The National Health Action Party understands a request has been made by Emma Reynolds MP to Iain McNicholl, General Secretary of the Labour Party to investigate whether John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor, has been running secret policy groups in parallel with the formally constituted ones. The allegation concerns, amongst others, Dr Louise Irvine of the National Health Action Party’s executive committee and parliamentary candidate in 2015 in the South West Surrey constituency.
Dr Irvine says,
“We are surprised to find that we are caught in the crossfire of the Labour Party’s very public internal fight. There is a bitter irony in the members of the party that founded the NHS using NHS campaigners as a weapon. There is, however, nothing clandestine about our activities, nor about any meetings at which we have been present either recently or prior to the 2015 general election.
There has been an exaggerated description of the role of the group of which I was to be a member which has not, to date, actually met with John McDonnell. It was neither clandestine nor intended to be anything other than advisory. As I am also the chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign I have worked well with Heidi Alexander in that capacity and it was always my understanding that she would have been present at our advisory meetings, had they taken place.
Emma Reynolds refers to Labour’s National Policy Forum Health Policy commission and says that they have a wealth of NHS expertise fed into it. We do not doubt that. NHS England, the Department of Health and Jeremy Hunt also have such expertise. We disagree with their conclusions, arguing that Labour has shown no policy to reverse NHS privatisation and no understanding of the gravity or extent of the current NHS England reorganisation, leading to massive cuts to NHS services.
The National Health Action Party was set up in 2012 to fight against the Coalition Government’s Health and Social Care Act by doctors, nurses and campaigners concerned about the ongoing privatisation of the NHS. Many of us had also fought New Labour over such issues as PFI.
We were not confident then, nor are we now, that there is sufficient awareness of the real damage being done to the NHS. We know that some members of the Parliamentary Labour Party do not support the NHS being restored to public ownership and service.
It is therefore important we work alongside NHS campaign groups, other political parties, individual members of parties and unions to try to influence the policy direction of the Labour Party. They are the only other party large enough to form a government in their own right under our first past the post system.
The situation for the NHS is critical. There appeared to be an opportunity when Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the party for campaigners to make that absolutely clear to the new Shadow Cabinet. We believe that should extend beyond the shadow health team to the whole of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and indeed into a cross-party alliance to win back the NHS.
The first meeting campaigners requested took place in January this year with Heidi Alexander, at which I was present where she expressed a view that she wished to continue a relationship with campaigners. The NHA, along with other campaign groups subsequently raised a strong objection to Labour MPs for their failure to support Professor Allyson Pollock’s NHS reinstatement Bill at second reading 11 March. As a consequence John McDonnell invited the co-authors of the bill along with other NHS campaigners to join him and Heidi Alexander to discuss their issues, much as Ms Alexander herself had earlier in the year. From that meeting the idea of an advisory group of NHS campaigners was proposed. It seemed like an eminently sensible idea and I was happy to be part of it. It would be strange if Labour were not seeking advice from seasoned pro NHS campaigners, academics and clinicians with our wealth of experience, passion and commitment to the NHS, whether members of the Labour Party or not.
Emma Reynolds is playing politics and putting internal party factionalism above the interest of an NHS at crisis point and desperately in need of clear and unequivocal leadership to win it back to a position of public ownership and control. The very commitment we had been expecting of Ms Alexander."