Parliamentary pressure is not an effective strategy.
Abolish Private Healthcare!
Consistent Democrats leaflet to 22 November lobby against Health and Care Bill
Obviously, this rally has a laudable aim, to try to pressure and lobby MP’s to vote down Johnson’s Health and Care Bill.
This Bill is a severe threat to the NHS. It opens up the membership of the new NHS ‘Integrated Care Boards’ the Act will create, to private companies. These local bodies (there will be 42 of them) will replace the previous Clinical Commissioning Groups an earlier Tory Health Secretary, Lansley, set up as part of previous undermining of the NHS and the Cameron austerity regime, which left the HNS chronically weakened and underfunded when tested by the Covid-19 pandemic. It will allow such companies considerable power over patient care.
It also abolishes the Thatcherite ideological fig leaf of ‘competitive tendering’ where NHS Services had to go through a bidding process (for ‘best value’) before NHS services contracts could be given to private companies. But it does not abolish the hiving off or outsourcing of services at all. Rather the new ICB bodies will have the right to award private sector contacts without a competitive process at all. This simply gives legal sanction for extending the ‘VIP lanes’ and similar Johnson scams whereby pandemic-related contracts for PPE and ‘Test and Trace’ worth up to £39 billion pounds were just handed over to Johnson’s close associates and donors, like Dido Harding and Capita. It will also give Health Secretary Sajiv Javid (the former banker) power to intervene in local NHS decisions and plans, and ‘reconfigure’ them. Again, this could easily amount to the power to simply overrule locally formulated HNS planning and hand it over to private health companies.
This is an even greater threat to the NHS than Cameron and Lansley. And Johnson, unlike Cameron, has a large majority to ram these measures through. Parliamentary lobbying is going to be of limited use and is highly likely to be ignored or shrugged off. Keir Starmer is worse than useless here, as his Labour leadership has done nothing significant about the Bill, and apart from putting a formal amendment in July to block its progress towards becoming law, have had nothing to say in terms of trying to mobilise opposition to it. Starmer’s priority is to smash the left and his racist crusade against supporters of Palestinian rights. The only Labour MPs who have bothered to make a fuss seem to be a small group from the Socialist Campaign Group led by Richard Burgon and Rebecca Long-Bailey. They delivered a mock medical bill to Downing Street to highlight the intentions of the government to force more privatisation and undermine the NHS as a free service ‘at the point of use’. But that is hardly going to set Johnson’s world on fire.
Johnson’s political ‘honeymoon’, which has lasted over two years, is now over with the Brexit supplies crisis, the surge of inflation, the Universal Credit cut and upcoming tax rises, and the explosion of the Owen Paterson corruption scandal and subsequent revelations, including about naked corruption regarding the pandemic. He has a problem in that in the Brexit referendum, he and his cronies promised a £350 million per week increase in NHS spending after leaving the EU, which he capitalised on to win his dodgy election victory in 2019. He has not the slightest semblance of a democratic mandate for a drive towards NHS privatization. In fact, opinion polls over the past several years show support for the central idea of the NHS, that healthcare is a right and must be free at the point of use, to be around 90% in favour.
This is not divisive. Free healthcare is overwhelmingly popular, and the government does not dare openly attack it. It just acts covertly to undermine and destroy it. This should not be tolerated, and there are more effective ways to resist that the broad movement in defence of the NHS must adopt to stop this illegitimate privatization scam going ahead. If as seems highly likely, the Tories bulldoze through the Bill regardless, attempts to implement it must be met both by strikes where possible in defiance of the trade union bureaucracy, and as an additional tactic, by determined Direct Action, to immobilize the commercial interests who try to implement privatisation.
If these involve technically breaking any law, then clearly those doing so would be acting in the interests of the overwhelming majority, in their widely documented views. Companies that undermine the NHS should be targeted by Direct Action protesters in the manner of Elbit, the Israeli arms manufacturer, who have been very effectively subjected to such non-violent direct action by Palestine Action (https://palestineaction.org/), a heroic group of activists for basic Palestinian democratic rights and anti-racism. The entire labour movement, the unions, the pro-NHS campaign groups, etc., need to look seriously into this and decide how to carry it out. We cannot allow the NHS to be wrecked by this gang of corrupt bourgeois liars led by Johnson.
When this struggle is won and the Tories are forced to retreat, we can turn back onto the offensive and demand a fully socialized health and social care system and the complete abolition of private medicine. But this is what has to be done now.