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The Fight for Pensions Raises Important Issues for the Workers’ Opposition

Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index :

The Fight for Pensions Raises Important Issues for the Workers’ Opposition

Building the Opposition to the Anti-Social Offensive:
Opposing the Health and Social Care Bill – No Means No! There Is an Alternative!

National Health Service

The Anti-War Movement:
The Real Scandal of Dr Fox

Reactionary and Anachronistic Character of British Commonwealth

International News
The Defiance of the People of Greece against the European Powers and the Institutional Loan Sharks

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The Fight for Pensions Raises Important Issues for the Workers’ Opposition

Fight for the Alternative

The result of the Unison ballot of public sector workers was announced on Thursday, November 3, with more than three to one in favour of strike action. This is, Unison have pointed out, the largest ballot of trade union members ever held. Other unions, such as the GMB and Unite, are also organising ballots. (For further details from these unions and the TUC, see Workers' Daily News Feed (WDNF)and the WDNF archive.)

The holding of these ballots represents the stand of public sector workers against the government's systematic wrecking of public sector pensions in pursuance of seizing yet more added value from those who provide public services. Following this ballot and the ballot of other unions, the workers are planning the largest day of strikes and action on November 30 in defence of their pensions. The fight is on for the security and dignity of all public sector workers in retirement. This fight for pensions raises important issues for the workers’ opposition.

Firstly, with an air of predictability the government in anticipation of this overwhelming vote for strike action, and trying to win public opinion to its side announced revised proposals which it claimed was “a deal for a generation” on public sector pensions. However, whilst claiming to make some concessions on timing to the introduction of worse pensions for public sector workers and other small changes it made it clear that its intention to increase the pension contributions of public sector workers by up to 50% and reducing the pensions overall to make them “affordable” would not be conceded. David Cameron told MPs the improved offer was "very fair".

Whilst the government is prepared, and maybe have even calculated, to make some concessions it is very clear on its objective to use public sector workers to further pay the rich and the financial institutions by billions of pounds out of public sector workers’ pay. At the same time, it is holding down pay in the face of rising inflation and cuts tens of billions from the public sector in jobs and services.

{short description of image} This shows that this opposition that is growing against the attack on pensions is in conflict with this pay-the-rich system. This system is one where the dominant monopolies have concentrated the greatest wealth and power in their hands and assert their “right” to determine everything. Workers in all sectors of the economy are putting more into the economy than they are taking out, whilst it is the financial oligarchy that is taking more out of the economy than they put in. The question that must be in the forefront of the workers thoughts and actions is that it is they who have the right to a first claim on the added value in the economy and not the banks and financial oligarchy. Those who own and control the means of production, these same global monopolies, are not the actual producers, but are using their power to dominate politically and determine the direction of the economy and the fate of society.

This situation is the cause of the problems for the workers. The workers’ opposition on pensions and on every front must be developed on the basis that it is the working class who are the producers of wealth and services. They cannot accept that their claim on the added value that they contribute to society above the wages they are paid is denied by those in authority, and they intend to fight for the rights and welfare of all including proper pensions for all.

The financial oligarchy is in an antagonistic relation to this fight. It denies that society has advanced to a stage where human beings are born to society and that society is duty bound to guarantee their well-being at all times. The public service workers on the other hand are showing their responsibility for the fate of society, and there is widespread concern that their ability is being jeopardised to provide services for the benefit of society and strengthen its capacity to guarantee the rights of all to social programmes.

What is crucial for the public service workers and the workers’ opposition as a whole in response to the attack on pensions and on every front is that they keep the initiative in their own hands through maximum mobilisation, involvement in discussion, collectively deciding on a plan of action and developing that organisation which is the harbinger of the new society they so desire.

Article Index


Building the Opposition to the Anti-Social Offensive

Opposing the Health and Social Care Bill – No Means No! There Is an Alternative!

March for the AlternativeThe fight is continuing against the Health and Social Care Bill. For health workers to hold forums, get together and discuss the consequences of the Bill, how to oppose it, and how to fight for the alternative based on the right to health care is crucial. Such discussions, with the conscious participation of health workers, strengthen and consolidate the conviction of all concerned.

It was in this context that on September 29, a South Tyneside Health and Social Care Bill Forum was held at South Shields Town Hall. Roger Nettleship, Joint Branch Secretary of Unison South Tyneside Health Branch, opened the Forum, organised by South Tyneside Public Services Alliance, welcoming participants from the health service and the community. He acknowledged the work of the individual unions in the campaign and the thousands of people who signed the petitions against the Bill in the town.

At the District Hospital the unions have taken numerous actions to oppose the Bill, and before that to oppose all the mechanisms that have been used by successive governments to open up the NHS to big business of all kinds. These include the fight against Trusts, Foundation Trusts, the commissioner-provider split, and the change of funding from one of population need to activity introduced by the previous Labour government which is loaded in favour of private sector companies.

It is clear that the economy is increasingly being geared to guaranteeing the wealth of the few at the expense of the rights of all as exemplified by the increasing gap between rich and poor. This is reflected in the wrecking of our public services, or saying that the private companies need huge cash incentives to make them perform in public services whilst the public sector is starved of funds to make it “perform”. With years of budget cuts there is an increasing crisis in health care provision, of beds and services in which hospitals which “fail” because of these massive cuts are being opened up to privatisation and further oiling of the profits of big companies at the expense of the tax payer.

This latest Bill takes things further and seeks to make the situation irreversible. As an opposition movement, we have to put forward what we want the health service to be, that it should be universally available on the basis of need alone, publicly owned and publicly provided, planned, integrated, and democratically accountable. All the changes in the Health and Social Care Bill have moved away from these principles.

All those who cherish a health service in which health care is considered as a right are far from being reconciled to the Bill becoming an Act. We are here and we are saying like the Greek people, No Means No! and There Is An Alternative! This situation has now brought to the fore the importance of uniting around a programme of opposition in order to safeguard the future of the NHS, to strengthen the conception that there is an alternative, and to affirm that indeed no does mean no!

Dr Gerard Reissmann, a Newcastle GP from Keep Our NHS Public, began his contribution by speaking about what was in the Bill and what it will mean. He referred to a pamphlet called "Liberating the NHS". We have to remember, he said, that all of the changes have no electoral mandate and did not even appear in the manifesto documents.

Dr Reissmann explained how the NHS is funded now and how the Bill changes that so that the entire funding of the NHS flows to the commissioner groups as well as lots private assurers and providers. He said that for a start we are told that “commissioning” is the great idea. But they don't need it in Scotland and Wales. There the health care service is managed without it and a health service is directly funded and provided as happened before In England. He said that the NHS Commissioning Board set up by the Bill is a Quango where Lansley appoints the chair and chief Executive, who is David Nicholson. Last year David Nicholson said that when he saw the Bill he said this is the biggest disaster and that he was resigning. Now he is heading up this Commissioning Board! This Commissioning Board would pass the NHS budget to the Clinical Commissioning Groups.

A crucial part of the Bill is that all Foundation Trusts would have the cap removed on generating private income. Foundation Trusts would be able to earn as much as they like from private income. Once the state stops becoming the main provider of health services it is no longer protected from the GAP world trade organisation rules. Ten years ago, Dr Reissmann said, he went to see the private health company United Health Group, which is a US company that operates in 18 countries. Even then, their Chief Executive in Europe was getting a salary of around $25 million a year. Under the Bill, big business will get registered as “Any Qualified Provider”.

In relation to GP commissioners, in clause 20 the Bill says that they can arrange for any other person to exercise any of its functions. GP commissioners not only bring in firms like KPMG, which is what is happening in London, but they can be handed the contracts to commission and the GPs won't be allowed to do it. Then on the back of £20 billion cuts to the NHS there will be “de-commissioning” and what he called the an extreme post code lottery where especially poor areas of the country will be faced with an even worse service.

