Workers'Weekly On-Line
Volume 43 Number 4, February 2, 2013 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign
Determined to Fight On until Victory!

Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index :

Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign Determined to Fight On until Victory!

Press Release Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign:
Hunt Condemns Lewisham Hospital Services to Premature Death

Andy Burnham's Speech to the Kings Fund:
Labour Party's “One Nation” Approach to the NHS Is Not the Alternative

International News:
Britain and the New Scramble for Africa

Antartic Bill:
Beware Britain’s Claims in the South Atlantic

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Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign
Determined to Fight On until Victory!

{short description of image} Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt made a statement in the Commons on January 31, announcing his decision on the future of the South London Healthcare Trust and the Lewisham Hospital.

Immediately it was roundly condemned by the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign, by the Lewisham Hospital NHS Trust, by health workers, by the local community and all who have fought so hard to defend Lewisham Hospital and the future of the NHS.

But at the same time, there was the sense that the campaign, far from being a sideline protest, had shown itself to be a force to be reckoned with and taken account of. Hunt was forced to refer to the campaign in his statement, and said that because of the strength of the campaign and the depth of feeling, he had referred the recommendations of Trust Special Administrator Matthew Kershaw on the future of Lewisham to Sir Bruce Keogh, Medical Director of the National Health Service in England. Keogh himself had felt obliged to say that what he was recommending was for purely clinical reasons and not financial, though of course this was scarcely believable to all those who had fought so hard to save the A&E and Maternity Services.

Photo: Andy Worthington
- January 26th Lewisham
The sentiment at the demonstration outside Lewisham Hospital on the evening of the announcement was one both of outrage and of determination to fight on for the aims of the campaign. If Jeremy Hunt can appear to make a concession to try and defuse the campaign, then there is no reason why the campaign should not redouble its strength, hold the Health Minister to account, and press on to defend Lewisham, and stop the move to downgrade it, and ultimately destroy it. How could such destruction ever be clinically defensible!

Jeremy Hunt had been extremely deceptive in his statement to the House of Commons. He stated that he recognised “the sense of unfairness that people feel” (unfairness is hardly the word – anger and outrage would be the minimum that could be said) “because their hospital has been caught up in the financial problems of its neighbour” (this sounds like an accident – the government has wilfully caught Lewisham up in the financial problems of the South London Healthcare Trust, problems imposed on it by the capital-orientated outlook of successive governments), and understood “the very real concerns about how any changes could affect access to vital health services”.

But the whole point is that the considerations have been “financial” and not “clinical”. It should therefore be a redundant exercise to have asked the NHS Medical Director to consider the clinical case for the attacks on the Lewisham Hospital, since that otherwise would not have been brought into question. All this suggests an ulterior motive, and the Save Lewisham campaign, while recognising that their single-mindedness and unity in action had forced a ploy from Hunt, nevertheless immediately and totally rejected the “concession” as unacceptable. Instead, the campaign is going for victory in this crucial battle. It is recognised that if the government can, in pursuit of putting the interests of the rich in a paramount position, destroy a very successful hospital like Lewisham with integral links to the community through associating it with an “unsustainable provider”, then no hospital is safe. This is becoming recognised nationally also.

Demonstrating with the Great Petition outside
the Department of Health on January 30
It was also notable what the Health Secretary did not say in his statement. For example, he did not refer to the Trust Special Administrator’s statement in his report: “Land disposals – some of the land, specifically at university Hospital Lewisham, will become surplus to NHS requirements and can therefore be sold.” The report refers to capital receipts of £30.8m associated with the sale of “surplus estate” at Queen Mary’s Hospital, University Hospital Lewisham (part of the Lewisham Healthcare NHS Trust), and Orpington Hospital. If the sale of the vast majority of Lewisham Hospital (one has only to look at the report’s diagram to see that it is so) goes ahead, with the buildings demolished, including, it appears, the intensive care unit, then this would an act of outrageous wrecking and vandalism.

The campaign to safeguard the future of the health service will gather strength on the basis that health care is a right, and that the popular will must prevail over the assertion of the claims of the monopolies. The “unsustainable provider regime” for closing down services goes on for three years. But the campaign is also aware that it must be vigilant, it must combat any move to discourage patients from attending Lewisham Hospital, women from using the maternity services, and hospital workers and clinical staff from staying at the hospital.

