The NHS and Democracy

A well-attended meeting at Ruskin House last night (13 September 2018) called by Croydon TUC was left in no doubt that there has been a covert strategy, intensified since 2010, to dismantle the NHS and feed it to US-based health corporations. Addressed by Dr Bob Gill, a Sidcup GP, and Sandra Ash of Keep Our St Helier Hospital (KOSHH), we learned that attempts to close St Helier were just the first step in the closure of acute and other facilities across South London (including Croydon University Hospital where a new Chief Executive, Matthew Kershaw, may have been brought in to achieve this) and across the country as part of a fattening up process. This was made possible by the Health and Social Care Act 2012  which freed the government from statutory responsibility for providing a universal NHS care and by continued under-funding that is intended, in part, to weaken public support for the NHS by generating more, high profile failures.

The meeting was attended by Joy Prince and Patsy Cummings, two of our most progressive Labour councillors in Croydon, but the absence of other Labour councillors and our two Croydon Labour MPs, Steve Reed and Sarah Jones, was criticised from the floor of the meeting. Are our local Labour politicians unaware that Croydon TUC holds open meetings every second Thursday of the month at Ruskin House and has done so for many years? Is their unfamiliarity with how the Labour Movement functions and the nature of the relationship between the trade unions and the Labour Party an excuse for their dismal absence? We think not.

Earlier this week Chris Williamson MP, the campaigning Labour MP and Corbyn supporter, addressed another public meeting at Ruskin House. Its aim was to call for more democracy in the Labour Party. This is an internal matter for that party and not a matter into which we wish to intrude, but we do very much agree with the basic principles that Mr Williamson was expounding:

  •  MPs and councillors are responsible to, and accountable to, the parties that select and nominate them (OK, Tories are an exception), not to an amorphous electorate that voted for them on the basis of their party affiliation; and
  • being an MP or councillor is not a job for life and should not be treated by those fortunate enough to be selected and elected as a career.

As communists, we would, however, go much further than Mr Williamson and seek to establish real democracy, not the present sham of voting every four or five years to determine which members of the ruling class are to administer their system in our name. A Corbyn administration would be very welcome and might just be able to halt the dismantling of the NHS (if the Parliamentary Labour Party allows it to), but we need real, direct democracy where our votes and our views have continuing significance between elections.

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ART AS PORTABLE WEALTH

There is still a week left until the exhibition Picasso 1932 at Tate Modern ends on 9 September. It is highly recommended. Picasso was, after all, “one of ours” – a member of the Communist Party whose art is still loved and appreciated today by ordinary working people despite the not entirely unsuccessful attempt to de-politicise modern art with the cold war promotion of abstract expressionism.

Going round the exhibition, it is, however, noticeable how many of the exhibits are on loan from private collections. Artists, even successful ones who go on to join the Communist Party, have, of course, to earn a living and, under capitalism, that means selling their work in the first instance to dealers and wealthy patrons. It is perhaps therefore not surprising that so many end up on the walls, yacht bulkheads and bank vaults of the super-rich. According to Wealth X, the world’s 2,170 billionaires own collections worth $31 million, representing 0.5 per cent of their net wealth; and the world’s top ten billionaires hold a huge 18 per cent of their wealth in this way. Comrade Picasso’s contribution to this haul is likely to be significant.

The attractions of “art” to the super-rich (and to criminals) are obvious. Art, provided it is not replicable, can be used as portable wealth; is delightfully offshore and thus under the radar of tax authorities and the police; easily convertible into cash via the auction houses of the world; capable of significant tax free capital accumulation provided the pitfalls of changing public taste are anticipated; and a perfect security for loans for more productive capital investment. Add to this the political capital to be gained from occasional loans to public galleries and the creation private foundations and art really is the perfect investment for the super-rich.

What is to be done? It’s our tastes and our enthusiasms as ordinary people, i.e. as workers, that give works of art their exchange value. Without this their price would be minimal – no more than the value of the labour time it took to make them. There’s no easy solution – perhaps none at all in the context of our existing social system – but some alleviation of the problem would be achieved by

  • an international register of private wealth, open to inspection and maintained by the UN
  • the introduction in the UK of a wealth tax and the restoration of a compulsory inheritance tax – the current one is minimal and voluntary;
  • more education to train artists in our schools and colleges; and
  • more financial support for our art galleries.

Are these modest proposals too much to ask?