Saturday, 4 May 2013

Real-life cynical politicians

Politics is boring (unless you need an A&E)

It’s one thing creating fictional politicians who devise cynical schemes to gain votes, it’s entirely another seeing it in action. This is a great example of bandwagoning; votes were given over to politicians who promised to save local hospital facilities only to find that those politicians let those facilities close once the votes were in, and were ‘not that friendly’ to anyone reminding them of their pre-election commitments. And, above all, we no longer have an A&E...

At the time of writing Lewisham Hospital's A&E was under threat. Through the action of some very hard-working people and local politicians concerned for constituents there it has been saved. Unfortunately the only time local politicians here became 'interested' in our hospital was just before a general election. That interest waned just as the last vote was counted.

Politics can be incomprehensible, it's no wonder so many don't get involved, or even vote. The trouble is that it does affect us; taking an interest and action won't always change things but sometimes it can. Leaving it in the hands of those who are interested for the wrong reasons is dangerous.

Here's a very real example that affects me and thousands of others. I became aware of this situation a while ago and after further research and conversations I'm horrified by the blatant bandwagoning of politicians to gain votes on an emotive issue, and subsequent inaction and aggressive avoidance when asked what they were going to do once those votes had been gained.

Queen Mary's Hospital, Sidcup, and the people that need it have been political footballs for years, no matter who they vote for. Having been a big fan of Spitting Image, the satirical 'puppet' show, I was surprised to see a campaign by local Conservatives to save the hospital's A&E and maternity services. I did little about it at the time, much to my shame, but I saw that others on twitter, etc, were questioning this change in Conservative idealism.

This is not a party political blog, there are no winners here from the political spectrum as I'll make clear later, but you only need to look at this Spitting Image sketch about Norman Fowler, the one-time Conservative Health Minister, to understand why people might have been suspicious about the motivation for Conservatives to campaign to keep hospital facilities open.

Bob Neill MP: "There won't be any forced closures at Queen Mary's under the Conservatives."

Leading up to the 2010 general election, the hospital became a massive focus for local Conservatives; it would have been hard to visit without being pounced on by James Brokenshire, the Old Bexley & Sidcup candidate, Bob Neill, the Bromley and Chislehurst MP and/or James Cleverly, the London Assembly Member for Bexley and Bromley. They went on vigils and marches, contacted media and produced videos.

Bob Neill's Youtube video is intriguing (look from two minutes into the video). Recorded days before the 2010 election, Bob says: "There will be no forced closures at Queen Mary’s under the Conservatives.” He also says: “Andrew Lansley, Shadow Health Secretary has given a firm commitment that the Conservatives will immediately call a halt to closures in our area.” An article appeared in the News Shopper describing the guarantees given by the local Conservatives - and underneath it are comments from people saying that they would now vote Conservative based on this issue. So no more worries about getting the chainsaw out in Sidcup and waving it about carelessly?

Actually, no. Within six months of the new Government taking its place, the A&E and maternity units were shut. Despite all that was said and all the votes given, the opposite of what was promised happened. Needing an A&E now means getting to Farnborough, Woolwich or Lewisham. And of course little was done about preparing other A&Es for the extra work, even if you could make it to them in time, before your severed head thawed out in its bag of frozen peas.

Car park at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich, after Queen Mary's A&E was shut. Whilst I was there a hospital parking warden was ticketing cars on the double-yellow lines.

The pre-election video that James Cleverly presented whilst he joined a Queen Mary’s protest march had him saying: “We will make sure these cuts don’t go ahead,” and: “Across London, services are being cut, we must show resistance.” The video also featured Boris Johnson who gave a passionate plea to local people to show “Relentless public displeasure” to Gordon Brown, whom it was Boris and James said wanted to shut the various units in the hospital. Boris and James had a life-size cardboard cut out of Brown with them, God only knows where they got that from.

