Unite day of action against benefit sanctions

From Unite the Union:

Day of action against sanctions“More and more people are facing benefit sanctions. Over 2 million people have had their money stopped in the past 2 years.

That’s 2 million people, many of whom have been plunged into poverty, unable to heat their homes or even eat. How is this meant to help prepare people for work?

Benefit sanctions must be fought against

These sanctions are cruel and handed out for ridiculous reasons such as:

Arriving minutes late to a meeting
Not applying for jobs when waiting to start a new job!
Missing an appointment on the day of the funeral of a close family member.

This has to stop

Up and down the country on Thursday 19 March we will be protesting against the cruel use of sanctions.”
Click to continue reading

With friends like these

So here we can watch the new Chief of Staff of the Scottish Labour Party, John McTernan, appointed by Scottish party leader, Jim Murphy, in January.

Speaking at a fringe meeting of 2014 Conservative conference. McTernan makes a gushing tribute to the free market, and then at 24:58 in the clip above, he gives his “advice to the Tory Party”.

He advises Cameron and Osborne to say that Labour “cannot manage an economy, they have shown that. Why trust them to deal with equality and inequality. We [the Conservative Party] are the only party who can deal with equality and inequality”

Even were this to be interpreted as McTernan playing Devil’s Advocate, merely arguing what he would say were he a Conservative supporter, the overall context of the talk he gives suggests a deep affinity with the economic policies and social philosophy of the coalition government, and the words “Labour cannot manage an economy, they have shown that” were hardly well chosen for someone aspiring to play a role in electing a Labour government.

McTernan gave very strong support to Murphy in the leadership election campaign, but very tellingly he posed Murphy’s proposition in divisive terms, not against the Conservatives, but against other parts of the Labour Party:

Murphy faces a challenge from the Left which will give a clarity to his policies and his positioning. Already Unite has set out its stall praising the “democratic socialist” (ie tried and failed leftist) credentials of the MSP Neil Findlay. Perhaps they have given too little thought to how many of their members work in the defence industries – on Faslane and the Clyde. These workers know Jim well as shadow defence secretary and supporter of Trident.

Can he win the 2016 election? Well, he won’t die wondering. What is for certain is that he is running to be First Minister and not to be the leader of the opposition. He will throw everything at it and in the process revolutionise the Scottish Labour Party. A new voice. New ideas. New ways of campaigning. New means of communication. It’s the prescription worldwide for renewal.

Some might think that it is inappropriate to draw attention to differences within Labour at this point, but McTernan himself made this speech AT THE CONSERVATIVE CONFERENCE, hardly a place where Ed Miliband’s opponents would not notice such criticism of the Labour Party.

There is no doubt in my mind that electing a Labour government on 7th May is the most pressing political task, and that the contest will decide whether our NHS even survives, and it will decide whether Britain takes a step towards being a fairer and better society under Labour, or whether we see economic stagnation and decline, and the fate of our public services fall off a cliff under the ideologically driven austerity of the Conservatives.

Winning in May requires that we understand that the political landscape has changed since 1997, especially in Scotland, and the prescription of triangulating for swing voters in marginal constituencies over slight differences of message from the Conservatives is no longer a recipe for success, even if it ever was.

Scottish Labour headed for electoral wipeout in May – is anybody surprised?

Jim Murphy is leading the Scottish Labour Party to an historic electoral pasting in the upcoming general election in May. Poll after poll in the wake of last September’s independence referendum leaves no doubt that the party that was once so dominant in Scotland it used to weigh its votes rather than count them, has finally and irrevocably been deserted by its core and natural constituency, people who feel that Labour abandoned them long before now.

Since winning the leadership election upon the resignation of the previous incumbent, Johann Lamont, in October 2014, Mr Murphy has lurched from one political stunt to another, demonstrating a talent for form over content in having himself pictured out jogging in a Scotland football shirt, adding his voice to a campaign to overturn the ban on alcohol at Scottish football grounds, and drafting a new Clause IV with the objective not of re-establishing public ownership as the sine qua non of Labour’s challenge to the unfettered power of the market, but to cement Scottish Labour’s credentials as a Scotland-first party.