Even though the government now admits that the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) is bankrupting health in places like West Cumbria where they are imposing £20 billion in cuts, there is no desire to go and renegotiate and bring this money back which is being paid in to offshore accounts to the super rich who do not even pay any tax.

He concluded by saying that presently there are skeleton staff running the PCT commissioning without even the Bill becoming law. The transaction costs in the NHS have increased over the last few years from 5% to over 20% of its budget due to the internal market that Blair re-introduced, yet none of this happens in Scotland or Wales so it does not have to happen here in England.

In the discussion there were a lot of comments on the effect of the health cuts over many years and examples of the present direction that was wrecking local health services. The meeting concluded that it was crucial to continue to take these discussions into health circles and the community and continue the fight for the alternative to safeguard the future of the NHS.

Our Workplaces, Our Hospitals, Our NHS! There Is An Alternative!

Article Index



National Health Service

Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Andy Burnham, moved an Opposition day debate in the House of Commons on 26 October 2011 on the Government's record on the National Health Service. The motion in the name of Andy Burnham called on the Government to drop the Health and Social Care Bill, which is currently under consideration in the House of Lords and “accept the offer of cross-party talks on reforming NHS commissioning”. Here are some contributions to the debate.

Andy Burnham (Leigh, Labour): We read today that the Government were in open retreat last night on their Health and Social Care Bill in the House of Lords. Given that, we thought it only right to bring the Secretary of State here today to be held to account by this elected House. He tried to shuffle off his responsibilities and dug in when the Bill was in this place, only to give in down there. That came just hours after he had to confirm that he would still take oral questions in this House, despite a claim to the contrary by his preferred candidate to take over the running of the NHS. The Secretary of State may be on the run, but we will not let him hide. Our NHS is too precious to too many people in this country to be carved up in dodgy coalition deals in the unelected House. His Bill is unravelling before his eyes, and coalition health policy is in chaos. Today, we hold him to account for that.

To be fair to the right hon. Gentleman, the responsibility is not all his. It goes right up to the door of No. 10 Downing street. People will remember only too well, in the run-up to the general election, the then Leader of the Opposition’s ostentatious shows of affection for the NHS, his airbrushed face on the posters and three very personal promises—real-terms increases in every year of this Parliament, no accident and emergency or maternity closures, and no top-down reorganisation of the NHS. He protested his love for the NHS, and at photo call after photo call on the wards he routinely wore his heart on his sleeve. As we now know, he was protesting a little too much, and today we expose the hollowness of his promises.

(Citation: HC Deb, 26 October 2011, c323)


I said a moment ago that it was irresponsible to promise real-terms increases. I say that because I completed a spending review of the NHS in March 2010 and knew the figures inside out. I had also been in detailed discussions with the Treasury on the funding of adult social care, in preparation for a White Paper. The implication of what the Conservatives featured on an election poster—cutting the deficit on an accelerated timetable while giving the NHS real-terms increases—could mean only one thing: unpalatable cuts to other public services, particularly adult social care, on which the NHS relies.

Despite that, the election pledge was carried over into the coalition agreement, which could not be clearer. It states:

“We will guarantee that health spending increases in real terms in each year of the Parliament”.

A year ago, at the time of the comprehensive spending review, the official figures claimed that that had been delivered, with a 0.1% settlement—essentially the same as Labour promised at the election.

(Citation: HC Deb, 26 October 2011, c324)


It is correct that in the previous Parliament, not Monitor, but the chief executive of the NHS, suggested that the NHS would have to make around £20 billion of efficiency savings over the four years of this Parliament. That is called the Nicholson challenge, which I accepted. However, contrary to what the Prime Minister said at the Dispatch Box last week, it was intended that every penny of that money would go back into the NHS to help it to deal with the pressures that it faces. I am afraid that the Government are again misrepresenting my position.

My position is different from the Secretary of State’s because that challenge, on its own, would have been all-consuming for the NHS, meaning that it would have had to focus every ounce of its energy on rising to that challenge. The last thing in the world that the NHS needs is a huge reorganisation, because it will take its eye off the ball, meaning that it cannot rise to that challenge.

(Citation: HC Deb, 26 October 2011, c328)


If we thought that the Conservative party’s promises on funding were bad enough, the sheer audacity of its claims on hospital closures is breathtaking. Before the last election, the right hon. Gentleman toured the country promising the earth to every Conservative candidate he met. I recall seeing his commitments—I have them here—pile up in the Ashcroft-funded glossy leaflets that landed on my desk in the Department of Health. He said that he would reopen the accident and emergency department in Burnley; he said that he would save and A and E in Hartlepool, but, scandalously, only if the town elected a Conservative MP; and I well remember the day he visited his hon. Friend—although, after this week, I doubt that the Government Front Bench team still consider him a friend—Mr Nuttall and promised the people of Bury in the leaflets I have here:

“Vote Conservative and if there is a Conservative government the maternity department will be kept open.”

It could not be clearer. However, the maternity department at Fairfield hospital is scheduled to close next March. It is disgraceful. However, the Prime Minister’s most shameful politicking came in north London. I lost count of the number of times he promised to save the A and E department at Chase Farm hospital.

(Citation: HC Deb, 26 October 2011, c330)

Andrew Lansley (Secretary of State, Health; South Cambridgeshire, Conservative): I ask the House to reject the motion. I am sorry about the tone of much of what Andy Burnham said. This was his first opportunity to make a speech about the NHS and I thought that he might take the trouble to thank NHS staff for what they have achieved over the past year, rather than disparage and denigrate everything they have been doing. I also thought that he might take the opportunity to approach the issues facing the NHS from the standpoint of patients, rather than simply playing politics with the service, but he did not. Insulting me was the least of the problems in his speech. It seemed like the Burnham memorial speech—clearly no hard feelings about losing the election, then. Having spent 13 years in the House in opposition, I shall—at the risk of patronising him—give him a few words of advice: do not keep fighting the election that you lost. It is not the way to win any future election, and it will carry absolutely no credibility in the NHS.

Equally, the right hon. Gentleman will carry no credibility by wandering around telling people that he was not planning to cut the NHS budget, given that he made it absolutely clear in The Guardian last year that that was exactly what he intended to do and that he told us, in the run-up to the spending review, that it would be irresponsible to increase the NHS budget in real terms. I searched the Labour manifesto for any commitment to funding the NHS in real terms, but there is none. In

March 2010, he might have said that he knew all these things, but he did not tell the public about any of it—


Well, it is here in his manifesto. The only reference to any kind of investment in the NHS is a plan to

“refocus capital investment on primary and community services”.

(Citation: HC Deb, 26 October 2011, c336)


The second reason the House should reject the motion is that it fails to pay tribute to the hard-working staff of the NHS. I participated in many debates such as this when I was shadow Secretary of State and I thought that they provided an incredibly good opportunity for Members to raise issues relating to their own constituencies. I hope that that happens in this debate, as it is important. Every one of us has in our constituencies thousands of committed and hard-working NHS staff who want to know that we recognise it. I do not see any of that in the motion.

(Citation: HC Deb, 26 October 2011, c339)


Let me explain why I am asking the House to reject the motion. I believe—and this was always my approach in opposition—that when we table such a motion, we ought at least to be clear about what our alternative solution would be, but there is no such solution in the motion. Let me remind the new, or recycled, shadow Secretary of State what his old friend James Purnell wrote last February:

“The Tories appear to have the centre ground. Labour need to take it back—by coming out in favour of free schools and GP commissioning”.

The right hon. Gentleman did not come out in favour of free schools. He now says that he is coming out in favour of GP commissioning. If he believed in GP commissioning, why did he do nothing about it? Why did everyone in the general practice community, throughout the length and breadth of the country, believe that practice-based commissioning had come to a virtual halt? Why did David Colin-Thomé, the right hon. Gentleman’s own national clinical director for primary care, effectively say that it had completely stalled and was not going anywhere?

