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NHS vote marks end of parliamentary road

While last night’s vote to approve the health bill marks the end of the parliamentary road – in more ways than one – the future of the NHS is far from being a done deal.

Only royal assent is needed to complete the legislation that brings competition right into the heart of the National Health Service and threatens its future.

And the gushing warmth of the parliamentary congratulations to the Queen on her diamond jubilee – with Ed Miliband suggesting to David Cameron that they should stand to applaud – ensures that happens very soon.

Living in the forlorn hope that Labour will repeal the bill is a waste of time. The ConDems actually built on what New Labour had done, especially in relation to virtually independent foundation trusts.

In any case, we can’t afford to wait until the general election of 2015. For the vast majority whose lives, literally, are bound up with the not-for-profit institution set up in 1948, defence of the principles of universal health care must be along a new path.

The same is true for pensions. Unions yesterday lost a legal battle to stop the government slashing up to 20% off public sector pensions by switching to the consumer price index instead of the normally faster-rising retail price index to calculate cost-of-living rises.

Siding with the Coalition, Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, put it like this: “The government clearly believed the state of the economy was grave, and that any savings which could properly be made should be made – as soon as possible.” Unions are considering an appeal, but they’ll be wasting their time, and their members’ money.

The state of the capitalist economy is worse than grave, and the UK government, like most throughout the world, is willingly submitting to the relentless logic of contraction expressed through the simple measure of the credit rating calculated by agencies representing investors on the global capital markets.

Two of the three – Fitch and Standard & Poor – have already threatened to downgrade Britain’s AAA rating if the Coalition’s intensifying drive to cuts and privatisation continues to fail to deliver. The growth promised in last year’s budget hasn’t materialised, so the austerity assault will be ramped up in today’s budget – despite it deepening the recession.

Everything that can be handed over to the for-profit sector will be, and the latest victim is the handling of emergency calls to ambulance, fire and police, soon to be joined by the roads.

Simon Reed, vice-chairman of the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, warned that the momentum towards outsourcing was gathering pace. “This is the drip, drip, drip of privatisation,” he said. “They move in on something that might look like a good idea, and before we know it they are working in vast areas of British policing.”

Just as in the revolts of the Arab Spring, the police will soon be faced with a three way choice: to side with the repressive state forces seeking to preserve the status quo; to stand aside as new democratic forces arise; or to join with them in assemblies of the people formed from workers in factories and offices, the professions, school and college students the unemployed, pensioners, community groups.

With the state’s forces ranged against the interests of the majority, and the parliamentary process a cul de sac, these new assemblies will become the focus for the democratic process that makes and carries out decisions in the interests of the people and small businesses.

They will work to identify and satisfy the unmet needs of the local population with respect to nutrition, housing, clothing, health, energy, safety, communications, transport, education and self-development, culture, sport, recreation, arts, entertainment, social support including security in older age.

And, as the democratic expression of the majority, they will give themselves the power to acquire the resources, including land, from their present owners in order to satisfy needs. That’s the best way to respond to what happened in Parliament yesterday.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor
21 March 2012

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