The real issues in the election
NHS gets worse so Blair says privatise
THE HEALTH service suddenly became an election issue this week-and no wonder. Four years of New Labour government have totally failed to drive down the wait for NHS operations. The average wait to see a consultant is 25 percent longer for outpatient appointments than when New Labour was elected. The combined wait to see a consultant and receive an operation is longer than when Blair came into Downing Street.
At the same time the tragic case of Sarah Lawson, who committed suicide with the help of her father, has shed light on the disgraceful levels of care for the mentally ill.
Sarah Lawson suffered from actual depression but was repeatedly refused long term treatment. Marjorie Wallace from the mental health charity SANE said that one in three people who wanted treatment did not get proper care. New Labour's answer to all this is to widen the opportunities for private firms to make profit from illness.
More than a dozen public-private "health factories" will be set up for things like hip replacements, and hernia and cataract operations. They would be wholly or partly run by private firms. As one private company spokesperson told the Times, "This is the first time since the Second World War that you have a plan for privatisation of core clinical services. It means the NHS becoming a brand name, a funder rather than a provider."
New Labour's plan is similar to Tory proposals for "stand alone surgical units" run by the private sector. Taxing the rich at the same level as during most of Margaret Thatcher's time in office would raise �16 billion a year for public services.
St Helens - Labour chooses Tory with butler
QUESTION: How do you get an ex-Tory with a butler elected to parliament for working class St Helens? Answer: Stand for New Labour. That is what happened last weekend when New Labour foisted former Tory Shaun Woodward onto St Helens South. The manoeuvre disgusted local party members and ordinary people in the area.
Woodward had never been to St Helens until last week! He is a multi-millionaire who:
- Lives in an 18th century mansion called Sarsden House in Oxfordshire.
- Is married to Camilla Sainsbury, heir to the supermarket fortune.
- Has a butler.
- Sends his children to private schools.
- Used to be director of communications for the Conservative Party.
- Became a Tory MP for a safe Tory seat in Oxfordshire.
- Defected to New Labour less than 18 months ago.
Nevertheless New Labour made sure he was selected for St Helens by disqualifying local candidates who might have beaten him. Marie Rimmer, leader of the local council and party member for 30 years, was removed from the shortlist, as was a solicitor backed by the GMB union. Even then Woodward won by only four votes.
Anne McCormack, the vice-chair of UNISON in St Helens, said, "It is a stitch-up. Look at all that desolate land over there that Shaun Woodward helped to close down-the pits in St Helens and the Sutton colliery. I think he's got a cheek setting foot in this place. He is a Tory spin doctor."
- THE SOCIALIST Alliance in St Helens was to meet on Wednesday of this week to discuss standing a candidate against Shaun Woodward who would speak out for working people and against New Labour's betrayals.
He admits they know about us
"I DON'T think there is any political leader, even down to the leader of the Socialist Alliance, whoever that might be, who is going to say to you, well, what I really want is a very, very small majority."
- TONY BLAIR, interviewed in the Observer newspaper, shows he is well aware of the Socialist Alliance!
Join Lords, let in right
THE Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, Mark Fisher, revealed last week that he was offered a seat in the House of Lords if he would make way for someone else.
"I was outraged," says Fisher. "I am very well known as a strong supporter of an elected House of Lords and would not go there in any circumstances. "You do not have to be brilliant to work out the kind of people they want in safe Labour seats."
David Miliband, Blair backer and head of the Number Ten policy unit, is now the candidate for South Shields after the MP for the last 22 years took a seat in the Lords.
Bosses line up for government
ONE GROUP of people was singing New Labour's praises this week. Nearly 60 top businessmen wrote a letter to the Times praising the government, including some bosses who have recently switched from the Tories. The letter praises the government because it has "done so much to promote stable economic growth and a renewed spirit of enterprise in the British people". Its supporters include:
- LORD SIMPSON: chief executive of Marconi, which axed 1,500 jobs last month while it is expected to make �800 million profit.
- GULAM NOON: businessmen in west London who fiercely opposed granting union recognition at Noon Products.
- SIR ALAN SUGAR: boss of Amstrad computers who backed Thatcher and who now says, "After Thatcher's departure the Conservatives lost their way."
- TIM WATERSTONE: boss of the Waterstone's book chain.
- GERRY ROBINSON: boss of Granada Media and former Conservative.
"THE SCOTTISH economy is powering ahead," said Tony Blair on Monday. As he was speaking, bosses at the Motorola factory in Bathgate announced that two thirds of the workers are to be thrown on the scrapheap within weeks.
Staff had hoped the factory would continue to operate for another six months. But 2,000 manufacturing workers have been told their jobs will go on 30 June. Five senior Motorola executives received bonuses worth over �2.5 million just weeks before the company said it was shutting the plant. Other job cuts this week include:
- 3Com, the US computer firm, is making 3,000 job cuts worldwide. More than 800 3Com workers in Britain are expected to pay the price. They are at the company's head office in Winnersh, Berkshire, a research facility in Hemel Hempstead, Herts, and Edinburgh.
- BSkyB is pushing through the closure of the entire business unit of Sky News as well as production staff on a number of programmes.
- Signum Circuits in Selkirk wants to slash 45 staff.
RECORD NUMBERS of students are being expelled from university because they can't afford to pay the tuition fees that were introduced by New Labour. As a result, students are protesting about the injustice of being kicked out of college without a degree for not having enough money.
At the University of Central England 200 students have already been excluded this year because of non-payment, and another 200 face expulsion soon. At Coventry University more than 600 students have been excluded from their lectures and given just days to cough up �1,050. Student debt is also at record levels because of fees.
Brown- teach 'em enterprise
TONY BLAIR says education, crime and welfare reform will be his priorities for a second term in office. But what does that mean? Chancellor Gordon Brown announced this week that teachers are to be made to teach the values of "business and enterprise".
Blair said he is planning for an increase in the prison population. And New Labour also plans a big shake-up of housing benefit and more attacks on eligibility for other benefits. Women whose partners are also unemployed and whose children are over five will be made to turn up to interviews-for appalling, low paid jobs-or have some of their benefit docked.
Unions defend asylum seekers
JOHN EDMONDS, leader of the GMB union, has backed the Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers statement condemning politicians' "inflammatory speeches" over race in the election.
Edmonds joins leader of the PCS union Mark Serwotka, Bruce Kent, Guardian columnists Jonathan Steel and Vivek Chaudhary, and other trade unionists and campaigners. The statement criticises the Tories' and New Labour's tough policies on asylum seekers. "We believe that Jack Straw's policies are directly fuelling racism," it says.
- Get copies of the statement from the Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers, BCM Box 4289, London WC1X 3XX.