So that’s it then. It’s all over (bar the committee and third reading). The lords didn’t save the NHS. Despite all the petitions, all the tweets and hashtags, despite adopting lords and blocking bridges the amendment from lords Owen an Hennessy that could have derailed the bill fell by 330-262 votes.
The Health and Social Care Bill will pass into law and the process of dismantling our public health system will advance again. It would be easy at this point to retreat into despair and defeatism. To think of all the effort we have put into our campaigns over the last few weeks and months and to conclude that we tried our best but we lost. To decide to give up or move onto the next fight. We won on forests, failed on higher education and the NHS, what’s next?
It would be easy to damn the Liberal Democrats but gloat over how they will at least get kicked out in three years. But to be replaced with whom? With Labour? Who support cuts, just a little slower. Who gave us foundation hospitals, supported the internal market in the NHS (not to mention academies and fees, if we want to broaden our scope a little) and believe in the mantra of ‘choice’ and ‘modernisation’ just as much as the Tories and Lib Dems.
With the Greens? or the Socialist Party? (or whichever other far-left electoralist outfit you prefer.) Well that might be nice to imagine. And if it happened they might restore the NHS, they might bring our public services back under public ownership and under some sort of public control. But does anyone really think that’s going to happen? Two or three MPs? maybe. Throw in the LRC and we might get a dozen MPs we could consider to be socialists (if we’re lucky). That’s hardly the mass representation that could legislate to nationalise the towering heights of the economy, though. And even then, we still have to sit through three more years of Tory-Lib Dem government before we even get that far. Who knows what of our public economy will even be left at that point for our parliamentary leaders to speechify upon?
It would be easy to be despondent. But we should not be. We don’t have to wait three years to fight back, we don’t have to accept that we lost and we don’t have to delegate our struggle to someone else to take action on our behalf. But we have to learn the lessons of how we reached this point. We have to build and rebuild our community and grassroots organisation. We need action which is more than symbolic and which cannot be easily co-opted or dismissed.
People are upset, and they are angry, and they are actively looking for new ways to engage with politics to build a genuinely democratic economy, where we don’t only get to vote once every few years, and where we don’t have to pin our hopes on a room full of unelected aristocrats, bishops, business people an ex-politicians to deign to save the institutions we all want to protect.
I may have some reservations about the Occupy X actions happening across the US (and now coming here), but the fact that they are enduring, and spreading does tell us that people are willing to do something more than traditional party politics, that people are fed up of waiting for others to take action and that there is a desire to change the whole system, not just the people at the top. But as Sophie pointed out on this blog, and several people explained on libcom, it needs to go much further than occupying parks.
Mubarak didn’t lose power in Egypt because people sat around in Tahrir Square, much as that seems to have become the dominant narrative amongst some, he fell because of a sustained and coordinated campaign of direct action. Yes, of occupations and public protest, but also of thousands of workers striking and shutting down transport and production across the country.
The general assemblies in Greece prior to the vote on the last bailout package may have garnered all the media attention, but Greek workers didn’t give up once that vote passed. Two weeks ago workers occupied seven government ministries as representative of the troika (the ECB, the EC and the IMF) were due to conduct an inspection of how the austerity measures were being implemented. Today, workers occupied the finance ministry as the start of a nine day strike and “hung a banner reading ‘Occupation’ from the roof of the eight-story building and hoisted black flags around the roof”.
On the 9th of November we will see a national demonstration against fees and privatisation in higher education. On November 30th we will see the largest coordinated strike action in this country in decades. These events give us scope to build a real resistance. They will not be enough on their own, but they are a start.
We must avoid any retreat into defeatism, or a return to tactics that have failed, and instead escalate our response if we are to have any hope of protecting our public services and building the sustainable, democratic society we desire. The power to do so lies in our hands, if we can learn the lessons of today’s set back.