19 Aug 2014

The 'tragedy of the NHS'

THE NHS is being dismantled before our eyes. Since the 1990s it has been forced to mimic the market with competition between NHS providers.  
This has created a less efficient and more chaotic system of health provision. 
The last Labour government introduced private finance inititives, where private companies built hospitals but saddled the NHS with appalling debt in return. 
The Con-Dem government has massively accelerated the process of NHS destruction. 
Services are increasingly being auctioned off to private healthcare companies. Think tanks are floating the idea of charging for more and more NHS services.  
So when it is owned by private companies and we find ourselves charged for services, can we even call it a National Health Service?  
The process of destruction is aided by the media, political parties and academics. Most commentators suggest that if the Conservatives are re-elected in 2015 the NHS will totally disappear. However, even if they lose, the NHS looks far from secure.
Politicians increasingly accept a neoliberal approach which, they argue, means that only the market works. State intervention always, so the consensus goes, fails. 
What we have is a kind of “tragedy of the NHS.” I don’t mean the situation is “tragic” simply in the sense of bad. The planned extinction of the NHS will make the most vulnerable pay for expensive healthcare and increase inequality and human misery, while reducing life expectancy.  
I mean “tragic” in the original use of the word that can be traced back to ancient Greek tragedies — something that is inevitable (or at least seems so).  
I fear that in the future, in the same way we are familiar with the term “tragedy of the commons” the phrase “tragedy of the NHS” will also become common currency.
It will be said, in the future, perhaps, that in 1945 the great reforming socialist government of Labour’s Clement Attlee established a brave experiment to promote equality and social justice. 
Yet this great experiment, while well-intentioned, did not work. Free healthcare was abused, people took more and more from the system, which became progressively more expensive. Planning made it inefficient and without market-based incentives performance dropped.  
Increasing demand for healthcare, rising costs and chaos meant that by 2015 the NHS had to be shut down.  
The brave attempt to provide free healthcare for all was tragically doomed, it will be claimed. 
In fact “the tragedy of the NHS” is just like “the tragedy of the commons.”  
In 1968, the biologist Garrett Hardin argued in an article in the journal Science that common land was bound to be over exploited.  
If no single individual owned a resource, say a forest or pasture land, no-one had an incentive to conserve it. There was a “free rider” problem, as laid down in free-market economic theory, that if one person fished less or took their cattle off the common to preserve it, others would just fish more or put their livestock on to graze more intensively.  
The commons was “tragic,” ie doomed. Sharing, in Hardin’s eyes, always leads to disaster.
As in many free-market logics, a mathematical axiom is connected to a metaphor, to show that anything other than private property and self-interest will lead to disaster. Good intentions always lead, tragically, to the worst outcome for all.
However, when we look at the “tragedy of the commons” we find a quite different tale of woe. Professor Elinor Ostrom, the first woman to win a prize in economics, won it for showing that the commons, far from being “tragic,” quite often worked well.  
She did research into hundreds of commons, forests, fisheries and pastures all around the world.  
She found that sometimes they did get degraded and fall apart but often local people got together, agreed rules to conserve them and found ways of enforcing them.  
Some of the commons she looked at, for example, the Torbel commons in Switzerland, had worked well for over 1,000 years.  
I am a bit of an Ostrom obsessive, so I will avoid going into detail about her interesting work, but you can easily find out more about her by looking on the net.
Historians like the great EP Thompson also found that far from the commons failing, they often thrived.  
In Britain, commons allowed users to raise animals, gather firewood and collect food, a kind of primitive welfare system. The commons were often taken from the people by force, using violence or the law, or a combination of both.  
Karl Marx wrote extensively about the enclosure of the commons, and he was perhaps at his most passionate and exact in chapter 27 of Das Kapital Volume One, which I would highly recommend reading.
The “tragedy of the NHS” is about the fact that we actually have a really good model of healthcare, which has served us well but is being dismembered because of ideology and greed. 
The vultures are circling and coming down to feed on our collective assets, absorbing resources from a government committed to the rich and powerful. The media is silent about the enclosure and destruction of our health commons, the NHS, but every day reports on its real or imagined failings.
We all have to fight in solidarity to defend the NHS, working with trade unions and those few MPs, like Caroline Lucas and John McDonnell, who are really committed to a publicly owned socialist healthcare system.  
We also need to be aware of how ideas like “the tragedy of the commons” are used by the rich and powerful to seize resources.  
Free-market economists like Friedrich von Hayek argued that a planned socialist society was impossible — without the market chaos would reign.  
The very existence of “socialised” medicine appals them. After all, if we can do free healthcare, why not free public transport or free housing? If the NHS works, why not banish the market from other areas of society?  
Yes, the NHS has failings and yes there are problems with public planning, but remember, far from being doomed to fail, the NHS can be made to work for all of us.  
We should, like Ostrom might suggest — and indeed, she has researched health commons — take a hard-nosed look at what works and what doesn’t work in the NHS.  However we need to note that critics of the NHS come not to heal it, but to kill it, because health for all, free to those in need, offends their ideological point of view.
Derek Wall is international co-ordinator for the Green Party of England and Wales.

