Tuesday, 11 February 2014

To save the NHS vote Labour, not NHA

I’ve always quite liked Rufus Hound’s comedy. He had always had a particular talent for mocking the establishment in an entertaining manner and has a brilliant way with words.

It is difficult to tell, however, whether his planned move into politics is out of vanity or a genuine sense of purpose, but it certainly isn’t funny. Indeed,  Hound has announced his intention to stand for the European parliament for the National Health Action party, a single-issue party of politically minded doctors who don’t like the contracting out of some health services because they think it destroys the ethos of the NHS. Quite how he intends to prevent the privatisation of the NHS by the Westminster government as a member of the European parliament in Brussels is unclear to me.

In fact, Hound himself called the NHS ‘one of the single greatest achievements of any civilisation ever’ even though he campaigned for the Liberal Democrats in 2010, rather than the party which founded it in 1948 and has defended it ever since – Labour. Moreover, the entirety of the NHA leadership seem to act as if the NHS was their idea rather than Beveridge’s.

Its co-leader, Clive Peddell, reckons that the NHA is the only party which can ‘defend the NHS and its values’ but demonstrates a lack of understanding of what those values actually are. The health service shouldn’t simply be run by doctors, with no one else getting a look-in; it’s right that it is under proper democratic control, rather than with only doctors making decisions, as the NHA suggests, so that necessary reforms can’t be implemented. It is, after all, the people’s health service.

Furthermore, it is the Labour party which can drive through the changes which are needed for a transparent NHS. So when Hound talks about the secret privatisation of our hospitals and says, ‘I’m looking around for who is stepping forward and telling people about it and nobody is’, I suggest he speak to Andy Burnham. Right from the beginning of the health and social care bill, there hasn’t been any compromise in Labour’s assertion that there should be no tendering of core NHS services. Burnham, alongside Ed Miliband, has been shouting this message from the rooftops, alongside campaigns and rallies by local party activists. In contrast, Hound seems content that, in his words, ‘tweeting endlessly’ about the matter will eventually change the world.

Labour has a commitment that one of the first things it will do in 2015 is remove the clause in the Health and Social Care Act that introduces competition in the NHS. Peddell also thinks that ‘the Labour party was complicit’ in privatisation during the New Labour years – of course, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown created thousands of new doctors and nurses, introducing NHS foundation trusts to drive up standards to make sure the very best standards and value for money were achieved. When Labour left power in 2010, NHS approval ratings were at the highest they had even been.

Of course, Hound isn’t the only comic to have waged into the political sphere in recent months. Russell Brand went on Newsnight to call for a revolution, though the reaction from its roughly 100,000 viewers – mainly from the ‘wonk world’ – was slightly less rousing. In Italy, the so-called ‘Five Star Movement’ gained 25 per cent of the vote in last year’s elections under the leadership of controversial comedian Beppe Grillo, to, apparently, rid the political system of corruption and hypocrisy.

One year on, is Italy a better place with Grillo in politics? Not really. For all his populist messages and media attention, the Five Star Movement achieved very little; Der Spiegel awarded him the unenviable title of ‘the most dangerous man in Europe’, likening his movement to a fascist cult. It is the second largest party in parliament, but has no role in the Italian government.

The NHA would need 200,000 votes in London in order to put Hound in Brussels – he might make a comfortable fit among Grillo’s chums, but he certainly won’t achieve anything for London, or indeed anywhere else. It’s unlikely that the NHA would take votes from the Tories, so, were they to have enough popular support, it would be at the expense of other progressive parties like our own. He claims to despise Jeremy Hunt, so surely he should be standing against him in South-west Surrey in the 2015 general election?

In an era where people are more wary of politicians and sceptical about politics, some comedians seem to be exploiting that very sense of mistrust. The danger of this is that politics quickly becomes treated like a joke. I have no objection to comedians becoming politicians – Eddie Izzard, for instance, is a great example of someone from this arena bringing energy and positivity to democracy. Hound articulates the politics of pessimism.

In times like these, we can’t afford to split the left, and divide the vote among a plethora of centre-left parties. If you really want to save the NHS then vote Labour, not NHA. Because if we don’t watch out, the Tories could well have the last laugh.

This article was originally published on ProgressOnline: http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2014/02/11/to-save-the-nhs-vote-labour-not-nha/#sthash.QF9VXf8v.dpuf

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