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Nurses will decide who wins the general election

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NT politics blogger, Chris Hart, explains how nurses could use their votes to bring about a coalition government and how this could influence the future of healthcare

I’m not a great fan of the 6Cs. It was obviously a well intentioned concept that, if creative and clever, always struck me as a little bit compliant, corny, cautious, concrete, challenged and clichéd.

And we mustn’t forget they were a response to one of the biggest scapegoating exercises in modern times, in the aftermath of the Francis Report, when nursing was given – and accepted – the vast majority of blame for the scandal of Mid Staffs, created by politicians, overseen by managers and to which senior medical staff were as complicit as any nurse.

But if the impending general election reflected nursing values and the principles that drive us - and there’s no reason it should not - then a lot of current Tory MPs would soon be finding out the hard way about the impact austerity has had on the unemployed. Or, more likely, taking up very highly paid jobs in the City.

Rather than puking up as yet another Tory minister witters on about the need for ‘stable and strong government’, imagine one of them talking about the need for compassionate, caring government directed towards the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. Imagine that being followed by demonstrations of courage and competence in taking action against those who avoid tax and corrupt our political process, and a genuine commitment to the people who voted them into power, all communicated honestly.

“Jeremy Corbyn should have led his party in opposing this unnecessary election”

I know. I should keep taking my medication.

Anyone who has read my earlier blogs will know I’m no fan of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership or strategy. Indeed, he should have led his party in opposing this unnecessary election. The fixed term parliament act was designed specifically to stop incumbent prime ministers doing what Ms May has done, calling an early election simply because the circumstances provide the opportunity to be re-elected regardless of the impact on the country.

This election is no more in the national interest than reintroducing child labour to reduce class sizes. Some Conservatives have been honest and admitted it’s because the prime minister sees the chance not just to defeat, to crush, the Labour Party and build a majority large enough to guarantee Tory rule for, perhaps, another two decades.

Theresa May claims she needs a bigger majority because, as she prepares to battle the EU over Brexit, she faces opposition within the House of Commons, the Lords and even her own party. She demands we vote for her - not her government - to give her more power, even as she ramps up the temperature in the earliest stage of the Brexit negotiations, whipping up hysteria against her enemies without and within.

This not only hints at a disturbing and unhealthy authoritarianism. It highlights a complete lack of understanding in civics. The duty of opposition parties is to oppose. The Lords, even if you find their unelected status repugnant, are there as a check on the power of the executive, as are backbench MPs. However, Ms May requires absolute loyalty and the power to ruthlessly crush any dissent.

“What we currently have is a prime minister carrying on an austerity programme for ideological reasons”

So what we currently have is a prime minister carrying on an austerity programme for ideological reasons that has brought our public services - including the NHS - to their knees and who has been drawn into trying to outdo Nigel Farage in order to win over UKIP voters in Labour seats and keep the Brexit fanatics in her party happy.

Don’t get me wrong. Like everyone else, I expect politicians and political parties to take advantage of circumstances that give them a leg up in the dirty business in which they operate. But then let’s not fall for her presenting herself as Saint Theresa, leading us to a European free Promised Land.

And the prime minister has another, even more pressing problem. Without this election, she might lose her parliamentary majority because of the expenses scandal from the 2015 election. A police investigation has resulted in the names of 30 senior Tories – including MPs - being put before the Crown Prosecution Service. Were they convicted of breaking the law and forced out of parliament, she and her party could find themselves out of government.

Ms May is simply acting out of self interest and the interests of those who support her. But these are not the interests of nurses and the largest number of people in this country.

“Neither Theresa May nor Jeremy Hunt will ever understand why some nurses are forced to use food banks to survive”

Neither she nor Jeremy Hunt will ever understand why some nurses are forced to use food banks to survive. They have no concept of what it’s like to see yourself falling further and further behind as your income fails to keep pace with inflation, as house prices move inexorably out of reach, as staffing shortages and increasing demands upon your time, skills, knowledge, experience and emotions leave you drained, frustrated and hopeless.

