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Is it Right to Judge a Person by the Company They Keep?

Rather like watching Corrie through years of habit even though you think it’s vacuous and you ought to be doing something more worthy (guilty) so I found myself watching Eamonn Holmes interviewing Labour leadership hopeful Owen Smith on Sky News this morning, and then reflecting on the state of play within the Party. Entertaining but ultimately futile and irrelevant. Old habits, like watching Corrie die hard.


Holmes, like his former BBC counterpart Bill Turnbull can barely disguise his contempt for Labour politicians. When interviewing Jeremy Corbyn at Conference last year the mask fell completely and Holmes was quickly forced to back track on social media. Turnbull’s attitude to Tony Benn can be compared to what Simon Rattle said in reply to a question asking if he had ever conducted Stockhausen. “No”, he answered. “But I once trod in some”. That just about sums up the way the media, with a few notable exceptions look at the Left.

I digress. The point is that Holmes asked Smith about whether or not he was in favour of involving private providers in the delivery of NHS services. Instead of saying “no” Smith gave the classic Tory response of saying he believed in a free NHS at the point of use funded by taxation. He then went on to praise how New Labour had reduced waiting lists by employing private companies.

What Owen Smith didn’t talk about was the 2000 Health Concordat signed between Alan Milburn the then New Labour Health Secretary and the private sector. This agreement allowed for NHS patients to be treated in private hospitals, by private staff with the bill being picked up by the taxpayer. According to an article in the Guardian (2001 and quoted by the Socialist Health Alliance in a submission to the Commons Health Select Committee), “Birmingham Health Authority, between October 2000 and March 2001, paid four times more to buy intermediate care beds in private nursing homes than it did for intermediate care beds in two NHS community hospitals with the full range of rehabilitation facilities (£1,200 per week compared with £320).”

 In April this year it was revealed by a Daily Mirror investigation that just shy of 6,000 patients treated by private companies needed NHS after care due to bungled procedures in private hospitals. This followed revelations in August 2014 that private providers had mishandled 30 cataract operations having been brought in by Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton to reduce soaring waiting lists.  The contract was terminated after just four days leaving the NHS with a hefty legal bill.

Smith was not pressed on perhaps the biggest debacle of the New Labour years; the Private Finance Initiative. This programme saw private providers such as Skanska build brand spanking new shiny hospitals and then charge the NHS annually for their use. PFI has crippled many trusts. The Royal London in Whitechapel has to find a cool £100 million in fees before one penny is spent on patients. Late in 2011 five leading surgeons quit citing safety fears induced by cuts directly related to the PFI bill. (Evening Standard 2nd December 2011). I was residing at said hospital at the time and it was all that the staff could talk about.

The Old Testament provides us with a saying, “A man is known by the company he keeps”. (Proverbs 13:20). This is perhaps unfair as I know a good deal of dodgy characters. In fact if you are reading this then you’re probably one of them.  I detest personalisation of politics as it’s the forces of different opinions and ideologies that drive things rather than individuals but the choices people make can give you an insight into how decisions are arrived at. I have been vocal regarding my misgivings surrounding Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell and the IRA. I’m not stupid enough not to realise that in the end we always end up talking to and negotiating with terrorists but the crass insensitivity of these men, who had negligible influence puts a huge question mark against their judgement. Calling Hamas, “friends” and lauding the likes of Bobby Sands is at best hugely naive. But the audiences they wanted to address were largely made up of the out of touch, “It’s Grim Up North London Set” who never challenged them or made them hone the argument. This when they came up against a hostile Parliamentary Labour Party it was a disaster waiting to happen.

Having said that about Corbyn I want to turn to Owen Smith and his association with Pfizer. The drug company are giants in their field and Owen worked as a lobbyist for them before moving on to bio tech firm Amgen as their head of PR. Both companies have dreadful records when it comes to distinctly immoral and aggressive behaviour, so it strikes me as odd that a self confessed Bevanite with a hot academic CV and time spent at the BBC would want to have anything to do with these firms.

Example. Owen went to work for Amgen during a major scandal involving a drug to combat severe anemia, (ironically I am waiting to go into hospital to be treated for exactly this in the wake of a sepsis episode) and this is what today’s Guardian reports, ” Amgen was ultimately fined $762m for illegally promoting the drug to cancer patients in a way that increased the likelihood of their deaths. Amgen was hit with the fines after it emerged that the California company was “pursuing profits at the risk of patient safety” as it promoted a non-approved use of Aranesp.” I will be sure to check the infusion bottle before I am treated!

As for Pfizer. They take the biscuit. In 1996 a Pfizer employee was surfing the net when he noticed that there was a meningitis outbreak in Nigeria. He remembered that the FDA had recently knocked back a new anti meningitis drug due to lack of clinical trials. He went to the bosses and with a mate, was put on the next plane complete with fake MSF paperwork. They made their way to the centre of the outbreak and presented themselves to some very relieved Red Cross people. They took 100 kids under 10 who were affected and tried the new drug. By day three it was clearly ineffective, but instead of reverting to conventional drugs, they let these kids die in the interests of a “clean” research project. In August 2011 Pfizer were forced to pay £105,000 to four of the families. It’s hard to fathom why anyone. let alone a socialist would want to take the Pfizer shilling. It’s not as though Owen Smith was short of choices.

A summer of wasted energy and sore fingers from canvass dialling will inevitably end up with the Left being endorsed as the Leadership and those newly engaged risk being alienated as the Labour Party becomes ungovernable. Meanwhile Mrs. May can get to work….

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, why not harness that energy in taking the fight to the Tories via a new Party and grassroots socialist movement?



About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.


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