>A healthy culture of protest

>An interesting article in the Guardian a few days ago on protests against the ‘rationalization’ (closing or cutting) of smaller local hospitals reconstructing the ‘heat map’ drawn up by the government to steer the pain away from government held marginal constituencies to those held by opposition parties. One of the largest (demonstration of 7000 people) recently took place just down the road in Haywards Heath (Mid-Sussex, safe Tory) about the Princess Royal Hospital, which is set to lose its Accident and Emergency and maternity units. The injured and expectant are, it seems, going to be expected to troll down to Brighton and get through its knarls of traffic the Royal Sussex County hospital and places like that. A nightmare I can easily imagine – my younger daughter was born at the PRH last year.

From a politics angle hospitals are interesting as a focus for local political mobilization – they are unifying and ‘non-partisan’ cause (everyone gets ill; almost all agree that a good local public hospital is necessary) seen as a local service, but – in the UK have been historically controlled by central government with no real local accountability (as was the case, say, with social services or secondary education), first via big bureaucratic Regional Health Authorities, latterly via a morass of smaller ‘trusts’ – constantly reorganized and amalgamated – created during the pseudo-privatizations of 1980s

Middle class, middle of the road social movements backed by constituencies and local worthies tend not to get the academic and media attention of tree hugging anti-road protests. But, as the experience of Wyre Valley – where the incumbent Labour MP was turfed out by voters in 2001 in favour of an independent backed by a protest group opposing against the closure of the local hospital – such movements probably have the potential to shake up the party system, more effectively than sundry minor parties, if they take the crucial step into contesting elections. As the Guardian hints in an anti-political climate, one might see many such independent MPs propelled to parliament in the manner of Wyre Valley’s Dr Richard Taylor (re-elected in 2005).

Does this avoid the need for parties? No, of course not. As any politics undergraduate knows, they serve a whole range of functions and tend to emerge. Could it change the British party system? Perhaps, perhaps…. In academic another incarnation, I would be very interesting in researching the world of local health protests and respectable independents. As it is I am poring over the results of the Czech Senate elections. Somebody has to.

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