This is a politician who came to prominence supping at Tony Blair’s table and who continues to embody Blairism long after both its author and his creed have been completely discredited. Being either pro-market, pro-business, pro-Trident, and pro-war would be enough to guarantee a political leader opprobrium in Scotland after the disaster of Iraq in 2003 followed by the disaster of the economic crisis in 2007/08. To be all four makes you about as popular as whooping cough. Jim Murphy is all four.

Making his and Scottish Labour’s position all the more difficult is an SNP which, under its new leader, Nicola Sturgeon, appears an unstoppable force. The new SNP leader’s decision to abandon her predecessor’s economic flagship policy of reducing corporation tax – recognising that its main effect would be to enter working people into a race to the bottom – allied to to her call for an alternative to austerity and the savage cuts to public spending that have battered the low paid, the poor, and some of the most vulnerable in society, while entrenching the wealth and privileges of a tiny minority, has been a breath of fresh air. Of course rhetoric is one thing concrete policies another – and here the SNP’s record in devolved government has not lived up to the perception of it as a champion of wealth redistribution – and, too, the revelation of a £444million budget underspend in the last financial year by the SNP Scottish Government in the midst of the very austerity Nicola Sturgeon has been railing invites a charge of hypocrisy. However that was then and this is now, and of the party leaders in Scotland it would certainly appear that she has drawn the correct conclusions going forward from last September’s referendum.

This should no surprise, however. The remarkable vigour and vibrancy of the Yes campaign, and the equally remarkable fact that 1.6million voted to fracture a union of over three centuries duration, was less about hollow nationalism or patriotism than about equality, social and economic justice, and a desperate desire to break the Westminster duopoly of slavish attachment to free market ideology and nostrums. The SNP, to be sure, are not a socialist party, but as the polls clearly indicate they are considered firmly to the left of Scottish Labour under Jim Murphy’s leadership.

In response to the latest Ashcroft poll indicating a monumental swing to the SNP from Labour all across the country in May, the mantra of the Scottish Labour leadership has been that this is good news for David Cameron – i.e. a vote for the SNP is a vote for the Tories. Thought this sort of scaremongering may have worked in years gone by now it merely smacks of desperation. The depiction of Labour as ‘Red Tories’ has gained huge traction in Scotland, to the point where it is considered more the case that a vote for Labour is a vote for the same old under a red rosette rather than a blue one. Clearly Ed Miliband is no Tory and much more progressive than either of the other two main party leaders south of the border. But he still has some way to go to repair the damage inflicted by years of Blairism both on the party and on the country – i.e. the normalisation of obscene levels of inequality, privatisation, poverty pay, welfare reform, deregulation of the banks, and the entrenchment of individualism by a party founded on the principle of collectivism and collectivist ideas.

The aforementioned is a measure of the extent to which Thatcherism and Thatcherite ideas have achieved hegemonic status in Britain. Given the venom with which Ed Miliband has been attacked by a large section of the mainstream media in recent months, the challenge facing any leader when it comes to standing up for even the most tepid departure from those ideas is consequently a significant one.

Jim Murphy is not such a leader, which in Scotland – a part of the UK that continues to bear deeper scars than most as a consequence of the Thatcher era – makes the Scottish Labour brand eminently toxic. With the recent revelation that Mr Murphy’s supporters are, presumably with his blessing, contemplating a move to de-couple Scottish Labour from UK Labour and run it as a separate party, the malaise shows no sign of abating any time soon.

The electorate in Scotland is set to deliver Jim Murphy a harsh message come May. Labour in Scotland doesn’t need to be more ‘Scottish’. It needs to be more ‘Labour’.

Who is to blame for the crisis in Ukraine?

john-mccain-oleh-tyahnybokA recent article in the heavyweight German magazine, Der Spiegel, reports growing German concern about the belligerent approach to Russia by the USA and NATO.

It was quiet in eastern Ukraine last Wednesday. Indeed, it was another quiet day in an extended stretch of relative calm. The battles between the Ukrainian army and the pro-Russian separatists had largely stopped and heavy weaponry was being withdrawn. The Minsk cease-fire wasn’t holding perfectly, but it was holding.