I know that the right hon. Gentleman agreed with this at one time. Back in 2006, he said of GP commissioning:

“That change will put power in the hands of local GPs to drive improvements in their area, so it should give more power to their elbow than they have at present. That is what I would like to see”.—[Hansard, 16 May 2006; Vol. 446, c. 861.]

If the right hon. Gentleman wants that to happen, he must support the Bill that will make it happen. The same applies to health improvement and public health leadership in local government, and to our finally arriving at a point when, as was the last Labour Government’s intention, all NHS trusts become foundation trusts. We are going to make those things happen, but in order to do so we must have a legislative structure that supports them. That is evolutionary, not revolutionary. However much the right hon. Gentleman rants about the changes being made in the Bill, the truth is that it will do—in what his predecessor, John Healey described as a “consistent, coherent and comprehensive” way—much of what was intended by our predecessors as Secretaries of State under the last Government. The fact that the right hon. Gentleman turned his back on that at the end of his time in office—mainly at the behest of the trade unions, which seem to be the dominant force in Labour politics—does not absolve him of his responsibility to accept that we are now delivering the reforms that he talked about.

(Citation: HC Deb, 26 October 2011, c342)


At the end of the last Labour Government, the average in-patient wait was 8.4 weeks. According to the latest available figures, that has fallen to 8.1 weeks. The average waiting time for out-patients was 4.3 weeks at the time of the last election; it is now 4.1 weeks. Over the last year, the number of MRSA bloodstream infections in hospitals has fallen by a third, and the number of clostridium difficile infections by 16%. Nearly three quarters of a million more people have access to NHS dentistry. Nearly 2 million people have access to the new 111 urgent care service, and the whole country will be covered within the next 18 months. When we came to office, I discovered that there had been talk about a 111 telephone system, but nothing had been done. It is now happening.

More than 75% of stroke patients now spend 90% or more of their hospital stay in a stroke unit. That is a 20% increase in two years. The Cancer Drugs Fund has given more than 5,000 patients access to drugs that they desperately need, and which under the last Government’s regime would not have been available to them. We have embarked on an £800 million investment in translational research, increasing our financial support for it by 30%, to help to secure the United Kingdom as a world leader in health research.

The NHS is leading the way in the prevention of venous thromboembolism, with 86% of patients receiving an assessment for the condition. I believe that that constitutes an increase of some 30% in the last year. The bowel cancer screening programme is enabling many more patients and members of the public to be screened, there is more screening for diabetic retinopathy than ever before, and there were 188,000 more diagnostic tests in the three months to August than there were last year. Pathfinder clinical commissioning groups have been established virtually through England, and there are 138 health and wellbeing boards in local authorities, meeting and putting together their strategies to deliver population health gain across their areas.

In a single year, the year preceding the election, the right hon. Member for Leigh presided over a 32% increase in NHS management costs. That was the year after the banks had gone bust. It was the year when it was obvious that Government deficits were out of control. It was the year when the debt crisis was just about to crash over the whole of the public sector. What happened on the right hon. Gentleman’s watch? There was a 23% increase in management costs in a single year, to £350 million. In the year that followed, we reduced those costs to £329 million.

(Citation: HC Deb, 26 October 2011, c343)


Productivity fell in every single year that Labour was in charge of the NHS. However, according to the Audit Commission, in the last year—2010-11—we saved £4.3 billion. As the deputy chief executive of the NHS has reported, PCTs are intending to save a further £5.9 billion in 2011-12. Contrary to what the right hon. Member for Leigh repeatedly said, the NHS is not failing to deliver on the quality, innovation, productivity and prevention challenge; it is on target to meet that challenge. The modernisation that is at the heart of the Bill and the White Paper is not about frustrating the NHS in that endeavour; it is about enabling it to meet the QIPP challenge.

Last summer, I announced that we would be measuring mixed-sex accommodation and then driving down the extent to which patients were put in such accommodation when they should not have been. The right hon. Gentleman said at the time:

“This hollow announcement is an attempt by Mr Lansley to claim credit for something Labour has done”.

That is absolutely wrong. The evidence showed that almost 150,000 patients a year were being placed in mixed-sex accommodation in breach of the rules. We ensured that figures were published for the very first time. The first set of results was published in December, and it showed that in that month alone there were well over 11,000 such patients. Since then, there has been a 91% reduction in the number of patients put into mixed-sex accommodation. The right hon. Gentleman was prepared to see issues of care, service and standards in the NHS covered up. We are determined to shine a light on where the NHS can, and should, improve its performance; we are determined to enable the NHS to do so and to challenge it wherever it is not doing so.

(Citation: HC Deb, 26 October 2011, c345)


The NHS in Wales is not cutting its budget because everything is going well. Labour Members are fond of citing waiting times, but the latest figures on waiting times show that in England 90.4% of admitted patients and 97.3% of non-admitted patients were referred to treatment within 18 weeks, whereas the figures for Wales are 67.6% and only 74% respectively.

Let me tell the House about infection rates. In 2007, the clostridium difficile mortality rates in England and Wales were similar—in fact, the rate was slightly higher in England. However, in the latest year for which figures are available there were 23.4 deaths per million for men and 23.5 deaths per million for women in England, whereas the figures for Wales were 54.9 deaths per million for men and 59.5 deaths per million for women, so the level in Wales is more than twice that in England.

In four years, the gap has widened to the point where Wales has double the number of deaths from C. diff infections relative to England. Less money, less innovation and less good care is what has been happening in Wales under a Labour Government.

I must make it clear that we are going to put patients at the heart of the NHS. We are going to focus on the NHS delivering excellent care every time. Labour focused on the targets and the averages, and never got to the place of really caring about the specifics. A patient about to go into hospital for knee replacement surgery does not want to know about the national figure; they want to know about their hospital, their ward and what will happen to them. The same is true for mixed-sex accommodation. Labour turned a blind eye to variation in performance. We are going to open it up to clinical and public scrutiny, so that we can reward and celebrate achievement and excellence across the service, and shine a light on poor performance.

(Citation: HC Deb, 26 October 2011, c347)

Grahame Morris (Easington, Labour): Although the words “shocking legacy” are ringing in my ears, I find it difficult to believe them, given Labour’s legacy on the NHS compared with what it inherited in 1997. Expenditure was increased from £30 billion in 1997 to £103 billion when we left office, and we had record patient satisfaction ratings. It beggars belief that that can be considered a shocking legacy.

(Citation: HC Deb, 26 October 2011, c349)


I wish to recognise the contribution of the NHS staff, who are the source of great pride. They have done such a great job, and continue to do so, even in difficult circumstances, in delivering the very high levels of patient satisfaction reported in the recent surveys.

In November 2010, the Backbench Business Committee selected my application for a debate on the impact of the comprehensive spending review on the Department of Health, the NHS and public health. So many of the issues that have been raised are implanted in my mind, not least the loss of the funding for a new hospital that would have served many of my constituents in the south of Easington. I am concerned about the particular reference that has been made to that and I would be grateful if the Secretary of State or the Minister would deal with that in their closing remarks. A value-for-money assessment was made by both the Department of Health and the Treasury and it was found that the best way to take forward that proposal was with public funding, rather than through the private finance initiative route. The disingenuous position repeated by those on the Government Benches, including the charges laid against the Labour Opposition about our support for PFI, has been compounded. I remind right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Benches that in the case of the new hospital planned for my area we were directed to the PFI route, despite the criticism that has come from the Secretary of State and other Members on the Government Benches.

I am pleased that the motion focuses on the failed personal pledges of both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State. A key promise was made to increase real-terms expenditure on the NHS, but it is another broken promise. It is probably the most fundamental one, as the NHS is such a beloved institution of the whole British public. Before the election, the Conservatives promised to protect the NHS and give it a real-terms budget increase year on year. The coalition document promised a 0.4% real-terms budget increase for the NHS over the spending review period.

