England needs a health minister

Oh god. Ben Bradshaw again, knocking the Welsh Assembly Government’s policy of booting profiteers out of their health service, something far more popular than flogging bits of the NHS off…

Note that the BBC wrongly reports that he’s the English Health Minister. Mr Bradshaw is English, but he’s a minister in the British government – there is no devolved administration in England, unlike Wales. (Sadly, the absence of an English parliament is not pointed out) Note also that Labour shares power with Plaid Cymru in Wales – Bradshaw is attacking the policies of his own party!

Cardiff-London tensions re-ignite

An English health minister who criticised health policies in Wales has returned to the attack.

Ben Bradshaw told a conference the English NHS provided a better service despite spending less per patient than the health service in Wales.

Mr Bradshaw attacked Welsh policies of free prescriptions and free hospital parking again and said ruling out using the private sector was “dogmatic”.

The Welsh Assembly Government said it was “putting the patients first”.

Earlier this year, Mr Bradshaw sparked a row between the assembly and UK governments by saying the money spent on free parking would be better spent on improving patient care.

His keynote speech to a CBI conference on health in London on Thursday threatens to re-open tensions between Cardiff and Westminster.

He told delegates the benefits of the English approach would become clearer in time.

He said he was “fed up” with being told that England suffered from health apartheid “because millionaires in Wales get their prescriptions free or Scotland plans to allow anyone who wants to park in busy hospital car parks for free.”

Mr Bradshaw said: “What about the fact that in England you can get your operation much more quickly, you don’t have to wait for more than four hours in A and E any more and it is easy to see a GP when you want?

“These things matter more to the public. We are already delivering them in England and we have been doing so while spending less per head on health than in Scotland and Wales.”

‘Widely welcomed’

Responding to the criticism, an assembly government spokesman said: “Devolved government means that each administration is free to pursue its own priorities.

“Mr Bradshaw is entitled to his views.

“Free prescriptions and parking reforms have been widely welcomed by patients in Wales.

“We are putting the patient first and removing barriers to accessing healthcare.

“We see prescription and car parking charges as a tax on the sick.

“Investment in improving access to healthcare will improve the health and well-being of the people of Wales.”

At the Plaid conference this weekend, Adam Price called on Welsh Labour to break free from Westminster. Certainly, at the moment it’s path is leading away from New Labour. If only English Labour would do the same…

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Is Gordon Brown living in the past, or on another planet?

Let them waste less food and go without rights, says Brown.

What century is this man living in?

He’s flying off to a G8 summit in Japan, but he can’t help lecturing us about the food we throw away before stuffing his face with a six course meal.

He’s denied all along that his police state “anti-terror” measures are eroding our rights, but admits that there are rights taken by previous governments that have not yet been returned.

From yesterday’s Morning Star:

Living in the past
(Monday 07 July 2008)

GORDON Brown apparently believes that successful governments are those that do not hark back to the past.

So why does he hark back to the industrial relations regime imposed by Margaret Thatcher in the anti-union 1980s rather than supporting the kind of basic trade union rights that almost every other developed capitalist country regards as normal?

Why is he hooked on the tradition begun by Mrs Thatcher and continued by John Major and Tony Blair whereby Britain is singled out by the International Labour Organisation as being in breach of ILO conventions?

Sound bites such as “combining fairness and flexibility” are meaningless waffle that serve to camouflage new Labour’s subservience to big business.

Trade unions have been patient with new Labour, far too patient, as it has demeaned Britain’s 6.5 million trade unionists, sought to weaken the unions’ link with the party they founded and flaunted its preference for big business and wealthy individuals.

While individual Labour Party membership has plummeted, contributing to a financial crisis, new Labour’s rich fair-weather friends have done a runner now that they can no longer expect knighthoods and House of Lords seats for their largess.

No less than 90 per cent of the party’s finance now comes from Britain’s trade unionists.

Given that the Prime Minister is effectively a dead man walking, just one more lousy election result away from the sack, why should the unions put up with his arrogant disdain.

From the earliest days of Bernie Ecclestone’s £1 million donation coinciding with the government’s watering down of its ban on tobacco advertising on TV, big business has received a return on its investments in Labour.

In contrast, the trade unions have continued to fork out cash for little or nothing in return.

As one prominent leader put it, “We give cash to Labour to secure a Labour government not to buy policies.”

This differentiation between the industrial and parliamentary wings of the labour movement is understandable except in a context where the party’s internal democracy has been suspended, with conference denied the right to take policy decisions and delegates serving only to provide ego-boosting standing ovations for the leadership.

Labour is sleepwalking to electoral oblivion and yet the only response is for unnamed prominent people to suggest that loss of Glasgow East would mean a challenge to Gordon Brown’s leadership.

