On Wednesday 13 April, 40 NHS campaigners from a wide variety of organisations met with Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Shadow Health Secretary Heidi Alexander and members of their staffs. It was a useful meeting, which we will report on soon, but immediately I want to comment on something Heidi Alexander said.
Yannis Gourtsoyannis of the BMA Junior Doctors Committee asked Heidi and John about various forms of support for the junior doctors’ dispute. Heidi’s response (once again) left something to be desired, and is worth reporting on.
After some pressing, she said:
“I haven’t been to a picket line, and I don’t plan to go. I don’t think people would expect the Shadow Health secretary to be seen on a doctors’ picket line. People have had operations cancelled as a result of the strike.
“[As for wearing a badge] It’s not about what I wear, it’s about what I do. I have repeatedly raised the question in Parliament. Junior doctors approach me in public all the time because they know what I’ve done to press their case.”
a) The echoing of the Tories’ doctors vs patients narrative is shameful. In fact supporting patients is yet another very good reason to support the doctors’ strike wholeheartedly! (For more on this see Lewisham nurse Anita Downs’ open letter to Heidi after she said at Lewisham East CLP she wouldn’t attend the picket at Lewisham Hospital.)
b) What “people”? Actually the doctors’ strike has massive public support, and plenty of not massively political people people would no doubt think it perfectly normal for her to go to a picket line. But in any case, this is a dodge. If some people “wouldn’t expect” that, then they’d be wrong. She should show some leadership and political judgement. By the way, she is perfectly happy to take her own view on the NHS Bill, defying the enormous support for it among health workers, NHS campaigners and Labour Party members on the basis that she doesn’t agree with it. Saying “people wouldn’t expect” is clearly just a way of saying “I don’t want to”.
c) It’s not about what you wear? So why does she wear a poppy? Clearly not wearing a badge is a way of not showing too much support for the strike, just like not going to a picket line.
d) If she can “press [the doctors’] case” in Parliament, etc, why can’t she go to the picket line and wear a badge? Again…
I think what is going on here is basically the Blairite-type politics of seeing it as unacceptable to support a workers’ struggle. You can criticise the Tories, but support a strike? Oh no… This is nonsense. If you want to stop what the Tories are doing, you need to support the strike.
On the plus side, John McDonnell (who is pictured above after the meeting with BMA Junior Doctors Committee and Momentum NHS supporter Yannis Gourtsoyannis) did wear a badge and has consistently gone to picket lines. He should tell his colleagues to sort themselves out and start behaving like labour movement representatives!