On a cold, bright day in April, on the Euston Road at about midday on Thursday, a solid phalanx of junior doctors picketing the Jade Green eminence of University College Hospital, arrayed up the steps like a choir in orange BMA hats; and all still singing after standing there for over four hours.
This lot shall not be moved.
And now they are being reinforced by RCN members who voted against the miserable pay deal the government offered; even though their union leadership got cold feet and recommended they accept it, in a desperate hope to get something from the struggle without going for broke.
I have to say that I am proud of my own union, the NEU, which recommended rejection of a similarly insulting “offer” (a one off £1000 now plus a 4.5% percentage rise for September below half the inflation rate that would have had to be paid out of existing school budgets). NEU members voted 98% reject on a 66% turnout. The other teacher’s union, the NASUWT, also voted to reject by 87%, and so have the Heads unions, ASCL, by 87% and NAHT by 90%. These unions will now be reballoting for action and so will the NEU, to get a mandate to continue action into the Autumn and Winter if need be.
Suddenly the ground is shifting under Rishi Sunak’s attempts to defuse struggles with minimal offers; and the delusion of stability generated by abandoning Brexiteer brinkmanship over the Northern Ireland Protocol is now looking shaky. The local elections are just a few weeks away. If the Conservatives get the hammering they deserve, Sunak could be on the skids. This would be a real problem for the Tories – as he was brought in after a succession Prime Minsters who were becoming increasingly, visibly, deranged – from May to Johnson to Truss – as a competent bean counting technician to steady the ship; rather like the way Italy sometimes deploys a technocrat; or a company on the slide brings in a consultant from PWC.
If they haemorrhage votes in May, and the already frantic recriminations among Tory backbenchers go into overdrive – as they scrabble around for a way, any way, to hold onto their seats – turns into open factional fighting, the ruling class might have to turn to Starmer as the only viable option to maintain their interests; a role he is very keen to carry out.
This is shown by all the moves that signal his reliability for them, from banning Jeremy Corbyn as a Labour candidate, to an aversion to supporting picket lines, to attacks on law and order and military spending from the right; all the way to a preparedness to use racism in recent personalised attack ads that made even David Blunkett’s stomach turn. This is reassurance for them and a warning to us. But it also means that Starmer is not only dampening down expectations, he is also damping down the Labour vote; as people unhappy with the changes he has made since 2019 walk out of the open door he has challenged us to exit by, and the poll lead steadily slips. While the standing of the Party is held up by hostility to the Tories, his personal ratings are floating like a lead balloon.
Given all this, the best conditions in which a Starmer government could come to office would therefore be if the Tories had visibly been brought down by popular resistance in the ongoing strike wave; which would make it much harder for Starmer to carry out the “hard choices” he has lined up; and face him with a mobilised and increasingly politically conscious movement with a government’s scalp on its belt.
It feels significant that a song often heard on the Doctor’s pickets has the same tune as “Oh Jeremy Corbyn”; so the ghost of the Left’s last surge is haunting the soundtrack of the latest one.
I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night
Alive as you and me
I said, but Joe you’re ten years dead
I never died said he…