Expel the Blairite traitors
Eddie Ford says Milburn and Hutton are doing their best to discredit Ed Miliband’s NHS plans. They are acting as Tory agents
Last week saw Ed Miliband launch his general election plan to “weaponise” the national health service by promising to recruit an extra 20,000 nurses and 8,000 GPs, as well as guaranteeing doctors’ appointments within 48 hours and repealing privatisation laws.
There was an immediate Blairite counteroffensive from the usual suspects: Alan Milburn (a former Trotskyist) and Lord John Hutton of Furness, co-author of How to be a minister: a 21st century guide. Both, of course, were ministers under Tony Blair - the former as health secretary from 1999 to 2003 and the latter as secretary for work and pensions from 2005-07 (Hutton was subsequently defence secretary under Gordon Brown). They are more notable, however, for disgracefully taking up posts dished out by the coalition government. Milburn became ‘social mobility tsar’ - an Orwellian job title if ever there was one - and Hutton headed a commission into public-sector pensions: ie, acted as a stooge for the government’s onslaught on pension rights, terms and conditions (alongside the odious Frank Field as ‘poverty tsar’).
Symbolically using the pages of the Financial Times (January 27) to mount the attack, they accused Miliband of “failing to defend” the economic record of recent Labour administrations - that is, trying to distance himself from some aspects of the glorious Blair legacy. After all, they write, the last Labour government could be considered “one of the most prudent in modern times”. It cut the deficit and national debt - so much so that George Osborne in 2007 committed the Tories to sticking to Labour’s spending plans. The duo claim to be concerned that the plans of Miliband and Ed Balls will hand the Tories a “needless advantage”; instead the two Eds need to set the “record straight” and “reclaim ground” before it is too late. Quite correctly, the rightwing press interpreted the article as an attempt to sabotage Miliband.
Continuing the theme in an interview for the BBC’s The world at one, Milburn said it was all fine and dandy to talk about spending more money on the NHS, but it would be a “fatal mistake” not to concentrate on ‘reforming’ it - by which he means introducing more market-based initiatives. Regrettably, sighed Milburn, the Labour leader’s NHS pledges are but a “pale imitation” of the failed 1992 general election campaign. Rather, he went on to argue, Labour needs to be realistic and face up to the fact that there are some “hard choices” to be made about the economy - and the “future shape” of public services in general.
Hutton could not resist another bite of the cherry either, saying how important it was that Labour tackles some of the “fundamental” things that need to be “fixed” in the NHS - so that it “becomes efficient” and delivers “better outcomes” for patients. Healso expressed disapproval of the announcement by Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary and hot tip for future Labour leader, that he would revert to Labour’s previous policy of giving the NHS “preferred bidder” status when considering contracts - effectively reversing the steady encroachment of private providers under the coalition. Hutton hypocritically complained about “another round of organisational change”, when in fact it has been the coalition that has introduced the biggest bout of top-down ‘reforms’ since 1945. Permanent counterrevolution.
The latest grumblings are part of a broader offensive by the Blairite vanguard over the recent period. Tony Blair himself told TheEconomist this month that May’s election could see a “traditional leftwing party compete with a traditional rightwing party, with the traditional result” - ie, electoral defeat (January 3). Lord Peter Mandelson, infamous for being “intensely relaxed” about people who are obscenely rich, has stepped into the breach too. Lambasting Miliband’s “crude” mansion tax plans, the former business secretary thinks Labour should be “recreating” the success of the Clinton-Blair era, where there was a “pro-business, liberal economic approach”.1 Keep to the right, not the left.
According to some accounts, Burnham is regarded as a turncoat by senior Blairites - hence the latest interventions are part of a campaign to prevent him becoming Labour leader if Miliband loses the election. Blairites and Labour centrists look to people like David Miliband, Chuka Umunna or Liz Kendall as potential leaders able to take the party in a different direction.
