The New Worker
The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 29th September 2006
Marching for peace in Manchester
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DEFEAT ON NHS PLANS
by Daphne Liddle
DELEGATES at this week’s annual Labour conference in Manchester
voted overwhelmingly in support of a motion from the giant public
sector union Unison in opposition to the Government’s accelerating
programme of privatisation of the National Health Service.
The vote coincided with the second one-day strike of workers
employed by NHS Logistics against plans to sell their Government-owned
supply company to the German parcel firm DHL.
Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt had argued against Unison’s
motion in vain. She said “I know that many of you are unhappy about the
sale of NHS Logistics.
“But as Health Secretary I have to ask is this right, is this
fair for patients? So I’m not gong to turn my back on a billion pounds
worth of savings.”
The Unison motion described the “immense damage” being done to
local health services as NHS trusts struggle to resolve growing budget
deficits by making serious cuts in beds, jobs and services.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis described Wednesday’s conference
vote – made via a show of hands – as a very good decision”, insisting
that the motion was not “seeking to lay down the law but drawing
attention to the problems in the way in which the NHS was being
He went on: “Wards closing, hospitals closing and a great deal of
money being siphoned off into the private sector – all we ask for is
these issues to be reviewed,” he said.
The debate became heated when conference chairperson Gary Titley
cut off Dave Prentis in mid speech because he had exceeded the
five-minute time limit.
This evoked a strong protest from Labour treasurer Jack Dromey, who is
also deputy general secretary of the Transport and General Workers’
“Labour’s reputation as the party most trusted with the NHS will be
tested as never before,” he said. “Blair should leave privatisations
that were doomed to failure to the Conservative Party. This is their
agenda. Not ours.”
His words were cheered by NHS workers in the conference hall, who
waved placards saying: “Keep the NHS Working” and “Save our NHS”.
Unfortunately the vote is not binding on conference policy. But
strength of feeling on this issue is building throughout the country
and even the most dedicated New Labour control freaks and spin doctors
could not keep this debate off the agenda.
After the vote Prentis warned ministers: “If they don’t listen we will
lose the next election. We have got to stop this arrogant approach from
the top that they know what is best.”
Earlier on Wednesday the Labour leadership had also faced defeat
as delegates voted for more central government funding to build council
houses. The votes was taken on Tuesday and announced on Wednesday –
after Blair’s farewell speech. The motion had been carried by 65.65 per
cent to 34.35 per cent.
The rebel housing motion, moved by Gravesham Constituency Labour
Party, demanded that the Government pursue a “fourth option” of direct
investment in council homes.
The fourth option campaign has the support of many unions and
rebel backbenchers, such as Austin Mitchell and is backed by the Labour
Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee opposed the motion
and it was the second year in succession that the leadership had been
defeated on the issue of building more council homes.
The Defend Council Housing campaign claims that Labour built
fewer council homes than Mrs Thatcher.
This week’s Labour conference
in Manchester has produced some carefully choreographed dramatic
performances, with the prima donnas of New Labour at first seeming to
be at each others’ throats and then coming together for a sentimental
final conference speech from Tony Blair. It was aimed to get the
audience weeping into their Kleenex and inspire an emotional farewell
to Blair as leader. But it was as far removed from reality as an Enid
For a start, the audience was carefully chosen and was dominated
by New Labour supporters. The agenda was also carefully tailored to
keep the real world outside the conference hall.
The Labour Representation Committee reported that the majority of
resolutions from Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) across the country
had been blocked from the agenda. Resolutions critical of Government
policy on a range of issues had been ruled out of order. These issues
include: Iraq, Trident replacement, the council housing “fourth
option”, nuclear energy, trade union laws, Venezuela, incapacity
benefit, school admissions policy, party political funding, and Thames
Then we had the grand performances with first of all Home
Secretary Reid as the loyal friend declaring that Blair should never
have promised to resign. That was followed by Blair as the tortured
hero at the weekend, interviewed by Andrew Marr for the BBC and
refusing to endorse Brown as his successor. Then came the Machiavellian
Mandelson admitting there was a rift within the New Labour leadership
and attacking Brown for failing to reconcile himself to not being Prime
On Monday, while Brown was giving the speech of his life to woo
the delegates, Cherie Blair, taking on the part of Lady Macbeth, was
reported to have called Brown a liar as he said it had been a privilege
for him to work for Blair. It seemed as though the Blair camp was ready
to sink the whole New Labour ship rather than hand over the tiller to
On Tuesday morning rumours were reported on Channel Four News
that Blair was going to use his speech to take back his pledge to
resign within a year and elicit a request from the audience to stay on
for longer – perhaps forever.
Fortunately Blair did not do this. But he did lay on the
emotional farewell with a trowel and finished by saying a few nice
things about Brown after all – healing the rift for a happy ending. Cue
applause and tears – comic opera substituted for political debate.
The show of histrionics succeeded in banishing issues like Iraq
and the desperate state of the NHS not only from the conference chamber
but also – more importantly – from the headlines.
The massive peace demonstration on Saturday in Manchester and the
huge demonstration in Nottingham against NHS cuts – the latest in a
series of very big marches in towns throughout England – received
virtually no news coverage. Proper debate on these issues – the issues
that the Labour membership wanted debated – is more dangerous to the
New Labour usurpers who have taken over the party than their dramatic
performances and pretended splits.
Brown made clear in his speech that his policies will not differ
from Blair’s. Anyone who thinks he is just saying this to appease Blair
and that once he gets into power Brown will turn out to be a real
socialist is kidding themselves. The only ounce of consolation in
swapping Brown for Blair is that it will finally get rid of Bush’s
chief henchman and undermine Bush.
Blair may have mesmerised the hand-picked delegates in Manchester
but the ordinary workers on the streets are not fooled. The main
response on the streets of Lewisham to this paper’s headline last week,
Sack Blair Now, was, “Never mind sack him; shoot the bastard!”
He must go but so must his criminal policies. Labour members and
trade union leaders must not let him mesmerise them yet again. The best
way to stop him is to support the leadership bid of John McDonnell –
and to remember that the real battle is going on outside the conference
hall, outside of Parliament and in the streets of Manchester,
Nottingham, Plymouth, Gloucester, London and all the other places where
people are mobilising to demand an end to the war and to defend the NHS.
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