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I don’t know if we’ll have a severe winter this year. But I do know that if there is it will be the poor and vulnerable who will be the worst hit.
In a recent Royal College of Nurses survey, nine out of 10 respondents working in A&E departments said that the current pressure on services, with deep cuts and the massive top-down NHS reorganisation, is putting patients in danger. In its recent report ‘Emergency care: an accident waiting to happen?’ the NHS Confederation warns that ‘a prolonged period of cold, a rapid increase in the acuity of patients presenting in A&Es or a lengthy norovirus season would be all it would take to bring many departments to breaking point’. Even health secretary Jeremy Hunt has admitted that it will be ‘very, very tough . . . just to get through this winter’, a chilling warning.
But it won’t just be in hospitals where the cold could lead to a spike in deaths. As pensioner poverty and cuts to benefits leave more and more people facing a choice between eating or heating this winter, deaths from hypothermia, which have already doubled over a five-year period, could soar even further.
With the ‘big six’ energy companies announcing yet more eye-watering price increases, the government’s advice to ‘wear an extra jumper’ is little more than a sick joke. It will not just be those sleeping rough (whose numbers leapt by another 13 per cent last year, on top of a 43 per cent increase in 2010–11) who will need more than an extra layer to see them through to the spring. Whatever we might think of his own politics, Neil Kinnock’s famous warning ‘not to be ordinary, not to grow old, not to fall ill’ should a right-wing Tory government come to power seems strikingly prescient.
Right now you could be forgiven for thinking that a political spring seems some way off. Ed Miliband’s proposal for a two-year price freeze on energy bills, while welcome, is hardly a sufficient response. In October 2013, London business freesheet City AM lamented the fact that ‘there is sadly mass support for nationalisation and price controls’, on the basis of a YouGov survey that showed an overwhelming 68 per cent supported nationalisation of the energy companies, with just 21 per cent against. Similar scores were recorded for the railways and Royal Mail.
Despite votes along these lines at Labour conference, Miliband’s spin doctors were quick to rule out such a radical agenda. With Labour committed to keep within Tory day-to-day spending limits, impose a public sector pay freeze and stick with Thatcher’s anti-union legislation, the ‘alternative’ it looks set to offer in 2015 risks leaving most of its core supporters cold.
But if that’s how it looks from an English perspective, socialists in Scotland might be looking forward to 2014 with a greater sense of optimism, given the chance to shake up the status quo by voting for independence in September’s referendum. Ultimately, the question of where power ought to lie is potentially a much more radical question than even its most prominent advocates appear to realise. If the mainstream nationalism of the SNP does little to excite, the emergent forces coalescing around an alternative vision of an independent socialist Scotland suggest that there is a chance – I wouldn’t put it any more strongly – that the referendum might open up a much more wide-reaching discussion about what it would mean to genuinely shape our own collective destiny.
If Scotland were to go down this route then – who knows? – it might re-awaken the strategic imagination of the English left.
Connor Devine writes that whilst Brexit might be a car crash, we can't just side with an institution responsible for enforcing austerity.
Michael Coates reviews a new film revealing the shocking state of housing inequality in the UK.
The vicious media campaign against trans people is part bigotry, part strategy, writes Roz Kaveney
Jon Trickett MP reports on 'Dickensian' levels of poverty and hardship felt across the UK.
Natasha King busts some myths around the No Borders debate
He was once a radical icon, but now he's a mouthpiece for racism and nationalism. Time to get off stage, writes Michael Calderbank
Consensus seems to have shifted, but austerity is far from over. The chancellor has committed us to yet more years of misery while the rich get richer, writes Richard Seymour.
Frustrated at the idea of another royal wedding? You're not alone. Joana Ramiro argues we should stop idealising a fundamentally undemocratic institution.
Liberal elites are using Russian interference to minimise their own political failures, writes Matt Turner
Nick Dearden from Global Justice Now argues that after years of colonial domination and dodgy trade deals, the UK must make amends and support Zimbabwe in this uncertain time.
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny