In the Press, Women in Politics

Blocking the Bridge; Blocking the Bill

mothers workI won’t waste space outlining why the health and social care bill is such a menace. Here is just one account of the many problems with it:

Opposition to the Bill is almost universal among healthcare professionals of every kind; the public did not vote for the proposed changes; they did not appear in any manifesto; politicians of all parties promised not to make this type of wholesale change. They lied. And their cowardice, self-interest or (in some cases) shameful failure to actually read a bill they were voting on means that the Bill is all but passed, despite immense public and professional opposition to its measures.

Today’s Block the Bridge, Block the Bill protest, organised by UKUncut, but attended by – well – a right old mixture of participants really, is one of several attempts to de-rail this bill on its passage through parliament. The event was absurdly under-reported in the media, but Channel 4 give it, and the issues, some coverage here:   (I have been involved in some of the other attempts too, including giving financial support for the 38degrees poster campaign and commissioning of legal advice). The House of Lords this week has an opportunity to kill this Bill. Their Lordships should do so. It would earn them nothing but gratitude.

It was a pleasure to be on Westminster Bridge today, among so many people with the same commitment to the NHS – one of the most effective and best value universal health services in the world. Even before Big Ben struck 1pm, when I was still rushing along the South Bank, banners were unfurled along the bridge, and it was clearly thick with people. I arrived in time for a ‘lie-in’ and the raising of a huge banner from side-to-side across the bridge proclaiming “Save Our NHS”, held up by protesters mounted on giant tripods above the crowd. Campaigners with faked injuries were parading with placards on the bridge; campaigners in scrubs were chanting “Whose NHS? Our NHS!” in good voice. The mood was angry, but cheery; children playing among the picnickers.

These photos from super-lovely tweeter and blogger @HeardinLondon give a wonderful flavour of the day. As does this footage from tech-savvy Tim Hardy who tweets as @bc_tmc and blogs at

In the background of some of the video, you can hear the drums. The drummers who – I remember – maintained a steady beat throughout the March 26 March were heroic again today. Their abundance of energy seems never-ending. Close to them it’s impossible to stay still; the beat demands that onlookers become participants. They are grand.

Other heroes included the cyclists who provided power to amplify the comedy set. I didn’t catch it all, though I enjoyed “Sir Ian Bowler MP” (if you want to get his gist, try here: Josie Long and Mark Thomas gave their time, energy, wit and anger too.

The policing made for an interesting metaphor. At the north end of the bridge – the Westminster end – a solid line of police, backed by their riot vans, restricted access to the area around parliament. At the south end – the St Thomas’s Hospital end, although there were police about, there was complete freedom of movement for banner-carrying activists and tourists alike. Symbolically parliament was unavailable, unapproachable, uninterested. It closed its eyes and ears to the protests. It kept dissent away, and at bay. It hid behind a fluorescent yellow line. Symbolically the hospital stayed open to all, not judging, not excluding, not differentiating.

Wanting to stop the Bill is about wanting the NHS to stay that way. Open to all, free to all, ensuring a quality service and better health for all.

When my father was a teenager, cancer nearly killed him. Born in the 1930s, he was ‘lucky’ enough to fall ill in the 1950s once the NHS was established. His pioneering treatment lasted years. Surgeons who had developed their skills on the wrecked bodies of WW2 soldiers grafted his bones and skin and rebuilt him too. The developing science of radiotherapy saved his life. Because his family could remember life before the NHS, they and he are only too clear that without the NHS he would not have survived, and they would have been driven to financial ruin to try to save him.

A decade after his cancer went into remission, he met, married and started a family with my mother. I am their first child. One of five born and raised in good health on the NHS. Without the NHS, he would not exist. I would not exist. My four beautiful children (brought into this world with the support of NHS community midwives) would not exist. 50 years after his first cancer went into remission, Dad had a new, different cancer, and amazingly the NHS saved him yet again.

Blocking the Bridge today was an act of gratitude for me, as much as an act of protest. I owe a debt of thanks to this wonderful institution for his life and health, my life and health, and the health of so many others I love. I want the NHS to be around to care for my children, and their children, some day.

Thank you to everyone on the bridge today, and to all those who couldn’t be there, but sent their support. If we don’t stop this bill, it won’t be for want of trying.

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