Anne triumphs as democracy continues to lose
Thursday night brought some lovely news as an excited Anne Hobbs rang my partner Jane to tell her she had won the Stafford Rowley seat for Labour in a council by-election. The two of them have known each other for over 30 years despite most of that time spent over 100 miles apart and Jane is Godmother to Anne’s oldest child Freya, now out of university.
For Anne this was a real triumph as along with husband Bob she initially lost when campaigning for the same seat two years ago. This time she managed to not only overturn a Tory majority but do so while facing the widow of the former councillor whose untimely death provided her with a second chance.
I suspect two things were behind this electoral success. Anne has devoted her entire working life to the NHS so it was easy to campaign against the Conservatives on health. Locally the Mid-Staffs NHS Trust has come under severe criticism for a failing service, management ineptitude and a “bullying culture” making Anne’s easy manner and cogent argument a reassuring presence in local politics. Secondly, the local party mobilised, never stopped knocking on doors and showed a heart-warming tenacity to succeed.
For my part I always enjoy meeting up with the Hobbs’. As rugby players (my career long finished, his still going strong despite being in his 50s) Bob and I would have plenty to talk about even if I didn’t enjoy his invariably hilarious anecdotes. Plus there’s family member Freddie the Jack Russell of whom I enjoyed three weeks of pup-sitting a couple of years ago.
All that being the case it was easy for me to go onto Anne’s Facebook page and offer my congratulations along with a link to a short story in the Independent that included a mention.
Then came the bombshell: In reply Anne rather generously suggested I should run a similar campaign.
Not wishing to either disrupt the celebratory mood or appear churlish I made no reply. But as much as I can enjoy Anne’s win I cannot and could not ever join the Labour Party, never mind stand for them. Leaving aside the practical matters of living in Tory heartland Suffolk or being much too intemperate in character to ever be a successful politician I cannot support a party that speaks for capital not labour.
There is a schism in contemporary Western society between the needs and desires of ordinary people and the society we are actually getting. And the gap between the work of people like Anne and the leadership of the Labour Party reflects this perfectly. Even as Anne was working towards a Queen’s Award for Nursing Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair was preparing the NHS to be sold off.
As yet we have received no guarantee from the Labour leadership they would repeal Andrew Lansley’s Health Bill should they gain power. I’m not expecting them to do so any time soon, either. The Lib-Dems while out of power promised a penny on Income tax to pay for the NHS but have caved to Andrew Lansley’s desire to reduce the service to a copy of the US system where the gap between cost and outcome is the largest in the world.
The three major political parties support not the population of this country but in varying degrees the seemingly unquenchable greed of financial services as they hoover up money surely better spent on social provision. None of them proposed selling off the NHS in their pre-election manifesto. There is no mandate for this process. In contrast to the hamstrung Ed Miliband who can only spout useless platitudes as he struggles to appease both markets and electorate it appears to me the real government opposition now lies with groups such as UK Uncut, Occupy, 38 Degrees and Avaaz.
I don’t think it should be difficult for a government in the seventh largest economy in the world to provide basic needs for its citizens. I believe they include a safe and affordable home, a job within which an individual can feel valued, access to good healthcare and education and an equitable justice system. Sadly most of us enjoy few of those “rights” as they are increasingly abandoned at the behest of neo-liberal market forces.
Since the September 11th bombings 11 years ago we have learned to accept the mantra that we the West are the good guys fighting for democracy against religious intolerance. Yet even leaving aside both the diminution of our own rights since the Twin Tower attacks and the seemingly hard-wired intolerance of our own clergy, what sort of democracy do we live in when the hard work, honesty and inclusive ideals of somebody like Anne Hobbs count for next to nothing?