In the 1980s we tended to go on a lot of marches – CND, anti-Apartheid, Support the Miners, anti-racism.
We marched in support of higher education to reclaim the streets as safe places for women. Sometimes we bumped into marches coming the other way that were against the slaughter of whales or fox-hunting and we might join each other, amalgamate our banners (“Support the Miners and the Foxes”), pick up a group of Japanese tourists who loved the chanting and couldn’t see the stuff about the whales, and head for the nearest free open-air concert.
I remember once being on a candlelit march with a few thousand other nurses expressing our concern about resources in the NHS. I was chatting to a police officer, who said he liked these marches.
“You have a better class of demonstrator here,” he said, going on to explain that he and his colleagues tended to judge a demonstration, and its validity, by the “type” of people involved in it. They had little time for the anti-Apartheid movement it seems because, mostly, the marchers wore jeans and shouted. This to them meant that Apartheid, whatever that was, couldn’t be so bad – being against it attracted the wrong sort of person.
It is not uncommon for governments to be reassured of their “rightness” by looking at those people who oppose them. I can’t help wondering how, with the health bill, that is working now for the current government when David Cameron asks Andrew Lansley who is for them and who is against.
“Well, Dave, we have the usual dissenters, you know the ones in donkey jackets who didn’t go to public school and always disagree with us.”
“Oh, I don’t care about them, Andy. Anyone else?”
“Well, there are some rumblings among the doctors.”
“The doctors? I thought they liked us? I said there were tens of thousands of them up and down the country loving us the other day.”
“Yes Dave, yes you did. And you’re right. It’s just that we can’t find them. And other doctors, like the RCGP and the BMA, they don’t seem so keen.”
“They’ll come round. Anyone else?”
“Well there are the nurses.”
“The nurses? What on earth has it got to do with them? Most of them are girls aren’t they? Do they have a vote?”
“Yes Dave, apparently they do. We were rather hoping to distract them with talk about old-fashioned values and hats but they’re not buying it. They seem to think we want to turn the NHS into an under-resourced Goan street market.”
“It’s a fine model, Andy. Anyone else?”
“Er… yes Dave. I’m afraid the physiotherapists are against us too.”
“Andy, physiotherapists aren’t against anything with the possible exception of poor posture – how can they be getting involved? Who is on our side?”
“George Osborne, Nick Clegg, the bankers – they love the fact that most of the attention is on health now. Er… the homeopaths haven’t decided one way or another yet.”
“We need more people on our side Andy. Make some calls. Try Cheryl Cole.”
If the right and wrong of an argument is, in part, illustrated by the people who form each side, this mish-mash of a health bill should be dead in the water. People with a vested interest in a good health service – the ones who understand it best – are lining up to oppose it. Perhaps that just shows us that this bill is about political ideology rather than service improvement?
Mark Radcliffe is a senior lecturer and author of Gabriel’s Angel.