On that same day, General Philip Breedlove, the top NATO commander in Europe, stepped before the press in Washington. Putin, the 59-year-old said, had once again “upped the ante” in eastern Ukraine — with “well over a thousand combat vehicles, Russian combat forces, some of their most sophisticated air defense, battalions of artillery” having been sent to the Donbass. “What is clear,” Breedlove said, “is that right now, it is not getting better. It is getting worse every day.”
German leaders in Berlin were stunned. They didn’t understand what Breedlove was talking about. And it wasn’t the first time. Once again, the German government, supported by intelligence gathered by the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, did not share the view of NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR).

The pattern has become a familiar one. For months, Breedlove has been commenting on Russian activities in eastern Ukraine, speaking of troop advances on the border, the amassing of munitions and alleged columns of Russian tanks. Over and over again, Breedlove’s numbers have been significantly higher than those in the possession of America’s NATO allies in Europe. As such, he is playing directly into the hands of the hardliners in the US Congress and in NATO.

In any area of potential conflict it is worth considering the position of the other side, this is the mechanism by which trade offs and negotiations can defuse flash points, and can lead towards a mutually acceptable compromise. From the perspective of Moscow, NATO has continued to encircle the Russian Federation, including the incorporation of former republics of the USSR, who now discriminate against ethnic Russians within their own states. Indeed it could be argued that with the ending of the Warsaw Pact, the potential military threats that NATO faces are those created by its own continued existence and enlargement.

Putin certainly takes a robust approach in prosecuting what he sees as Russia’s national interest, and is prone to characterising those who challenge his own approach as treasonous. He is a figure in some ways reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher.

Let us consider though how the crisis in the Ukraine evolved. In 2014 the democratically elected government of Viktor Yanukovych was overthown by unconstitutional means, which included the murder of police, the intimidation of members of parliament, and the open involvement of the neo-Nazi Svoboda Party, according to International Business Times:

The leader of Svoboda, Oleh Tyahnybok, who has appeared at the Kiev protests, has a long history of making inflammatory anti-Semitic statements, including the accusation during a 2004 speech before parliament that Ukraine is controlled by a “Muscovite-Jewish mafia.” Miroshnychenko also called the Ukrainian-born American film actress Mila Kunis a “dirty Jewess.”

Tyahnybok has also claimed that “organized Jewry” dominate Ukrainian media and government, have enriched themselves through criminal activities and plan to engineer a “genocide” upon the Christian Ukrainian population. Another top Svoboda member, Yuriy Mykhalchyshyn, a deputy in parliament, often quotes Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, as well as other Third Reich luminaries like Ernst Rohm and Gregor Strasser.

Notwithstanding these unpleasant participants in the Maidan protests, the revolution which has cloven Ukraine asunder has received confused but consistent support from British liberals, particularly from the Guardian. Indeed the Guardian took the unusual step of publishing a rather gushing portrait of women in a neo-Nazi terrorist militia on 5th March, including a photograph of a militia woman posing in front of a van decorated with the neo-Nazi slogan “1488” and a Waffen SS insignia. Only after complaints did the Guardian put an appropriate caption to the photograph online, which actually made their puff-piece for the Nazis even more incomprehensible.

At the start of the crisis in 2014, there is no doubt that the Yanukovych government was deeply unpopular, Ukraine was suffering corruption and graft, and was in danger of being pulled apart by differing sectional interests. As it stood at the crossroads, Ukraine would either resolve those issues constitutionally, and within the rule of law, or it would descend into the abyss.

The rule of law requires that a sufficiently robust shared framework of economic, ideological and political assumptions exists to allow, sometimes very deep, internal conflicts to be resolved constitutionally and without violence. It requires that the opposition limits its efforts to replace the government to constitutional means, and it requires that the government is prepared to surrender power to the opposition.

