Like the miners, they are fighting not for more money but against closures, against an ideology which would destroy the very fundamentals of their service and industry, which would, in fact, destroy the industry itself.
In the same way as a victory over the miners was a prerequisite for the privatization of our energy, so a victory over the junior doctors is the forerunner of a fundamental change in the provision of our health services. It is the start of a programme which will end in a free market in health, an American style of provision in which the first question a hospital will ask of a sick patient is ‘Are you insured?’.
In the US, President Obama has finally got through Congress the beginnings of a federal healthcare programme. Obamacare is not the answer to all the issues, but it’s a start. And the irony of our respective situations is not lost on US citizens: as they make their tentative first steps towards some form of national health service, they look across at us attempting to dismantle the famous original. On a recent trip to Boston, this was what my American friends wanted to discuss. (Well, after the Sox pitching.)
Our American friends see and hear senior Tories such as Lord Prior and Stephen Dorrell disparaging the NHS. At a recent ‘private healthcare breakfast’, Dorrell argued that the NHS was not a ‘national religion’ but a ‘service sector’ which had a massive potential for profit. And Jeremy Hunt himself has co-authored a policy pamphlet, entitled Direct Democracy: An Agenda for a New Model Party, which argued that the NHS should be replaced by a privatised insurance market system. Similar arguments are made regularly by more obscure Tory MPs when the visit the States and appear – usually - on Fox News.
There is, clearly, an agenda. And, if one looks and listens closely enough, it is not even hidden. Between the lines in the ‘safe-in-our-hands’ election rhetoric is a clearly thought-out strategy to starve the NHS of resources, claim it isn’t working, and dismantle it.
The ‘imposition’ of the Junior Doctors’ contract is one, and only one, element in this strategy. But it is the key element. Lose this, and we lose our NHS. Perhaps not in the next couple of years, but soon. It will happen gradually but inexorably: one issue at a time. And then we will wake up to find that our National Health Service is in fact the Etihad Health Service or something similar.
That is why I shall be taking a short walk for the good of my health and our health service on Sunday, marching down the Parade in Leamington Spa. I shall be joined by other senior citizens for junior doctors, by doctors and nurses, by councillors and academics, and by grandchildren who were born in the NHS.
A quarter of a century ago, the NHS saved my life. Now, I want to save the NHS.
See you in Top Park at 2pm.
Today from the everysmith vaults: Still Chris Forsyth, a great deal of acoustic blues, and - of course - Bob.