As Armed Police Turn Up At A Peaceful Protest in Whitehall to Save the NHS, I Reflect on the First Anniversary of My Hospitalisation and Cure


Is this really necessary? On Saturday afternoon, during a peaceful protest by several hundred people who had braved the poor weather to campaign outside the Department of Health on Whitehall against the Tory-led coalition government’s despised NHS reform bill, armed police — with machine-guns — turned up, and members of the notorious Territorial Support Group were also present, to intimidate protestors and practice some kettling.

The photo above, of an armed policeman close to Trafalgar Square and at the top of Whitehall is by melpressmen and below is a video by Kate Belgrave of a peaceful woman protestor being pushed the ground by a member of the Territorial Support Group. For other coverage, see the reports by A Latent Existence and by Dr NoCuts on Storify.

Perhaps this was an opportunity for the police to practice some intimidation prior to the security overkill that will be the London Olympic experience, but it was depressing to see such attitude and the clear threat of extreme heavy-handedness being promoted.

I had intended to be at the demonstration, but family matters intervened to prevent me from making it down to Whitehall. However, I hope my commitment to the NHS is not in doubt, nor my unwavering belief that there is no justification in intimidating peaceful protestors seeking to prevent an arrogant and ill-conceived bill that seriously threatens the health of the NHS and is designed to replace a care-based public service with one driven by profit.

Exactly one year ago, I was hospitalised after a ten-week period of increasingly excruciating pain, first in one toe in my right foot, and then in another, which, immediately before I ended up in hospital, involved a two-week period in which, despite having a toe that had almost turned black, as the result of a blood clot, I was not only sent home, but sent home without serious painkillers, and — literally — spent two weeks in such pain that I was unable to sleep.

That was at the lowest point in my experience of the NHS, but it did not turn me against it in any way, as I have never, for a moment, believed that introducing more competition into the NHS will necessarily improve services, and questions of diagnoses and treatments — and how to make them work better  — are far too complex and subtle for the tiny-minded ideologues pushing for the most radical reworking of the NHS since its founding in 1948.

Through my experiences when my son was born prematurely 12 years ago, and spent his first seven weeks in hospital, and my own experiences a year ago when, in agony, and having hobbled outside to smoke my last cigarette around noon on March 18, I was taken to a ward at my local hospital and finally put on morphine, and then, two days later, moved to St. Thomas’s, overlooking the Houses of Parliament, where my toes were eventually saved, what I came across throughout my nearly two weeks in hospital reinforced my abiding belief that the NHS was working, and that the last thing it needed was another top-down reorganisation (whether or not, as in David Cameron’s case, he had explicitly promised that he would not preside over another top-down reorganisation of the NHS).

What I found through my experiences were people whose belief in their work came not from being part of a profit-making corporation, but part of a public service, and I will never, ever be divested of that belief by any self-serving ideological arguments that the private sector works better than the public sector.

That argument, fundamentally, relies on the false presumption that people work best when motivated by profit, when the truth, in health, and as can also be seen in education, and in many other areas of work and life that involve the state and the infrastructure of society, is that what mobilises people who can see beyond a narrow view of the world as a construct of self-interest is that cooperation and not competition is what has most significantly enabled the development of the human race.

Nevertheless, this spirit of cooperation, which enables us to raise babies, to have such a thing as civil society, and to have institutions like the NHS that require a belief in the common good, is at severe risk of being killed off by politicians — and their allies in global finance and business — who do not know what it means, and whose view of the world, therefore, is genuinely dangerous — a virus of sociopathy and psychopathy whose baleful influence almost bankrupted the world in the self-inflicted global financial meltdown of 2008, and whose time to be anywhere near the reins of power is clearly over.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

11 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, David J. Clarke wrote:

    A truly frightening descent into the fractured reality of an Ayn Rand narrative strikingly evoked. Every day seems to bring tidings of an unavoidably dystopian future. Is there no end to this madness and the irrationality of it’s apologists?

