Last night I was delighted to be elected as Secretary of the fantastic Tynemouth Constituency Labour Party. Today, it was great to campaign together in Cullercoats as part of National Campaign Day, highlighting the Tories' economic failure.
Proposals to increase the voice of Labour members on the NEC are welcome, but given 77% (23/30) of successful candidates in NEC elections over the last 10 years have been from London or the South East, these proposals must also include regionalising NEC representation now. Grassroots members deserve NEC representatives who understand their local circumstances, and who are close enough to influence and hold accountable through attendance at CLP meetings and regional conferences.
Thoughts on the election result and what next for Labour.
First of all, it was an honour to be part of the team that helped deliver a good result for Labour. Locally here in Tynemouth we delivered an increased majority for the excellent Alan Campbell against a nasty Tory campaign. Nationally, we did not win but made clear progress towards victory with an unprecedented increase in vote share, leaving us within grasp of a Labour majority government in perhaps the next 12-18 mon...ths. I sincerely hope we are going to spend that time fighting Tories and not each other. The resumption of factional sniping from some ultras on both sides over the weekend has been disappointing. My observations, for what they're worth are:
1. Jeremy Corbyn deserves praise and support for leading party in a huge step forward. There is no evidence that I can see that any other leader would have been able to attract the number of new voters he has.
2. Similarly, there is no evidence I can see that the PLP hijacked the campaign or prevented victory. In fact, the presence of familiar local MPs / candidates is likely to have reassured a section of the electorate in key seats that may otherwise have defected from Labour.
3. My sense from campaigning on the ground is that we put together a seemingly unlikely coalition of existing Labour voters and new voters who have pretty diverse (and in some cases divergent) demographic and political characteristics. Without existing, good Labour MPs OR Jeremy Corbyn that probably wouldn't have been achieved. It is a coalition that will require skill and tolerance to maintain.
4. With turnout now high and third parties squeezed, the only way to victory next time is by persuading some voters who voted Conservative this time to switch to Labour, while also sustaining that new + old coalition. That requires the leadership and the PLP to work together and not to undermine each other.
5. The party membership has changed forever. New members came out to campaign in this election and played a valuable part in the victory. We need to be building on and deepening their involvement and reflecting on how we can make everything we do in Labour as inclusive, interesting and accessible as possible to help with this. We have much to learn from each other.
6. The Tories are clearly a shambles. Any time we spend fighting each other rather than them will diminish our ability to claim competence and coherence in contrast to their chaos. Any time we spend fighting each other rather than working for the imminent return of Labour majority government is a betrayal of our cause and the people we are in politics to help.
This photo pretty much sums up my life in recent weeks. I hope all Labour activists are summoning one last week of campaigning energy and then we can all snooze like Arlo in the sunlit uplands of Labour victories on 9th June!
As ever, budgets and politics are about choices between the many and a few. This Tory government is choosing to cut inheritance tax for a privileged few while cutting disability benefits for many. It is choosing to spend money on new selective schools while existing schools for all are having their budgets cut.
As ever, we desperately need a Labour government, because *any* Labour government would be making different, better choices than these.
I hope everyone who previously unfairly smeared Simon Stevens as a privatising Tory-stooge reads his evidence today and is is thankful that there are NHS leaders willing to speak unpalatable truths about the implications of political choices on NHS funding while still working to do their best for patients in bloody difficult situations.
Some points on NHS cancer care which is in the news today following AA Gill's moving, final piece in the Sunday Times about his treatment. Alongside praise for the compassion and humanity of NHS staff are points noting the comparatively poor cancer outcomes of the UK and lack of access to specialist drugs such as immunotherapy when compared to other european countries (France, Germany & Sweden are all specifically mentioned).
Firstly the best thing to do to boost survival rat...es is to diagnose earlier and quicker, as Gill notes. While the NHS is explicitly working to improve this, it is only possible with significant investment in diagnostic imaging in particular. Building extra CT and MRI scanners and training/employing the consultant radiologists to use them is really expensive. In order to have the type of 'instant' access to diagnostics comparable to private healthcare, you need to have spare capacity, i.e. machines sometimes sitting unused, which would push up costs even further.
Secondly, cutting edge oncological treatments are also, as Gill recognises, very expensive (the immunotherapy that may be suitable for his cancer is quoted as costing £60k-£100k/year). Given the inevitability of some limits on resources, it is right that NICE makes decisions about effectiveness versus cost on individual drugs. But the threshold for funding could be lowered for all conditions (treatments for other diseases are generally less well funded than for cancer) were greater resources available.
Throughout my time managing NHS cancer services and observing the treatment they have given to my family, I have seen nothing to support Gill's assertion that it is the 'scale of bureaucracy and the Attlee-reverential, immovable-but-crumbling structure... that is the chronic tumour in the bowel of the system'. What I have seen is demand for diagnostics exceeding capacity and not enough specialist staff to keep up with the rising demand (currently estimated across cancer as 7% growth a year). I have seen very few opportunities for 'efficiency' in cancer services unless one wishes to go down the route of cutting staff terms and conditions.
Ultimately, what I've seen is this: that if we want cancer outcomes equivalent to the best, then we need funding that is also equivalent to the best. Per head of population in 2014, the UK spent $3935 on healthcare. Compare with the countries Gill cited favourably as treating cancer better than us: France spent $4959, Germany $5411 and Sweden $6808. You cannot do cutting edge cancer care on the cheap. The choice about the level of NHS funding is ultimately a choice about the level of care available, and that is the choice that the country must make for the future.
Summary of current NHS cancer improvement plans:
Source of health spend per capita: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.XPD.PCAP…
Great to be out campaigning with Labour colleagues in Tynemouth talking to voters about investing in education, not segregating our kids with the Tory plans to re-introduce grammar schools.
Congratulations to Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. He wasn't my choice, but it is now time to pull together, to focus on the things that unite us and get out campaigning to take the fight to the Tories. As Jonathan says, we must hold together and I hope all Smith supporters will #stayinlabour