The Socialist 11 May 2006
Victory for NHS campaign
Victory for NHS campaign
Voters say 'no' to cuts
Socialist Party member and GP, Jackie Grunsell (pictured left with megaphone) scored a spectacular victory in the local elections standing for the Save Huddersfield NHS campaign. She gained 2,176 votes - a majority of 807- in the Crosland Moor and Netherton ward, hammering the main establishment parties and the BNP.
Jackie spoke exclusively to the socialist about the campaign and her victory.
"WE'VE HAD this campaign going since October when the hospital Trust and local Primary Care Trusts announced plans to centralise services. They want to move maternity, childrens' and surgical services over to Halifax and close a local hospital, St Luke's.
That started the campaign really. We've been attempting to put pressure on the council and our local MPs to take up the banner and support us. But we've not had much of a response from them, particularly when we called for a local referendum. We lobbied the council on that but they just refused to do it. We felt that would have made a big difference to the Trust's decision.
It was at that point that we decided as a campaign to stand candidates. We wanted to make the election the referendum on the health service.
Of course since then there's been all the announcements of cuts all over the country. And just recently, in this area, its been announced that there's a £6 million deficit. They've brought in an independent consultancy firm to see how they can make 'efficiency savings' - goodness knows how much that's costing - they won't tell us. So there's more cuts to come.
So as a referendum the election result is a resounding vote against the decision and a resounding vote for a fightback.
Now we're taking the Trust to a judicial review and we will discuss with the trade unions about taking some sort of action if they try to carry out their plans. We're calling for the Trust board to be sacked. And obviously we'll continue to put pressure on the elected representatives.
The campaign has realised the need to link up with other campaigns nationally because all these cuts have a national angle as well.
Spread the word
THE MEMBERS of the campaign helped a lot in the elections. They did a lot to spread the word across the ward. As we went along, more people got involved. And we had public meetings throughout the ward.
Since we've won I've had phone calls from more people saying they want to get involved in the campaign, so it's still got momentum. People see the election as part of the NHS campaign rather than a one-off thing.
We worked in all parts of the community. There's a big Asian population in the ward. When we went in to that area we had probably the friendliest response of all.
One of the Labour councillors in the neighbouring ward told me he went into a takeaway at the bottom of the ward, where the boundary is. And a group of Asian lads came in, talking about the elections and saying they were going to vote for me.
He asked: "Why are you going to vote for her?" They said: "Well she's been standing up for us." He replied that he'd voted against the Trust's plans but they said: "You haven't done anything else. She's been fighting for us and we're going to vote for her."
During the campaign and since the election I've had loads of phone calls from people in the Asian community saying: "We voted for you" and "We're really pleased you've won." One lad said: "It's the first time I've ever voted and I voted for you."
We got a lot of support amongst the Asian women, when we saw them on the school gates and things, and amongst the younger Asian men as well.
It's not a difficult argument is it on the NHS? People just know it's wrong. They feel strongly about it no matter where they come from. It's absolutely cut across all the divisions. There isn't a single area of the ward that we haven't had massive support, which shows in the vote.
The Liberal councillor who I displaced wasn't very happy with the result. At the count she came up to me and snapped: "I hope you can fulfil your promise to save Huddersfield NHS." Then she started exchanging insults with the Labour candidate, whilst I went up and gave my acceptance speech!
Beforehand they had both come up to me and said they didn't mind if I got in as long as the other one didn't. They concentrated all their efforts in the Asian community and actually tried to create divisions within it.
So what we've achieved there has been quite amazing. Everywhere we went, people were asking: "How's the campaign going?" Every shop, every takeaway. They were asking for posters and leaflets to give out.
The other members of the campaign are really pleased with the result. I've had loads of phone calls and cards and I'm confident that the campaign will continue to grow."
"Kidderminster factor" visits Huddersfield
THE SAVE Huddersfield NHS result has sent shock waves around the local political establishment. The election of Dr Jackie Grunsell, a local GP, who has been spearheading the campaign is reminiscent of the success of Dr Richard Taylor in 2001 when he was elected as MP for Wyre Forest following a similar 'save our hospital' campaign.
Mike Forster, Huddersfield
The people of Huddersfield have voted against the transfer of services. They have voted for a fight back against cuts and privatisation of their NHS.
Whilst canvassing has gone out of fashion for other parties, Save Huddersfield NHS canvassed the whole ward and the campaign grew on the way, with volunteers and offers of support on every estate.
Anger at both local and national health service reforms, was harnessed in this highly contested ward, resulting in the highest turnout in Kirklees of just under 50%.
Previously disenfranchised sections of the community came out to vote en masse. Whereas other election campaigns and results have highlighted divisions within communities, this time all sections of the ward were united in their desire to defend the health service.
In an atmosphere where people do not appear to be participating in politics, in pubs, churches, mosques, school playgrounds and shops across this ward, people were talking about the election and discussing who they would be voting for.
This result has been a clear rejection of New Labour's health policies as well as the failure of local politicians to stand up to government. It is a springboard for the campaign to continue to grow and make national links with others.
In this issue
Socialist Party election analysis
Socialist Party NHS campaign
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news