On Wednesday April 24, the House of Lords voted by 254 votes to 146 to dismiss a motion, proposed by the Labour peer Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, a shadow health minister, to prevent the passage of regulations relating to Section 75 of the Health and Social Care Act (the Tories’ wretched legislation for NHS reform, passed last year), which was sprung on an unsuspecting public back in February.
The reason I call this the week that the NHS died is because the regulations enforce competition on almost all NHS business, paving the way for private companies to swiftly and effectively dismantle it, cherry-picking services they can easily make profits out of, and cowing the newly appointed Clinical Commissioning Groups (the GPs responsible for 80 percent of the NHS budget), who will be afraid of ruinously expensive legal challenges if they dare to take on the private sector.
It is not strictly true, of course, that no one cares, but I stand by the necessity of such a provocative headline. In fact, a 38 Degrees petition was signed by over 360,000 people, but millions should have been on the streets since the Tories first announced their intentions to destroy the NHS. That, however, has never happened. On the night of the Section 75 motion last week, despite furious lobbying of peers, and some great speeches in support of the NHS (by Lords Hunt and Owen in particular), the last chance to block the legislation was lost. Read the rest of this entry »
On April 24, 2013, campaigners calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, held a demonstration outside Parliament following a Parliamentary debate in Westminster Hall from 9.30 to 11 am. Shaker, who has a British wife and four British children, is one of 86 prisoners cleared for release by an inter-agency task force established by President Obama in 2009 but still held, and, in recent weeks, his story has finally become prominent in the mainstream British media, as he is part of the prison-wide hunger strike that began on February 6, and there are fears for his life (see my recent reports here and here).
The Parliamentary debate followed a successful e-petition, calling on the British government to “undertake urgent new initiatives to achieve the immediate transfer of Shaker Aamer to the UK from continuing indefinite detention in Guantánamo Bay,” which secured over 100,000 signatures, through the tireless work of numerous campaigners, making it eligible for a discussion in Parliament. Please note that an international petition for Shaker is still ongoing. Read the rest of this entry »
The case of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, is one that has taken up much of my time since the other British residents were released in 2007 and 2009, and I feel I have got to know him through his accounts from the prison — some made available to me last year via Ramzi Kassem, one of his lawyers (see here, here and here), and, this year, since the prison-wide hunger strike began, through the accounts of phone calls with Shaker made by Clive Stafford Smith, another of his lawyers, and the director of Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity (see here and here). These feelings were reinforced last month when I met his wife and his four children at an event in Tooting Islamic Centre with Jane Ellison MP and Jean Lambert MEP.
I am delighted that the e-petition calling for the British government to take renewed action to secure Shaker’s return from Guantánamo secured 100,000 signatures last week, making it eligible for a Parliamentary debate — and I’d like to publicly thank the many, many people who worked tirelessly to secure that result. Shaker’s ongoing detention is an indictment of the indifference of the US government and the British government, because he was cleared for release under President Bush in 2007, and again in 2009 under President Obama, but is still held.
The Parliamentary debate is taking place tomorrow, Wednesday April 24, in Westminster Hall, in the Houses of Parliament, and members of the public are allowed to attend. Please do go along if you can. The debate is from 9.30 to 11am, but you will need to make sure that you have time to clear security, so an 8.30 arrival is advisable.
Wednesday April 24 may be the day that the NHS dies — or that it lives on. On April 1, largely unnoticed by the people of England, the most popular institution in the land, the NHS (the National Health Service), was privatised by the Tory-led government, in regulations relating to Article 75 of the Health and Social Care Act, which force competition on almost all NHS business.
If they are not reversed, the regulations will lead to private companies swiftly and effectively dismantling the NHS, cherry-picking services they can easily make profits out of, and cowing the newly appointed Clinical Commissioning Groups (the GPs responsible for 80 percent of the NHS budget), who will be afraid of ruinously expensive legal challenges if they dare to take on the private sector.
This is a disaster of colossal proportions, and yet it has barely been reported by the mainstream media, although medical websites and blogs, and campaigners — myself included — have been covering it since the regulations first surfaced in February.
On Wednesday April 24, the House of Lords has a historic opportunity to derail the regulations. Please email members of the House of Lords today or tomorrow to urge them to vote against the regulations. The Save Lewisham Hospital campaign has put together a detailed list of Lords here, including details of how to contact them by email. If an email is not listed, click on the peer’s name to go to their website, where emails are listed, as well as phone numbers — which is another good way of getting in touch with them, with less than 48 hours to go. Read the rest of this entry »
Ever since the Tories came to power in May 2010, aided by the Liberal Democrats, who, sadly, demonstrated that everything they professed to believe in could be discarded if it meant being in government, the very fabric of civil society in the UK has been faced with extinction. This is a country that has developed a welfare safety net to protect the most vulnerable members of society and those who have fallen on hard times, and one that has guaranteed healthcare for its entire population, through the NHS, paid for through general taxation, but the Tories are determined to destroy it, and far too many people have been fooled by their poisonous persecution of the poor and disabled, and their ideologically motivated “age of austerity,” which continues to ruin any chance of economic recovery, while plunging millions of people further into serious poverty.
On Monday, April 1, multiple welfare cuts hit hundreds of thousands of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, and although two newspapers led with the news on their front pages — the Guardian (“The day Britain changed”) and the Daily Mirror (“D-Day for Savage Con-Dem Cuts”) — there is no sign that the British people, in general, have woken up to the full ramifications of what is being done in their name.