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Dejanka Bryant wrote:

    Andy, I was there, at demo. When it ended, I followed a small crowd of people moving towards Virgin Healthcare. TSG arrived in support of the Police and Community Officers. I haven’t seen one of them with machine guns whatsoever. Those, who carried them, of course, were not involved in policing Save the NHS demonstrators. I tend to agree with this report because it’s accurate.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Dejanka. I read that report by The Yorkshire Ranter as well, and I think you’re right. The most alarming aspect of the policing, therefore, was the presence of the TSG, and their occasional acts of violence, and the armed police weren’t anything exceptional, except to anyone old enough to remember when you never used to see armed police anywhere. I preferred it that way. I never feel comfortable when I see police with machine guns at train stations, for example.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks also, David. Your comments got me thinking about how we’re in a dangerous spiral: as governments who no longer care about the people become more paranoid, they respond with greater fear and the potential for violence also increases. I worry about “security” (i.e. paranoid aggression) at the Olympics. It’s one of many many reasons that I think the UK is unsuited to host the Olympics — and one of the prime ones, along with the rather more obvious point that we the people will pick up the bill for a corporate event that will see vile exploitative companies indulge in a frenzy of PR spin, while fatcats run off with the profits.

  5. James Bain says...

    Hello, Andy! And thank you for your diligence and kindness in providing us who seek another point of view. While I think that we are mostly on the defensive against the luxury and leisure seekers, nothing will re-write this charade like an asteroid…
    I do much the way you do….I try, usually, to accentuate the positive, commending people for their work, their attitudes and, whenever possible, their presence. It is far too easy to take the easy shots at vilifying everyone.
    But I find many who think like us. The only thing keeping this mad trolley ride going is that the leisure class has managed to convince some psychopaths to defend them. Were it not for that, we might have a go at straightening some of this out.
    I will try to keep up with you, sir. Life, though, has demands on us old farts that sometimes divert opportunities to read….

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, James. Very good to hear from you. Your targeting of the scoundrels as “the leisure class” is very good. The scroungers aren’t really those who have nothing, but the middlemen, shareholders and landlords and landladies whose only “earnings” come from the hard work of others. It feels like a revival of feudalism sometimes …

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Dejanka Bryant wrote:

    Spot on, Andy, in both posts. We are so angry with this government, and previous one, too. Dangerous time that we might easily step over that thin line that separate us from Rupert Bloody Murdoch’s Empire with his corrupt, immoral, friends from our government. It is them, with their sensational news based on lies, who brought misery to our society and all over the world (Iraq, Afghanistan). They destroyed our hard working class and vital institutions ruthlessly while securing their future well paid consultancies and fat pensions. I love your observation about Olympics.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Dejanka. I’m so sorry I couldn’t make it on Saturday. I was looking forward to seeing you. Sometime soon, perhaps. I will be outside Downing Street on Wednesday morning (budget day), at 11 am. Announcement about this to follow soon.
    As for the Olympics — I’m glad my observation made sense to you. I worry about having to be in London at the time, and how dissent will be seen as criminality or terrorism. I suspect that there won’t be much difference between China and the UK when it comes to security, and the official commands to be “patriotic.”

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Imran Ahmed wrote:

    We will be getting the official roll out of military paramilitary spectacle alongside the Olympics , you will see a lockdown representing the biggest mobilization of military and security forces since the second world war.

    Take a read of this recent Guardian Article.

    13,500 troops will be deployed in London, more than are currently at war in Afghanistan. The total number of security officials is said to be anywhere in the region of between 24,000 and 49,000 in total.

    During the Games an aircraft carrier will dock on the Thames. Surface-to-air missile systems will scan the skies. Unmanned drones, thankfully without lethal missiles, will loiter above the gleaming stadiums and opening and closing ceremonies. RAF Typhoon Eurofighters will fly from RAF Northolt. A thousand armed US diplomatic and FBI agents and 55 dog teams will patrol an Olympic zone partitioned off from the wider city by an 11-mile, £80m, 5,000-volt electric fence.

    Beyond these security spectaculars, more stealthy changes are underway. New, punitive and potentially invasive laws such as the London Olympic Games Act 2006 are in force. These legitimise the use of force, potentially by private security companies, to proscribe Occupy-style protests. They also allow Olympic security personnel to deal forcibly with the display of any commercial material that is deemed to challenge the complete management of London as a “clean city” to be branded for the global TV audience wholly by prime corporate sponsors (including McDonald’s, Visa and Dow Chemical).

    London is also being wired up with a new range of scanners, biometric ID cards, number-plate and facial-recognition CCTV systems, disease tracking systems, new police control centres and checkpoints. These will intensify the sense of lockdown in a city which is already a byword across the world for remarkably intensive surveillance.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Imran Ahmed wrote:

    And then you have reports that Airport style Body scanners will be used , studies conducted by prestigious universities and health authorities have warned that the machines could lead to serious health problems. In addition, recent exposure has revealed that the scanners are fundamentally flawed, backing up assertions by some security experts that the machines do not offer an increased level of security.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Imran. Good to hear from you.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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