On Friday 11 March, the campaign for the Labour Party to take a strong stand on the NHS suffered a serious though expected defeat. Nevertheless, its momentum is growing.
On the 11th, hardly any Labour MPs showed up to support the NHS Bill submitted by Green MP Caroline Lucas — guaranteeing it would not be heard and missing a major opportunity to embarrass and pressurise the Tories on the health service. Given that this was a Bill signed by the Labour leader and Shadow Chancellor, that is a seriously bad result.
The problem is not just about the Bill. It is a wider issue of Labour sticking to its pre-Corbyn message on health, which means refusing to promise reversal of the privatisation drive and the reinstatement of the NHS as a universal, comprehensive public service. A few NHS campaigners have drawn the conclusion that making demands on Labour is pointless, distracting or harmful. But despite the NHS Bill fiasco, and in part because of it, most have drawn the opposite conclusion — that a more, concerted serious campaign to change Labour’s stance is essential.
Campaigning specifically around this aspect of saving the NHS began in earnest in mid-2012, after the Tories pushed through the Health and Social Care Act. Activists around the NHS Labour Lobby initiative got policy submitted to Labour’s autumn 2012 conference by 17 CLPs, organised a successful lobby and, after a fight, managed to get the policy passed. This policy was far from perfect, but far too radical for the Miliband bureaucrats, who ignored it. That initiative continued for into early 2015, making some progress in the grassroots of the labour movement and educating NHS activists about the issues, but with limited results.
After Jeremy Corbyn’s election, the campaign merged into the new Momentum NHS, expanding and stepping up its activity. More people have got involved in the last six months than in the three years before. The first Momentum national committee in February endorsed Momentum NHS’s activity so far, and the Momentum steering committee on 17 March passed a comprehensive policy for a national campaign on the NHS.
When this is implemented, it will be a big step forward, drawing many Momentum groups, trade unionists and Labour Party activists into the fight. The 19 March meeting of Health Campaigns Together agreed to work jointly on various proposals for pressuring Labour — including a new model motion for CLPs, plans for intervention into Labour Party conference, agitation for Labour to back a demo in support of the junior doctors, and a dedicated national activist meeting on these issues – and created a working group with Momentum NHS to push things forward.
HCT, Momentum NHS, Keep Our NHS Public, the NHS Bill campaign and others will be meeting John McDonnell to discuss the NHS on 13 April. Undoubtedly part of the wind in the sails here is the junior doctors’ dispute, as well many other NHS workers’ struggles like the SLaM dispute in South London. A number of left junior doctor activists are playing a good role in this work. And victories in this sphere can strengthen NHS workers’ campaigns too.
Get involved. Get your Labour Party, trade union branch, Momentum group or NHS campaign involved.