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With the polls predicting yet another landslide victory for Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership contest, Owen Smith, his chameleonic right wing challenger, continues to base his campaign strategy on a combination of slander and political opportunism.
The latest swipe comes in an article on Labourlist which details Smith’s ten point program for “rescuing” the NHS. According to article, “Smith blamed Jeremy Corbyn for failing to effectively oppose the Conservatives’ agenda.”
Corbyn supporters will be amused to hear this accusation from the Prontypridd MP who, prior to his career as a parliamentarian, worked as a corporate lobbyist for the private healthcare firm Pfizer.
Even after being elected as an MP in 2010, Smith has spoken out in favour of “improved incentives” for pharmaceutical corporations and against the “use of cheaper non-patent drugs by the NHS.”
Of course, Smith now claims to be “100%” in favour of a “publicly owned NHS free at the point of use.” But if this were really the case, then he would have supported the NHS Reinstatement Bill, tabled by the Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, which aimed to reinvent the NHS based on its “founding principles and reverse the creeping marketisation of the health service.”
That Smith thinks his track record can be swept under the carpet so easily is an insult to the intelligence of Labour members.
In the same article, Smith also calls Jeremy Hunt the “worst Health Secretary in the NHS’s history”. Although there may be more than a grain of truth in this accusation, in reality Hunt is simply reaping what Blairite Health Ministers, such as Alan Milburn and Patricia Hewitt, have sown.
Throughout the late 1990s and 2000s, Tony Blair’s Labour government consistently legislated to introduce privatization into the NHS through Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs).
Through the use of PFIs, NHS contracts, such as construction and services, were opened up to private profit. Initially this enabled Labour to fund projects without paying anything up front; in the long term, however, this has led to hospitals being saddled with astronomical levels of debt. In some cases, more is now spent on paying back interest than on running hospitals.
On the subject of PFIs, Owen Smith said “If PFI works, then let’s do it. What people want to see are more hospitals, better services.”, yet now claims to have been against them all along.
These favours for big business have paid dividends for Labour’s former Health Secretaries. Hewitt now earns more than £100,000 as a consultant for Boots, one of the biggest pharmaceutical chains in the world, and as a “special adviser” to private equity company Cinven, which bought 25 of Bupa’s UK hospitals for £1.4 billion in 2007.
Similarly, following his resignation as Secretary of State for Health in 2003, Milburn took a post for £30,000 a year as an advisor to Bridgepoint Capital, a venture capital firm heavily involved in financing private health care firms moving into the NHS, including Alliance Medical, Match Group, Medica, and the Robinia Care Group.
There is every reason to suspect that Smith, if he were to become Labour’s next elected leader, would continue this ignoble tradition of corporate cronyism.
Corbyn, by contrast, was one of the few Labour MPs to throw his weight behind the NHS Reinstatement Bill, and has appeared on picket lines supporting the Junior Doctors.
If sections of the working class are put off Labour at present, it is because the Parliamentary Labour Party and local councils continue to be dominated by unprincipled careerists and right wingers, who oppose Corbyn at every turn. Indeed, prior to the coup attempt Corbyn was actually polling neck and neck with the Tories.
After the leadership election, Corbyn and his supporters in Momentum need to act decisively to reselect those who have supported the coup – a policy now supported by Britain’s largest trade union Unite. In doing so, Corbyn can lay the groundwork for a new and truly socialist Labour Party.