John Park, AGS at Community
Fourteen years ago this week I was at a small gathering in Farringdon Street to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of the modern day Labour Party. It’s a treasured memory that has stayed with me, not because every living leader of the party was there that evening – Blair, Beckett, Kinnock, Foot and Callaghan – but mainly because it was the first time I really appreciated the history that surrounds the unique relationship between the Labour Party and the trade union movement.
What was also clear to me that evening was that – apart from John Smith’s introduction of one member, one vote – the formal relationship between the party and its affiliated trade unions had witnessed very little structural change in 100 years, and until Saturday that was still the case.
Paul Moloney is a member of the Unions21 Steering Committee and Industrial Relations Manager for the Society of Radiographers
There has been a lot of criticism of the lack of substance to the policy announcements from the Labour Party during conference week. Important announcements about abolishing the bedroom tax, freezing fuel bills and the promise to repeal the 2012 Health Act should not be underestimated and the impact these will have for working people and the working in and relying on our NHS will be immense.
Nevertheless the policies announced are all details and the lack of an over-riding context for them plays into the hands of those who claim there is really little difference to choose between all three main parties. This of course is further evidenced by Nick Clegg’s apparent indifference to who he will get into bed with, as long as he can get into bed.
So you have to go back to the Andrew Marr interview before the start of the conference to find the most important announcement made by Ed Miliband, and also to find the issue that will win the next election outright for the Labour Party if articulated correctly.
During the interview Ed Miliband referred to the fact that, for the first time in Britain’s post war history the link between economic growth and improving the standard of living of the majority, working people, has now been well and truly broken. Even Thatcher was not able to do this.
Members of my own union, the Society of Radiographers, have not had a pay increase above RPI for 5 years. Even with annual increments their pay has failed to keep up with inflation. In addition more of their disposable income is now spent on pensions so their standard of living has decreased significantly. Pay cuts have also become more common place as highly skilled workers responsible for delivering high levels of patient care find their jobs re-banded downwards.
This is true of other sectors where pay freezes and even cuts have become the norm in both the public and private sectors.
For the last 3 years RPI, however measured, has been higher than average earnings. But it is not the statistics but the message behind the figures that matters. If the statistics say inflation is higher than earnings then that means quite simply that any improvement in the economy is not being translated into improving standards of living for the vast majority. In the past, although the distribution was unequal, there was still an overall improvement when the economy grew. The fact that this has come to an end will be seen by those the Tories represent as the holy grail of politics and the ultimate aim of the Thatcher revolution. To the rest of us it is nothing short of the cynical use of austerity measures for political and ideological means.
So Ed is right to highlight the problem. But to win the election he must do two things. He must ensure his policies ensure the link between economic growth and earnings growth is restored and he must ensure the Tories and their coalition partners are held to account for exploiting the austerity measures in a way that has deliberately broken the link. If he does, and the TUC and individual unions work with him, then victory at the election is not just possible but will be meaningful.
So let’s not have a debate about the links between different sectors of our movement and instead start talking about the link that really matters for working people, the link between economic growth and earnings growth and in so doing expose the deeply ideological approach of this Conservative led coalition.
Ed Miliband’s superb performance at the Labour Conference in Brighton, has changed a few things. ’Labour’s New Energy’ (‘Guardian’), ’Decisive shift to the Left’ (The Times’),were the typical commentators’ take on it. More significantly, all the trade union leaders, especially Len McLuskey, (the darling of delegates at this conference), were ‘over the moon’ with the Labour leader’s list of concrete pledges and the general tenor of his virtuoso hour long performance without a note.
They even drew comfort from Ed’s very brief mention of their other main concern, his plans for ‘changing our politics’ viz., ‘party reform’ of the union political levy. Yet there was no hint that he is abandoning this attempt to change what he clearly sees as an outmoded form of the link. His contrast of ‘hearing the individual voices of people from call centre workers to construction workers’, with the hearing the collective voices of union leaders, could not have been more pointed. Yet there was still no detail about how he proposes to do it. Most union and many party activists remain extremely sceptical about how his ‘mass membership’ of political-levy payers could be realised.