And the reason given for eventual closure under the Conservatives? James told us that the trust couldn't get the staff. So we went from Gordon Brown (an opposing politician) threatening closure pre-election, to being unable to find anyone to work there from the NHS's seemingly global workforce after the election, once James' party was in control.

James' video became the subject of some controversy because once attention was drawn to it via Twitter during the London Assembly Member election campaign in 2012, it disappeared (his other videos with Christmas messages from years ago all remain at time of writing). Odd too was when a journalist, Adam Bienkov, asked James how many candlelight vigils he'd been on to save the hospital since the 2010 election , his answer: "The same number I went on before the election." Adam was immediately able to point to James' own press release announcing his candlelight vigil in the run up to the election. A tweet was subsequently issued confirming James' had indeed 'forgotten' a vigil that he had organised, attended and written about in a press release.

James was very unwilling to answer questions on the issue and, indeed got quite 'shirty', referring to those wanting their A&E back as 'obsessive' and claimed that only one person in the whole of his constituency was interested. Eventually he agreed to answer questions on his blog. As you can see, the answers didn't really get anyone any further on what he intended to do to restore these incredibly important services, having gained votes in the 2010 election for his friends on the back of keeping them. The comments below the Q and A also make clear the commitment to constituents, whichever way they vote.

Adam Bienkov, the journalist mentioned earlier, became interested in this issue after James took responsibility for London's fire service. He wrote a piece in Snipe which generated comments similar to those posted under a News Shopper article. However, the comments questioning comparing attitudes from Conservatives pre- and post-election posted in News Shopper were deleted by the editor after a request from 'someone'. A further comment was posted by someone else supporting the original comments, this too has now been removed. A disturbing sign of our local media's commitment to its audience.

So where are we now? I took up the cudgel on this issue a while ago but we are no further ahead with getting any political support towards having our A&E facilities restored. Initially James did respond with a predictably 'hurt that anyone should ask' tone. He promised that he had taken action since 2010 but upon further questioning about this action he revealed it to be "some letters", a far cry from the "Relentless public displeasure" demanded of constituents in the halcyon days before the 2010 election.

Despite asking James Cleverly and Bob Neill many times over the last couple of years what they are doing to resolve this situation, neither has answered. Of course James is off to the safe seat of Braintree now, we'll see what he promises his brand new constituents.

In the meantime, Sidcup Conservatives published an online newsletter, which claimed that the A&E had actually shut whilst the previous Labour government was in place! I pointed out this 'error' and it was amended, albeit with a sulky reference to it somehow being Labour's fault (despite James saying it was the Trust's fault). I asked one of the local councillors via Twitter what they were telling people on doorsteps whilst canvassing and was blocked by him for my trouble.

On election day in 2019, the fraudulent claim by local Conservatives that the A&E had closed under Labour surfaced yet again, with Councillor John Davey claiming that Labour closed it. He has been asked to retract that claim as his colleagues had done previously but has so far not done so. It is all too likely that he will either not do this, or do it after 10pm on polling day.

It's the immigrants!

Labour has been silent on this. I know that there's a very strong Conservative majority in Bexley and Bromley but the utter silence of Labour is worrying. I don't even know if there are any LibDems here but now UKIP has started making noises about the situation. However, according to UKIP the fact that we don't have an A&E is predictably down to immigrants, not the aforementioned British middle-class politicians.

I don't know about you but I've been unfortunate enough to have to have taken people to A&E on a number of occasions in the last couple of years, never have I seen the place rammed with Romanian gypsies (an accordion would have been welcome entertainment) or Polish plumbers. The group blocking the place up by far is a thoroughly British cast, seemingly from Jeremy Kyle.

I want our interests to be the first priority of elected politicians, that is certainly not the case currently. These people are turning the public away from politics. And I want our A&E back, like we were promised.

You can get The Royal Factor through this link in the UK: RoyalFactorUK, and this one in the US: RoyalFactorUS.