I am sure that we all saw the expensive billboards before the election, to which my right hon. Friend Andy Burnham referred. They showed the Prime Minister, then Leader of the Opposition, saying:

“I’ll cut the deficit, not the NHS.”

That was not really about rebranding the NHS; it was more an exercise in conning the British public. Whereas Labour gave a guarantee to protect the front line of the NHS, the Health Secretary, then the shadow Health Secretary, saw a cynical opportunity to give a guarantee on spending. We now know from the Treasury’s own figures that that guarantee was false: it is a promise that has been broken. It was a guarantee that went against all the Tory mantra. We are constantly told by the Conservative party that public service delivery is not about how much we spend but about how we spend it—in fact, we heard that today from the Prime Minister in relation to police numbers. However, the Tory promise was never about protecting the NHS; it was about protecting the Tory brand.

Even the Tories’ biggest backers realise that the promise to increase funding on the NHS was a con. The Secretary of State cited James Purnell a little earlier, so perhaps I might cite Fraser Nelson, who is not a well-known socialist—he writes for The Spectator and is a right-wing commentator. He says:

“It has become clear now that there was a cynical competition to dupe the British public into believing that if they voted Tory at the General Election, the NHS would be safe.”

[…] The NHS is hurting under this Government and these reckless reforms. On the promises for a real-terms increase, we know that health inflation has surged and that the spending power of the NHS is going down, so will the Minister now admit that the NHS is receiving a real-terms cut? This is not just about the NHS being held hostage to inflation. It is facing real financial pressures on the front line—which Labour promised to protect—for a number of reasons including the Government’s decision to push through this latest reorganisation, which is the biggest the NHS has ever faced, at the same time as pushing through £20 billion-worth of efficiency savings. The figure of £1 billion a year is being taken from the NHS’s existing budgets to meet the growing and ever-increasing costs of social care. The Select Committee on Health is now looking into that issue and I hope that we are able to come forward with some positive ideas that the Minister will consider.

(Citation: HC Deb, 26 October 2011, c350)


I have mentioned the transfer of resources from the NHS budget to meet the growing costs of social care. We have also discovered, from evidence that was given to the Select Committee, that there has been an underspend of almost £2 billion—much of it from the capital budget, with some of it, presumably, being saved by cancelling the new hospital that was to serve my area. Meanwhile many NHS trusts are sitting on hundreds of millions of pounds of debt, and figures produced by the Department of Health show that six large NHS trusts in London are predicting year-end deficits of £170 million. The pressures on the system are enormous and will inevitably show through in reductions in services, having an impact on the front line.

The reductions in tariffs for operations and the further pressures in that area will also mean that foundation and NHS acute trusts will bear the brunt of financial pressures within the system. Again, that means that the buck and the spotlight of transparency are being passed away from the Secretary of State to the NHS commissioning board, although he might have to reconsider that after last night’s Lords amendments.

Another area of pressure in the NHS comes from the huge redundancy costs being incurred as a consequence of the premature closure of primary care trusts and strategic health authorities, which is estimated to cost the taxpayer more than £1 billion. The opening up of the NHS entirely to the private sector, and the prospect of the £103 billion NHS budget being taken out of the public sector and placed within the remit of shareholders in private health care companies, is anathema to the majority of the British public. The Minister of State, Department of Health, Mr Burns is cringing, but the majority of the British public are cringing at the thought of this proposal.

(Citation: HC Deb, 26 October 2011, c351)

Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire, Labour): I congratulate my right hon. Friend Andy Burnham on his appointment as shadow Secretary of State for Health, a brief to which he brings valuable experience. We are going to need every bit of that experience, given what the current Secretary of State is doing to bring the NHS to its knees.

I strongly disagree with my colleague on the Health Committee, Chris Skidmore. This is not their NHS. This is not your or my NHS. It belongs to the people, all of us. We all have an incredible stake in the NHS. The Secretary of State and the Government play with it, with their reputation and with patients’ needs at their peril. […] The Government’s policy will fundamentally damage the health service in terms of both the quality of care available to patients and the founding principles of the NHS. The more we debate Government health policy, the less the Secretary of State seems to be listening, whether to Opposition Members, medical professionals, patients, patient groups or constituents.

I might go further and say that I now believe the Secretary of State occupies a parallel universe—a universe where everyone wholeheartedly supports his policy and believes him when he says that there is real-terms growth in NHS spending, a universe where waiting times are not increasing, people are not being refused treatments, bed-blocking is not happening because of pressure on the social care system, a universe where he never discussed the issue of re-banding of nurses with the Royal College of Nursing.

Unfortunately, while the Secretary of State, ably supported by the Prime Minister, is off in that parallel universe, which we shall call delusional, the rest of us are left facing the terrifying reality of what the Government’s policy means to our constituents and to the national health service. We must disregard the rhetoric and the myth-making of the Conservative party as it seeks to demonstrate that it has changed when it comes to the NHS. Sadly for the health service, the Conservatives have not changed at all.

I have spoken repeatedly about the Prime Minister’s clear promises to the British people—one was that there would be no more pointless top-down reorganisation. He even said:

“When your family relies on the NHS all the time—day after day, night after night—you know how precious it is”.

How quickly those words were forgotten. Michael Portillo comments on the BBC’s “This Week” spoke volumes. He could not have made it clearer that the Government meant to misrepresent their position and mislead their voters. He said:

“They did not believe they could win if they told you what they were going to do.”

My fear is that their broken promises are leading us headlong into a broken NHS.

There is much I could say about how disgracefully the Government started to change NHS structures without the consent of the people or the House. Because of those broken promises, a failure to secure a clear mandate for the reforms from the British public, and an abject failure to secure support from the clinicians and the medical profession, we are left in the present mess. I hear time and again that the doctors, the nurses and the professionals are all behind the Government. Where are they? They are shouting loud and clear, “We’re not with you.”

(Citation: HC Deb, 26 October 2011, c354)


My right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh dealt with the finances and the myth of real-terms growth in the NHS budget. My local trust is being asked to go beyond the 4% savings compounded over the next four years and will be expected to achieve 6% or £8.5 million in this financial year. On top of that, Monitor expects trusts to make a 1% profit. People who have given evidence to the Select Committee have said it is clear that there will need to be hospital closures in order to release money back into the wider health service. We are told that this is all part of managing demand and redesigning pathways—two horrible phrases that appear to be back in vogue.

I want to deal quickly with the re-banding of nurses to reduce budgets, which the Health Secretary appears to have little understanding of. I am sorry he is no longer in his place. He clearly told the Health Committee that he was unaware that re-banding was taking place. His problem is that Janet Davies from the Royal College of Nursing told the Committee that, although the RCN does not release conversations, that issue was clearly discussed. I really worry about that. Does he have a twin he is sending into meetings on his behalf? Does he simply not listen? It would not be the first time. Or is the truth even worse, and should he be described in terms that Mr Speaker would call unparliamentary? The Secretary of State said earlier that he stood by his answers to the Committee. He has also claimed that he did not receive a letter from me, but I can confirm that he received it at 11.57 on 13 October, and I have confirmation from his office.

(Citation: HC Deb, 26 October 2011, c355)

John Pugh (Southport, Liberal Democrat): May I take it as read that the NHS will struggle to find the £20 billion savings agreed in the Labour Budget? May I take it as read that that will impact on services and that people will notice and probably blame this Government’s legislation regardless of whether or not it compounds the problem? The debate we have been having on how NHS spending is or is not to be ring-fenced is almost a sideshow, compared with the huge challenge that is consistently emphasised by the Chairman of the Health Committee.