Yet his new status as a substantial Labour Leader in the more conventional social democratic tradition, means that many will suspend judgement until we see more flesh on the bones of Lord Ray Collin’s surprisingly slim interim report to this conference. In it he stated that ‘Ed does not want this individual relationship with trade union membership to damage the collective relationship and the institutional links between the party and the union organisations. Ed wants to mend - not end – the link.’ But, as unions say, ‘the devil is in the detail’.
The Collin’s statement also said, ‘we do not believe there is any need to change the laws around the right of trade unions to hold political funds’. The Labour Opposition may not intend to go there, but the government party leaders, especially Clegg, seem intent on it. My fear would be that they would do that ‘dirty work’ whilst in government. At the Unions 21 conference fringe on ‘Thatcherism’, the Tory ‘envoy’ to the union movement, [now] Lord Balfe, said just that.
I suspect, therefore, that the genie is now well and truly ‘out of the bottle’ and will never go back to where it was. It seems that the Labour leadership chose their ‘Falkirk moment’ to challenge what they saw as undue mega-union political power, in their Party policy and structures. Their concerns seem also to have arisen in the context of their discussions with the Liberal Democrats, and the unions fear some unprincipled deal for a Lab-Lib Dem coalition.
There will therefore be some real heart searching from now until the proposed special Spring conference and the Collins’ report will be the subject of close attention.
The History & Policy Trade Union Forum has been looking at the whole relationship of the unions with all the parties historically in a series of seminars involving senior union figures (such as Billy Hayes of the CWU). Each one has been written up on our website (http://www.bit.ly/tuforum). In November, we will be pulling the threads together and drawing some conclusions as to the future policy options for unions and the parties, and this will be of interest as a historical context of this whole debate.
Helen Goodman MP’s speech to our joint Musicians’ Union, BECTU and Equity fringe meeting at Labour Party Conference: Britiain Entertaining the World
It’s very nice to be here and thank you for inviting me. I feel slightly terrified actually, I don’t normally feel terrified in meetings, but having heard John, Jean and Gerry and they’re all so eloquent, and all so clear, and they’ve all made such passionate cases, that I hope my response can live up to it.
As far as the National Union of Musicians is concerned, I just want to say I’m really grateful to you because you gave me the first nomination I ever had for a Parliamentary seat. Actually, I wasn’t selected but we won’t go into that…
You’re all absolutely right about the vitality of the creative sector and the economic contribution. And I want to divide what I say into two parts. I want to say something about the economic aspect and then I want to say a little bit also about the intrinsic aspect. Because I think missing the intrinsic aspect is the thing that politicians most frequently do that really winds up people in the sector. I don’t know whether you saw there was a great essay by David Edgar in the Guardian a few months ago that was about this.
It really came home to me, so we’re very good at the numbers but maybe we’re not so good at the messages.
Support and training
Now, I won’t repeat the financial contribution, but I will tell you that we’ve done quite a lot of work on having an economic strategy for the arts. It has 6 elements:
Obviously, in what all of you have described the people are essential to the success of the creative sector. This is true in your sector in a way which is quite different from, let’s say the car industry where technology’s very important, or banking, where let’s say money is very important. In this sector the individual, and what the individual brings to it, is the most important thing.
So the first thing that we need to look at it is whether we are equipping young people properly. And one of the things that we have been campaigning for is to prevent Michael Gove from narrowing the school curriculum and from only measuring Maths and English grammar and those things, and further trying to push to one side drama and painting.
We’re also, as you know, very keen to make sure that young people get the proper support which they need in further and higher education, because brilliant as I’m sure [the Musicians' Union’s] members are, they did need professional training and we do need to make sure that we’ve got a continued stream of people coming through.
