THE TORY press had a field day crowing over Gordon Brown's embarrassment over the McBride affair and hypocritically posing as pillars of righteousness over the Easter break. This is not to defend Damian McBride, the Brown aide caught with his pants down over a half-baked smear campaign that was exposed and spiked before it even got off the ground,,but simply to point out that smears and innuendo are largely all that passes for political debate between the major parties these days.
Smear campaigns are a fine art in the United States. In the absence of any major differences on the issues of the day between the two major bourgeois blocs, political campaigns in America revolve around the personalities of the candidates rather than the platforms they claim to be standing on. The elevation of spin-doctors and the pathetic personality cult during the Blair era was all part and parcel of New Labour's cultural embrace of American decadence. Now they're paying the price for it, or rather McBride has with his own resignation.
But none of these new defenders of virtue take the argument to its logical conclusion, which is to abolish the libel laws altogether.
But the McBride scandal was an added bonus for the ruling class as it enabled them to sweep the Tomlinson affair off the front page just when demands for a public inquiry were peaking. The death of Ian Tomlinson, who died of a heart attack after being assaulted by the police during the G20 protests in the City of London, must not be ignored.
There must be an inquiry to establish whether the attack by the cop brought on his fatal seizure. There must be an inquiry to establish who was responsible for the initial police cover-up when the death was reported. There must be an inquiry to review the whole issue of current police crowd control methods including the odious "kettling" of demonstrators which is little more than a form of collective punishment.
The British Medical Association has brought its weight behind the demand for the abolition of all prescription charges in England. The BMA called for England to follow the example of Wales, Scotland and northern Ireland and scrap prescription charges in a submission to the Department of Health last month.
Currently only children, those over 60 and people on state benefits or with certain life-threatening long-term illnesses are exempted in England – for example those with diabetes are exempted but those with asthma must pay for all medications until they are 60 – and those exemptions are now being reviewed by the Department of Health. In fact only 11 per cent of prescriptions actually attract a charge at the moment because of the exemptions – and this figure will fall even lower now that charges for cancer patients have been abolished.
The BMA, which now describes itself as an “independent trade union and professional association for doctors and medical students,” argues quite rightly that "abolishing prescription charges altogether is the fairest and the simplest option".
When the National Health Service was established by Labour in 1948 prescriptions were free. The Attlee Government later agreed to bring in a nominal charge, which led to the resignations of a number of ministers including Nye Bevan and Harold Wilson, but it was only implemented when the Tories returned to office in 1951. Harold Wilson’s Labour government again abolished the charges in 1965 but re-introduced them in 1968.
The prescription charge has never really been about money. It has always been a political issue. The Tories object to anything being provided free by the state and Labour's right-wing has always gone along with them.
The BMA is not the most radical of professional bodies. Back in the 1940s it actually opposed the establishment of the NHS because it objected to the concept of GP’s being a salaried service. The Brown Government may not want to listen to the views millions of working people who gave Labour three election victories on the bounce but they would be unwise to ignore them when they are backed by senior medical opinion