Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/458/5500
What we think
NHS - not safe in their hands
DAVID CAMERON'S claim at the Tory Party conference to be 'the protector of the NHS' is a sign of how far politics in Britain has been 'Americanised' - where two capitalist parties compete to sell their particular brand of pro-market policies, but where there is no party that represents working-class interests.
Cameron's speech followed a series of opinion polls showing that Labour's 14-point lead in last year's general election as 'the party with the best NHS policy' had turned into a 2% lead for the Tories. In reality, discontent with New Labour's NHS 'market reforms' has made the two parties indistinguishable in many voters' eyes.
Cameron made it clear that he supported the use of private contractors to provide NHS services. Nor did he drop the Tory Party's previous policy that every NHS trust should become an independent foundation hospital.
Then the Tories' chief policy co-ordinator, Oliver Letwin, 'mistakenly' told a Sunday Times interviewer that "there would be no limits to the role of the private sector in the NHS".
But how could New Labour answer this? After all, just two weeks earlier, the health secretary Patricia Hewitt said the same in a lecture to the Institute for Public Policy Research, refusing to "try and set arbitrary limits on one provider or another".
The reality is that, whichever of the capitalist parties is in government - New Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats too - the NHS is not safe in their hands.
But this does not mean that there is no prospect of saving the NHS from the privateers. This was inadvertently acknowledged by Patricia Hewitt when she recently admitted, after e-mails were leaked to The Times, that the Health Department has drawn up a secret 'heat map' showing areas where there is 'strong public unrest' about NHS cuts and re-organisations. The more 'heat' there was, the less likely it was that cuts would go ahead.
The Tories complained that "clinical decisions were being overridden by politics". But aren't health service workers and users - the public - the best judges of what services are needed? And with the convergence of the parties, and the erosion of democratic control of the NHS, what other way apart from 'public unrest' - including industrial action - is there to defend services?
After another weekend of NHS protests, the BBC drew the parallel, made previously by the socialist, with the mood that developed against the poll tax in the early 1990s. Then, with local protests co-ordinated into a national movement by the Anti-Poll Tax Federation (led by Militant, the Socialist Party's predecessor), Britain became one big 'heat map', compelling the Tories to retreat and scrap the tax.
The same is needed now. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) organised lobby of parliament on 1 November - and the feeder march to the lobby - must become the first steps to building such a movement.
And then there is the political vacuum. Ultimately, unless a new political voice for working people is built, 'Americanised politics' will lead to an 'Americanised' health service, profit-based and excluding millions from coverage. The battle to save the NHS is a political battle as well, showing again the need to campaign for a new trade union-based mass workers' party as an alternative to New Labour and the other pro-business parties.
In The Socialist 12 October 2006:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news