The next thing that you’ve spoken about is money. Now there are issues around public money and the cuts, but there’s also the issue, and I guess this might affect the BECTU and the Musicians slightly more, but it’s the issue of access to finance for private firms and for private companies.
And it’s quite clear that we do need to get the City and the banks to concentrate on this. Because it’s a specialist field with particular kinds of risk and this needs to be understood so that people can set up successful companies which can grow and develop over time. So that’s the second part of what we want to do.
The next thing that we’re very hot on is a proper intellectual property regime, which I think you’re all concerned about and we’ve had the conversations with the Googles of this world and we are keen to look at a way to implement the Digital Economy Act, which was passed just before the last Labour government fell.
We’re keen to have am intellectual property regime which works. Now, I’m not going to stand here and say that I’m totally confident that the clauses in the Digital Economy Act as they stand would work, because they’re a bit OTT really. Cutting somebody’s broadband off because their child once illegally downloads some pop music does seem to be a bit sledgehammer and nut.
So, we’re very keen to have a workable solution, and if we look at what’s happened, we’re also keen that the industry itself looks at ways of monetising its product. I think music industry unfortunately has been less successful on this issue than the publishing industry looks as if it’s going to be, but it’s important that we learn from the bad experience that the music industry had on that.
Local authorities and the regions
Now, I’m not going to make a commitment about local authority financing today. That would be an extraordinarily foolish thing to do when I haven’t discussed it with my colleagues in my Communities and Local Government team and Treasury team, but I will take your idea away.
We could also use the Creative Councillors’ Network to take a regional approach. Because there’s another thing we’re keen on: that all culture isn’t within the M25. I mean, I represent a seat in County Durham and it’s just completely impossible.
I did a survey in the summer of my constituents and my party members to ask them what things they would like to do in this area and what things they couldn’t do and what the barriers were. And one of the things that was very interesting was that everybody, virtually everybody, who answered had bought a book. And virtually everybody who answered had been to the cinema, but people would really like to go to the theatre more but they can’t afford the tickets. It’s no good if we add on to the cost of this ticket, a train ticket half way across the country.
Plainly, we have to be doing things in peoples’ communities. And we have to be doing things which, as you were saying, relate to their life experience and their social issues and their particular heritage. I’m a 1000% opposed to the commercialisation and constant Americanisation of our culture.
And we went to see the French Ambassador because the French are actually much more energetic in protecting the French film industry, than we have been traditionally. I went to talk to him to see if we could actually say to them ‘well if we win we’ll buddy up with you’ [to exclude cultural products from the proposed US-EU trade deal]. I think they make a good point because plainly Shakespeare is not like hamburgers and we all know it.
Exporting the arts
Then, there’s the whole issue of pursuing an international strategy to promote Britain overseas but also to get inward investment. The man who invented Downton Abbey who Tories have put into the House of Lords [‘Julian Fellowes!’, yelled the audience], he did actually go on a trade mission but this is a new thing and I think we really want to see the arts and culture taking their place alongside the other industries when we do have overseas trade missions because, it is a very successful industry. One of our big, big, big international strategic competitive advantages is the English language. We are incredibly lucky.
We want to have that as a special strand, the international mileage. We’re absolutely clear that we want to do something about that.
Equality and representation
Also, we’re very concerned about equality of access and opportunity. Harriet [Harman]’s been saying a lot about having middle aged women on telly. As a middle aged women, you know, I think she’s absolutely right.
But there is also a party issue about who is getting access, who is it who can afford for their children to do a three month internship and find somewhere for them to live and all of that? We all know that this is not the way to open up the arts.
