By Tim Hardy
In difficult ground, press on; on hemmed-in ground, use subterfuge; in death ground, fight.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War
We are on death ground now. If we do not fight for the NHS, we will lose it.
Those with power won’t do anything out of the goodness of their hearts. We will not convert them with words. We have to let them know that it will cost them. In the case of Liberal Democrat and Tory MPs, we have to let them know that it will cost them votes and money. These are women and men without honour. Don’t waste time trying to appeal to their better nature: it does not exist.
It seems likely that it might take widespread civil disobedience to kill this bill and we will need to put pressure everywhere. This will be Cameron and Clegg’s poll tax. It’s time to kick the coalition out before they do any more harm.
These are some very quick thoughts on what we can do next. I didn’t have time to write a short post, so I wrote a long one instead
Few of us are lawyers or have read the proposals in enough depth to be able to argue with full confidence about these measures so let’s focus on a simpler message: trust. Who do you trust? Who can you trust? Ask people whether they would rather put their faith in a doctor or in MPs linked to private healthcare providers or who lied to win power?
Evoke the ghost of Thatcher. Remind people of how every other “liberalising” reform the Tories oversaw has led to higher prices for us and massive profits for shareholders and bosses.
Do get informed as much as possible. Don’t let a Tory spiv sneer in the pub, “But we’re not privatising the NHS, you idiot lefties just don’t understand.” Have a response ready. With online trolls, block and move on. You’re not going to win them over. Focus on those that you might convert.
Beware of PR and spin. The Tories have a malign genius at creating false stories to distract us or letting one of their resident fanatics make an oafish and degrading remark about women or black, gay or disabled people – anything guaranteed to trigger a reaction for us on the left. We can deal with these bigots later. Let’s try to focus our anger for now.
Act locally, co-ordinate nationally
We cannot allow this to become a distant pantomime played out in Westminster. The reality of this bill has to come home to people before it is too late. Campaigns focused on the capital are too narrow as are campaigns that are exclusively cyber.
Rally outside local constituency offices. Show MPs that their acts will have consequences for their careers, that selling off the NHS will cost them their seat at the next election.
Get local press involved. Talk to your local media and make sure that they cover demonstrations outside the offices of your MP. Let everyone know that the MP they elected with their votes is selling off the NHS. Make it personal: find stories by people living in your area whose lives have been transformed by the NHS. Local papers and radio will welcome human interest stories especially if you do most of the groundwork for them.
Leaflet public transport. Sticker private healthcare & private insurance adverts. Get local shops to put up posters in their windows. Raise awareness everywhere.
If right-wing free papers – eg Metro and Evening Standard in London – carry headlines backing the coalition on NHS, grab as many copies as you can carry and dump them straight in the recycling bins.
Solidarity and working together
Different people have different abilities, different levels of mobility, different amounts of free time and money and different attitudes towards what entails legitimate protest. We should try our hardest to work together, respecting these differences, each doing what we can. For once, let’s try to keep in-fighting to a minimum. If you think someone is doing something that is ineffective, try to encourage them towards more effective action rather than lecture them on where they are going wrong. Try not preach, try to show by example. Its frustrating watching what seems like wasted effort but be careful that your criticisms don’t end up driving people to give up entirely.
Never condemn a fellow activist. You do not have to condone or condemn, that is a false choice presented by the media to divide us. If a journalist tries to force you to do so, reply firmly: “I am not interested in condemning or condoning – but this act is nothing compared with the damage the coalition are doing to the NHS.” The only people we should condemn are Conservative and Liberal Democrat politicians and those who back them.
Governments have practised divide-and-conquer as a strategy to weaken opposition for centuries. Let’s not do it for them.
Online v offline
Over 150,000 people signed the 38 Degrees epetition to save the NHS in less than 24 hours.
Winning the internets is not enough but the possibilities enabled by the internet irrevocably shift the balance of power in the favour of the many. We now have many of the same tools for free that the rich lobbyists and business interests driving these changes use to reinforce their own power. Let’s use them.
Many do not have the money, time, health or mobility needed to get involved on the streets but they can be highly effective in driving the web side of a campaign.
Let’s share knowledge by leveraging sites and tools that already exist. Let’s avoid the temptation to build something amazing from scratch. We don’t have that luxury. Better a horrible looking blog right now than something beautiful that will take weeks. If existing campaign groups or sites have the infrastructure in place – such as UK Uncut perhaps – then let’s use it. It’s essential that we allow people looking to act locally to find each other and to upload their actions. Sharing information, key arguments, key facts and dates is also critical.
Please do not rely on Facebook. Facebook has a history of closing down groups and campaigns at critical moments. Use websites that the world can see not just pages that are hidden from search engines and from those who refuse to join Zuckerberg’s new media empire. WordPress for example is popular, free, easy to use – and open. Use Facebook as well as other sites but not instead of it.
Epetitions have their place but if you are mobile, consider going door to door with paper petitions – this lets you talk to people and in doing so to build wider support. It’s not about the number of signatures, it’s about raising awareness and getting people involved who might not otherwise have paid attention.
Widen the targets?
Think of as many actions as possible, large and small, that will keep pressure up and keep reminding every one of how important this is. Disrupt the right-wing think tanks that are behind this. Disrupt the companies that fund prominent Tory and Lib Dem backers of this bill.
Look at successful campaigns. An excellent resource is the recently launched global nonviolent action database.
It seems likely that there will be support for the NHS from the Occupy Manchester, Occupy London and other occupations directly inspired by Occupy Wall Street. Student occupations are another likely source of support. It’s worth pointing to an excellent cheat sheet of advice for would-be occupiers produced by The Third Estate.
Don’t wait for leaders
Don’t wait for or trust any political party to solve this even if you are a party member. This cannot be about party politics. This has to be the voice of the people. If you are a party member, please don’t try to kidnap the cause in a grab for votes: this will just cause unnecessary and distracting conflict.
By all means, parties should express opposition to the bill and grassroots groups may well take part in resistance but please nobody try and plant their flag on the whole movement.
There are many activist groups already fighting against the cuts. Again, join their actions and let us learn from each others’ expertise and experience in this fight but please try not to get sucked into factionalism and ideological purity – let that wait until we’ve won. If you’re not comfortable with the tactics of one group, find other people to work with.
This can be a rainbow coalition, however hard such things are to sustain in the long term.
We can scrabble for glory after victory, not before. The NHS is too important.
We need to shout louder
The NHS reforms did not appear in either the Conservative or Liberal Democrat manifestos. They were not in the coalition agreement. This government has no mandate to implement such wide-ranging changes. Their so-called listening exercise was a total farce – but it’s not too late to force them to listen.
Many of us are furious at today’s vote in the House of Lords but this fight is not over yet. It’s up to us now. In a speech before the launch of the NHS, Nye Bevan called the Tories “lower than vermin” and the party he reviled has not changed. He knew the dangers the idea of free health care for poor and rich alike would face and warned:
The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it.
The NHS is too precious for us to roll over and give up. We are many, those backing this bill are few. They have the money but we have the numbers. Let’s make it clear that we will keep the faith and that we will keep fighting. The NHS cannot die while at least one of us is still standing.