From the beginning of the Tories’ attack on the state, the government and large parts of the media have successfully lied about the unemployed and the disabled being scroungers and shirkers, creating a climate of mean-spiritedness and hatred amongst my fellow citizens that I have found to be both shocking and disgraceful, because the blunt truth, which anyone could find out if they could be bothered, is that there are around 2,500,000 people unemployed but only 500,000 job vacancies. Read the rest of this entry »
This photo set collects a few photos from events over the last week and a half that I haven’t included in any other sets — three relating to the ongoing campaign to free Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, and to bring him back to the UK to be reunited with his wife and children, and four of a “die-in” for the NHS, involving a roadblock outside the Houses of Parliament, during a protest that took place prior to a Parliamentary lobby on Tuesday.
I have been writing about Shaker Aamer’s case — and campaigning for his release – for many years, not just because Guantánamo has been a legal, moral and ethical abomination since its creation over 11 years ago, and remains so to this day, but also because his release is so long overdue. He was first told that he would be released under President Bush, in 2007, and again under President Obama in 2009, but, disgracefully, he is still held. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday, in the Houses of Parliament, a passionate and packed-out meeting took place in one of the House of Commons committee rooms, attended by well over a hundred campaigners for the NHS, at which MPs, doctors and activists spoke, and there were also intelligent contributions from the audience, as, collectively, we tried to work out how, in the short term, to resist the government’s latest plans to privatise the NHS, and, in the longer term, how to save the NHS and build a successful movement to oppose the whole of the wretched age of austerity imposed on us by the Tory-led coalition government for malignant ideological purposes; in short, in an effort to destroy the state provision of almost all services — with one exception, of course, being their salaries and expenses.
The spur for the meeting, and the rally outside that preceded it, is the government’s plan to push through privatisation of the NHS — despite explicit promises not to do so — through secondary legislation relating to Section 75 of the wretched Health and Social Care Act that was passed last year, in which almost all NHS services will have to be put out to tender by the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), the groups of GPs who will be responsible for 80 percent of the NHS budget from April 1.
Although 350,000 people recently signed a 38 Degrees petition opposing the plans (which I wrote about here), and Lib Dem minister Norman Lamb promised that the key regulations on competition in the NHS would be rewritten, the rewritten regulations have barely changed, and they still oblige the NHS to put almost all NHS services out to tender, allowing private companies to begin to devour the whole of the NHS or face legal challenges that they will probably lose, because enforced competition will have been made into a key component of the provision of NHS services. Read the rest of this entry »
Two years ago — at noon on March 18, 2011 — I gave up smoking after chain-smoking for 29 years. It was one of the best things I ever did in my life, along with giving up drinking (nearly five years ago), and meeting my wife and having a child.
When I gave up smoking, I did so because I was admitted to hospital after two and a half months of severe pain in my right foot, which, in the last fortnight before my hospital admission, had become so excruciatingly painful that I literally couldn’t sleep. I wrote about it at the time, in an article entitled, “Intimations of Mortality” — hence the reference in the title above, as I revisit this crucial period of my life.
I had developed a blood disorder, which had manifested itself as a blood clot, cutting off the blood supply to my right foot — first to my big toe, and then to my middle toe. It took two months for me to be admitted to hospital, but, when that happened, doctors and consultants in St. Thomas’s Hospital saved my toes, and I was discharged after spending about a week and half being pumped full of drugs and gazing across the River Thames at the Houses of Parliament (as the photo above shows). Within three months, my toes had healed, and I contributed to keeping myself alive by giving up smoking, and, I think, by somehow “managing” the indignation I feel about the injustices of the world, an indignation that had led to me discovering, in my late 30s, that my calling was to be an independent journalist and activist — on civil liberties, human rights abuses, and social justice. Read the rest of this entry »
Please sign the e-petition calling for the British government to secure the return to the UK from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who has been cleared for release since 2007. 100,000 signatures are needed by April 20.
With a huge hunger strike taking place at Guantánamo, the prison is on the mainstream media’s radar more than it has been for many, many months, if not years — and, in the UK, it is also time for there to be a renewed focus on the case of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison.
Despite being cleared for release under President Bush and President Obama, Shaker is still held, even though he is the one prisoner, out of 86 prisoners cleared for release but still held, who could — and should — be released immediately. Congress has raised obstacles to the release of prisoners to any country that can be regarded as dangerous, but few, if any lawmakers would dare to argue that Britain fits that category.
In the UK, the ongoing detention of Shaker Aamer continues to appal those who have been campaigning for his release for many years — and the British government’s persistent claims that they are doing all they can to secure his return do not sound convincing. Last year, Shaker’s family launched an e-petition asking the British government to explain how, as America’s closest ally in the “war on terror,” it cannot secure Shaker’s return to the UK, to his British wife and four children, and there is now just one month to go for campaigners to try and ensure that the petition gets 100,000 signatures so that it is eligible for a Parliamentary debate. Please note that only British citizens and residents can sign it, although there is no lower age limit, so all family members can sign. Anyone anywhere in the world can sign the international petition here. Read the rest of this entry »
Born in Lewisham: The Protest to Save Lewisham Hospital, March 16, 2013, a set on Flickr.
On March 16, 2013, the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign organised a protest and publicity event, entitled, “Born in Lewisham,” outside the endangered hospital — serving a population of 270,000 people — on Lewisham High Street.
The campaign was established in October 2012, when Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator appointed to deal with the financial problems of a neighbouring trust, the South London Healthcare Trust (based in Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley), recommended that Lewisham Hospital — which is not part of the SLHT and has no financial problems — should merge with one of the SLHT’s hospitals, the Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich, and should have its A&E Department closed and other frontline services — including maternity — severely downgraded. In Lewisham, this would mean tens of thousands of emergencies having to be dealt with elsewhere, as well as 90 percent of Lewisham’s mothers having to give birth outside the borough. Read the rest of this entry »
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