I was prompted to start this blog as a result of going on a march in Lewisham last Saturday in defence of the local hospital. It’s threatened with cuts as a result of an insane piece of accountant’s logic on the part of the bureaucrat charged with sorting out the chaos in other hospitals in South East London caused by scandalous (and on-going) rip-off PFI deals entered into by the previous NuLab government.
The day was sunny and relatively mild and the march was large (twenty five thousand or so), cheerful and full of the sort of creativity that one finds only in genuinely popular protests. Even my arthritic old bones were warmed by the occasion and as we walked it occurred to me that I might be seeing the first small wave of what might well be a rising tide of protest over the next year or two.
The campaign against the stealthy privatisation of the NHS and the huge cuts in its funding has found it difficult to achieve any real resonance in popular consciousness over the past two years, despite the general suspicion of the Tories’ intentions towards the Health Service and the widespread – but unfocussed – popular opposition to their cuts agenda. In large measure this has been because of a) moderately successful smokescreen tactics by the Tories’ PR hacks and their quislings in the NHS, and b) the sheer size and complexity of both the NHS and the Government’s plans for it’s dismemberment and disposal has made the whole thing difficult for people to grasp in concrete detail.
However, now the concrete detail is beginning to come to get them. Until very recently, the coming consequences of the cuts and privatisation were to some extent abstract and generalised as far as most people were concerned. But now those consequences are becoming increasingly concrete and becoming increasingly experienced by growing numbers of ordinary people. As this process speeds up (only two days before the Lewisham demo, our local paper discovered the plans of the apparatchiks of my nearest hospital, the Wittington, to sell off half its buildings) then there is a likelihood that faced with cuts to their GP’s services, complete or partial closure of their local hospital and increasingly savage reductions in services, people’s profound support for the NHS and generalised opposition to the Tories’ plans for it will focus on the concrete cuts in their neighbourhoods. When or if that happens, the sort of demonstration we saw in Lewisham last Saturday will be replicated in communities all over the country. Those small waves could grow and combine into a tsunami of popular opposition, but if it is not to subside again as quickly as it rises, socialists have to learn how to surf the wave.
I’m afraid that the analogy sort of breaks down at that point, but you catch my drift I hope. Oh, and of course, the NHS isn’t the only area in which we can expect the potential for real popular opposition to manifest itself in the coming months. While isn’t possible to predict exactly where real battles might break out (although I would lay good money that a really popular campaign in defence of the Fire Service will emerge in London over the next three months or so), as the effects of the Government’s malicious cuts to both welfare and social provision start to really be felt by working people from the Spring onwards, popular opposition is bound to grow. Obviously, whether it grows fast enough, large enough and militant enough is another matter, but that is something that socialists can play at least some part in.