Photo: Andy Worthington - January 26th Lewisham
The movement to Save Lewisham Hospital has taken an important stand to say No! to the whole direction in which the government has been taking the NHS. It has released the people’s initiative and conscious participation in decision-making. It is sure to strengthen its organisation while safeguarding these aspects of the movement. Already, a number of initiatives are in the making, not least the legal challenge to Hunt’s decisions. A “born in Lewisham” initiative is taking shape, while there will be a week of action from February 9 to February 16, which looks like stretching far and wide, and culminating in Lewisham in a “cavalcade” through the streets. There will be a lunchtime rally on Friday, February 15, at 1pm at the war memorial opposite the hospital with trade unionists, campaigners and the community coming together to discuss the next steps in the campaign.

The movement is highlighting crucial aspects of the direction in which the NHS is being forced, such as the crippling PFI debts, the privatisation agenda of the government, the treacherous role of health monopolies and their advisors, and so on. It is doing so with the perspective that this direction must be stopped and reversed. This in itself is providing an invaluable orientation to the thrust of the campaign.

WWIE warmly congratulates the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign on its work and its never-say-die attitude. Far from melting away, the campaign is gaining national significance. It is certain that a victory for Lewisham is a victory for everyone!

Health Care Is a Right!
Fight on to Safeguard the Future of the NHS!
The Time Is Now for a New Direction!
Whose NHS! Our NHS!

Visit the website:

RCPB(ML) video of the 300-strong rally on the evening of
January 31 after Jeremy Hunt made his statement

Article Index


Press Release Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign:

Hunt Condemns Lewisham Hospital
Services to Premature Death

{short description of image}
Dr Louise Irvine - Chair of the campaign
Thousands of people have marched, sung, signed petitions, braved the rain, written of their desperate concerns and joined together in a single community voice. Save Lewisham Hospital! Save Our NHS!

Today, Mr Hunt’s words seemed to have offered a partial reprieve of the A&E, he says to the benefit of the frail and elderly – which instead of an urgent care downgrade is to be reduced to a 25 bed facility. But look beneath the surface and very little has changed from the Kershaw recommendations.

Dr Chidi Ejimofo, A&E Consultant said :

“An A&E of the type described is little more than an Urgent Care Unit – patients will still have to be transported to other hospitals because we will no longer have acute provision here.”

Hunt quotes £36million will need to be spent on surrounding hospitals to compensate for the demolition which will still take place on the Lewisham site – which if the new A&E is to be retained will leave it stranded in midst of rubble and nowhere near the rest of the remaining hospital buildings. Does this mean yet another new, but smaller A&E will need to be built?

Dr Louise Irvine, GP Chair of the Campaign said :

“Hunt tells us that he has accepted the recommendations on the basis of ‘100 lives per annum saved’ but this is just a snapshot figure of a national assessment – not locally accurate in the context of the model proposed. As a GP I can state unequivocally that these proposals are going to cost lives.

“Mothers whose labour runs into difficulty will be forced to endure a blue light ambulance trip to an unfamiliar hospital in the manner of decades past. We already know that we have mothers who are members of our campaign whose lives and whose babies would have been lost in these circumstances. Crucially, the Sir Bruce Keogh estimates of travel times immediately throws this in to doubt – another 1-3 minutes extra travel to Woolwich can only be achieved in a private jet or an emergency helicopter! Our campaign’s real time travel film shows that this is closer to 2 hours (one way) than 2 minutes by public transport.

Disastrously, the paediatric A&E is to be lost and thus the excellent children’s wards.

Dr Tony O’Sullivan, Lead Paediatrician said

“Mr Hunt stressed that this will involve careful handling and careful planning. This is politician’s cover for introducing these measures without any consultation with local paediatricians or the College of Paediatrics. He repeatedly said that these measures would improve standards. The destruction of our exemplar childrens’ service is the not the way to do that and we will be addressing this at the earliest opportunity.”

Mr Hunt himself had set the four criteria for measuring his decision. Far from agreeing with Sir Bruce Keogh and thus Mr Hunt, we believe this to be the most accurate representation of the response :

1.Support from GP commissioners – opposed

2.Strengthened public and patient engagement – only in opposition

3.Clarity on the clinical evidence base – not present

4.Consistency with current and prospective patient choice – reduced

Not only did he make no mention of GP opinion in his speech, but seemed to rely upon Sir Bruce Keogh’s opinion rather than that of GPs and the public, as well as ignoring local clinicians. Patient choice also seems to have been thrown out of the window.