And that moves me into the second issue, which is about the intrinsic nature and what we want, because we must have a vibrant sector that is saying something to people about the world in which they live and which is challenging them and which is experimenting and which is doing these things. And the fact of the matter is that if everybody comes from a very comfortable life experience, they are much less likely to be challenging and to be critical, and that we will be a great loss to our national culture, and that’s true in the performing arts, but it’s actually also true in literature, it’s also true in novels. If all that’s ever happened to you is that you’ve been to a very good school, you’ve been very successful and then you’ve been to a university and got a top degree, you haven’t got the same material, have you, for doing things?
The future of change
So, I think this issue about equality of access and opportunity is important… What [New Labour Culture Secretary] Chris Smith managed to do was make free museums such a central part of British cultural life that the Tories have not been able to attack it, and that was a great achievement. That is really significant. So sometimes we really can make progress and root things down, bolt them down so hard, that it is much more difficult for anyone to try and uproot them.
Now it seems to me, that access is good, open access is good, but I think maybe we should be moving. The next thing we should be thinking about is participation because I imagine that the participation bit will be a stronger experience and will be a more transforming experience for people and that the more people and the more possibilities we have to enable people to participate in lots of different ways – the better it will be and the more satisfying their lives will be.
So, that’s really like us to do. Now, I don’t think that’s a very easy thing to do, but that is where I would like us to go after the 2015 election.
The Labour Party in Britain is at a crossroads in its relationship with its 15 affiliated unions (comprising some 3m affiliated unions members). A little known Westminster parliamentary constituency in Scotland– Falkirk West – became the fault line for what could comprise another few nails in the coffin of the historic party of labour that once was the party for labour.
Unite union, the biggest union in Britain and biggest affiliated Labour union, adopted a political strategy two years under its new general secretary, Len McCluskey, of trying to win back influence for itself and the union movement. Given that the parliamentary Labour Party, and not the annual conference or national executive, is the key locus of power within Labour, Unite naturally sought to get its activists selected as prospective candidates in safe Labour seats for the May 2015 general election. The method was to recruit new members to Labour and then win the vote for the selections.
It targeted some forty seats and was well on the way to securing the prospective candidature in Falkirk West until someone cried foul and accused the union of signing up new members without their consent. The Tories smelt blood and hounded Labour leader, Ed Miliband, as being in thrall to – and under control of – the unions. Within weeks, Miliband announced he was going to change the nature of the union-Labour link, requiring affiliated members to opt-in (rather than opt out as is the case currently). Subsequently, no wrong doing was found on the part of Unite and the two suspended activists were re-instated as full party members.
To have a political fund, all unions are required by law to hold decadal ballots and under affiliated union policies, the 15 unions ask members to pay the political levy of which a proportion is used to affiliate a certain number of members to Labour. With the withering of union activism and membership participation, this is far from a perfect system. But it does, nonetheless, mean that union members can act collectively to try to influence the historic party of labour. To opt-in would atomise those members that did and reduce any collective clout they might have.
Given that the affiliated unions are the one remaining organised source for social democracy in Labour, to remove their influence in this way would make Labour like theUSDemocratic party, namely, a free floating liberal party with no tangible association with the organised working class.
Criticism of Miliband from most of the unions was vehement. Most of all, they called his response ‘dog whistle politics’ and suggested he’d be better to concentrate upon battling the Coalition government over making workers pay the cost of the crisis of neo-liberalism (through the austerity programme) as well as them not gaining any of the fruits of the return of (limited) economic growth. Indeed, a few like Unison told Miliband that he faced an ‘Australian’ meltdown like that of thee ALP if he continued to misdirect his fire on the unions and not the government.
For the time being, the unions seem to have won out. The union-party reform was debated for only 30 minutes at this year’s Labour party conference and Miliband made a leader’s speech that was broadly welcomed where he fleshed out some of the content of his ‘one nation’ perspective. But it is a case of battle deferred not battle over for a special spring 2014 conference will debate the commission Miliband has set up under a former chair of the Labour party.
Ironically, when it comes to this special conference, Unite might be the one save Miliband’s bacon. It has been the least critical of the unions and, indeed, went so far as to welcome Miliband’s proposals as an opportunity to debate the union-Labour link. Much will depend upon the internal politics of this particular union.
