Response to request to support 38 Degrees’ [English] NHS petition

Below is my response to an email I received yesterday from a friend asking me to support the 38 Degrees petition calling for the House of Lords to demand more scrutiny of the [English] NHS and Social Care Bill, which they’ll be voting on later today. The email was one of those automatically generated support emails that sends a standard, pre-formatted text to multiple recipients, and read as follows:

“It’s the last chance to kill this terrible Bill and protect our beloved NHS from vested and private interests – please sign the petition it takes less than a minute.

“These changes weren’t in any manifestos and the public has never had a chance to vote on them.

“These changes weren’t given proper scrutiny in the House of Commons so we need the House of Lords to look at them properly – more info below.

“Please pass this on as it is SO important.  The petition has to be signed before Wednesday’s debate in the House of Lords.”

I’m afraid the phrase ‘our beloved NHS’ – as opposed to ‘English NHS’ – was like a red rag to a bull, so I rattled off the following riposte:

I have to say I have a problem with this petition, which relates to the way it is worded and, in general, the way 38 Degrees and other campaigns like it (such as UK Uncut) refer to the NHS. It’s not ‘the NHS’ (i.e. the British NHS) that’s affected by the Bill but only the NHS in England. (Did you know that?) That’s because health is a devolved matter, so the UK government’s competency on health issues is limited to England.

Why aren’t 38 Degrees and UK Uncut honest about this, and why don’t they mention ‘England’ anywhere on their campaign pages, instead just referring to ‘our NHS’, ‘the NHS’, ‘the country’ and ‘the UK’, when only England’s affected?

One answer is it’s tactical: they want people from across the UK to sign the petition, and Lords who live outside England (and who previously may have represented non-English constituencies) to support the blocking measures; and they don’t care about the issues of legitimacy involved. It’s a bit like the West Lothian Question (which, if you’re not familiar with it, is the fact that non-English MPs can vote on matters that don’t affect their constituents but do affect England, because those policy areas have been devolved). And in fact, the only time I can see that 38 Degrees mentioned the fact that the Bill relates to England only was when urging its supporters to write to their MPs – including those from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – to vote it down: West Lothian voting – voting down an England-only measure for which they are not accountable to English voters.

The second reason why they don’t mention England, as far as I can see, is political and strategic. The NHS symbolises and embodies their vision of what ‘Britain’ is and should be at its best. But that Britain is no more, and the NHS in fact exemplifies that fact: it’s already run along different lines in each of the UK’s four nations, and in England, it’s already been transformed along market principles by the last Labour government via measures such as Foundation Hospitals that were voted in only with the support of Labour’s non-English MPs (which demonstrates that the West Lothian Question is far from academic). If this Bill goes through, it will mean not so much the ‘end of our NHS’ but the end of the idea of a single British NHS, because the English NHS will be organised along market lines even more fundamentally than it already is, while the NHS’s (plural) in the other UK countries remain truer to the British NHS’s founding principles.

I am actually opposed to most of the measures contained in the Bill, and I think it will / would lead to the break-up of an integrated, publicly owned / controlled national health service in England, and to inefficiencies and inequalities in health-care provision. But I can’t endorse the petition because of its dishonesty about England, and because it’s part of a whole left-wing / progressive and unionist agenda that I don’t support. I in fact want an English parliament and government, which is by far and away the best means to guarantee an English health service that’s accountable to English voters. If the Bill goes through, it could be a good thing to the extent that it will show English voters that the British establishment doesn’t give a **** about England or English democracy, and that they’re interested only in pursuing their own ideological agenda, and their business and financial interests (private health-care and health-insurance firms being among the Tories’ largest donors).

It might seem petty not to support the petition just because the 38 Degrees campaign suppresses references to the Bill’s and the NHS’s England-only character. But that’s part of a much bigger agenda to suppress any idea of English nationhood and any possibility of an English polity, which both the British establishment and progressives find completely abhorrent for their different reasons, mostly self-serving and prejudiced.

I think my reply rather took her aback, but we amicably agreed to disagree.

Am I being petty to refuse to sign the petition? After all, I am opposed to the Bill; so shouldn’t I set my scruples aside and sign it, to add pressure to the Lords to vote for further scrutiny? I have to say I’m impressed by the speed with which 38 Degrees have managed to exceed their yesterday’s target of 100,000 signatures. As I write, early on Wednesday morning, the total stands at over 115,000, whereas late-morning yesterday, it was only around 38,000.

But it just sticks in the gut that 38 Degrees, like UK Uncut, steadfastly refuses to refer openly to ‘England’ in such an England-specific matter, and I can’t just condone that by signing the petition. For 38 Degrees, UK Uncut and other ‘progressive’ groups, ‘the NHS’ (the British one) does symbolise and embody the Britain of their dreams; and it is the case that the end of the state monopoly on health-care provision in England represents more a potentially fatal assault on that ideal image of Britain than the destruction of ‘the NHS’ as such. There’ll be a radical and clear difference between the English NHS and the old British-style NHS’s in the UK’s other nations; so it won’t be as easy to gloss over the differences in the way England is treated – politically and medically – from the rest of the UK.

In fact, one could even say that what the progressive opponents of the NHS Bill want to prevent from arising is an English NHS, distinct and different from the old NHS. And beyond that, it’s the emergence of an England distinct from Britain that they’re resisting. No wonder they can’t and won’t refer to it as the ‘English NHS’ because that’s precisely what they’re fighting against.

So if there’s one good thing that could come out of the Bill it’s that they won’t be able so easily to deny that England, and her NHS, is different from a now defunct Britain.

English parliament

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5 Responses

  1. Excellent stuff… any chance I can cross post this on the CEP blog. Full credit and links back of course.

  2. 38 Degrees have got form on this. Remember the forests petition? They seem to have a problem with mentioning the ‘E’ word in their petitions and for that reason they won’t get my signature.

  3. Frankly the left-wing idiots hate the prospect of a ‘real’ England as much as the Lib/Lab/Con numpties.
    I won’t sign it.

  4. I agree with your decision to abstain from this petition. It’s the “E-word-suppressing Brits” like UK Uncut and 38 degrees who are keeping us down, thus inadvertently (deliberately) colluding with the government they claim to oppose.

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