John Lister on the English NHS at 60

John Lister, director of London Health Emergency, details the history of the NHS, New Labour’s privatisation plans, and the advantages of devolved control of healthcare.

Tony Benn backs David Davis

Benn has taken some flak for doing this (see here) but given that the election is being fought over the question of civil liberties, he’s right to back Davis. And this election will expose the divisions within Cameron’s New Tories – shattering Dave’s nice guy facade.

Davis’ resignation highlights the fact that contentious policies such as pre-charge detention and ID cards are decided by politicians – those least-trusted by the public (and with good reason, the government’s victory on the 42 days vote was due to bribery and bullying). Why leave important issues to politicans? Shouldn’t we have our say?

Jon Cruddas on Bold Labour

This is a version of the inspiring speech Jon Cruddas gave to the Compass conference last week.

Be brave and take a radical turn

Jon Cruddas argues that poverty of aspiration is the biggest hurdle to a revival of bold Labour

LABOUR appears to be in political freefall without a parachute. This is partly because of the collapse of many “new” Labour orthodoxies – the triangulations and trimmings based around a mythical middle England. This model now almost appears to belong to a different era, but to many it seems there is no coherent alternative to put in its place or too little time to implement it. That doesn’t have to be the case. I believe there is a way to regain the trust and support of those who are deserting Labour by meeting their aspirations for their place in a fairer society.

Recent election results demonstrate that support for the Labour Party is disintegrating. In Crewe, London and across the country in the local elections, the verdict was damning. But, as many of us have been flagging up over the last few years, this did not fall out of the sky, with the biggest shifts among public services workers and more generally among working-class labour voters.

In response, all we heard was: “Let’s not go back to the 1980s”. As if anyone wanted to. The other false accusation was that we wanted to retreat to some “old Labour” comfort zone. These are trite responses to a careful analysis of the trend in electoral decline. A year ago change was promised, but little delivered, as the general election that never was meant a rewind back to the old playbook of triangulation and tacking to the right.

Increasingly we are outflanked by a modern conservatism than maintains a more literate language. It talks about values and relationships, it empathises with people who are struggling, it appears to be going with the grain of people’s vulnerabilities. Meanwhile, some on our own side are adding to this topsy-turvy atmosphere by pitching for public spending cuts and tax cuts. We are in danger of trading off the very essence of social democracy.

At the heart of the debate is what the people of this country aspire to. These aspirations are not defined by individualist, Thatcherite, pro-private, anti-public greed, but by expectations of a political process that will focus on removing the barriers to realising aspirations in terms of poverty, child-care, access to housing, leisure, arts, culture and so on. It is not the aspiration of climbing the ladder and breaking the rungs after you. There is a formula at the heart of the Government based around a fundamental rupture between marginal seats and Labour’s heartlands. It cynically counter-poses aspiration and our core vote. We need politicians to break from this disparaging segmentation of the country and its associated patronising in terms of who is and isn’t aspirational. Politically, we need to reclaim the very nature of aspiration. We need to decontaminate it from the toxic interpretation of those such as Business Secretary John Hutton who see aspiration as a call for more millionaires and tax protection for fat cats. Voters are leaving Labour because of our failure to deal with their real aspirations, in terms of housing, their working poverty, their scramble over limited resources, their desperate desire for mobility and resources. These aspirations depend on collectivist social democratic actions.

So we need to start again. Simply put, why don’t we say that our purpose is to build a fairer, more equal and sustainable country and planet? With that as a goal, we need to get behind some policies which are promoted in a language and story that allows people to render intelligible their concerns and aspirations. They could include:

* a windfall tax on oil companies to help those struggling with escalating fuel bills, specifically those in fuel poverty;
* a new fair employment clause in all public contracts to end the race to the bottom in the world of work;
* building homes for families, allowing councils to build for renting;
* a fairer tax system with a new top rate and a cut in taxes for the low paid with all new revenues hypothecated to boost benefit levels for the poor;
* a moratorium on the private sector role in delivering front-line public services;
* protection for the universal service obligation of the Post Office;
help children get healthy with free schools meals for all;
* access to all local authority sports facilities free for children under 16;
make work pay by ending the national minimum wage rates and paying the rate for the job;
* abolishing health inequalities through proper funding of primary care;
democratising the police through greater local accountability and elections;
* pioneering local area agreements to offer real and enduring devolution drawn up and delivered locally;
* a new radical covenant between the people and the military funded by the scrapping of Trident;
* workplace environmental reps to make work healthier and more fulfilling;
* greater working time flexibility for parents;
* tackling the legacy of Home Office failure with the introduction of earned regularisation of unregularised migrants.

These will meet the real aspirations or real people in real need – not least that half of the population which shares just 6 per cent of Britain’s wealth, while the top 1 per cent owns a quarter of it. The very rich have become the new untouchables through the myth that their massive wealth will somehow flow to the rest of us and that, if we dare tax them fairly, they will jump ship to another country. A new politics of hope must start with idealism and the belief that another world is possible. No one’s life should be compromised by the brute luck of birth.

Utopianism has been given a bad name by those who want everything to stay the same. The National Health Service, full employment and even the minimum wage were all initially decried as hopelessly utopian, but people had the courage and the desire to struggle to make them a reality. Political leaders are reluctant to take a lead. They play it safe, caught in the trap of electoral timidity when the moment demands bravery. This is not a surprise. History teaches us that lasting changes – from the vote and the NHS and on to greater women’s equality – were not handed down from on high by benevolent politicians, but fought for by millions of people, convinced that the time for change had come.

The bottom line is this. We can fight to change the direction of the party – but only if we have the political will. Given the patterns of injustice that we see every day, it is no less than a categorical imperative that we accept the challenge to change this country. It cannot be beyond our collective wit to do so. We could start by organising – and quickly – a lurch to the centre-left.