So far only the siren voices of a few unions have argued for the setting up of a new party of Labour. The most prominent is the RMT transport union which was expelled from Labour nearly a decade ago for supporting the Scottish Socialist Party.
Consequently, unions still remain between ‘a rock and a hard place’ in terms of their political voice. For some of the big affiliated unions Miliband has not offered the clear alternative to the Coalition that they wish – it’s been a case of ‘austerity-lite’, namely, being for cuts albeit of a lesser size than the Coaliton’s.
Yet none are prepared to make the break that the RMT urges them to do. They fear it is cold outside Labour – better to be inside the tent albeit unhappy than to be outside it and better to be in the corridors of power even if they have no influence there.
This means that the alternative of a new party of labour has never gained the momentum or credibility that it needs to become a viable option for the currently affiliated unions. It is possible they may feel spurred into doing something if Miliband get his way next spring at the special confernence. But equally well, it might be another case of battle deferred if Miliband thinks that this battle will do more harm than good in the run up to the 2015 general election and the unions warm a bit more to him with the fleshing of ‘one nation-ism’.
Gregor Gall is professor of industrial relations at the University of Bradford.
An early fringe meeting at this year’s Labour Party conference will provide opportunity to debate the justice issues we are facing post Jackson and discuss the Trade Unions role as a gateway for preserving our legal rights in the future. Two prominent General Secretaries – Paul Kenny, General Secretary of the GMB and Dr. Mary Bousted, General Secretary, ATL will lead the debate.
The event will be chaired by Frances McCarthy, Managing Partner at Pattinson & Brewer in the Castor & Pollux Beach Front Gallery (Unions 21 events space). Frances said:
“ The Con Dem Government is crippling our justice system and, without access to advice and representation more of the vulnerable in our society will be left to suffer, open to abuse and neglect and unable to gain the justice they deserve. We believe that it is the Trade Union Movement who will play an even greater part in helping working people and their families to regain and maintain their legal rights”.
Andrew Dismore, Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden also joins the panel. Andrew is co-ordinator of Access to Justice Action Group, who are active campaigners.
Comment will also be sought from the panel and those attending the fringe on how Labour can embrace the role of Trade Unions and lead with the critical reforms needed when they return to power. Are the Trade Unions the key to preserving peoples’ legal rights and how best can they lead the way in reforming Jackson?
Click here for more info
Hugh Lanning was deputy general secretary of PCS until June 2013, below is his article from the most recent edition of the Unions21 journal Forefront, which can be downloaded here.
ALL THE publicity in the wake of the selection row in Falkirk has focused on Unite, trade unions and money. Although an important debate, it ignores the reality that most of the trade union movement is not affiliated to the Labour Party.
As, until recently, a senior official in PCS — a major non-affiliated union — and an ‘out’ Labour Party member, I had occasion to raise with the party its relations with non-affiliated unions — or rather the lack of them.
Of the 58 unions in the TUC, 28 have political funds and just 14 are party affiliated. Most of these decisions are historical rather than political. The affiliated unions are primarily those with traditional blue-collar origins, which established the party or affiliated before World War II. The non-affiliated unions, in the main, are the professional and public sector unions that emerged after the war. Many have created political funds in response to legislative pressure, but use this resource to carry out campaigning rather than to affiliate.
Other political organisations target and focus resources on organising within these unions, but the Labour Party does not. In fact, the party has never had a strategy about its relations with what is now the largest part of the trade union movement. Yet these non-affiliates number among their membership many Labour Party members, activists and supporters.
People in unions such as NUT, UCU, PCS and Prospect represent upwards of 25% of the identifiable individual union members within the Labour Party and, in reality, probably more. Non-affiliates also represent millions of voters who work and believe in public services. Many are low paid, women and a significant proportion are black. Others are professional public servants. Given the nature of the work they do, many are also active in civil society organisations. Put this way, it is strange that they have not become a target group for Labour.
