Planet Saving For Dummies

Sometimes its very easy to get disheartened with comedy and the world in general. Yesterday was one of those days that fully reaffirmed my faith in both. The Block The Bill, Block The Bridge demonstration yesterday, as organised by UK Uncut was a lovely sunny afternoon of very civil disobedience and one of the nicest afternoons I’ve had in 2011. Thousands of people turned up to show just how much they care about the most important institution in the UK, the NHS, and as Big Ben struck 1, it was an incredible sight to see the bridge amass with people playing dead. There was music, brilliant artwork, interesting people and I got to meet Chris Morris which nearly sent me into babbling mess. Despite a police presence there was no trouble at all, and the whole event, if nothing else, should show that we can stand-up to the misdemeanours of our government without fear of kettling or violence from the authorities. This shows we can do this again, and again and more and more people can join as is our right to be outspoken about the outcome of our country.

PANORAMIC VIEW OF THE BRIDGE

I was there as part of Comedy Block, a show to be performed on the bridge as part of the event. Initially it was to start at 1.30pm but due to a lack of sound system it seemed as though all proceedings would have to be called off, until around 3pm a bicycle powered sound system was discovered. With a variety of lovely volunteers pedalling away (the sound disappearing every time they slowed down or swapped) we finally kicked off and 8 acts, with Chris Coltrane hosting, performed for what was about 800-900 happy protestors. Going on first, and nervous about material I’d written that morning about Andrew Lansley, the show was a dream. Sure we were preaching to the converted – no one at that gig was going to heckle when we were all there for the same reasons – but the rush of performing as part of something that meant something was incredible.

I’d been feeling a tad lost since Edinburgh. After performing an hour show everyday that was based on my personal despair at this country’s current situation, to then suddenly go back to the clubs where political material isn’t what the stag and hen do’s want on a Friday after work, is a bit disheartening. Yet you can’t stop doing those gigs as they pay. I had found myself feeling a bit fed up with it all. Then yesterday changed that and fully made me realise why comedy is brilliant. Performing in front of such an amazing crowd, saying jokes that had a point of view behind them, and purpose and then watching acts such as Josie Long, Mark Thomas, Nat Tapley and more do the same, really made me realise what you can do as a performer. I realise that the high horse might well be back again for me to climb on board, but having the confidence and ability to write jokes that will both make people laugh and maybe encourage them to do more is one of the best feelings in the world. Just having a reason to be part of something that may (and I sadly don’t think it will) make a difference to the bill on Tuesday makes it feel like its worth it.

MY SET AT THE BLOCK THE BILL, BLOCK THE BRIDGE PROTEST

 

I’m not saying you have to do stand-up to make a difference. Everyone there yesterday did it in their own way. Some made banners, some brought instruments, some were just there, and believe me, that’s enough. The protest made its way onto most news outlets (BBC being the slowest and nearest to making derogatory remarks as per usual), which meant people know there is opposition to the bill. That’s all we need to do. Let everyone, especially parliament know we aren’t happy with the destruction of the NHS – something Cameron promised he wouldn’t let happen and once again lied. If you care, then next time remember that there are never ‘enough people going already’. Just rock up, have a great afternoon watching comedy and do so knowing that you are helping change the UK.

 

Lastly, I met someone on the bridge yesterday that was explaining that as the bill is likely to go through, the best we can hope for is that the Lords let it be examined by a special commission. This would mean it isn’t just sent back to the Commons unchanged, but nor are the most destructive parts just overlooked. We only have a day to make any difference so I will post her email, pretty much word for word, below. Please take note and if nothing else, take two minutes out to email a Lord with your requests. Yes it looks like a lot of info but have a read and then you can make it all easier by choosing which Lord to email by using this site:

CONTACT A LORD

Here’s the emails:

 

Hello again, 

It was really good to meet you today.

 

A quick summary of why it’s so important to draw people’s attention to the Hennessy / Owen amendments is at the end of this email.

 

Emails to members of the House of Lords can be short. Something like:

 

Subject: Please support Hennessy & Owen’s amendments in full

 

Dear…,

 

Please support the amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill tabled by Lords Hennessy and Owen. Their proposal offers a way out of the current deadlock for all concerned. It will allow the Bill to continue its passage through Parliament, whilst the most high risk, controversial parts will be referred to a Select Committee for further consideration by the legal and medical experts in the House. As a result, the NHS will be able to get on with its work, Lansley will get his legislation and those opposing the Bill will finally have their concerns properly addressed. This proposal will not stop the progress of this Bill but it will ensure that when it becomes law, it is not toxic to the NHS.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Email addresses are in the attached excel sheet. Where there isn’t an address, click the link and it will take you directly to the relevant page for emailing them via the web.

 

Short, personal emails are most effective. It would help to say things like ‘I’m writing to you because I know you have an interest in health and also law’ but it isn’t essential [details of the Peers are in the excel].

 

The debate is on Tuesday – the actual vote is Wednesday afternoon.

 

Please pass this on as widely as possible – Labour have agreed to vote in favour of the proposal but we need to convince 80 Bishops, and Crossbench and Lib-Dem Peers to vote in favour too.

