POSTSCRIPT March 9: Here’s a short video about the “hospital closure clause” the government cynically inserted into the Care Bill to enable solvent successful hospitals near to hospitals in financial trouble to be closed or downgraded without proper consultation. MPs will be voting on Tuesday (March 11), so please act now. Sign and share the petition here if you haven’t already (it has nearly 180,000 signatures). Also, please write to your MP to urge them to vote against Clause 119, and to vote for an amendment tabled by Paul Burstow MP. And finally, if you’re in London, please come to the following protests: Monday March 10, 6-8pm on College Green opposite Parliament, St Stephen’s Entrance, and Tuesday March 11, 11.30am-12.30 on College Green. As the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign explains, this will be a noisy protest, so bring whistles, saucepans etc.
On February 27, 2014, supporters of the NHS handed in a petition to 10 Downing Street, signed by nearly 150,000 people, calling for health secretary Jeremy Hunt to withdraw Clause 119 of the Care Bill (colloquially known as the ”hospital closure clause”), which, if not withdrawn, will allow the government — and senior NHS managers — to “close viable hospitals without proper consultation.”
The handing in of the petition was followed by a demonstration outside Parliament and a Parliamentary meeting attended by Andy Burnham MP, the shadow health secretary, and all are featured in my photos above.
Clause 119 (formerly Clause 118) was cynically tagged onto the Care Bill by the government in autumn after the high court and then the appeals court ruled that plans to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital, as part of the proposals for dealing with an indebted neighbouring trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, were unlawful. Read the rest of this entry »
POSTSCRIPT Feb. 26: I have just found out that Clause 118 of the Care Bill, discussed in this article, which is intended to allow the government to close any hospital they wish without detailed consultation, has had its numbering changed, and is now Clause 119. Read it here, and please sign the 38 Degrees petition initiated by Louise Irvine, the chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign. Please also sign and share the new 38 Degrees petition, “Cameron and Clegg: Protect Our Hospitals,” which has secured nearly 150,000 signatures in just two days.
Please, if you care about the future of the NHS, and if you’re British, write to your MP now and ask them to vote against Clause 118 in the Care Bill, which will be voted on early next month, and, if you’re in London, please consider attending a protest outside Parliament this Thursday, February 27 (details below).
Readers will hopefully be aware that, in October 2012, residents of the London Borough of Lewisham launched a major campaign to save Lewisham Hospital from being severely downgraded to pay for the debts of a neighbouring NHS trust, the South London Healthcare Trust (in the neighbouring boroughs of Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley) under legislation known as the Unsustainable Provider Regime.
25,000 of Lewisham’s 270,000 residents took to the streets a little over a year ago, and although heath secretary Jeremy Hunt approved the proposals put forward by Matthew Kershaw, the NHS Special Administrator appointed to deal with the financial problems of the SLHT, the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign and Lewisham Council launched two judicial reviews, which, in July, met with success, when a judge ruled that Jeremy Hunt had acted unlawfully in approving the plans. Hunt appealed, but lost again in October. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s been some time since I wrote about this wretched government’s vile assault on the disabled, through the rigged assessments (the Work Capability Assessments) administered by the multinational company Atos Healthcare, and designed to find as many mentally and physically disabled people as possible “fit for work” so their support can be cut. See some of my previous articles – Doctors Urge Government to Scrap Callous Disability Tests, Where is the Shame and Anger as the UK Government’s Unbridled Assault on the Disabled Continues?, Photos of the Paralympics Demonstration Against Atos Healthcare in London, Call Time on This Wretched Government and Its Assault on the Disabled, The Tories’ Cruelty Is Laid Bare as Multiple Welfare Cuts Bite and Photos: The 10,000 Cuts and Counting Protest in Parliament Square, September 28, 2013.
Nevertheless, not a day has gone by without me thinking about the horrors of life under the Tories — and their assault not just on the disabled but also on the unemployed and the underpaid — and being close to despair at how my fellow citizens, in significant numbers, have embraced the filthy lies spewing from the lying lips of ministers and the merchants of hatred and division in the tabloid newspapers.
