Elective surgery: a new party for the NHS

Alex Nunns interviews Clive Peedell, co-leader of the new National Health Action Party, which will fight the next election on the issue of the government’s destruction of the NHS

February 11, 2013
6 min read


Alex NunnsAlex Nunns is Red Pepper's political correspondent. He tweets at @alexnunns

Woman holding banner on demonstration to save the NHSWhen a country’s parliament attacks its people’s most cherished institution, what is to be done? This was the question facing a group of doctors and NHS activists in the wake of the Health and Social Care Act. Their answer, straightforwardly, was to try to get into parliament.

‘It was through disappointment with the democratic process that we decided the way of responding was through the ballot box,’ says Dr Clive Peedell, a consultant oncologist, and now co-leader of the National Health Action Party (NHA), launched in November 2012. The NHA plans to stand up to 50 candidates in the next general election on a pro-NHS platform.

It is a dramatic step, but the stakes are high. ‘The next election is the last chance for the NHS,’ says Peedell. ‘If the Conservatives get back in and continue the way they are going it will be incredibly difficult to ever reverse the damage. Some people are already arguing that it may be impossible to repeal the Health Act because of EU competition law and trade agreements. Another five years and we’ve got no chance. It’d be a disaster for the NHS.’

Peedell rejects the familiar argument that the only way to stop a Tory government is to help elect a Labour one: ‘All three major parties have supported the market approach in the NHS. The point of the NHA is to challenge that market dogma.’ But one of the aims is to ‘make Labour rethink’. The NHA will carefully choose the constituencies where it stands – there is even a psephologist on the executive committee. ‘We don’t want to split the anti-coalition vote in areas where Labour has a chance, but we will also put pressure on Labour by standing against some pro-market Blairites, which will be a powerful message to say this is about taking on the ideology of the market.’

Repeal is not enough

Labour’s health spokesman Andy Burnham has pledged to repeal the Health Act if elected, but for Peedell that is not enough. ‘Even if they completely repealed it we’re still left with a market system. Labour needs an NHS preferred provider policy, that’s what we want to see from them.’

Such a policy would require the NHS to seek to provide healthcare in-house. Peedell sees this as one of the last-gasp ways to save the NHS. ‘I believe there’s a chance we can hold back the private sector, and an NHS preferred provider policy could kill off some of these healthcare companies – the surprising thing is many of them are not that financially healthy. Certainly part of our tactic is to frighten off the private sector, to say to them, “Take over the NHS at your peril because we will fight you every step of the way.” That makes it a less attractive investment.’

Despite such strident language, Peedell is no socialist. In a Guardian interview last November he described socialism as ‘nonsense that died out 30 years ago’. Given that many NHS campaigners are socialists, was that wise? ‘I’m centre left in my political views,’ Peedell says. ‘I don’t believe in the idea of all industries being owned by the government. For example, I’d renationalise the railways but not the car industry. I believe in a regulated capitalism, with healthcare socialised.’

Another factor behind Peedell’s Guardian comments may be that the NHA will have to attract Tory and Lib Dem voters in most of its target seats. Peedell admits he is anxious to ‘avoid being seen as a Labour-front organisation’. He says the NHA intends to ‘use the language of evidence-based policy rather than terms like “left” and “socialism”’. And by emphasising ‘our loss of sovereignty over economic and public service policy, which has been transferred through privatisation’, he is simultaneously appealing to the right’s fixation on EU law and the left’s horror at marketisation.

Electoral support

So what are the chances of the NHA sending MPs to Westminster? One poll commissioned by the Tories’ Lord Ashcroft suggested the NHA could get 18 per cent of the vote, a figure that sent shockwaves through the established parties.

‘We could catch the wave of public opinion and win a few seats,’ says Peedell hopefully. ‘If it’s a tight election we could be kingmakers in a hung parliament. We can damage the coalition in all constituencies even though we’re only standing in a certain number. The aim is to win seats if we can, but to make the NHS the second issue at the next election, behind the economy. We feel the BBC and the media let us down over the Act, and forming a political party is one way of raising awareness of what’s going on.’

‘The NHS is something that people support,’ Peedell says, ‘and we can connect with that through social media and reach a wider spectrum of people than normal politics can.’ Peedell also has some eye-catching publicity stunts in store, building on last year’s ‘Bevan’s Run’, when he ran six marathon distances in six days as a protest at the health bill.

The NHA also has a winning model to follow. In the 2001 and 2005 elections, Dr Richard Taylor, who is now the other co-leader of the NHA, was elected as an independent MP on the back of a campaign against the closure of Kidderminster’s A&E department. Peedell believes Kidderminster-style local campaigns could ‘spring up all over the place’, prompted by closures that he says are directly linked to privatisation.

‘Facilities are being closed in reconfigurations, which are actually about reducing the cost of entry to the NHS market. That’s why they want smaller scale health facilities, so private companies have to take less of a risk.’

Awkwardly, the chances for the NHA are inversely proportional to the health of the NHS.

‘Morally I don’t want to see patients suffer,’ Peedell says, ‘but by the next election the £20 billion efficiency drive will have really kicked in. Foundation trusts are already in horrible trouble. I think we will see the service fail before the next election.’


Alex NunnsAlex Nunns is Red Pepper's political correspondent. He tweets at @alexnunns


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank

The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant


20