The situation is too important for such personality games. What improvement would there be if he were replaced by Charles Clarke, Alan Johnson, Alan Milburn or any other of his partners in crime?

The fault lies not with individuals. It lies with new Labour’s entire neoliberal approach, which is undermining the NHS and all public services and driving down living standards for working people, pensioners and the poor.

That approach has to be changed or Labour will go down to be replaced by a Tory-led government that will be, if anything, worse.

However, to expect Labour’s lost voters to return solely on the basis of claims that the Tories will be worse would be futile.

The unions have to force a change in government policies or look for an alternative political vehicle.

And today’s Morning Star editorial points out that the popularity of the nationalists in Wales and Scotland is because of their commitment to the public services:

Lessons on health care
(Tuesday 08 July 2008)

DOES the Prime Minister ever stop to wonder why the Scottish National Party government in Holyrood and the Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition in the National Assembly of Wales constantly outflank it to the left on health issues?

Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to take action to prevent notorious US health privateers taking over GP surgeries did not arise out of a doctrinaire hostility to the private sector.

SNP willingness to take the Brian Souter shilling, or, more accurately, about 10 million of them, and to drop its commitment to public ownership of Scotland’s rail services indicates a certain political flexibility.

The SNP is engaged on a strategy of seeking to use the early years of its minority administration in Holyrood to broaden its appeal, to win over many left-of-centre voters who traditionally vote Labour and to use this greater constituency to win an independence referendum in 2010.

Like the coalition in Cardiff Bay, it is aware that a non-commercial attitude to the health service is popular with the public.

In Wales, the cancellation of prescription charges and the abolition of car parking charges in hospitals, which served as a tax on the sick and their families, have proved extremely popular.

And the stock of impressive Welsh Health and Social Services Minister Edwina Hart has never been higher by virtue of her principled refusal to countenance the internal market nonsense that has become an article of faith for members of Gordon Brown’s Cabinet.

Despite the disapproval of Westminster Welsh MPs and of erstwhile colonial governor Peter Hain, both Welsh Labour AMs and their sometimes difficult allies in Plaid have stuck to their guns.

Why? Because voters understand that public is better than private when it comes to health care.

They know that health privateers owe priority to their shareholders’ dividends, whereas the NHS ethos is based on care and service, paid for out of the public purse.

Every pound paid out to a United Health shareholder is one pound less to be invested in better care and services. It’s not rocket science.

Voters understand it, but it seems beyond the superbrains of the Labour Cabinet who, bizarrely, equate private with efficient.

It seems inexplicable that a Labour government would seek to learn lessons from the example offered by the US.

Yes, they spend more money on health in the States than anywhere else and they have some of the most modern, state-of-the-art facilities in the world.

Well, that’s not surprising. It’s the richest country in the world, but having the largest health budget doesn’t mean having the most efficient or comprehensive.

They spend most because their health-care model is based on private insurance, encouraging high and ever-rising costs of surgery and bloated bureaucracy, to meet the needs of corporate shareholders.

There is nothing efficient about a health-care system that omits 50 million citizens, who are sidelined because they have no valid insurance.
The US ought to be the last country to which a Labour government looks to learn lessons.

In fact, given new Labour’s obsession with the mythical land of middle England, perhaps it might be better placed to look to Wales and Scotland for brighter examples of rational health care.

New Labour and Tories have a dirty weekend

* The Tory Mayor of London, Borisconi has lost a deputy over claims of corruption and sexual impropriety. That’s bad enough, but the Tory leader David Cameron was quite fond of this guy, Ray Lewis…

* Labour’s would-be candidate for the Glasgow East by-election failed to attend the selection meeting and dropped out, leaving the party without a candidate. Word is that his past nationalistic tendencies would prove embarrassing: the SNP are the main challenger in this safe Labour seat.

* Shadow Chancellor Gideon George Osborne has denied breaking his party’s rules by accepting ten grand for appearing at the conference of the Institute of Directors. He’s refusing to give the money back…

* Back in the confusing world of Scottish Labour politics, Margaret Curran, a member of the Scottish parliament, is tipped to be Labour’s candidate for the British parliament. This is particularly problematic – in the past, Labour made much of the SNP’s Alex Salmond being a member of both parliaments…

* The Tories have adopted a modified verson of the Scottish and Welsh nationalists’ proposals for tacking the soaring cost of fuel. The difference? Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalists want a fuel price regulator, the Tories want a fuel price stabiliser. It’s a matter of branding…

GMB cuts Labour funding – but is there an alternative?

The Beeb reports:

The GMB union has voted to cut funding to a third of the 108 Labour MPs it sponsors, saying they have failed to back its policies.

It also said it would ask its 600,000 members if they wanted to reduce the £1.2m funding for the Labour Party.

The union discussed its links with Labour at its conference in Plymouth.