While it was proportionate for foreign states to urge caution upon Yanukovych, and pressurise the Ukrainian government towards compromise, unfortunately, several politicians from outside Ukraine, such as Senator John McCain, seemingly deliberately exacerbated the situation, visiting Maidan and pushing the trajectory further towards an extra-constitutional outcome. At the point where those states and international bodies ostensibly committed to the rule of law could have fought to keep the Ukrainian conflict away from violence, they encouraged the opposition to stand against compromise. The picture above shows John MCain with neo-Nazi, Oleh Tyahnybok, the leader of Svoboda

Most remarkably, as Channel Four reported, a bugged conversation between the EU foreign affairs spokesperson, Baroness Ashton and a man believed to be Urmas Paet, the Estonian foreign minister, showed that Baron Ashton seemingly knew that snipers who shot opposition protesters were actually a false flag operation organised by the opposition itself, presumably to provide a pretext for the resulting coup d’etat.

Tragically, violence has its own autonomous logic. Now that civil war has been unleashed, then it will be extremely difficult to restore peace, this is of course especially true where Western governments act deliberately to impede peace. the deployment of British military advisors to Kiev would seem to be a provocation to Russia explicitly against the provisions of the Minsk agreement, that calls for the withdrawal of all foreign military forces.

As Seumus Milne notes, the increasingly grandstanding talk about a Russian military threat has the inherent danger of becomming a self fulfilling prophecy:

In the west, Ukraine – along with Isis – is being used to revive the doctrines of liberal interventionism and even neoconservatism, discredited on the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan. So far, Angela Merkel and François Hollande have resisted American pressure to arm Kiev. But when the latest Minsk ceasefire breaks down, as it surely will, there is a real risk that Ukraine’s proxy conflict could turn into full-scale international war.

The alternative is a negotiated settlement which guarantees Ukraine’s neutrality, pluralism and regional autonomy. It may well be too late for that. But there is certainly no military solution. Instead of escalating the war and fuelling nationalist extremism, western powers should be using their leverage to wind it down. If they don’t, the consequences could be disastrous – far beyond Ukraine.

Fidel greets the Cuban five

fidel and the five

Fidel Castro described himself as being “happy for hours” on Sunday 1 March, when he met with the Miami Five for the first time since all the men were finally freed form US jails in December. In a letter which was published in the Cuban media on 2 March, the former Cuban President described how they had talked about the many years of injustice they suffered and the “wonderful stories of heroism” he had heard.

The full text is reproduced here

Cuba Solidarity campaign has great pictures of the meeting on flickr:

Thomas Helliker day: 22nd March 2015


The annual Wreath Laying ceremony organised by White Horse (Wiltshire) Trades Union Council to commemorate Thomas Helliker will take place on Sunday 22 March at 12.30 at Thomas Helliker’s Tomb in St James Churchyard, Trowbridge.

The Rector at Trowbridge St James has said that he will talk about Thomas Helliker in the church service and that we are welcome to attend the service which starts at 10.45 and finishes at around 12.15. He will encourage members of the congregation to join the wreath laying.

Thomas Helliker is an important figure in Wiltshire and working class history. In the early nineteenth century the introduction of machinery into the woollen trade impoverished thousands of workers; the best organized of the dispossessed workers, and the most opposed to mechanization were the shearmen. Littleton Mill near Semington was allegedly burnt down by a shearman in 1803. For his supposed part in this, a young Trowbridge apprentice, Thomas Helliker was hanged in 1803. Despite Helliker having an alibi from his friend Joseph Warren he was charged and lodged in Salisbury gaol. He refused to give evidence that would clear his name because it would have incriminated the real culprits.

I do hope you will be able to join us.

Institutional racism in Marks and Spencer distribution

GMB at M&S 2

M&S 1M&S 2

On 11th February, I helped organise a demonstration of around 100 GMB members outside the Marks & Spencer store in Swindon in protest against what has been described by Siôn Simon MEP, (Labour’s European Parliament spokesperson on employment) as “modern day slavery”. We were joined by Cllr Jim Grant, the leader of the Labour Group on Swindon Borough Council, and Labour councillors Nadine Watts and Steve Allsopp.

This date was deliberately chosen to coincide with the 47th anniversary of the start of an industrial dispute organised by Martin Luther King in Memphis Tennessee USA.

