Kill electoralism, not the NHS

Posted on October 13, 2011 by | 4 Comments

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.

Save Our NHS - Block the Bill

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.

Egypt strikes

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.

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4 Responses to “Kill electoralism, not the NHS”

  1. Eveline van der SteenNo Gravatar
    October 13th, 2011 @ 9:29 am

    It feels like something big is happening right now, something of the scale of worker’s rights, or women’s rights battles in the past.

    Systematic tax avoidance, banks too big to fail….. the top 1% enriching themselves on the backs of us all….. National health care sold out to private companies….
    People are beginning to realize that we are all, governments included, held hostage by corporate powers. We need to take that power back, if we want to be a proper democratic west….
    People are slowly getting angrier and angrier, and if our governments don’t listen now, I’m afraid things may turn nasty, just like they did when workers and women fought for their rights, and governments refused to listen.

  2. McDuffNo Gravatar
    October 13th, 2011 @ 9:31 am

    I couldn’t agree more. However, the ruling class (disguised as a Labour government) has been preparing for this for a decade now. It’s a lot easier for the Greeks to get into their ministries without getting shot. And the Egyptians, although facing tougher resistance from the establishment, were steeled in the face of a dictator who they couldn’t get out any other way.

    Our police force has become militarised, but people in the UK still believe that they are in a democracy in anything other than name and some vestigial infrastructure.

    As long as people have the option of enduring until the false hope of another democratic event, they won’t choose to get beaten and shot in the hopes of securing a political ecdysis.

    The ruling class has done an admirable job of securing its position, I’m afraid. We’ll have a job on shifting them.

  3. MaxNo Gravatar
    October 13th, 2011 @ 12:53 pm

    At the end of the day, your concern that we’ll never have electoral success is a tacit acknowledgement that the vast majority are against what we believe in. Why would becoming more militant change their minds?

  4. JamieNo Gravatar
    October 13th, 2011 @ 11:28 pm

    @Max Thing is that isn’t true.

    The majorty of people are in favour of strikes and less than 20% against. The media say people aren’t in favour. They mean they’re not in favour.

    That’s for strikes as for if people agree with more leftist sentiments i can’t find any evidence. Although i can’t find any evidence to the contrary. I do know that polls in America have shown that many of Bush’s supporters thought he supported kyoto etc. Also if people are in favour of strike i’d assume they are at least somewhat social-democratic

    I know many people (who aren’t really into politics) who don’t vote because no party who’s going to get in will actually change anything. I don’t think you can really judge political opinions on voting behaviour or vice versa.