General secretary Paul Kenny said he had been “weighing” up the performance of MPs, who could lose up to £20,000 a year if funding is cut.

The union was no longer prepared to finance MPs who treated workers with “contempt”, he added.

‘Performance-related pay’

The vote came as fire-fighters, prison officers, teachers, civil servants and other public sector workers joined a TUC rally in Westminster to press the government to make sure their pay keeps up with the rising cost of living.

Outlining his members’ grievances, Mr Kenny said those targeted would be MPs who had failed to support union policies, had not responded to requests for help or had not engaged with local branches.

“The intention is not to cut funding overall; it’s to divert it to areas where frankly people are doing a job of work,” he told the BBC.

“The government is very keen on testing for everybody, performance-related pay, and we’ve applied in the GMB over the last 12 months exactly the same principle.

“We’ve examined the records of MPs both at local level and national level and many are doing a fantastic job, but there are a number who seem at times to be embarrassed by their relationship with the union.

“We don’t want to embarrass them by giving them union money.”

‘Frustration’

Instead the GMB plans to put more cash into encouraging its members to take more control over constituency parties so the union has more influence over party policies.

Mr Kenny also warned the union could scale down the size of its funding for Labour – although it has ruled out of order a motion urging the GMB to disaffiliate from Labour.

He said he expected there would be “huge anger” among delegates over policies on taxation, public sector pay, executive bonuses, social housing and other issues.

One motion called for the GMB to give an ultimatum as to whether to give continued support to Labour because of unhappiness about the so-called Warwick Agreement – the deal reached before the last election between unions and the party – has not be implemented in full.

Another motion said: “The congress notes with disgust the continuing failure of the Labour Government to adequately represent the interests of working people.”

The Labour Party has become more reliant on union funds as donations from individuals have dropped following the cash-for-honours row and falling opinion poll ratings.

The TUC rally comes after a survey of 2,100 adults suggested that most believe it is unfair for public sector workers to receive lower wage increases than staff in private firms.

In the past, Kenny has suggested that the GMB fund Plaid in Wales and the SNP in Scotland if there’s no change of course within Labour. But what of an alternative political party in England? The GMB, and the labour movement, is getting overtures from the Green Party:

“We need each other,” Green MEP tells trade unionists
9th Jun 2008

Caroline Lucas speech aims to unite environmental and labour movements

Green politics must involve trade unions to ensure that the response to climate change advances social justice and equality, Caroline Lucas MEP will tell activists at the GMB union’s annual congress in Plymouth today.

In a discussion on ‘climate change and jobs,’ Dr Lucas will argue that the labour and environmental movements need to work together to acheive their goals, and that the Green Party’s role is to unite the two.

Commenting ahead of the session, Dr Lucas said:

“More secure, fulfilling jobs; stronger communities; social justice. That’s the Green response to climate change. Panic, blame, and regressive taxes: that’s Brown.

“Not only is the Green response more desirable, it’s also the only one that can succeed. A zero-carbon world and a socially just one will happen together, or not at all.

“To acheive our goals, the labour movement and the environmental movement must realise that we need each other. The Green Party, with roots in both, is the ideal matchmaker.

“We need to work together to demand support for the renewables industry that could provide thousands of new, highly-skilled and secure jobs but is being neglected by government. We need to work together to make a warm, energy efficient home a right, and abolish fuel poverty. And we need to work together for an economy that exists for people, not the other way round.”

Lack of self-government immoral, says Welsh archbishop

Another controversial “cleric-speaks-out-of-turn” story that might have escaped your attention is that of Barry Morgan, leader of the Anglican church in Wales, and his passionate views on national self-determination. (Now, I wonder what Rowan Williams has to say about England?)

The archbishop of Wales says it would be “immoral” for Wales not to have full law-making powers in the near future.

But Conservative Monmouth MP David Davies said his comments were “disappointing” and there were more pressing issues he could speak out on.

Barry Morgan spoke to BBC Radio Wales in his role as chair of Tomorrow’s Wales, which looks at devolution.

He told the Good Evening Wales programme that religion could not be “separate from life”.

The archbishop has previously criticised the existing law-making powers as “tortuous and convoluted”.

He made his comments as the Queen approved the transfer of new powers to the assembly allowing it to pass laws in specified areas.

He denied that he should not speak out on politics because he is leader of the Church in Wales and stressed he was not concerned with party politics.

But Dr Morgan told Good Evening Wales it seemed to him the “present settlement is demeaning to Wales and therefore I think that people like myself can’t divorce themselves from the life of politics”.

“Because politics is about the way we organise ourselves in society and, therefore every single aspect of life ought to have relevance to the Gospel, and that’s why I’m speaking out.”

Dr Morgan also said he believed “more and more people were on board with devolution” and if a referendum on more powers was held by 2011 it would be won easily.