In response to this assault, campaigners launched an e-petition in December 2012, which became known as the WOW petition (war on welfare), and which called for a cumulative impact assessment of all cuts and changes affecting sick and disabled people, their families and carers, and an immediate end to the Work Capability Assessment, as voted for by the British Medical Association in June 2012. Read the rest of this entry »
Burning Effigies of Tories at the Bonfire of Cuts in Lewisham, a set on Flickr.
On November 5, 2013 — Bonfire Night — I photographed effigies of members of the cabinet of the Tory-led coalition government — including David Cameron, George Osborne and others, as well as key Lib Dems and Labour politicians — as they were burned by activists in a brazier in the centre of Lewisham, in south east London. The caricatures were drawn by a member of the political group People Before Profit.
The activists in Lewisham were part of a day of action across the UK, in which numerous protestors held Bonfires of Austerity, initiated by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, an anti-austerity coalition of activists, union members and MPs, to protest about the wretched Tory-led coalition government’s continued assault on the very fabric of the state, and on the most vulnerable members of society — particularly, the poor, the ill, the unemployed and the disabled.
The borough of Lewisham, where I live, is famous for successfully resisting the government’s plans to severely downgrade services at the local hospital, and on Bonfire Night activists marched from Catford to an open space in the centre of Lewisham (by the main roundabout, and affectionately known as “the grassy knoll”), where they burned effigies of David Cameron, George Osborne, Theresa May, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and Boris Johnson. The protestors also burned effigies of the Lib Dems Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, key members of the disastrous coalition government, and Labour’s Gordon Brown and Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor. Read the rest of this entry »
On November 5, activists across the UK will be holding Bonfires of Austerity to protest about the wretched Tory-led coalition government’s continued assault on the very fabric of the state, and on the most vulnerable members of society — particularly, the poor, the ill, the unemployed and the disabled.
The British establishment has traditionally celebrated Guy Fawkes Night on November 5, marking the anniversary of the foiled plot by Guy Fawkes and others to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605, although nowadays, I’m glad to note, the anti-Catholic aspect of the festivities has largely disappeared, and the day is more generally known as Bonfire Night (even though bonfires are generally frowned upon in dull, modern-day, health and safety obsessed England).
Thankfully, the spirit of dissent lives on, and this year protests across the country have been initiated by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, a movement of political activists, union members and the handful of enlightened MPs who exist in Parliament. The movement was launched with a letter published in the Guardian in February, with signatories including Tony Benn, Len McCluskey, Mark Serwotka, John Pilger, Ken Loach and the late Iain Banks, followed by a press conference in March, where speakers included Caroline Lucas MP, journalist Owen Jones, comedian Mark Steel and disabled activist Francesca Martinez, and a meeting attended by over 4,000 people in Westminster Central Hall in June, following meetings and rallies across the country, at which a statement was issued that began as follows: Read the rest of this entry »
On Tuesday, the year-long struggle to save Lewisham Hospital from butchers in the government — and in the senior management of the NHS — ended in victory for campaigners, when the Court of Appeal turned down an appeal by health secretary Jeremy Hunt. The government sought to overturn the High Court’s ruling, in July, that Hunt had acted unlawfully when he approved plans for Lewisham put forward last October by Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator.
Appointed under legislation for dealing with NHS trusts in severe financial difficulties (the Unsustainable Providers Regime), Kershaw had proposed closing A&E and other frontline services and selling off over half of Lewisham Hospital’s buildings and land as part of a package of proposals to address the financial problems of a neighbouring NHS trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, which has three hospitals in south east London. The result would have been just one A&E Department for the 750,000 inhabitants of the boroughs of Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley, and a disgraceful scenario in which 90 percent of the mothers in Lewisham (a borough with a population of 270,000) would have been unable to give birth in their home borough.