Local govt workers will strike against wage cuts

After the GMB’s local government workers voted to accept the pay offer, the good news:


UNISON’s local government members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have voted by 55% to 45% for a programme of sustained strike action over a 2.45% pay offer, the union announced yesterday.

‘We are proposing initially a two-day strike in July, and then we will go from there, because the employers are refusing to go any further,’ UNISON Head of Local Government Heather Wakefield said.

UNISON added that its negotiating team will decide today what action to recommend to the national strike committee that meets on Friday 27 June.

UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis said: ‘This is a solid vote for action and a clear message to the local government employers that our members are willing to fight for a decent pay rise.

‘They are fed up and angry that they are expected to accept pay cut after pay cut, while bread and butter prices go through the roof.

‘Most of them are low paid workers, who are hit hardest by food and fuel price hikes and they see the unfairness of boardroom bonanzas and big city bonuses.

‘Other local government workers who have to use their cars for work are being hit hard too by spiralling fuel costs and they end up subsidising their employers.’

Wakefield stressed yesterday: ‘There’s an awful lot of people who simply can’t afford this offer that is way below inflation. In fact it’s a pay cut, not a pay rise.

‘The employers should be in no doubt, the members have voted for a programme of sustained and escalating strike action because they are sick of being treated as the poor relations of the public sector.

‘Their case for a realistic pay increase is indisputable.

‘We are, of course, willing to meet with the employers at any time, but we will decide tomorrow what recommendations to make to our national strike committee.’

Almost 250,000 council workers earn less than £6.50 an hour. Seventy five per cent are women.

The unions’ pay claim was for 6% or 50p an hour, whichever was the greater.

Nearly 600,000 workers were balloted; they include social workers, housing benefit workers, rent collectors, binmen, dinner ladies, teaching assistants, cooks, cleaners, architects and surveyors.

Unite’s Derek Simpson yesterday spoke out against the Chancellor’s call for wage restraint:

The joint leader of the country’s biggest trade union has piled more pressure on the Government by describing calls for pay restraint as “unrealistic”.

Derek Simpson, of Unite, called on ministers to focus on the “real culprits” of the credit crunch rather than target low-paid workers.

In an interview with Union TV, Mr Simpson said the current economic difficulties proved that the finance and banking industry should be regulated more tightly.

“The finance industry was left to its own devices and displayed such staggering irresponsibility that we are now experiencing a world economic crisis.

“Their attempts to drive up profits coupled with rising food and energy prices means that the government now wants to drive down the wages of hard-working families, but they never had the nerve to reign in the unrestrained excesses of the boardroom.

“The wages of hard-working families are not the cause of inflation. We have a credit squeeze, falling real incomes, rising food and energy costs, a shortage of affordable housing and a higher proportion of taxation falling on the lowest 90% of earners than the top 10.

“Ministers have been silent as boardroom pay has run riot. Why should those with the least have to tighten their belts first? It would be irresponsible of us as trade unionists not to represent our members at the negotiating table in forthcoming pay rounds.”

As the RMT’s general secretary Bob Crow has said:

It is funny how it is always working people who are asked to exercise restraint. Bosses have been raking in huge profits and dividends and the gap between rich and poor continues to grow, yet it is the unions who are being told to keep their members’ wages down. We shall not be paying any attention to wage restraint.”

Labour MP and Unison member, John McDonnell has commented on his blog:

The underlying reason for this vote for strike action is a genuine feeling of unfairness that lower paid public sector workers are being asked to carry the burden of the economic downturn.

Ministers, earning over £100,000 per year will barely notice their pay freeze, but for many local government workers it will mean real hardship.

Respect MP George Galloway has offered his backing for Unison’s strike action:

“We in Respect fully support Unison in its battle for fair pay. It has come to something when low-paid classroom assistants, refuse workers and admin staff are having to strike, probably for two days.

“The reasons why are familiar to anyone who is finding it difficult to pay a gas bill, put petrol in the car, do the weekly shop or otherwise make ends meet.

“Inflation is bearing down on everyone from council workers to tanker drivers to cleaners on London Underground in the RMT, who are due to strike this week, to the women who are turning up to my consituency surgery and reporting that their family’s rice bill has doubled to £50.

“This is not simply a question for public sector trade unions – though coordinated strikes by those unions is vital and long overdue – it is a fundamental social issue affecting all working people here and, even more so, in countries such as Bangladesh and Egypt where food riots have returned.

“The true rate of inflation is at least double the government’s preferred, massaged figure. Even the Bank of England has accepted that it is not the pay of teachers, council workers, and others that is causing price rises. People are putting in for pay increases, and some are fighting to win them like the Shell tanker drivers, as a result of inflation. “With the threat of recession this government should be investing enormously in housing, to ease the gathering respossessions crisis and cut housing waiting lists; it should be ensuring decent pay, controlling the prices of essential goods, and levying a windfall tax on the energy companies and supermarkets which are raking in billions.

“New Labour is in love with big business and the failed policies of neo-liberalism, so it won’t do that voluntarily.

“Respect, however, will be advocating these measures and working with others to try to bring them about. We will do all in our power to support this action, as we did the recent strikes by teachers, lecturers and civil service workers.

“There will be insults and lies about the council workers from the billionaire-owned press, from the Tories and from government ministers. But I believe that if their case is properly made and explained, if it is made part of a popular revolt against profiteering by the likes of Shell and Tesco, if it is at the centre of a movement to change this government’s wretched policies, then not only will it get the support of working people in all walks of life, but it can play a powerful role in winning some change for the better, rather than leaving it to the Tories to gain from the disillusionment sown by Gordon Brown’s failed administration.”