heartland as you can get, was evidence of the popularity of support of the Party of the left (under socialist leadership) for our Party’s greatest achievement.

Like most readers of this blog, I am a fan of our health service. I was born in an NHS hospital, as were my children. When my sister suffered fatal injuries in a road accident, the NHS was there to fight valiantly to try to save her life.

Now I have a new reason to care for our health service. As I mentioned I was up at the Princess Royal in Haywards Heath recently. That was to be told that I had been diagnosed with prostate cancer (as one in eight men will be told in our lifetime).

Obviously, this is a bit of a pain in the arse (though not perhaps as much as a transrectal ultrasound guided biopsy) and is a bit upsetting for me, and for those who have the misfortune (or doubtful judgment) to care for me.

However – the survival rate for prostate cancer is impressive and – thanks to the NHS – I don’t have to worry about the cost of treatment (and thanks to generations of trade unionists I don’t have to worry about not getting sick pay should I need it).

So, I am not keeping this to myself (although I won’t necessarily go into detail) – and not only because I understand the provisions of the Equality Act which protect me from discrimination because I have been diagnosed with cancer.

Hundreds of thousands of people are living with cancer and getting on with their lives, and I am now simply one of them. I don’t just intend to carry on as Chair of Brighton Pavilion Constituency Labour Party and of Brighton and Hove Labour Local Campaign Forum – I intend to seek re-election to each position.

Of course, whether or not I retain any position in the Party is a matter for the members, casting their votes – that’s democracy (the sort of democracy which mandatory reselection of Labour MPs would perhaps exemplify).

However, whilst I may suffer from a bit of fatigue (and – thanks to hormone therapy – the occasional hot flush), my reinforced commitment to our health service, the creation of our Labour Party, is a good reason to step up my commitment to the Party.

In the mean time, to borrow from Harold Wilson, I’ll tell you what’s going on.

I am going on.

And on and (as regular readers Sid and Doris Blogger will know) on and on and on…

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Respond to the media frenzy - keep calm and carry on campaigning for socialism


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One of the unforeseen (at least by me) consequences of social media is that, as well as enabling (if not encouraging) us to live (online) in our own little bubble, it can enlarge some bubbles that already existed.

The Westminster bubble (inhabited by those who either have or wish they had a “career” in “politics”) is currently disproportionately exercised by a largely confected “crisis” around allegations of antisemitism (itself nourished by, if not actually founded upon “evidence” often from social media).

Social media enables more of us to live (vicariously) within the Westminster bubble (or any other bubble that we choose) and therefore to feel compelled to become our own instant experts on whatever topics are to the fore in that bubble, whether that is the IHRA definition, or (perhaps less frequently) the Nakba.

Everyone now has the option of becoming the sort of sad bag carrier of the kind one used to find only in the pubs around the Palace of Westminster, and to get as unnecessarily excited (as they always used to be) at the latest Palace gossip. We all now have the opportunity to feel ourselves engaged with the ersatz politics of personalities in “real time”.

Within the Labour Party social media invites us to opine incessantly on the wit and wisdom (or lack thereof) of Pete Willsman and to join in such vacuous debates as that recently prompted by a daft but – apparently - widely read little article around “cranks” -v- “Lansmanites”.

At the risk of seeming like the old man I suppose I am, I think I preferred it when excessive engagement in virulent argument occurred largely at meetings one had chosen to attend (or outside the meeting, with paper sellers). It helped to keep things in a sensible perspective (and to allow us to get on with our lives, including our political activity).

Because – outside the Westminster bubble, and generally in the material reality which we inhabit offline – most people, most Labour supporters, most Labour members are not talking about antisemitism, or about who is “in” and who is “out” at Momentum HQ (or even in the Leader’s Office). Least of all are they (we) discussing those members of the Parliamentary Labour Party so obviously transfixed by delusions of their own significance that they think people are watching them.

In Brighton and Hove we have spent this summer thus far organising the selection of candidates for the City Council elections which will take place next May. These elections offer a real chance for Labour to regain a majority which we lost in 2003 (when Blair’s war in Iraq really began to nurture support for the Greens locally as a left-wing alternative).

The process hasn’t been entirely smooth or straightforward, but has enabled Party members to make their choices – and one of the most reassuring aspects of the selection process has been that both satisfaction and dissatisfaction are spread evenly across the Party, geographically and politically (suggesting that we have managed to achieve a certain overall fairness).

We haven’t quite finished selecting candidates (because our success in selecting a large number of women candidates in the most winnable and marginal wards has meant that we need to consider reopening the Panel of potential candidates to enable a minimum representation of women in the slightly less marginal wards yet to select).

However, we have selected the great majority of candidates – and a majority of those are socialists supportive of the current Party leadership (indeed every single candidate I have heard speak, from across the Party’s “broad church”, has professed their support for the Party Leader and the politics of the 2017 General Election manifesto).

We will now move on to the democratic process of writing a socialist manifesto, as we continue to build a mass democratic socialist party in our locality. A small number of individuals find it hard to accept the changes in the Party but, just as most of those sitting Councillors who wanted to carry on were chosen to do so by the members, so most of those who were not, at first, supporters of the current leadership, are willing to work together constructively.

I realise that the Labour Party in Brighton and Hove may just be my “bubble”, but I think it is fairly safe to generalise from our local experience and say that the correct response from Labour Party members and activists to the hostile headlines in the press and the constant ferment of social media is (as I said earlier) to keep calm and carry on.

The opinion polls have us running level with the Tories nationally and (whilst of course we would sooner be in a better position) one has to reflect upon the fact that those Party members most keen to comment critically on our poll position are generally also among the tiny minority doing their best to make it worse.

We are in a far better position in the polls than we were in the run up to last year’s General Election, and there is every chance (though no guarantee) that, when the next General Election comes, we can replicate the boost we gave to our support during the campaign.

There is – to be clear - no guarantee of victory at the next General Election (nor in our local elections) and we cannot afford – and do not have – any complacency. We need to keep building, and energising, a campaigning Labour Party at a local level.

We therefore need to focus on the real political issues confronting our people – (including) the state of the economy, the future of work and workers’ – and trade union - rights, the defence of our health service and of our public services generally and the genuinely pernicious racism faced on a daily basis by black and ethnic minority citizens (and the associated march of the far right back onto our streets).

Do not let us be distracted by the agenda of our enemies, whether they seek to impose it upon us using their traditional allies in the mass media, or through the amplified echo chambers of social media.

Keep calm and carry on.