Nor does the Hunt approved model offer a financially sustainable hospital because the Lewisham site will suffer from much reduced income through nothing more than elective surgery rental, while the PFI attached to the Woolwich site needs to be properly dealt with.

We leave the final statement with Dr John O’Donogue – Consultant Physician:

“This is a travesty – a dangerous injustice. Taking a high performing hospital out of the heart and soul of our community is nothing short of vandalism.”

One thing is for certain – the campaign does not end here.

Article Index


The Battle for the Future Direction of the NHS

Andy Burnham's Speech to the Kings Fund:

Labour Party's “One Nation” Approach
to the NHS Is Not the Alternative

On January 24, Andy Burnham, shadow Health Secretary, gave a speech to the Kings Fund headlined: 'Whole-Person Care' A One Nation approach to health and care for the 21st Century. He outlined what he called "the first articulation of a coherent and genuine alternative to the current Government’s direction". He claimed that "for the first time in 20 years” the Labour Party “has the chance to rethink its health and care policy from first principles".

The first thing to note is whilst Andy Burnham has been rethinking “health and care policy from first principles”, for the first three years of the Coalition government the shadow Labour cabinet has not spoken out for any alternative policy on the NHS. This at a time the Coalition government threw a grenade into the NHS with its Health and Social Care Act, 2012. It was left to health workers and the working class movement to fight for the alternative to the government policies on health as on every other front. The fight has been an urgent necessity when the government programme has been aimed at further destroying the budgets of NHS organisations and then declaring them “in debt”, or even “bankrupt”, and then using this as an excuse to further cut back, fragment and privatise these health services.

Therefore, it is no accident that this resistance of the people to the wrecking of the NHS which has reached new levels of participation and consciousness with the recent mass demonstrations to Save Lewisham Hospital in London and elsewhere that has now prompted Andy Burnham to launch Labour's “coherent and genuine alternative”. This when the people are fighting to safeguard the future of the NHS and are demanding a real alternative to the government policies. It is worth noting as well that the alternative that Andy Burnham spoke of at the Kinds Fund was not even a fighting programme, or immediate demand to save the health service but a policy objective to be realised after 2015 if a Labour government is re-elected.

The NHS in a “tighter fiscal climate” or a change in its direction?

Analysing the content of his speech reveals the programme that the Labour Party is asking people to accept. Andy Burnham put forward two "unshakeable assumptions": “First, that the health and care we want will need to be delivered in a tighter fiscal climate for the foreseeable future, so we have to think even more fundamentally about getting better results for people and families from what we already have. Second, our fragile NHS has no capacity for further top-down reorganisation, having been ground down by the current round. I know that any changes must be delivered through the organisations and structures we inherit in 2015.”

In other words his "unshakeable assumptions" are that the imposition of the austerity programme to health will continue which will have the same disastrous consequences on the health services that are happening now and that whilst he has “committed” Labour to repealing the Coalition's Health and Social Care Act, 2012 the disastrous measures being implemented under the Act will broadly remain in place and only the “focus” will be shifted. This is a “repeal” which leaves the consequences of the Act in place.

Andy Burnham makes clear that it is only this shift in focus that will be consulted on, in rethinking Labour's health policies “from first principles”. He refers to the fact that the local authority Health and Well-being Boards – simply advisory under the present Act – could become the “commissioners” and the GP Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) – the “commissioners” under the present Act – could become the advisers. So, the starting point of Labour's “coherent” alternative is the same direction as before but by shifting the “focus”. Also, he says his shift in focus is to make what is left of the NHS Trusts and organisations the “Preferred provider” instead of “Any qualified provider”, when and if Labour comes to power. If he were honest, he would say that whilst Labour proposes to repeal the Act it is not a repeal of the direction of the present Act. It is not even clear whether it would slow down the process of putting the NHS fully in the hands of the national and foreign health monopolies and the health market that serves their interests.

What is the significance of “Whole-Person Care”?

Andy Burnham in his speech goes on to talk about merging physical, mental and social care into one and turning hospitals into providers of “Whole-Person Care”. This was his “penny-drop” moment when last year he was work-shadowing a ward sister at the Royal Derby. He said this was the question: “I am today putting at the heart of Labour’s policy review is this: is it time for the full integration of health and social care?”