The Memphis Sanitation Strike began on 11th February 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. The strike received inspirational support from civil rights leader, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, and he was assassinated in Memphis on 4th April 1968, while actively supporting the strikers. The issues that led the Memphis workers to strike included the management practices of sending staff home as soon as they started their shift with no pay, poverty wages, lack of safety equipment, and climate of fear where workers were afraid to complain, as they might get sacked or lose shifts. The strikers adopted the slogan “I am a man!”, to emphasize that they demanded respect at work.

I recently read Michael K Honey’s fantastic book “Going Down Jericho Road” about the strike, and King’s last days, which is one of the most insightful and inspiring books about trade union activism I have ever read, especially as it deals with the unglamorous reality of organising, where we have to inspire a commonwealth of solidarity between people who have all the usual human frailties that make such an enterprise difficult; and especially among working people who have been abused and oppressed, it is necessary to build confidence among those who have become accustomed to being afraid.

I have been working for about a year with the agency workers at the South Marston distribution centre of Marks and Spencer in Swindon. The workforce is divided into the following levels. i) DHL Managers, ii) “tier one” employees of DHL, iii) “tier two” employees of DHL (doing the same work but lower paid), and iv) agency workers, recruited through 24-7 Recruitment Services Ltd, but employed by an umbrella company, called Tempay Ltd. One of the most shocking aspects of industrial relations at the site is that there is a clear correlation between skin colour and pay grade. I will shortly be producing a more formal report on this, based upon the employer’s own data.

The agency workers, who are at the bottom of the heap in terms of pay and conditions, comprise the majority of the workforce; and I have been struck by how their treatment echoes the same themes as the Sanitation Workers dispute, all those years ago, which occurred in a much more avowedly racist society.The same practice occurs of abusing workers, so that when they come on for a shift they are immediately sent home, without pay. This specific practice occurs frequently at the Marks and Spencer site, and agency staff are out of pocket, especially as lack of public transport means that they often have to travel by taxi to work. This selfsame practice was one of the immediate triggers of the Sanitation Workers dispute in Memphis.

The agency workers at South Marston are given a contract for 7 hours per week, on minimum wage, but are given a rota with 37.5 hours per week. They can have their shifts cancelled at no notice, without any compensation; yet if they are unavailable for work, they can be disciplined for absenteeism. It is very hard to see how this meets the contractual requirement for mutuality of obligation, and smacks of modern day slavery.

Agency workers, many of whom have worked on the same site and same job for years, are also given inferior PPE compared to the DHL staff, who do exactly the same work, and while the DHL staff get warm clothes for the winter work in exposed areas, the agency staff get no warm clothing provided. This difference in the provision of PPE between more and less privilaged workers was again one of the grievances in Memphis.

This week, I was at a meeting where one of our members, a man of Goan heritage, was talking to a number of other workers from a different employers in Swindon, and he described the culture of casual racism from the predominantly white supervisors. He said they were expected to work harder then white employees, his audience of other mainly Goan workers nodded with an acknowlegment of shared experience.

Two Goans members were excluded from the Marks and Spencer site at the beginning of December, and were racially abused by a supervisor. GMB managed to get them back to work. At that time the contract was run by Wincanton, not DHL. Interestingly, the subsequent investigation by Wincanton concluded that the racist manager had not told the truth in his own account of the incident, and should surely therefore be regarded as an unreliable witness, however they still preferred his word over the testimony of the two workers who had been abused and excluded from the site, over the issue of whether he used racist language. One of the most pernicious aspects of institutional racism is that victims are disbelieved, discouraged and made voiceless.

In the last speech that Dr King made, on the very eve of his murder, he addressed a mass meeting of the striking sanitation workers and their supporters. Referring to the legal injunctions that had been made by Tennessee’s courts against the workers and their union, he said that he would not have been surprised if legal measures to prevent workers’ asserting their rights, in striking and demonstrating, had been made in other countries, which had no commitment to human rights, and the pursuit of liberty, but he called upon the USA to be as good as its word. The USA claimed to be a democracy based upon the rule of law, justice and individual rights, and those rights should not be only for the rich or privileged, but also even more importantly for those who most need their protection.