18 Aug 2014

Global Greens 'Write to us about your climate actions and we’ll make sure Greens everywhere see your work'

Dear Global Greens,
Today’s a big day. Today is the day that the Global Greens are launching our first campaign - and we want to hear from you!
Global warming affects everyone. From government and the grassroots, Green parties everywhere are leading the campaign for urgent solutions to climate change.
So many of us have had big successes and learned big lessons - so it’s time to bring together all of our hard work, and make it even bigger.
That’s why the two of us - Keli from Taiwan and Josh from Australia - are here to help you and your Green Party show your action on climate change to a global audience.
Are you taking action on climate change? Protesting to stop dangerous coal, gas or nuclear projects? Planning a community solar project? Pushing for political change?
We want to hear about it. Write to us about your climate actions and we’ll make sure Greens everywhere see your work: ggclimatecampaign@gmail.com
Send us photos, videos, stories - the lot! And please write to us in your language - we will be conducting the campaign in many languages, not just English.
That’s the first part of this campaign: sharing your actions with Greens around the world, so we can inspire each other. Next, we’ll act together at big climate events this year.
The Green movement will be central at the worldwide People’s Mobilisation in September, the G20 meeting in November and the UN Climate Conference in Lima in December - just for starters. And we’ll be helping you be heard at these global events.
To get started, write to us today with your climate plans, and let us know what you want from the Global Greens’ climate campaign: ggclimatecampaign@gmail.com
This campaign is your campaign. Tell us how we can help you!
Green wishes,
Keli Yen & Josh Wyndham-Kidd, Global Greens Climate Organisers
P.S. If you have any questions at all about the campaign, please get in touch. We’re always here to answer them. You can write to us at ggclimatecampaign@gmail.com.

17 Aug 2014

Cameron's love affair with Islamic fundamentalism (arms sales and oil more important than human rights)