Of course this is not the first time this has been raised. Health and social care was only separated from health care and redefined by a previous Conservative government in the 1990s to end the free provision of long-term residential health and social care for elderly people and to force them to pay from their savings to private residential and nursing homes. Today it is presently part of the Coalition government’s agenda with their “commissioners” to look to expanding social care which people have to pay for at the expense of health provision which they do not pay for directly. Even under the present Act and the health cuts up and down the country, community health services that are run by the NHS and designed to keep people in their homes and from unnecessary admissions to hospital are being “decommissioned”, or replaced by council- or privately-run social care who introduce charges.

Then getting to the nub of Andy Burnham's “penny drop moment”. He says; “So this opens up the question of the funding of social care.” He points out “the fact is that, even if we move to a fully integrated model, and shift resources from hospital to home, it won’t be enough to pay for all of one person’s care needs. We need to be very clear about that.” Explaining Labour’s “One Nation” policy further he says: "In a single system, it would be right to set for the first time a clear entitlement to what social care could be provided and on what terms, as part of a national entitlement to health and care." On this he raises the question of whether to continue with the cap on social care – at present £23,000 above which people pay for residential care homes – or to increase the cap to the recommended £35,000 in the Dilnot proposals 1, or alternatively have a “voluntary contribution”, or “an all in system of insurance”, i.e., everyone pays out of their income.

Apart form his “penny drop moment”, whilst on the one hand Andy Burnham defends public provision of health services by saying that “rather than allowing the NHS model to be gradually eroded, we should be protecting it and extending it as the most efficient way of meeting this century’s pressures”, on the other, he says, “Even if the NHS is co-ordinating all care, it is essential that people are able to choose other providers. And within a managed system there must always be a role for the private and voluntary sectors and the innovation they bring.” Then as if to try and justify this contradiction he says: “But let me say something that the last Labour Government didn’t make clear: choice is not the same thing as competition.” This astonishing statement is said as if it were true, or another “penny drop moment” but only exposes the real direction of these remarks and Labour's “One Nation” policy which is based on words and “penny drop moments”.

Labour’s record in government and opposition

The issue with the last Labour government’s policy on health was not the choice of words but the direction they were taking the NHS. It was not that they didn't make clear that “choice is not the same thing as competition” but that in their actual direction on the NHS it was! Firstly, they were the instrument of government that took this direction from the previous Conservative government and established the ingression of the financial oligarchy into health with their Private Finance Initiative giving health authorities and hospitals no other “choice” but this scandalously pay-the-rich scheme of funding the building of hospitals and clinics. Today, the crisis in South London and many other parts of the health services in part are a direct result of Labour's imposition of the PFI where the people were given no choice. The Labour government then introduced competition by establishing one of the most expensive top down reorganisations in the NHS history to create a new market in the NHS and called it the “commissioner/provider split”. Along with that they introduced “Any qualified provider”, giving the private sector preferential terms and higher tariffs for operations compared with the public sector NHS. Even when this was revised to “preferred provider” for NHS hospital Trusts and some other NHS organisations, this was because of the massive opposition by health workers and their trade unions at the time.

In this speech, Andy Burnham tries to convey the impression that his words are to be believed. He says, “I challenge those who say that the continued advance of competition and the market into the NHS is the answer to the challenges of this century.” But there is nothing in his speech that challenges the direction that successive governments, including his own when he was health minister, are taking with the NHS. For three years, the Labour Party in Parliament has not put forward an alternative to the direction of the Coalition government on health. When they opposed and voted against the Health and Social Health Care Act, 2012 the government, with some justification, taunted them that the Act before Parliament was the same direction that the previous Labour governments had taken. Andy Burnham's speech to the Kinds Fund shows they are now beginning to tentatively continue in the same direction as before. They are trying to embody their policy on health into their policy of responding to the austerity measures by calling for not so far, not so deep and not so quickly. This is the essence of their policy. This programme of the Labour Party is not an alternative.

Relying on the people’s movement and holding the government to account

The issue for health workers is to continue to build their resistance and organisation around their alternative programme which must be a new direction for the NHS.