Marks and Spencer claims to be an ethical business, yet despite the malpractices at the South Marston site being brought to their attention months ago, their distribution centre is still based upon an oppressive culture, abusing the Swedish Derogation to avoid the equal pay provisions of the Agency Worker Regulations, and exploiting the resulting insecurity and precarious access to working hours of the majority of staff. In such circumstances where workers are treated not as human beings, but as disposable commodities, it is no surprise that the interaction of race and class has imposed itself so that out of 66 managers only 8 are non-white, but of 500 agency workers, some 75% of them are black.

Marks and Spencer should be ashamed of themselves.

Jihadi John may not be a victim, but he is a consequence

imagesThe sympathetic portrayal of Mohammed Emwazi (Jihadi John) by Asim Qureshi of the campaigning group CAGE inevitably and understandably met with short shrift in a society that is rightly repelled by the brutality of IS. Mr Qureshi was guilty of the heinous crime of raising his voice in dissent against the mainstream, and both he and CAGE have experienced an avalanche of vilification as a consequence.

While I can admit to the the courage of Asim Qureshi in attempting to humanise a man that most consider a monster, it seems unconscionable he would do so. Emwazi is a medieval sectarian beast who, along with his acolytes within the so-called Islamic State, is embarked on a mission to turn the Middle East into a graveyard of those whose only crime is to practice a different religion than them, or practice the same religion in a way they disapprove of.

Sawing off people’s heads while they are still alive, being filmed while doing it, and glorying in the event can be described as many things, but the actions of a ‘beautiful man’ it is not. Nothing can justify such butchery – just as nothing could justify Hitler’s project to destroy Europe’s Jews, gays, gypsies, and other minorities; and just as nothing could justify Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge and their mission in Cambodia to turn the clock back to year zero. The only place for an ideology that fuels such barbaric movements and sanctions such grotesque carnage is the grave, along with those who adhere to it. The threat such ideologies pose to the very foundations of civilisation, their violation of the most fundamental belief in the sanctity of human life, demands nothing less than their complete and utter destruction.

But those who assert that there is no connection between the West’s foreign policy and the cancer of IS as its reach spreads ever wider throughout the Middle East are either ignorant or mendacious. In fact it is as absurd as attempting to deny a link between sex and pregnancy.

One flows inexorably from the other.

This is what we as a society need to confront. The scale of the damage ‘we’ have inflicted on the Middle East over the past 13 years is immeasurable. The problem is that we are cocooned from its full effects and impact by news coverage that is sanitised and with few exceptions compromised by its attachment to the prevailing orthodoxy of those responsible – i.e. our own governments.

Afghanistan is broken, Iraq is broken, and Syria – where we have given succour, inadvertently or otherwise, to IS with our staggeringly insane support for a moderate opposition that does not exist – is on fire. As for Libya, four years after David Cameron was in the country congratulating its anti-Gaddafi rebels for “choosing democracy”, it is now officially a failed state in which competing factions and gangs are vying for territory and power. The resulting chaos has provided the space for IS to emerge, which it did recently in dramatic fashion with the mass beheading of 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt on a Libyan beach.

When will we ever learn?

We are living in an age of extremes. Wherever we look it seems that humanity is struggling to hold on to any last vestige of reason. A West intoxicated with power has lurched from one part of the world to another like an out of control juggernaut, destroying everything in its path, producing its own monsters in the process.

Mohammed Ewazi is not a victim of this juggernaut and its effects, but he is a consequence whose actions are leaving a vast trail of victims behind him and are leading to evermore disastrous consequences. And whether we are comfortable about admitting it or not, the only difference between the brutal violence unleashed by IS and the violence we have unleashed and/or supported by proxy in recent years, is that theirs would not have erupted without ours creating the conditions for it to erupt. Just as the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in the aftermath of the US carpet bombing of the country in 1975, so IS has spread and its ideology proliferated on the back of the destruction of Iraq and the unquantifiable trauma suffered by the Iraqi people, radicalising the entire region and young Muslims across the world at the same time.

