The newly formed National Health Action Party (NHAP) announced its candidacy in the Eastleigh by-election, set to take place on February 28, just a couple of days after the election schedule was announced. The NHAP has been formed in response to Labour’s pathetic opposition to the Condems’ decimation of the NHS. Socialist Resistance supports the NHAP campaign and thinks all those who want to advance the struggle against this coalition government and defend the NHS should do likewise.
This election comes in the aftermath of the Francis Report into the scandalous situation at Mid-Staffordshire which gives a stark warning of the threat to high quality health care when NHS workers are distracted from patient care. It comes in the wake of the magnificent demonstration in Lewisham of more than 20,000 people in defence of their local hospital – essentially a community in revolt against the government. And while Lewisham is special, just this week we have seen 600 at a public meeting in Islington to oppose the Whittington hospital boards plans to sell off £17 million worth of assets, while trade unionists and campaigners in Manchester are organizing a major summit on the NHS this Saturday February 16 against plans to potentially close six of the region’s A&E departments.
A strong vote for the NHAP would reduce the Tories’ ability to carry through their attacks on the NHS and would give confidence to those campaigning on the ground to defend their services against cuts and privatisation.
The NHAP, moreover, is well to the left of Labour on health and taxation. It calls for: “Public provision of good quality health and social care fairly to all members of the community, free at the time of need. A health service financed wholly from progressive contributions of citizens according to their ability to pay i.e. by a fair tax system.”
Eastleigh is a middle class area which divides between the Tories and the Lib Dems at elections. Even UKIP are cautious about their vote. The Labour vote has declined to below 10% leaving it with no chance of winning, even with the Lib Dems seriously discredited both by their role in the coalition and the disgrace of Chris Huhne.
Such a constituency is difficult territory for any left/radical campaigning party to get a half credible result. The NHAP however is the best positioned because defence of the NHS is such a symbolic and popular issue. We think that it is a mistake for the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) to stand in what is clearly a very difficult constituency, particularly under conditions where the NHAP had already declared its candidacy. Even with a good RMT candidate is hard to see how TUSC standing can strengthen its electoral credibility or build an ongoing base in the constituency.
SR has supported TUSC candidates in the past and will do so in the future in seats where it is better placed with a stronger labour movement. We cannot however guarantee that in every situation we will support TUSC candidates and on this occasion we will be supporting the NHAP. It not only has a better chance of getting a credible vote but also of doing damage to the establishment pro/austerity parties.
The Tories have chosen a right wing Eurosceptic candidate and, if they win, the political terrain will move sharply to the right and give encouragement to further attacks on health and welfare. The record of Labour’s candidate, John O’Farrell, in strongly supporting his local academy, does not suggest he will be any coherent critic of the privatisation and fragmentation of the NHS.
The Green Party are not standing – the NHAP candidate Ian Maclennan was previously the Green Party prospective candidate for the constituency – and it would have been better if TUSC had done likewise in order to create a united voice in defence of the NHS and against the cuts.
A good showing for the NHAP in Eastleigh would put it on the map to play a significant role in the general election in targeting Tory and Lib Dem seats – which could do them serious electoral damage.