Health care and social care are a right and not a privilege. They cannot be bargained away by the government or the Labour Party in opposition in favour of subordinating the claims of the people to the interests of finance capital and the health monopolies. The budget of social and health care provision is not a budget where the people should be made to pay out of their savings, or burdening them with further national insurance. Equally, health care is a claim where no hospital, or health service can be declared “in debt” or “bankrupt” by a budget set by “fiscal climate” and not based on the needs of the population.

The budget for health and social care is a claim of all the people on the whole social product, which must take priority over the massive profits of the monopoly capitalists. The people’s claim on society for health and social care must be guaranteed and the direction of the NHS decided on by the people for the good of all in society. Such a programme is not a shift in focus, or a change in the speed of the direction that the Coalition government is taking the NHS. What is needed is a new direction for the NHS. The Labour Party's “One Nation” approach to the NHS is not the alternative. The alternative is to stop paying the rich and increase investments in the NHS and other social programmes!

1 Economist Andrew Dilnot published the report of the Dilnot Commission in 2011 recommending a system of funding where no one would have to pay more than £35,000 in their life-time. It has been criticised from the point of view that in reality the workings of the recommendations would entail a far greater per person expenditure than £35,000.

Article Index


International News

Britain and the New Scramble for Africa

Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, in reply to an “urgent question”, was forced to make a statement in the House of Commons on January 29 about the numbers of British troops to be deployed in Mali and the surrounding region. The question came from the Conservative MP John Baron, who has long stood out as being a critic of British military intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

On January 14, it had been announced that the government would only offer “logistical support” to the French interventionist forces that are deployed in Mali allegedly at the request of the government of that country. Hammond has now announced that initially up to 300 British troops will be deployed in a “training role”. The troops will be sent to Mali, as part of an EU initiative, as well as to train troops from Britain’s four former colonies in West Africa that are expected to be part of the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA). Most of AFISMA, authorised by a UN Security Council Resolution, has not yet been fully mobilised, reportedly because of a lack of finance.

Although all the major parliamentary parties have voiced their support for Britain’s military intervention there were almost unprecedented pleas for caution and concern about so-called “mission creep” from MPs who asked the Defence Secretary additional question. Many cautioned that the people of Britain were strongly opposed to such continued warmongering. At a time when the British army is again being accused of war crimes and the wide-scale use of torture in Iraq, it is very questionable as to what kind of training it will be usefully providing for armies in Africa.

The government’s intervention in Mali is another example of Anglo-French military co-operation. It follows the pattern of the invasion of Libya, and can be seen both as a continuation of policies focused on the African shores of the Mediterranean and the Sahel-Saharan region, as well as part of a wider involvement in the new “scramble for Africa”, which has intensified in the 21st century.

This intensified penetration of Africa has seen British troops and special forces deployed in Sierra Leone, Somalia, Libya and now Mali and other countries in West Africa. Several other countries, including Canada and the US, are also participating in the invasion of Mali, as well as the wider scramble for control of Africa's resources and markets, and for strategic and geo-political advantage in the continent. Even contention between the NATO members is increasing, but so too is the contention between NATO and the emerging economic powers, especially the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), which now control 20% of Africa's trade and are projected to control 50% by 2030. There is also increasing contention with other Asian countries including Japan and Malaysia. Africa has for instance become increasingly important as a supplier of oil to both the US and China. The latter has already become the dominant economic power in Africa, the largest importer and the second largest destination for exports after the US. It is not coincidental that China has a particularly strong economic presence in both Algeria and Mali.

For some time the government has signalled its interest in the Maghreb. In recent years, Britain has attempted to strengthen its relationship with countries such as Algeria, where Cameron made the first visit by a British Prime Minister this week, and Mauritania, which was visited by a British Foreign Secretary for the first time in 2011. Many of these countries have significant supplies of oil, gas and other minerals, but they are also seen as an extension or the southern flank of Europe. There have therefore been several EU initiatives to incorporate these countries more closely into a “single market”. The British government has been using a variety of means to extend its influence in this region, which hitherto has been dominated by France and the US, as part of what Cameron calls the “global race”. Following the so-called Arab Spring, the British government intensified its efforts to interfere in the internal affairs of these countries through what it refers to as its “Arab Partnership” funding programme.

