The NHS, Protest and Guilt
March 19, 2012 9 Comments
A few very obvious points on the NHS:
The Health and Social Care Bill is going to pass and over the coming years it will have a catestrophic effect on the quality and provision of healthcare in the country. Even if Labour are elected in 2015 and Andy Burnham makes good on his promise to undo the legislation, the damage will already have been done and the wheels of privatisation (which were, yes, set grinding under the previous Labour government) will be spinning too fast to stop. The NHS is a political anomaly and I don’t believe it could exist again. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
The bill is going to pass. The bill was always going to pass. The government has a three line whip, which supersedes public pressure. The bill is going to pass because by this stage its failure to do so would be a defeat the Coalition could not recover from. The bill is going to pass because its proposed reforms are already being put into place and there’s no going back. No amount of writing to MPs and Peers, no amount of signatures on a petition, no amount of candle light vigils, no amount of protests and rallies are going to change this.
This has been obvious for some time (though the more terrifying details and confirmation of our more pesimistic fears have been coming thick and fast in recent weeks). So, where was the left? There has been a lot of talk about how ashamed we should all be for our failure to stop this bill. ‘How will we look our children in the eyes and tell them that we failed?’ etc. There has been a lot of talk of people ‘doing everything they can’ (which in practise usually means writings to Peers and signing a petition). Out of this have come an entirely undeserved sense of sanctimony from some, and an equally undeserved sense of guilt from others.
Some people’s frustration over this political inevitability has manifested itself in a poorly disguised contempt for the public for allowing this to happen. ‘If you’re not prepared to fight for it, you don’t deserve free healthcare’ the hateful mantra runs. This is bullshit. To lay the blame for this toxic legislation at the feet of those who have tried to oppose it, or those who didn’t know it was happening at all, is dull and obnoxious. The government (in collusion with private health firms) wrote this bill, they are forcing it through, they are to blame. Many people I know are afriad of what the future holds which, frankly, is sensible, but too many of us are compounding that stress with guilt for failure to act. All of the forms of protest we have available to us to stop a piece of legislation being passed can be boiled down to simply asking the people with the power to act in as we want them. If they choose not to listen (as they have done, consistently), we have no further way to compell them.
Part of the desire to blame ineffective campaigners rather than an uncaring government may stem from a refusal to accept powerlessness within our Parliamentary system. It’s preferable to think that we just dropped the ball this time around than that we never stand a chance of winning, perhaps. The truth is, the government doesn’t need our approval to get things done. If you don’t like the government’s NHS reforms, don’t vote for them again at the next election. That’s it; that’s your democratic power; that’s the recourse that’s open to you if you work within the system. It’s in three years time. How many staff and patients will have had their lives changed in that time?
If this farcical travesty of a legislative process can be good for anything, let it be that we can no longer have any delusions about our power within a representative democracy. Stop blaming ourselves; we never stood a chance. This was their battleground, they set the terms and they always win. If we really want to fight them, we need to think, dream and act much bigger.