I draw Members’ attention to the fact that serious financial trouble is already breaking out in the acute sector. Seven of the 19 foundation trusts in the north-west have a red light, and that region is one of the more stable ones that we could consider. I cannot see any obvious happy endings, even without the Bill. Without the Bill we would still have competition by price, competition law would still be applicable, PCTs would still be capable of looking for the lowest common denominator and we would still have an unaccountable NHS.

To add to the general misery I am trying to perpetuate, on Saturday I had a severe abscess on my tooth, which was extraordinarily painful and unpleasant. After taking large doses of ibuprofen, which gave me a little relief for an hour, and my face being swollen and peculiar—a little more peculiar than it currently is—I sat up in bed in the middle of the night with my iPad looking up home remedies on the internet—cloves, bicarbonate of soda and so on. I found forums populated by desperate sufferers looking for a fix. What surprised me most were the American contributors, a considerable number of whom were obviously afraid to go to a dentist, despite the fact that the US is a rich country with no shortage of good dentists. They were settling for severe and continuous pain or for hit-and-miss experimentation, rather than risking debt and bankruptcy. Thankfully, I was in the UK and we have the NHS. On Sunday night, almost unbelievably, I was seen at 6.15 by an emergency dentist, a Polish dentist at the former Litherland town hall, which is now a busy Sefton NHS walk-in centre with a pharmacy attached—a service I did not know existed prior to these events.

Thankfully, the NHS is an institution built on solidarity. Through the state, we guarantee by our taxes each other treatment according to need and irrespective of means. It is a moral compact and Governments have been prepared to carry out that compact by ensuring that the services that are needed exist. Historically, they have done this in two ways: first, by buying services on our behalf; and secondly by providing services directly on our behalf. Governments and the people working in the NHS have done this relatively well and relatively efficiently, as the Wanless report and the Commonwealth Fund report have rigorously and exhaustively demonstrated. That is indisputable.

What is strange about recent developments is the Government shying away from their role as a provider of health care. The original debate was over the renouncing of the Secretary of State’s role as a provider, but we can also see the cutting loose of all hospitals as free-standing foundation trusts; the blurring of boundaries between NHS providers and other sorts of providers, with NHS providers doing more private work and the private sector doing more public work; the forcing—genuine forcing in some places—of non-hospital staff working for the NHS to become independent social enterprises; the neutrality of the Department for Health on whether individual NHS providers or provider networks survive, a neutrality that will be severely tested in the months to come; and the willingness to make NHS provision contestable as a matter of principle, rather than one of pragmatism. Not many people have noticed the ending of the Secretary of State’s powers to create a new foundation trust or hospital post-2015. We might have seen the last new NHS hospital opened by a Secretary of State in this country.

I found the Secretary of State’s unwillingness to stick to the wording of the Health Act 2006 slightly bizarre, if only because that would easily have brought peace, and may have brought peace now, depending on what exactly has happened in the House of Lords. In a sense, we all know that the Secretary of State does not, has not and cannot provide all the services himself and should not try to micro-manage. I did not seriously expect him to turn up at Litherland town hall on Sunday—visions of Marathon Man come before me. What concerns me is the ideological presumption that the Secretary of State should only be a purchaser or commissioner. There is a good reason for that concern; it is only possible to purchase in a market what that market offers. Markets are splendid things, offering choice and variety, but they do not have a guarantee that people will get what they are entitled to, and they do not ensure that health inequalities, or any sort of inequality, can be eroded, and they do not guarantee that public resources are spent and used in the most efficient way. They may lead to that, but not necessarily. Direct state provision is often a better option.

(Citation: HC Deb, 26 October 2011, c356)

Stephen Pound (Ealing North, Labour): There are few areas of our work in this House that may be described, honestly and without hysteria, as matters of life and death. The national health service is so utterly central to our existence, our future and the hopes of our country that it is no surprise that the emotions it engenders as are strong as those that have been witnessed on the Floor of the House this afternoon.

I have to tell the Secretary of State that he has a problem. He is a man of great charm, he is widely liked and he is popular, yet he has not sealed the deal on his disintegration, disaggregation and atomisation of the national health service. He has not been able to persuade the Royal College of General Practitioners, which tells us that three quarters of its members oppose it. He has not been able to persuade Professor Malcolm Grant, his own choice to run the commissioning board, who describes the plan as “completely unintelligible”. The Secretary of State wishes to persuade the nation that it is appropriate, at this time of all times, to spend about £3 billion on reorganisation—money that could be far better spent dealing with the dental abscess of John Pugh and all the other problems that face us.

Sarah Newton spoke for many in the House when she prayed for a depoliticisation of this issue. The reality is that the national health service was born amid the gun smoke of political opposition; it was born opposed entirely by one political party in this House and supported by another. Of the supporters, let us give credit—because there once was a time when we could give credit to a decent, humane, sensible, consistent bunch of men and women—to the Liberals of those days and to Beveridge for the work that he did. Above all, let us never forget the transcendent genius of a south Wales miner’s son who left school at the age of 14, Aneurin Bevan, who gave us our national—I emphasise “national”—health service.

(Citation: HC Deb, 26 October 2011, c368)


However, the year before I was born, my parents had a son who died at the age of seven months. The year before that, they had another son who died at the age of eight months. I was born on 5 July 1948, two days after the health service, and I have my five brothers and sisters alive to this day. It is that important.

When I worked as a porter for 10 years at the Middlesex hospital, where my sister and wife were nurses and one of my brothers was an ambulance driver—half the family seemed to be employed there—we realised the consequences of the pragmatic approach to the health service. We had a private patients wing where people like myself, paid by the national health service, did work for people who paid money to a difference source, and where doctors trained under the

NHS got personal recompense. One of the single most important aspects of our lives has been political from day one.

Each of the Health Ministers will remember, as I do, that we have sat in the same House as an hon. Member who lost his seat over a hospital closure. Let us never forget Wyre Forest and Kidderminster hospital. It is almost impossible to be objective about this issue. When the Turnberg report was published, it proposed an entirely sensible reconfiguration of London’s acute general hospitals, but it was opposed by almost everyone because of parochial and local issues. When polyclinics were proposed under the previous Government—one of the most logical, sensible, rational and helpful ways of providing primary health care—they were violently opposed by the Conservative party.

The situation now is that there is no consensus. However, I have not often seen anything quite so consensual, positive and forward-looking as the reference in today’s motion to an offer made by the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Health Secretary of

“cross-party talks on reforming NHS commissioning.”

What could be better for the country, and for the reputation of this House, than our recognising that the NHS is not a political football or an issue on which we can strike postures? Yes, there are ideological differences between us, and Opposition Members may wish to see a greater infusion of finance-led choice, more and more commercialisation and an end to the Whitley system, which has survived for so many years. They may wish to see local pay bargaining setting hospital against hospital, clinic against clinic and clinician against clinician, with a constant stream of industrial disputes as localised pay bargaining bursts out all over the place in some industrial conflagration that attracts even more attention. At the moment we have one of the lowest numbers of hospital managers anywhere in Europe, and we will inevitably have to spend more and more on a greater and greater number of managers to deal with all that localised bargaining.

(Citation: HC Deb, 26 October 2011, c368)


The NHS cannot be disaggregated. It has to be a national health service, not a notional health service, a postcode health service, a better-in-some-parts-than-others health service or a good-for-Kensington-bad-for-Kidderminster health service. It has to be for the nation, and why? Because Beveridge did not just produce a one-point proposal for the NHS. There were actually five evils that he wished to slay. It was an integrated proposal that addressed want, hunger, ambition and other issues.

The NHS is not just an agency to patch people up; it is part of providing a healthy, productive nation and increasing the good and the good life within this country. At so many levels, we have to look beyond the bottom line and beyond, as the hon. Member for Southport said, the bean-counting philosophy. The NHS should not be about the click of the abacus in some cobwebbed recess, or about constantly seeking whether things can be bought cheaper here or commissioned for a lower price there. It should not be about container-loads of cheap goods being shipped in from Shanghai because some GP commissioning group somewhere has discovered it can get a discount on Tubigrip. It should be about the recognition that the health of a nation is utterly crucial, basic and intrinsic to that nation’s hope and future. Without health, we have no future.