As Cameron's recent visits to Algeria and Libya demonstrate, the British government has also made use of the activities of al-Qaeda In the Maghrib (AQIM) and its offshoots as a pretext to encourage and cajole closer military and security co-operation with countries in North and West Africa. In Algeria, for example, Cameron travelled with both the head of MI5 and a “special envoy” on trade. Britain’s intervention in Mali is also being presented as part of wider campaign against “al-Qaeda” in Africa, which necessitates Britain’s strengthening its neo-colonial relationships with countries throughout the region. As many commentators have pointed out, Britain and the US, together with their allies, have previously supported and encouraged elements of those in Afghanistan as well as in Libya and elsewhere.who are now referred to as a threat. The current situation in the Sahel-Saharan region therefore bears all the hallmarks of having been created by those who claim to be the greatest warriors against terror.

As is well-known, military co-operation and training in Africa involving Britain, France and the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) is already extensive. Many of the leading officers in the army of Mali, including those at the head of last year's attempted coup, were trained in the US. The US launched its Pan-Sahel Initiative nearly ten years ago, utilising its Special Forces based in the Malian town of Gao to provide training to the armies of Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Chad to prevent the region “from being used by terrorists”. From 2005, the US established its Trans-Saharan Counter Terrorism Project and Operation Enduring Freedom Trans Sahara with allegedly similar aims. The US is currently engaged in developing its drone warfare capability both in Niger and in Mauritania. It is not coincidental that it is precisely in the region where particularly the US has been so militarily active for so long, and where resource contention is so great, that there is now allegedly the greatest threat to Britain and Europe.

In the current circumstances, the government appears to have resurrected the concept of “failed” and “failing” states to argue that it is now concerned about fragile states and areas of “ungoverned space” in Africa that might become a “terrorist haven” and allegedly a threat to Britain and Europe. The Sahel-Sahara region provides ideal conditions for developing the concept of “ungoverned space”. This is a term that revives the racist and colonialist logic of the imperialists of the 19th century. The Defence Secretary made it clear that wherever “ungoverned space existed”, the government would “take action to close it down”. In this respect he echoed the recent statements of David Cameron, who made fighting “terrorism” in Africa a key concern for the G8. Cameron had declared, “I believe we are in the midst of a long struggle against murderous terrorists and a poisonous ideology that supports them,” which he envisaged might last for decades. The Defence Secretary therefore speculated on the need for a more permanent AU-EU rapid deployment force, in line with the government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review of 2010. This proposes developing Britain’s role for the provision of military training and advice – “upstream engagement” allegedly provided to prevent conflict occurring. At the same time, a pretext has also been established for longer-term economic and political “nation-building” of so-called “fragile states”. In other words, the development of proxy, or neo-colonial, states sanctioned by UN Security Council resolutions.

It is clear that the contention between Britain and the other big powers is escalating in Africa as well as elsewhere. In what Cameron calls “the global race” they are prepared to use any means including endless war to advance their predatory interests. In these circumstances, the workers and all democratic people in Britain must hold the government to account, and step up their own struggles to constitute an anti-war government.

Article Index


Antarctic Bill:

Beware Britain’s Claims in the South Atlantic

The Antarctic Bill 2012-13 received its first reading in the Lords on January 21 after its passage through the Commons last year. It was introduced into Parliament by Conservative MP for Stroud, Neil Carmichael. Under the guise of protection of that continent’s unique environment, this Private Members’ Bill has to be seen in context of moves to lay claim to Antarctica’s resources in contradiction with other powers and to consolidate Britain’s strategic presence in the South Polar region and wider area, particularly of the South Atlantic.

The Bill itself implements the recently agreed Annex VI to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, which requires environmental emergency plans to be in place whenever activities in Antarctica are carried out, and is similar to the Draft Antarctic Bill published in 2009 by Labour.

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, welcomed the Bill, but expressed concern at the “slight degree of xenophobia and nationalism” in the approach of MPs debating the Bill.

This whole region of the world is increasingly of strategic importance. Antarctica is rich in various important resources, particularly oil, gas and coal, as well as minerals. Seventy per cent of the world’s fresh water is also located on the continent. Furthermore, there are sharpening contradictions over strategic domination of the South Atlantic as existing and emerging powers contend with each other.

The aims of the Bill cannot therefore be separated from the currently mounting tension with Argentina, not only over the Malvinas, but also over South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and disputed territory in mainland Antarctica itself.