Nearly 30 million people now live in a fundamentalist Islamic state in the Middle East. All churches and other non-Muslim places of worship are banned.  
The death penalty extends to adultery, homosexuality, sorcery, attempts to convert to religions other than Islam and a range of other offenses.  
Consumption of alcohol is punished by flogging. Atheists are defined simply as terrorists and dare not proclaim their truth. There is an absolute ruler and democracy is frowned upon. Women must be veiled and it is illegal for them to drive.  
Dissent is severely punished. The regime spends billions every year promoting its brand of Islam.  
You might think all of this would worry David Cameron and Nick Clegg, but far from attracting protest or even calls for “intervention,” this state, Saudi Arabia, is one of Britain’s closest allies, targeted for trade deals and supplied with the very best British weapons.
The relationship between Saudi Arabia and Britain, which has been maintained by successive governments, is perhaps the most ignored and murky element of British foreign policy.  
During the recent Birmingham “Trojan Horse” affair, where Michael Gove claimed that Islamic fundamentalists were targeting schools, I was struck by the absurdity of this.  
Local parents rejected Gove’s contention and argued fiercely that he was using Islam as an excuse to foist his own views on unwilling West Midlanders.  
Islam, like most other religions, has elements that are fundamentalist and regressive and others that celebrate diversity and peace.  
Michael Gove doesn’t seem very concerned about Christian fundamentalists who establish schools in Britain — in fact he seems quite relaxed about it.  
However, could we imagine, for example, the British government condemning the Westboro Baptist Church, which disrupts funerals on a regular basis, for trying to take over a school in Guildford?  
It also struck me as strange to read BBC reports saying that Saudi Arabia was hemmed in by Islamic fundamentalists in Yemen and by Isis in Syria and Iraq. While the brutality of Isis greatly exceeds that of Saudi Arabia, their religious outlook is based on similar assumptions of conservative Sunni sectarianism.  
The absurdities of government policy from Blair to Cameron and beyond are stark, obvious and almost totally ignored.  
Islamic fundamentalism is criticised but a powerful fundamentalist state that nurtures the most repressive of doctrines is supported by British governments.
In 2012, according to the BBC, David Cameron travelled to Riyadh to “establish a personal relationship between the PM and the Saudi king.” 
Cameron ignored the brutal suppression by Saudi authorities of Arab Spring protests in the country and also in neighbouring Bahrain, and used the visit to promote arms sales.  
When challenged on establishing a personal relationship with a despotic ruler in a country where adultery and homosexuality are defined as capital crimes, he replied: “People who think we shouldn’t be friends with — or our Prime Minister shouldn’t be visiting — a country that is such an important ally and such an important force in the world would be advocating a head-in-the-sand policy, and that is not in our national interest.”
Muslims in Britain can be subject to all sorts of scolding and thinly masked racism meted out by British politicians, while the same politicians cosy up with the House of Saud, simply because we don’t have enough oil and the Saudis pay billions for our weapons.  
We know that 90 per cent of media articles portray Islam in a negative light, yet globally and historically Islam has promoted peace, science and co-existence.  
When medieval Europe was dominated by superstition and hatred, Muslim Spain was an oasis of scientific learning, protection of different faiths and cultural flourishing.  
The majority of the world’s Muslims reject the narrow and regressive Saudi interpretation of their religion.  
However, fundamentalism advances because money pours out of Saudi Arabia to promote the most reactionary of creeds. The real Trojan horse buys its timber from Britain and its way is smoothed by our political establishment.
Challenges to Britain’s relationship have been thwarted time after time. In 2006 BAE Systems negotiated the sale of Eurofighter Typhoons to Saudi Arabia in the so-called Al-Yamamah deal which was worth billions of pounds and allegedly involved large-scale bribery.  
Taken to court in the US, BAE organised a plea bargain but was fined $400 million.  
In Britain, investigations into corruption were halted after the intervention of then prime minister Tony Blair. Blair noted: “Any proposal that the investigation be resolved by parties pleading guilty to certain charges would be unlikely to reduce the offence caused to the Saudi royal family, even if the deal were accepted, and the process would still drag out for a considerable period.”
The negative influence of Saudi Arabia on neighbouring countries in the Middle East would require another article as would the violence meted out to migrant workers. 
There are a number of conclusions and points for action.  
Of course, in an economy dependent on the consumption of oil and the production of weapons, all governments will tend to ignore the despotic nature of Saudi Arabia, so we need to promote renewables and diversify.  
Workers should not pay for the crimes of politicians but it’s possible to convert arms production to useful manufacturing. 
We need to celebrate and give solidarity to the heroic individuals who campaign for human rights in Saudi Arabia, such as the women who protest by driving and those imprisoned for calling for national elections.
We need to inform ourselves about the nature of the repression in Saudi Arabia, Cameron’s quest for a “personal relationship” with King Abdullah and the murky interface between the country and powerful British business interests.  
Above all, whenever Gove or other Cabinet members challenge Muslims, we should challenge them on their government’s support for a state that promotes so much repression and sectarianism in the name of Islam. 

Derek Wall is international co-ordinator of the Green Party