(Citation: HC Deb, 26 October 2011, c369)

Liz Kendall (Leicester West, Labour): It is a privilege to close the debate on the Government’s record on the NHS and to follow such excellent contributions from many hon. Members.

My hon. Friends the Members for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) and for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) rightly spoke of the waste of the Government’s NHS reorganisation. The Government have spent £850 million on redundancy payments for primary care trust staff who will be re-employed in commissioning organisations elsewhere. My hon. Friend Rosie Cooper rightly asked the Secretary of State, who is moving from his usual place on the Front Bench, why he was not aware that trusts are re-banding nurses in order to save costs. Labour Members, who talk and listen to front-line staff, know that only too well.

My right hon. Friend Mr Barron and my hon. Friend Debbie Abrahams, whom I was privilege to sit alongside in the Health and Social Care Bill Committee, rightly raised the risks of the Bill widening health inequalities and worsening patient care. My right hon. Friend was right when he said that the Bill will be one of the Government’s biggest mistakes.

The hon. Members for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) and for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) rightly raised the important issue of the need to integrate health and social care and develop more community-based services, although Opposition Members believe that the Government’s NHS reorganisation, and their huge cuts to local council budgets and social care, will make that far harder, not easier, to achieve.

Before the general election, the Prime Minister made three key promises on the NHS. He promised no more top-down reorganisations; he promised patients up and down the country a bare-knuckle fight to save their local hospitals; and in both the Conservative manifesto and the coalition agreement, he promised that he would increase health spending in real terms in each year of the Parliament. Barely 18 months later, he is forcing through the biggest reorganisation in the history of the NHS—the NHS chief executive says that it is so large, it can be seen from outer space. Local NHS services in Bury, Burnley, Hartlepool and Chase Farm are not being saved or reopened as the Prime Minister and Secretary of State pledged, and, according to Treasury figures, spending on the NHS was cut by more than £750 million in real terms in the first year of this Government. That is three promises made and three promises broken by a Prime Minister who claimed that his personal priority was spelt out in three letters: NHS.

(Citation: HC Deb, 26 October 2011, c370)


Doctors, nurses, patients and the public know the truth about this Government’s plans. When the NHS should be focused on meeting the biggest financial challenge of its life and on improving patient care, it has instead been plunged into chaos. At precisely the time that the NHS needs maximum leadership and financial grip, the Government’s reorganisation is creating havoc. First, they said that they would scrap primary care trusts and strategic health authorities, and replace them with GP consortia. Then they changed their mind, merging PCTs and SHAs in supposedly temporary clusters and replacing consortia with clinical commissioning groups and new clinical senates, and now they have changed their mind again: PCT and SHA clusters have apparently been saved as part of the Government’s huge new national quango, the NHS Commissioning Board, which will employ more than 3,000 people.

Professor Malcolm Grant, the Government’s own choice to run the NHS Commissioning Board, last week called the Government’s plans “completely unintelligible”. The very people who are supposed to be running the NHS are confused and wasting time trying to figure out ill-thought-through Government plans. That time and energy should be spent on patients. Far from cutting bureaucracy and saving taxpayers’ money, the Government are creating hundreds of new organisations and wasting more than £2.5 billion in the process, when this money should be spent on front-line patient care.

What has been the result of 18 months of a Conservative and Liberal Democrat Government running our NHS? Thousands of front-line clinical staff are losing their jobs and posts are being frozen, piling pressure on those who remain. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State shakes his head, but this month the Royal College of Nursing has surveyed 6,000 of its staff and made it clear that 20% of the nurses and health care assistants surveyed said that their job is going to be cut, that 40% are seeing recruitment freezes in their trust and that 13% are seeing bed and ward closures in their trust. Who is more likely to be accurate? The nurses and health care assistants working in our NHS, or the Government, who are denying that any of these changes are taking place?

The result is that patient care is going backwards. Far from what Ministers claim about waiting lists being fine, the number of patients waiting longer than four hours in A and E is now double that of last year. Twice as many patients are waiting more than six weeks for their diagnostic test, and six times as many are waiting longer than 13 weeks. Anybody who has waited, or has had a family member who has waited, more than three months even to get their test knows how worrying and frightening it is, yet the Government deny that there is a problem. Furthermore, 48% more patients are now waiting more than 18 weeks for their hospital treatment.

Despite all the evidence, the Government are in denial. They deny that the number of front-line NHS staff and the number of staff training places are being cut, yet a recent survey by the Royal College of Midwives has shown that six out of 10 SHAs have been freezing staff training places because of the cuts. Given that the Government promised 3,000 more midwives, that is a problem, particularly in constituencies such as mine that have increasing birth rates.

(Citation: HC Deb, 26 October 2011, c371)


The Prime Minister says that

“the whole health profession is on board for what is now being done,”

but that is simply not the case. The RCN says that the Bill

“will have a seriously detrimental effect upon the NHS and the delivery of patient care”.

Four hundred of the country’s leading public health experts warn that the Government’s plans will cause “irreparable harm” and fail to deliver

“efficiency, quality, fairness or choice”.

The British Medical Association says that the Bill

“poses an unacceptably high risk to the NHS”.

Government Members now like to criticise the BMA, but before the general election they applauded everything the BMA said. They always want to have it both ways. Three quarters of GPs—the very people this Government claim they want to empower—have said through the Royal College of General Practitioners that the Bill should be withdrawn. [ Interruption. ] The Minister of State, Mr Burns, says from a sedentary position that those groups—the RCN, public health experts, the BMA and the Royal College of General Practitioners—are self-selecting. That is the kind of dismissal of front-line staff that has caused such problems for the Government.

It is not just NHS staff whom the Government refuse to listen to. Organisations such as Age UK and Carers UK say that social care is in financial crisis too. The Government repeatedly claim that they have increased funding for social care, but eight out of 10 local councils are now restricting services to cover only those with substantial or critical needs. Two thirds say that they are closing care homes or day care centres too. The Government’s huge cuts to local council budgets mean that vital services and support for older people, their carers and their families are being eroded. That is not protecting the most vulnerable in our society, nor is it protecting taxpayers’ interests, because if we do not help older people to stay healthy and independent in their own homes, they end up in hospital.

In conclusion, when people think back to what the Prime Minister said before the election and the personal promises he made on the NHS, they now see the truth: a Government who are out of touch with what is really happening; a Government who refuse to listen to front-line staff; a Government in total denial about the true impact of their reckless NHS plans. This Government’s record on the NHS is one of promises cynically made and shamelessly being broken. I commend the motion to the House.

(Citation: HC Deb, 26 October 2011, c372)

Simon Burns (Minister of State (Health), Health; Chelmsford, Conservative): It has been an interesting experience listening to the range of contributions that have been made over the past few hours. Having studied the shadow Secretary of State’s tweets yesterday afternoon heralding today’s debate, one would have expected this to be an action-packed afternoon. One remembers the grand old Duke of York marching his troops up to the top of the hill and then down to the bottom, but the grand old Duke of York had 10,000 men. For most of this debate, apart from the wind-ups, the shadow Secretary of State has barely managed to get more than six Opposition Back Benchers here, which is fewer than the Government have had, so on that point I fear that he has failed.

Let me turn to some of the speeches that I had to listen to. It was a delight to hear Grahame M. Morris again, after a break from the Committee stage of the Health and Social Care Bill. Broken record his speech may have been—it was the same story—but it was worth listening to, even though the accuracy gained nothing in the telling.

