March to save the NHS

First published on Progress Online for The Last Word

Save our NHS, time to speak truth to power on Copeland, gongs gone wrong and thank Lord for the upper house – Progress director Richard Angell has this week’s Last Word

Tomorrow I, along with thousands of other Labour activists, will be taking to the street to defend our National Health Service. As shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth put it, ‘the NHS is going through the biggest financial squeeze in its history’ – and Saturday is our opportunity to call on the government to do something about it. A national social care crisis has brought social care to its knees, crippling local government, and forcing the Red Cross to describe the situation in Britain’s health service as a ‘humanitarian crisis’.

There are those that would seek to convince you that these pressures were inevitable – that, had Labour won the last election, these issues would have devilled Ed Miliband and Andy Burnham as they do Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt. They are wrong. Britain’s health and social care problems are a direct result of seven years of chronic underfunding – a political choice. Each of us has a duty to hold the Tories to account. However, Labour wanting to defend the NHS with every sinew did not save use in Copeland and it will not save us nationally. Hopefully, our actions can save it.

I hope you will be joining me this weekend.

Owen Jones – right conclusions, wrong analysis

A terrible defeat for Labour will be spun as a rejection of the policies Corbyn supporters rightly champion, wrote Owen Jones as he called on Jeremy Corbyn to step aside in the wake of Labour’s shocking performance in the Copeland byelection. He contended that it was not Corbyn’s politics, but his presentation, that lay at the heart of Labour’s struggles. He is wrong. In my response yesterday, I argued that the Copeland byelection loss would have been made worse had Corbyn been a better communicator of his politics, in fact. The Labour leader’s hard-left anti-nuclear dogma was an anathema to the voters of Copeland – with thousands of jobs reliant upon the Sellafield nuclear plant in the seat.

Given rumours of Jones’ role as unofficial campaign chief for would-be leadership contender Clive Lewis, it is not hard to understand why Jones believes that Corbyn’s politics could live on – and even, find success – in the form of a younger, more media-savvy successor. But he is bitterly mistaken. Seven years into austerity, faced with a governing party cutting their maternity unit and urged care centre, the voters of Copeland chose to punish the hard-left instead – and with good reason. A change of frontman would not have altered that.

Gongs wrong

Nigel Farage, who has resigned on a number of occasions as leader of the United Kingdom Independence party to get his ‘life back’ and no long have to deal with internal party disputes, has waged a full on assault on the the party’s only MP. He assures us it has nothing to do with the rumours that Douglas Carswell has somehow blocked a knighthood for the aging MEP. Nothing at all.

A man who currently has a knighthood, but has been shown to not deserve it, is back in the news. Phillip Green has agreed with the pensions’ regulator to hand over £363m to BHS workers for their pension scheme. Shop-workers union USDAW are furious that, ‘Through no fault of their own, 11,000 loyal BHS staff lost their jobs after people at the top of the business seemingly played a wild game of monopoly with their livelihoods.. Today their general secretary John Hannett welcomed Green ‘finally put his hand in his pocket’ but questioned why an earth it has taken so long. ‘Having promised to “sort” the pension scheme last June, it is difficult to understand why this saga has been allowed to continue and why we have had to campaign for so long to get justice for our members.’ Thankfully they kept going, and were backed up Labour MPs and select committee chairs Iain Wright and Frank Field. Together they got this deal and showed our movement at its best.

Thanks Lords

This week the House of Lords voted to guarantee the rights of European Union citizens living in Britain. Once again, Labour peers, led by the wonderful Angela Smith, were forced into doing Jeremy Corbyn’s job for him – and they did so valiantly. Peter Mandelson gave an excellent speech rejecting Theresa May’s ‘Brexit-at-all-costs’ – a sentiment echoed by former adviser to Gordon Brown, Spencer Livermore, in a piece for Progress earlier this week. This defeat, coupled with news that up to 30 Conservative members of parliament are prepared to rebel in aid of the same cause, is the clearest signal yet that moderate Labour voices have begun to shift the terms of debate on Brexit – and that as long as progressives are willing to fight, Britain can be an open, outward-looking country once more.


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