Why not? Obviously the Labour Party is mindful of the relationship with Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation (TULO) unions. What is the point of affiliating if you can get the service and access for free? Further, there are no organised structures for developing a relationship with non-affiliated unions, except through the TUC.
Non-affiliated unions will, of necessity, have a more distant relationship with the party. But they have much to contribute and are keen to influence. This is a well organised constituency that any potential Labour government can ill-afford to ignore.
Given the changes in the trade union movement and the growth of broader social movements, the Labour Party will have to learn to work with organisations not tied by loyalty or affiliation. Whatever happens in the future about the funding of political parties, the number of identifiable affiliated members within unions is likely to continue to decline.
The challenge for the Labour Party is to develop new ways of communicating and organising within this climate.
It will be critical to identify issues on which it can campaign together with, or at least in parallel to, trade unionists. This can best be done by trying to identify common areas of concern — growth, jobs and tax justice are obvious examples of areas of overlap, if not total agreement.
In both private and public sector workplaces there is a climate of fear and insecurity.
The pressure during the political conference season will be the demand to repeal all antitrade union laws. A better framework would be to focus on the workplace and identify how the rights and lives of all workers can be improved.
Ironically, identifying solutions that will work for all unions, not just a ‘Warwick 3’ deal with those that are affiliated, could produce better results for everybody.
Although you can overdo the ‘mea culpa’ style in politics, it is refreshing to get a politician who can admit it when he or his party get’s it wrong. It is one of Ed Miliband’s attractive features.
Now he has done it again, accepting blame for the last Labour administration’s failure to properly address falling wages. In what must be his first concrete policy announcement ahead of the next general election. At a Scottish Labour gathering in Edinburgh recently, he promised to make it a priority for the next Labour government to introduce a national living wage. (The Guardian, 24th August 2013). Wow, that is shouting louder!
No doubt he also had an eye on union audiences for the upcoming TUC and Labour Conferences where he could be in ‘hot water’ over his proposals to change the political levy system. However he or Lord Ray Collins (an old colleague from our young T&GWU days), dress it up, it seems they mean to change to an ‘opt in’ on an individual system of union contriutions, as opposed to our favoured collective basis.
Whatever is behind this new Living Wage’ proposal, good thinking. The Labour Party could be onto a winner with this upgrade of their last administration’s hugely popular Minimum Wage legislation. Of course, the bad employers’ lobby and most of the right wing media will cry ‘millions of jobs would be lost’, but public opinion is on his side here, I suspect. Ed is rightly focusing on the big squeeze on family finances under this uncaring coalition government. In Brent where I’m a councillor, we’ve adopted a Q Living Wage policy and people really think its the right way to go.
In a recent blog, I also highlighted HSBC Director of Research, Stephen King’s new book warning ‘of the dangers of such a lengthy wage freeze as workers in the western economies have recently endured. He described it as ‘the greatest redistribution of income to the asset and cash rich since the nineteenth century.’
The real issue is how a real living wage could be brought about in all the private sector workplaces, even if all the political parties signed up? Already with the much lower statutory minimum wage, new rules are having to be brought to ‘name and shame’ those numerous ‘bucket-shop’ employers who flout the law, but don’t get taken to court. There will also be practical issues of implementation, as we have on the Council, in some pockets of extreme low pay eg cleaning contracts. But these can be addressed over time with suitable mechanisms, proper consultation and representation of the workers concerned.
If Labour wills this end, they must also ‘will the means’ – an institutional framework which can be enforced by workplace organisations viz., trade unions. Unions must respond to this laudable initiative by coming up with workable proposals of their own to assist Labour in fleshing out such a framework. They should start working on the sectors where they recruit in harmony, rather than in rivalry for members. Don’t let’s leave it to the policy wonks or HR experts who surround the Labour Leader, who are sure to come up with a flawed mechanism, the weaknesses of which rogue employers and their ‘clever’ lawyers will already be working on.