My hon. Friend Chris Skidmore made an excellent speech, as did my hon. Friend Dr Poulter, who spoke fluently and knowledgably, on the basis of his intense and intimate experience of working in the NHS and his insights into the challenges we face in social care and improving the integration of care.

Debbie Abrahams made an interesting contribution, although at times I began to think that she might be the only person who believed what she was saying. None the less, it was interesting.

Stephen Pound—as always, a jokester in our midst—put forward a serious message in a jocular way. From my experience of the NHS, both personal and professional, however, I felt that a lot of what he said bore little relation to reality. I can assure him that Government Members share the core principles of the NHS. I was also interested to hear the comments of my hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy. Anyone who represents that part of the country will have a deep understanding of the problems, as well as the successes, of the local health service. He was right in what he said about the future of accident and emergency services and about the critical issue of training.

I am saddened by the fact that the Opposition have once again shown themselves to be more interested in trying to revive their own political fortunes than in improving the outcomes of patients. Once again, they prefer to scaremonger and blindly attack, rather than put forward any policies of their own. They have been a policy-free zone in this debate. Once again, they reveal themselves to be on the back foot when it comes to securing the future of the NHS, as well as wrong-headed.

The Opposition claim that the Government are cutting NHS spending, which is not only nonsense but outrageous. Surprisingly, only last summer, the right hon. Member for Leigh said—this has been quoted before, but I will repeat it—that it would be

“irresponsible to increase NHS spending in real terms”.

Ironically, that is not a view that I share. I fundamental disagree with it, because I believe that we should increase the funding of the NHS in real terms. [ Interruption. ] If the right hon. Gentleman does not want to believe what I say, he can look at the chart produced by the Wales Audit Office, an independent body, which shows, if one cares to read it, real-terms spending increases in each year in the English NHS. Ironically, it also shows such increases in Northern Ireland and Scotland, but if we look at the red parts of the chart, we can see that there are certainly no increases in Labour-controlled Wales.

(Citation: HC Deb, 26 October 2011, c374)


Doctors, nurses and other health care professionals are being empowered to take decisions and to design the innovative, integrated services that will best serve the interests of their patients, with a resolute focus on outcomes. The NHS outcomes framework, and the growing number of National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence quality standards will mean that patients and clinicians will be able to see clearly just how good individual providers—even individual consultant teams—are performing and then demand the treatment that they deserve.

In the short time since this Government have been elected, care for patients has improved significantly in many areas. For example, MRSA down; C. difficile, down; mixed-sex accommodation, massively down; more doctors, fewer managers; more patients with an NHS dentist; more cancer screening; the cancer drugs fund; the new 111 urgent care service; more money; less bureaucracy; and a far brighter future for the national health service. The motion before us is devoid of reality and it was backed up by a number of speeches that were divorced from the real world. Its claims are false, its premises unsound. For those reasons, I urge the House to reject it.

(Citation: HC Deb, 26 October 2011, c377)

Article Index


Anti-War Movement

The Real Scandal of Dr Fox

Jim Brann, Secretary London CND, PeaceLine Oct/Nov 2011

On October 15, Defence Secretary Liam Fox resigned. He was found to have “breached the ministerial code”. But Prime Minister David Cameron said he had been an “excellent” Defence Secretary.

Fox was in charge of the fourth biggest military budget in the world, a nuclear arsenal and two wars.

For years the Western powers, without evidence, have claimed that Iran is “three to five years away” from getting nuclear weapons. But in February Liam Fox changed that, telling the House of Commons that the West should assume that Iran will have nuclear weapons by next year and “act accordingly”. He dramatically upped the stakes, bringing another war closer.

Last month it was announced that Iran’s first nuclear power station, at Bushehr, had started producing useful amounts of electricity – 30 years late.

Under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the five states with nuclear weapons, including Britain and the US, were to get rid of them. All other states were to agree not to acquire them and were to accept International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections of their nuclear facilities to show that these were not being used for making nuclear weapons. In return, the non-nuclear weapons states were to receive full assistance with their nuclear programmes.

Iran signed its Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA in 1974. At the time it was ruled by the Shah following his installation in a US and British-organised coup in 1953. The United States fully backed his plan to build 23 nuclear power stations by the year 2000. The first of these was to be at Bushehr. Construction began in 1975.

In 1979, the Shah was overthrown in a popular uprising. The US withdrew all support for Iran’s nuclear programme and set about sabotaging the many agreements that Iran made with other countries over the years to continue it.

For 30 years Iran’s political and religious leaders have said that its nuclear programme is peaceful and have denounced nuclear weapons as “un-Islamic”.

In 2002, President Bush named Iran alongside Iraq as part of his “axis of evil”, targeting it for “regime change”.

Following the Iraq War the US and its allies turned on Iran, saying that its nuclear enrichment programme was unacceptable. Iran signed up to measures going well beyond its treaty obligations to reassure its critics. But the demands that it give up its treaty rights to enrichment continued.

The IAEA has continuously reaffirmed that Iranian nuclear facilities declared under the 1974 agreement have not been used for military purposes.

The Obama administration has followed the Bush administration in saying that “no option is off the table” with regard to Iran – including war.

The Iranian government describes the UN Security Council resolutions concerning its nuclear programme as “unlawful, unnecessary and unjustifiable”. Likewise, it points out that the IAEA is being made to act outside the powers in its Statute.

The last Director-General of the IAEA said that the Western powers “weren’t interested in a compromise with the government in Tehran, but [in] regime change – by any means necessary”. He was replaced with a man who was described as being “solidly in the US court”.

Recently, four Iranian scientists have been assassinated and Iran has faced cyber-warfare attacks.

On October 11, the United States Attorney General announced that the US government’s “Operation Red Coalition” had uncovered “a deadly plot directed by factions of the Iranian government to assassinate a foreign ambassador on US soil with explosives”. He called it a $1.5m “murder-for-hire” plan.

The FBI Director said the case “reads like the pages of a Hollywood script”. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said “the idea that they would attempt to go to a Mexican drug cartel to solicit murder-for-hire to kill the Saudi ambassador, nobody could make that up, right?” But many people thought that the US authorities certainly did make it up.

The plot was code-named “Chevrolet”. Its lynchpin was an Iranian-American resident of Texas who had tried and failed at selling second-hand cars and at other businesses, leaving a trail of lawsuits and angry creditors behind. He was described as a “pot smoking, heavy drinker” who was “perennially dishevelled and hopelessly disorganised”; “was always losing anything that wasn’t tied down”; was “almost comically absent-minded” and had a history of arrests and a conviction for cheque fraud.

He had supposedly gone back to Iran, been recruited into the plot and returned to Texas where he thought that the nephew of a female friend was a member of Los Zetas, or “Drug Cartel #1”. But the nephew was actually an informant for the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

The Iranians were accused of planning to pay a Mexican drug cartel to blow up the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States in his favourite restaurant and of seeking to bomb the Saudi and Israeli embassies in the US and Argentina.

Although no proof of any kind had been presented, top US officials moved to declare immediately that Iran was guilty and must be “dealt with”.

President Obama said the plot was “a flagrant violation of US and international law” and “we don’t take any options off the table” in responding to it. The goal was “making sure that they pay a price”.

The Vide President insisted it was “critically important” to convince the rest of the world of the importance of “dealing with the Iranians”.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the plot was a “dangerous escalation” by Iran which “crosses a line that Iran needs to be held to account for”. She said she and the President want to “enlist more countries in working together against what is becoming a clearer and clearer threat” from Iran.

The administration insisted that there was “no dispute” that Iran was involved and vowed to “unite the world” against it.

The US government launched “an aggressive US diplomatic strategy to confront Iran, sending teams to brief allies and demanding more sanctions”. It sought UN Security Council support “with Britain and France already strongly on board”.

The Iranian government denied the allegations, calling them part of an “evil plot”. It accused the US of “warmongering” and of running “a comedy show”. A spokesman said that “history has shown the US government and the CIA have a lot of experience in fabricating these scenarios”. He said the target of the “plot” was the American public.