Neil Carmichael made this very clear in a recent parliamentary debate 1 on the Bill. To a question from Christopher Chope, Conservative MP for Christchurch, who had asked why the Bill makes no reference to Argentina, he replied:

“My hon. Friend asks a useful and important question, which, ironically, lies at the heart of the Bill. We have a treaty relationship which effectively controls our relationships with other nation states and our activities in the Antarctic. By ensuring that the treaty is applied to domestic law and is strengthened, we are strengthening our own British presence, and thus issuing a challenge to any dispute that we might have with the Argentine Government.”

“If we want to retain our presence in the region, including the Falklands, we have to do so in a meaningful way, and this Bill addresses that point. The British presence in the region matters to the region as well as to us, and it also matters to the other signatories of the various treaties,” he said later.

Further, “The invasion of the Falklands took place three decades ago. The recent anniversary should serve to remind us of the importance of maintaining a strong and robust British presence not only in the Antarctic, but in the region as a whole.”

However, contradictions are sharpening not only with Argentina, but also with Chile, Russia and Australia and other powers. Australia, already claiming the largest Antarctic territory of any country, in May last year formally proclaimed exclusive rights to explore for oil and other resources in areas of Antarctic seabed.

It is in this connection, for example, that on October 30 last year the government began to fly the illegitimate flag of “British Antarctic Territory”2 in Parliament Square for the first time, along with those of other colonial possessions and claims. Rather than move forward, the British government intent on clinging onto Britain’s colonial past. It is also a declaration of the contempt it holds for the Antarctic Treaty.3 It therefore seeks to keep its base in Antarctica, using the British Antarctic Survey as cover.4

The Bill, then, is ostensibly about “protection” of the Antarctic. Even this aim is tainted by colonial language. The premise is that this is Britain’s special responsibility. The issue of the Antarctic is an issue for humanity as a whole. Instead, with 19th Century arrogance, the British ruling circles assume the position that Britain has a noble, civilising role in the face of hostile foreigners, and so takes on the burden of protection. As such, Britain stakes its claim to what it takes to be rightfully British.

“It is our responsibility to protect Antarctica from those who might cause it damage,” said Conservative MP for Romford Andrew Rosindell. “Indeed, we have a moral duty to ensure that it is adequately protected, which is why the Bill is so important.”

The protection and use of the Antarctic is an issue of huge importance for humanity as a whole. Which way will it go? Will humanity exploit Antarctica in the old way, fought over and divided between competing powers, opening it up for the monopolies and states to plunder? Or in a new way, for the mutual benefit of all? The aims underlying the Antarctic Bill and the kind of debate surrounding it firmly place Britain in the camp of the Old.


1. See Hansard, HC Deb, 2 November 2012, c492-509.

2. The British Antarctic Territory, Argentine Antarctica and Antártica Chilena are mutually overlapping claims to sections of the Antarctic mainland by Britain, Argentina and Chile respectively, none of which is internationally recognised. A British claim to a small part of the Antarctic peninsula was first made in 1908, subsequently enlarged in 1917 to what is essentially the current form of the Territory, which consists of a wedge-shaped slice of land from 20 to 80 degrees West and from 60 degrees South down to the South Pole, including the whole of the peninsula and the South Orkney and South Shetland Islands, which are also disputed. The whole area comes to some 660,000 square miles (over seven times the area of Britain).

3. The Antarctic Treaty was signed in Washington on 1 December 1959 to ensure that “Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only” and remain demilitarised. In particular, Article IV states:

“No acts or activities taking place while the present Treaty is in force shall constitute a basis for asserting, supporting or denying a claim to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica or create any rights of sovereignty in Antarctica. No new claim, or enlargement of an existing claim to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica shall be asserted while the present Treaty is in force.”

4. The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) is a direct descendent of Operation Tabarin, a 1943 British military mission to establish a permanent Antarctic presence. This Operation was converted into the civilian Falkland Islands Dependency Survey at the end of the Second World War, later renamed the BAS in 1962, shortly after the Antarctic Treaty came into effect.

During the debate referenced above, Andrew Rosindell MP pointed out that the BAS “maintains the British presence in the Antarctic like no other”. Julian Huppert, Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge, added that the “BAS is clearly a vital national asset, and it has a dual mission that involves both the Foreign Office and pure research”.

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