John Prescott, former deputy prime minister, reacted with fury to the attacks on Miliband’s NHS proposals, denouncing Milburn and Hutton as “Tory collaborators” and urging them to go back to “advising Pepsi and the nuclear industry”. His remarks are essentially a rerun of his 2010 tweet describing them as people who “collaborated to get Brown out” and are “now collaborating to keep Cameron in” - making themselves, as he later put it, “human shields” for “policies that will hit the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest - the very people Labour was founded to protect”.2
Lord Prescott, at least on this issue, is perfectly correct. Milburn and Hutton are collaborators and traitors. Milburn profits directly from the private healthcare industry, not only from his consultancy work to private healthcare through AM Strategy - which made a £663,000 profit last year - but also as chair of PricewaterhouseCooper’s health industry oversight board. Upon his appointment to the latter position, he blithely noted that there were “strong opportunities for growth” in the private healthcare sector - never a truer word said.
If that was not enough, he also sits on the strategic advisory board for WellDoc, used to be vice-chairman of the Lloyds Pharmacy advisory board and chairs iWantGreatCare. But do not forget his advisory role with Bridgepoint Capital, owners of Care UK - one of the UK’s largest private companies delivering NHS healthcare. In his spare time he is also a non-executive director at a Swedish private healthcare firm specialising in renal care, as well as a senior advisor to Pepsi Cola - well known for its contribution to public health and wellbeing.
As for Hutton, he is on the board of the US nuclear power company, Hyperion Power Generation. More crucially, he sits on the board of Circle Holdings - the UK’s largest private health provider, which has won £285 million in NHS contracts since 2013. Circle hit the headlines last month after it pulled out of running Hinchingbrooke, the country’s first privately run hospital, when the Care Quality Commission rated its performance “inadequate” and recommended that the hospital should be placed under “special measures”. Attempting to defend itself, Circle issued a statement to the London Stock Exchange (its share price falling by 25% on the news) justifying its decision to pull out of running Hinchingbrooke, citing funding cuts of 10% this year and the “surge” in demand for accident and emergency services - if people stopped getting ill or having accidents then maybe we could make a profit.
Hinchingbrooke is an awkward issue for Burnham as well. Yes, he inherited the decision to call in the private sector at the troubled hospital when he became health secretary in June 2009, but was actually in office when a short list of three providers - including Circle - was drawn up in March 2010 on the eve of the general election. Circle was obviously the best outfit for the job and thus got selected as the “preferred bidder” in November 2010 by the coalition and awarded the contract a year later. Everyone has egg on their face.
By taking Cameron’s proverbial pieces of silver, Milburn and Hutton make it obvious that they represent forms of politics radically alien to the interests of the working class.
There is a precedent, naturally enough. In the early 1930s, the last decade when capitalism faced an economic crisis as serious as the present one, the incumbent Labour minority government found itself irretrievably split on cuts in unemployment benefit. Ramsay MacDonald, the prime minister, responded by forming a ‘national government’ with Tories and Liberals - he and the other Labour members of the new government were immediately expelled from the party, even if slightly reluctantly.
It is necessary to do this again when faced with the current crop of collaborators and traitors. OK, Milburn and Hutton may be political small fry compared to MacDonald, Philip Snowden and JH Thomas, but they clearly represent the sort of Blairite baggage that must be unceremoniously dumped if Labour is to have any chance of constituting itself as a serious oppositional force with resonance in the working class. In 1948 Aneurin Bevan memorably described the Tory Party as “lower than vermin”, as it “condemned millions of first-class people to semi-starvation”. Could you imagine even in your wildest dreams John Hutton or Alan Milburn saying anything even remotely similar?
If the likes of Milburn are allowed to get away with their treachery, this will undermine resistance to the coalition government - and taint any possible future Labour administration. Of course, their expulsion would be part and parcel of a much wider battle to make Labour a party that actually serves the working class. Communists unashamedly fight to transform the Labour Party in this way. By this we do not mean craftily capturing posts within the Labour machine through some form of deep entryism or skulduggery. Rather, we fight to make Labour a real workers’ party, waging a protracted struggle to thoroughly democratise it, along with the trade unions; encouraging left and revolutionary organisations to affiliate and openly organise within it; and winning the mass of the Labour Party’s membership to the politics and programme of Marxism.
Though it hardly needs to be said, our call for the expulsion of Milburn and Hutton has nothing to do with intolerance or a desire to suppress freedom of expression inside the Labour Party - quite the opposite. Our fundamental objection to these Judases - the enemy within - is that they overtly fight for the interests of the bourgeoisie, as opposed to those of the working class.
1. The Guardian January 20.
2. The Daily Telegraph August 15 2010.