Responding to the news, Tony O’Sullivan, the Director of Services for Children and Young People at Lewisham, and a member of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, said, “This is a complete victory.” Referring to ministers and the Special Administrator, O’Sullivan added, “We always said they were acting unlawfully and undemocratically in using an emergency process to bypass meaningful consultation and destroy an excellent hospital.” Read the rest of this entry »
Free Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo, Parliamentary Vigil, October 9, 2013, a set on Flickr.
On Wednesday October 9, 2013, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign held a vigil outside Parliament for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantanamo, whose British wife and four British children await his return in south London.
Shaker — along with 83 other men still held, out of 164 prisoners in total — was cleared for release by a military review board under the Bush administration in 2007, and by President Obama’s inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010, but he is still held because of Congressional obstructions, and President Obama’s unwillingness to spend political capital overcoming those obstacles. Although the British government has been calling for his return since 2007, it is also apparent that his release has not been made a significant enough priority by ministers, or he would have been freed by now. Read the rest of this entry »
Tomorrow afternoon, at 4pm, I’ll be attending an event to mark the 12th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan. This is a horrible anniversary for two particular reasons: firstly, because, as a the father of a 13-year old, it is unacceptable to me that my country has been engaged in permanent war for almost all of his life; and secondly, because, as a writer and activist on Guantánamo, I am aware that the context for the imprisonment of the majority of the men at Guantánamo was the invasion of Afghanistan — where the Geneva Conventions were first discarded, where torture became Standard Operating Procedure, and where indefinite detention without charge or trial became official US policy.
12 years on, and nearly five years after President Obama took office promising to close Guantánamo, his failure to close the prison is a disgrace, and the continued US military presence in Afghanistan continues to demonstrate what a knowledgable friend has described as America snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. I can only hope that the major withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan next year will play a part in bringing our warmongering to an end — although I have no rosy illusions about that — and will also severely damage the rationale for continuing to keep Guantánamo open, but in the meantime, to mark this anniversary, I’m taking part in the event below: Read the rest of this entry »
On Saturday September 29, disability activists, the Very Rev. David Ison, the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the MP Michael Meacher and representatives of the Occupy movement held a protest in Parliament Square entitled “10,000 Cuts and Counting,” at which and John McDonnell MP and Louise Irvine, a GP and member of the British Medical Association (BMA) and the National Health Action Party, also spoke.
The event was described as “a ceremony of remembrance and solidarity for those who have had their lives devastated by the austerity programme, including more than 10,000 people who died shortly after undergoing the Atos Work Capability Assessment, the degrading test used by the government to assess the needs of people receiving benefits related to disability and ill health.”
In my many articles about the Tory-led government’s relentless and disgraceful assault on the disabled, I refer to the assessments as a process designed to find mentally and physically disabled people fit for work, when they are not, as it has been clear from the beginning that Atos has been hired not to conduct objective evaluations, but to cut financial support for disabled people on the orders of the government. Read the rest of this entry »
Save Lewisham Hospital Victory Parade and Rally, September 14, 2013, a set on Flickr.
On Saturday September 14, six weeks after a High Court judge, Mr. Justice Silber, ruled that health secretary Jeremy Hunt had acted unlawfully when he approved plans to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital (see here and here), campaigners and supporters of the hospital — and of the NHS in general — gathered in the centre of Lewisham, in south east London, and marched past the hospital and on to Ladywell Fields, the park behind the hospital, for a celebration of the victory.
At the rally in Ladywell Fields, there were speakers, stalls, bands and a general air of celebration and solidarity that even the rainy weather couldn’t dispel. We are, after all, used to poor weather, as our first march against the proposals, which attracted 15,000 supporters on a Saturday last November, took place in the pouring rain (see here). I took the photos above, which I hope capture something of our general resilience, and our refusal to have our spirits dampened by the rain.
The victory over the Tories, and the senior management of the NHS behind the proposals to downgrade Lewisham, was certainly worth celebrating. The plans for Lewisham, approved by Hunt in January, had been put forward last October by Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator appointed to deal with the financial problems of a neighbouring trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, in the first use of the Unsustainable Providers Regime, legislation for dealing with bankrupt trusts that was introduced by the last Labour government. Read the rest of this entry »
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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