 

Why the Hennessy / Owen amendments are so important:

 

Ø  On Tuesday, the Lords will decide whether they are going to vote the Health and Social Care Bill out completely [extremely unlikely] or whether they will proceed with it.

Ø  If they don’t vote it out, it will be debated in the House of Lords.

Ø  Ideally, the Bill would be referred to a Select Committee: a sub-group of the Lords including medical and legal experts who would have as much time as they need to properly address the concerns about the Bill.

Ø  However, it’s very rare for a Select Committee to be set up – and it isn’t going to happen here.

Ø  So all members of the House of Lords will have the opportunity to take part in the debate. Which means the time available will be limited and the debate will be pretty superficial – as it was in the Commons.

Ø  Lords Peter Hennessy and David Owen are proposing an alternative.

Ø  They are suggesting that part of the Bill is discussed, as usual, by the whole House. In reality that part it will become law fairly soon.

Ø  But the most risky, controversial parts would be referred to a Select Committee [I can send details if you want to know more].

Ø  This is not a perfect solution but it’s the best option we have. Unless this happens, there is very high likelihood that the Bill will become law with its most dangerous aspects still largely intact.

Ø  David Owen has been way ahead of everyone in his understanding of this Bill. He predicted months ago that the Bill would get through the Commons largely unaltered. It did. He immediately recognised the significance of removing the legal duty on the Secretary of State to provide health services in England. This is now widely recognised as a central concern. He understands that this Bill is still, in effect, a proposal to abolish the NHS.

Ø  The Hennessy / Owen amendments are qualitatively different to the other amendments tabled for discussion in the Lords on Tuesday. They are not proposing specific changes to the Bill. Instead they are providing a way of ensuring the worst of the Bill is properly examined and the necessary changes made before it becomes law.

Ø  Unfortunately, it is taking too long for members of the House of Lords to realise the importance of this proposal.

Ø  The government realises. Which is why senior members of government are currently doing everything possible to persuade the Lords not support this proposal. Yet again they are saying they will amend the Bill to ensure the outstanding concerns are addressed.

Ø  Meanwhile, Lansley has been boasting in meetings that the Bill is a done deal and that the fundamental aspects of the Bill remain unaltered.

And email two:

The link to the Keep Our NHS Public [KONP] website is: http://www.keepournhspublic.com/index.php
but there isn’t specific information about the Hennessy / Owen amendments on there as they were only tabled last Tuesday. But KONP is supporting this proposal.
A good example of what we’re worried about is the current story about the GP practice in York who sent letters out to their patients saying that certain services were no longer available on the NHS and telling them where they could buy these treatments privately. One of the companies they suggested was owned by them [http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/oct/04/nhs-charging-operations-york?newsfeed=true]. People might say ‘That’s OK it’s only ingrowing toe nails – why shouldn’t we pay for that sort of thing?’ The problem that this is just a start:
– decisions about what is and isn’t available on the NHS will be made locally [so there will be huge variation];
– patients will have to pay for health care [or go without];
– there will be conflicts of interest [these GPs stand to benefit personally];
– there will be issues about how patients’ information is passed onto;
– there will be limits to how much we can find out about private companies through the freedom of information act [www.cfoi.org.uk/foi060911pr.html];
– these changes haven’t been made law but are already happening…
An example of how health care in the UK is big business – and of how multinationals for example are set to take over large chunks of the NHS – can be found on the Spinwatch website. The government has been in talks with a German company about the take over of up to 20 hospitals:
The Bill also makes it possible for NHS property to be transferred to the NHS: http://www.dutytoprovide.net/
In short…If the Government’s proposed changes go ahead, “private companies would be entitled to run much of the NHS” and “market forces would determine the way many health services are provided”http://www.dutytoprovide.net/2011/08/27/the-stage-is-set-for-market-forces-to-dictate-the-nhs-despite-recent-assurances-from-the-department-of-health/.
A book worth reading is Deadly Spin by Wendell Potter, who used to work for the private health insurance business in the US. It explains how, once the private health industry gets hold of the NHS, it’s not going to be possible to make it let go again.
The book everyone should read is NHS Plc by Allyson Pollack which explains how we came to be on the brink of losing the NHS to a commercial, American-style system of health-care.
I attended a conference recently at which Lansley spoke. He said he believes, as Machiavelli did, that ‘when you propose a change, everyone will disagree with you’. Therefore ‘you have to do it quickly’.  He said he came into the job with a vision and that he is still convinced he’s right. He’s has, he said, been working on this Bill for 8 years [in fact he laid out his principles for the NHS in a speech in 2005 – these now form the framework for the current Bill: www.andrewlansley.co.uk/newsevent.php?newseventid=21]. Apparently Lansley sees himself as the modern equivalent of John Snow, the nineteenth century hero of public health. Sadly, wanting to be John Snow is not the same as being John Snow. He actually has more in common with his other hero Machiavelli –  he clearly seems to feel morally justified in achieving his goals by any means necessary. So far he has out-manoeuvred us all. I sincerely believe that only this proposal by Peter Hennessy and David Owen will stop the complete dismantling of the legal framework that’s protected the NHS to date. But they need our help…

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