They will never acknowledge, or genuinely care about, the impact of reducing healthcare spending, removing student bursaries, or holding down nurses’ pay. They will deny the truth about the pain and suffering cutting benefits has on huge numbers of people.

Instead, like a malign teenager who has murdered his parents but pleads for help as he’s now an orphan, the Conservative Party asks you to vote for them one more time.[1] They are not ‘evil’ or even horrible people but what they do is cruel, calculating, contemptuous, corrupted, chauvinistic and callous.

Labour has a huge, uphill struggle, partly due to Corbyn’s poor leadership, but also because of the credibility lost after two years of internecine warfare. It’s battling to get its message out, particularly in the face of a Tory biased media, a party in government with twice the campaign budget and a system rigged by the rich and powerful to support the rich and powerful. But Labour does have a good set of policies, including increasing nurses’ pay and NHS funding, reintroducing bursaries, restoring benefits and guaranteeing EU citizens already living here the right to stay.

So here is yet another set of Cs – if the Conservatives are re-elected, we can be completely certain they will be consistent and continue to cut public services, damage the economy, wage war against Europe as their impossible demands and expectations cannot be met by the EU’s negotiators. Scotland will almost certainly split off from the UK, leaving an inward looking ‘Little England’, breeding xenophobia and intolerance.

“Trump is intent on taking healthcare away from millions of his own citizens”

If May continues to damage our relationship with Europe and we are out of the single market and customs union – perhaps with no trade deal at all - her government will have to accept any trade deal Trump’s America offers. Even apart from ‘the Wall’, the Muslim ban, and his pathological lying, Trump is intent on taking healthcare away from millions of his own citizens, has frozen all government jobs and is promising the biggest tax cuts in the country’s history. We’re likely to follow his lead and the price of any deal with Trump will include giving American companies access to NHS provision.

Ms May would have us believe there us no alternative to her. But there is. A coalition. Yes, it brings uncertainty. But could that be worse?

UKIP is already withdrawing candidates in support of Tories in a number of marginal constituencies. So it would be crazy, for example, if Labour and the Lib Dems in Brighton put up candidates against Caroline Lucas, the leader of the Greens. Similarly, in constituencies where either Labour or the Lib Dems have a slim lead or the chance to overtake an incumbent Conservative, the other party should let them run unopposed.

But even if the major parties don’t do this, nurses - yes, readers of Nursing Times - can use their vote to decide who wins.

“I cannot understand why Unison and the RCN are not highlighting the extraordinary power nurses have”

There are 30 seats where the parliamentary majority is less than 1,000. Another 25 have majorities of less than 2,000. Nurses need only vote for the candidate most likely to represent progressive policies that would mean an end to ‘austerity’, restore public services and was based on nursing’s 6Cs, values and principles, and there would be a coalition government. Britain would have the opportunity for a new start and to build a positive relationship with Europe as we leave the EU.

I cannot understand why Unison and the RCN are not highlighting the extraordinary power nurses have in this election and organising nurses to vote for progressive MPs whose policies would benefit nursing and the NHS. This is the one time nurses really can make the difference – but that will only come from participation, from voting.

If there’s no ‘coalition of resistance’, we shall all be kneeling before Queen Theresa for many years to come. Don’t give her the mandate she craves but does not deserve.

[1] With thanks to Yanis Varoufakis for this wonderful analogy

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Readers' comments (2)

  • How refreshing to have a senior nurse actually sticking up for us instead of toadying to the government for their own self interest.

    The 6 c's was a nauseating piece of claptrap. The ten Commandments.... sorry Commitments, equally so.

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  • You have succeeded and Teresa May has a small majority.
    Jane Cummings thought of the 6c's. Is she still around and what can she actually do? I loved the 6cs song! I did wonder how nurses survived for more then a century without them.

    LOVE
    PDaveAngel

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