We have met the enemy and he is us.

What does the general election mean for the NHS?

With the general election just weeks away, it is worth considering what the stakes are for the NHS.

Although the record of the last Labour government is controversial in some respects, such as introducing PFI, and bringing rapacious private contractors like Carillion, and ISS into the NHS, both of whom the GMB trade union have been engaged in disputes with, the overall impact was enormously positive.

When Labour came to power in 1997, the Conservatives had run NHS spending down to breaking point: health spending was at around 5% of GDP, and the conditions had been created by the Tories for an expansion of insurance based private sector.

Labour saved the NHS by increasing NHS spending by 6% each and every year. Labour built 149 new hospitals, and recruited 80000 more nurses, 38000 more doctors, and 4500 more NHS dentists. Health spending rose to be around 10% of GDP by 2010. Indeed, the expansion of the NHS when Tony Blair was prime minister was the most effective and sustained period of growth in the NHS since the 1940s. The spirit of ’45 indeed.

Under Labour, virtually no-one waited 13 weeks for treatment, Specialist appointments were guaranteed within 2 weeks of referral, and a doctor’s appointment was guaranteed in 2 days. Interestingly, pre-election promises to stick within the spending plans of John Major’s retiring Conservative administration were quietly abandoned  in the NHS, when the full scale of the Conservative’s poisoned legacy in the health service became appreciated. Labour prioritised patient care.

What is more, Labour helped local councils provide decent services for social care, with a 43% real terms increase since 1997.

In contrast, since 2010, the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have yet again created an almost existential crisis for the health service. Despite promising “no top down reorganisation of the NHS”, the government has spent £3 billion breaking up the NHS, and outsourcing to private health companies.

The full scale of the threat to the NHS has yet to become apparent to most people, as the Conservative’s reforms have not yet fully worked themselves through, but already the impact on patient care has been dramatic, and now 1 in 4 patients wait a week or more to see their GP. Over a million people have waited longer than 4 hours in A&E over the last year. Over half a million people are on waiting lists for treatment.

What is more,  coalition has made massive cuts of £3,5 billion to social care budgets. Almost 250000 fewer older people are receiving services than in 2010.

The Labour Party has made clear commitments, that will be implemented when Ed Miliband is prime minister.

Labour will recruit 20000 more nurses, and 8000 more GPs, funded by a tax on houses worth more than £2 million.

Labour will guarantee a GP appointment within 48 hours, and on the same day if medically needed

Labour will repeal the Lib-Dem & Conservative Health and Social Care Act, to stop further privatisation of the NHS. The NHS will be the preferred service provider.

Labour will give Mental Health greater priority.

Labour will gurantee that patients will wait no more than one week for vital cancer tests by 2020.

There will undoubtedly continue to be problems. The legacy of PFI debt needs to be addressed, the cost of which is unsustainable. There is certainly a case to be made that given the scale of the NHS crisis in 1997, and in the context of a robustly successful economy, the decision to turn to complex instruments for private finance was within the proportionate and reasonable range of policy options for a centre-left government, bringing as it did some perceived advantages of not requiring controversial rises in public sector borrowing. There is a distinct difference between Labour introducing PFI in the context of using private borrowing to expand and improve public services, with the Tory policy of privatising to disrupt and curtail public services. Indeed, the argument of using private money for capital projects as a mechanism to avoid increasing the PSBR is not indefensible.

However, even in that context, the illusions of greater efficiency and administrative competence from private companies were always naive, and even if private sector funding for capital projects might be justified, long term service contracts with the private sector have been both costly and ill advised: bringing as they do inevitable cost cutting in pursuit of profit, and reduction in public service.

Margaret Thatcher made great political capital out of her adopted persona as a housewife seeking to balance the household budget. Similarly, many voters today are familiar with the idea of seeking to restructure household debt, consolidating loans and, seeking to remortgage at a lower interest rate. By analogy, the unsustainable cost of PFI debt does require bold action,to restructure, and reduce overly high interest payments that are not in the public interest. This is an argument that the left and the trade unions will need to advance during the period of the next Labour government.