One commentator pointed out that discussing the “plot” openly over the phone, sending very large, easily traced sums of money to an FBI-controlled bank account and hiring a notoriously volatile Mexican drug mafia made the plot hard to credit. Another described it as “puerile, easy to discover and unlikely to succeed”.

It sounded by similar to the claims made before the Iraq War in 2003.

But far from ridiculing the “plot”, British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the House of Commons that it “would appear to constitute a major escalation in Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism outside its borders” and that the British government would “work to agree an international response, along with the US, the rest of the EU and Saudi Arabia”.

The real scandal of Liam Fox is the scandal of this and previous British governments – the willingness to say anything without evidence in pursuit of an unjust, aggressive, nuclear-tipped foreign policy in violation of treaties under the wing of the Untied States.

Article Index



Reactionary and Anachronistic
Character of British Commonwealth

The recently held Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Australia has once again demonstrated the reactionary and anachronistic character of the so-called Commonwealth, the membership of which is mainly comprised of Britain and its former dominions and colonies. It is immediately evident that whatever common wealth is produced by the two billion inhabitants of the member states of this organisation, it is privately controlled by a mere handful of financiers and other big capitalists. Indeed the organisation is an important means by which the rich in Britain maintain their neo-colonial grip over some of the poorest countries in the world, a mechanism to ensure intervention in the affairs of nominally sovereign countries, and a means to promote the values of neo-liberal globalisation throughout the world.

It is noteworthy that at the recent CHOGM, Foreign Secretary William Hague emerged as one of the most vociferous advocates of “human rights". The proposed reforms to the Commonwealth are designed not to turn it into a “Commonwealth of the people” as is being suggested but rather a more robust mechanism for intervention and interference throughout the world. Without any sense of irony, much less consideration of recent events in Libya and the global economic crisis, Hague arrogantly declared: “We are the embodiment of the ideal that democracy allows countries to develop in their own way and that it provides the essential foundations for sound economic development.” Hague’s advocacy of more promotion of the rights of “LGBT citizens” was later put into context by the Commonwealth Secretary-General who claimed that the denial of rights for certain citizens stemmed from the colonial nature of the constitutions that still exist in many Commonwealth countries.

The British government is intent on promoting its Eurocentric values, the rule of law, representative democracy, and so-called human rights, as a means of “making Britain great again”, intervening globally and re-dividing the world in the interest of the big financial institutions and monopolies. It is intent on justifying its intervention abroad, which is also undertaken to head off the growing struggles of the people for their liberation. Such concerns determine its support for the Commonwealth and its stance towards the so-called Arab spring, which in both Africa and Asia has aimed to rid the region of the economic and political systems favourable to Britain and the other big powers, to establish an alternative to neo-liberal globalisation, and to allow the majority to empower themselves and build people-centred rather than capital-centred societies.

Prior to his appearance in Australia the Foreign Secretary embarked on a short tour of three North Africans countries, Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania, while Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, was despatched to Egypt. The government has been stepping up its activities throughout this region following the major uprisings that have taken place and in line with its strategic and economic interests. Nick Clegg was quick to point out that British finance capital is a major economic force in Egypt, responsible for 70% of inward investment, and that therefore the government is determined that “Egypt’s revolution” should manifest itself in what he referred to as “fair and plural politics”. By this he means, to proceed along a path which is in the interests of the big financiers rather than the empowerment of the masses of the Egyptian people. To facilitate this process the government is continuing to interfere both in the Egyptian economy and in the country’s electoral system.

The Foreign Secretary’s visit to North Africa was openly presented as part of efforts to “increase British engagement and economic ties in this crucial region”, which has strategic as well as economic importance. Algeria is one of the major oil and gas exporters to Europe, for example, while Morocco is a major ally of NATO and has been bidding to join the EU. However, it is also clear that the government is attempting to interfere in the political process in these countries too and through its Arab Partnership Initiative, launched earlier this year, strengthen states that are allies and potential launching pads for further intervention throughout Africa. There is also clearly the need to shore up the NATO-backed government in Libya, and in Mauritania, a new African oil and producer which has never before been visited by a British Foreign Secretary, to consolidate both economic and political relations based on the values of neo-liberal globalisation.

The government efforts to “make Britain great again”, to demand that all accept monopoly right and foist the values of neo-liberal globalisation on the world through direct military, economic and political intervention, as well as by other means such as through the anachronistic Commonwealth, must be condemned. The government is set upon a warmongering course that can only contribute to the growing contention between the big powers, to increasing instability in the world. It is against the interests of the people of Britain and other countries and must be opposed.

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International News:

The Defiance of the People of Greece against the European Powers and the Institutional Loan Sharks

Resistance of the Greek People to the Austerity Plan
Resistance of the Greek People to the Austerity Plan

On October 26, Eurozone leaders reached an agreement in their most recent attempt to find a capital-centred “solution” to the economic problems of the EU, a search which has been plagued by dilemmas and contradictions. In the event, a new €100bn loan to Greece and a 50% write-off of its debt were agreed, in combination with another round of severe cutbacks and anti-worker legalisation. However, developments continue unfold that suggest this latest plan will be beset by further crisis and met with fierce opposition.

Central to the resolution of this crisis will be the organisation and resistance of the Greek working class and people. The participation of the people of Greece in resolving the crisis and refusing to accept the anti-social offensive is so hated by the ruling elites of Germany and France and the whole financial oligarchy that they would not even allow the Greek government to hold a referendum on the terms of the EU dictate to be imposed at the behest of the IMF, the European Central Bank and the EU Commission. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was even darkly hinting of the possibility of an inter-European war if Greece defaulted or left the Eurozone and the European Union fragmented. She had previously outlined the EU dictate in a speech to the Bundestag, postulating a "stability union," which "rigorously supervises" a "deeper economic integration," and imposes "discipline" through debt brakes and balanced budgets, along with draconian punishments.

Part of the debate taking place around the Greek situation was whether the private sector, mainly large banks and other financial institutions, should take a larger “haircut” on its investments than the 21% agreed earlier this year. The country has been increasingly swept by strikes and other actions as the working class and ever wider sections of the population have gone into motion, with the result that observers doubt that the government will continue to be able to impose further austerity measures indefinitely, and consequently that the haircut taken by the financiers has been forced to increase to 50%.

The whole of Greek society is asserting that the claims of these vulture creditors are not sacrosanct. For example, one worker picketing the finance ministry for which he has worked for more than 30 years, "In essence, we are at war. We have a lawless government and it's a given that we are forced to take actions such as this." The famous Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis made several TV appearances, with an urgent appeal to the people of Europe for resistance, according to one report. If the Greeks submit to the demands of their "European partners", he said, this means the end of Greece as a nation and a people. "Our struggle is not only a struggle of Greece...." Do not believe that the money will go to help Greece; the bailout "will only help the foreign banks and the politicians and governments that are in their pay.... We are not asking you to support our struggle in solidarity because our country was the cradle of Plato and Aristotle, Pericles and Protagoras.... We ask you to do it in your own interest. If you allow the sacrifice of Greek, Irish, Portuguese, and Spanish society on the altar of debt and to the banks, you will soon be next."

In place of solving the crisis through modern nation building projects that do not pay the rich, what the key figures in the European establishment are formulating is a super-state-building project with the express aim of ensuring the rich keep getting paid, and that the burden of the crisis is further shifted onto the backs of the working class and people. This dictatorship of the financial oligarchy cannot be accepted. Workers’ Weekly salutes the Greek people's steadfast rejection of these anti-social measures, whose purpose is not to assist the nation and the people but serve the interests of the international financial elite. It is through their own resistance and refusal to accept the wrecking of the economy that the Greek workers and people will create the possibility to resolve the crisis in their favour.

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