A referendum on more powers was part of the agreement signed by Labour and Plaid Cymru when they formed a coalition Welsh Assembly Government last May.

Note: Lenin Cymru points out the dominance of Plaid in the coalition, forcing Welsh Labour to take a critical stance on New Labour’s attacks on public services like the post office closures.

Representation and England’s quangos

Quangos are London-centric shock! would be the headline version of my first thoughts on the news:

“The New Local Government Network found that more quango members live in four London boroughs than the whole of the North of England.

It says quangos are responsible for spending more than £123bn a year.”

In case you don’t know what a quango is, the NLGN are happy to tell you:

Quangos are non-departmental Government bodies with a combined spending of £123bn a year. Their expenditure accounts for 21% of public spending. They also have considerable influence over the formulation and implementation of Government policy. Whilst the research argues that many quangos perform their function effectively, it questions why the people running these organisations should be based so heavily in the South of England. It also argues that “national diversity” should be taken into account when recruiting people to manage and run quangos.

The report is called “You’ve Been Quango’d!” and is available to read on their website, should you be interested.

The report’s author, Chris Leslie, director of the NLGN, makes the following points:

“Looking at England as a whole, within each region there are clear concentrations of power, postcodes which are clearly more likely to produce the ‘great and good’ for seats on quango Boards. We suspect that the poorer the area you live in, the less likely you are to climb to the heights of quango board membership.”

Quite. In this, the internet age, is it not possible to have talented people from across England appointed to quangos?

Or could it be that rather than merit, Establishment membership is the basis of appointment to a quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation…?

And why aren’t these quangos accountable to the English parliament?

Well, becasue there isn’t an English parliament.

The New Local Government Network – a think-tank inclined towards New Labour (give-aways being the use of “modernisation” and the list of corporate partners) is keen on elected mayors, regionalisation, and what it calls “New Localism”.

What was Old Regionalism, I wonder?

Well, Wikipedia describes New Localism thusly:

a concept associated with Tony Blair’s Labour government in the United Kingdom. It is intended to indicate a cautious devolution of power to the local level in an attempt to better implement national goals.

So Old Localism must indicate a willing devolution of power to the local level? Or at least, the ability of local government to respond to democratic pressures and actively resist the policies of the central government, as the Greater London Council and Liverpool Council did in the 1980s.

I think we know why the devolution of power has been cautious…

From the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly Government, the demand is for more power – and Brown is as cautious as Bliar, perhaps more so. New Labour dominated both devolved institutions until last year, when the SNP formed a minority government in Scotland and Labour was forced to share power with Plaid Cymru in Wales.

One demand that neither Brown nor his probable successor, David Cameron, are willing to concede to is the demand for an English parliament. It might not be the top of the list for socialists at the moment – but we must realise that the ability of the Scottish and Welsh governments to challenge some of New Labour’s neoliberal policies will be realised by more and more people in England.

Consider the case of Berwick-Upon-Tweed. Historically disputed territory but currently part of England, the fact some of New Labour’s “reforms” – such as tuition fees – have not been implemented north of the border is enough to make defection to Scotland desirable.

Devolution’s erosion of the centralised British state is leading towards the ultimate break-up of the UK. Socialists in England should welcome this process – because it enables neoliberal policies of privatisation and war to be challenged in Scotland and Wales – and support the establishment of an English parliament, with a fair electoral system and MPs on an average worker’s wage, the better to challenge neoliberalism here!

Welsh fire fighters break with New Labour, back Plaid Cymru

Amazing news from Wales:

Plaid has welcomed an “historic” donation from the fire fighters’ union in Wales to three of its campaigning Assembly Members.

Plaid Cymru AMs Jocelyn Davies, Janet Ryder and Leanne Wood each received cheques from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) for their campaigning work.

Leanne at PCS rallyIn a letter from the FBU, executive council member Mike Smith said: “Janet, Jocelyn and Leanne in various ways have, during the past four years of the Assembly, assisted us in our lobbying and campaigning on various fire service issues.”

Plaid’s Leanne Wood AM, Chair of Undeb, the party’s trade union section, said:

” This donation from the FBU is very welcome and marks a historic decision to move away from Labour for such a campaigning trade union. I hope more unions see that Gordon Brown’s Labour government is cutting public services and doesn’t represent the interests of working people.

“Plaid has been a consistent supporter of fire fighters and other public sector workers over the years. We’ve seen them face attack after attack from the Labour government in London and the FBU has been at the forefront of attempts to maintain the fire service here in Wales.

“Plaid has forged close links with many trade unions over the years and we look forward to strengthening those ties to continue our fight for all working people.”

Leanne Wood AM added: “We’ll be taking up the FBU’s kind offer to meet in the New Year to discuss ways in which we can continue to campaign to improve the fire service in Wales.”