Wage regulation is not rocket science, as it has been done before on a national scale, especially in the 1930s – last time the State was really concerned that ‘squeezed’ and poverty wages were a matter of serious social concern. Wages Councils, national agreements backed up by legislation and arbitration systems are well tried methods in Britain.. The initiatives taken then led to a major growth in trade union membership, union recognition and collective bargaining.
Here’s a real issue for unions and Labour to ‘get their teeth into’, rather than having barren wrangles about how the dwindling members’ pence of the political levy should be collected. By all means try new ways of engaging the millions of union members in politics, to ensure that the union voice is properly heard and representative of their views. But the real test of modern Labour’s payback for union funding, is whether they deliver on this new Living Wage commitment.
Unions21′s event: Fair Pay: The Fair Work Commission Debate – is at TUC Congress Monday 9th September. Read more here: http://www.unions21.org.uk/events/
The funding of political parties has naturally been a hugely contentious history for centuries – from the days of the pre-reformed Parliaments with their tiny franchises and ‘rotten boroughs’ in the gift of the aristocracy and nobility. Yet the funding of the reformed Parliament parties after 1832, Whig/Liberal and Conservative\Unionist by the railway companies and other industrial and newspaper barons, rarely attracted great attention. It seems that it is only since the trade unions came into the political arena from the late 19th century, that their funding of politicians and the Labour Party, has again aroused concern.
In 1907 a Walthamstow Liberal trade unionist started a legal action against his union, the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servant’s decision to levy a compulsory contribution (1shilling a year) to the union’s political fund. What made it so controversial for Osborne, was that the proceeds were being donated to the infant Labour Party, in pursuance of the union’s political objectives, which he regarded as extreme socialistic. He had the sympathy of the entire establishment, especially the judiciary, and in a famous 1909 ‘Osborne Judgement’, the House of Lords held that the levy was unlawful. Read More…
As we wind down the political theatre that is Westminster and as the MP’s go on their well earned hols (no doubt dreaming of what they will do with their extra cash) we are left to ponder what the autumn will bring.
The spring/ early summer had its fair share of madness and drama (no doubt a result of the high temps) with Labour and the Tories slogging it out in the house over the NHS; Labour slogging it out with the unions and the liberals wondering why they are being left out.
Then we have u turns over ciggies, booze; grandstanding over immigration, the conflict in Syria, the NHS to name but a few.
Some readers may see a common theme developing as I list the key issues. Yep, the NHS has consistently been in the news and on the political agenda for some time; but unfortunately not in a good way.
We have had the Francis report, the Keogh report, the crisis looming in A and E, the future of the 111 service, the problems of health care in Wales and questions by select committees over who is actually responsible for what in the NHS. This is despite the statement from Jeremy Hunt that ‘the buck stops with me.’ [Now this is odd, as I do have a recollection that the new health arrangements were designed to distance the politicians from decision making!]
If you are a visitor from abroad and turned on your telly in your hotel room and heard the news you could be forgiven for praying that you did not get sick during your vacation.
But we all know that there is a gulf between what we hear and see and reality. NHS staff still work tirelessly despite cuts to budgets, increasing workloads and threats to job security. Patients still value the NHS and so do we. And despite the political and journalistic rhetoric we still treat patients and diagnose their illness. Despite what we see in the news and read in the paper and on twitter feeds, we still treat them with respect and we still keep them safe.
It would be nice to see, just once, a story that is used by the media, politicians and others to show the real worth of the NHS and why we should not see this service as a political football but something that is worth keeping and supporting and that any failures are an exception and not the norm.
Just once can we celebrate the NHS and not put it down or dissect its innards to gain column inches or political capital.
Whether we work in the NHS or we work for the NHS we know that it is a service that we cannot afford to lose because once it is gone we will never see it return.