“Our NHS is not for sale – and nor are our human rights”

Labour Hub republishes Shami Chakrabarti’s speech to the Socialist Campaign Group rally on September 21st 2020

It’s an absolute privilege to join this rally in solidarity and hope for the future.

I join the call this evening for a new radical settlement coming out of the current pandemic, just as previous generations forged them after global crises.

That means rights for all people, not just the most privileged, who with the help of Johnson, Trump and Cummings shield themselves from the worst health and wealth consequences of these times, whilst demanding that others get back to work, school and the front line of infection as cleaners, construction and care workers carry on with inadequate testing and tracing, and sometimes only bin-liners for protection.

They’re being treated like the working poor of the past, sent to unsafe mills, mines and trenches, whilst their paymasters complain about the inconvenience of wearing a mask or not being able to drive their landrovers and labradors to beauty spots at any moment of their choosing.

Everyone loves some human rights – their own- it’s just other peoples’ protections that are a little bit harder to swallow.

There is a lot of talk about patriotism again these days.

I am happy to call myself a patriot, but not if that means using human rights as justification for wars over there, but never refugee protection over here.

But not if patriotism means nationalism and even xenophobia – that old right wing trick of divide and rule, turning the world’s poor against one another as a distraction from the death and destruction caused by inequality and greed, whether during Covid, or at Grenfell, or in unnecessary wars or impending climate catastrophe.

Why should internationalism just be for oligarchs and criminals and not for ordinary people and the values that can help them come together?

And now more than ever, medical uniforms are just as important as military ones, and our greatest national treasure is the NHS.

It has been admired and envied by ordinary people all over the world for over seventy years and, was built and continues to be delivered by people from all over the world as well.

It’s perhaps the greatest socialist experiment in world history – so successful and popular that its enemies can only undermine it by stealth.

But just as it’s admired by ordinary people, it is eyed up greedily by many private companies, who lick their lips at gaining access to our most personal information and carving up our services for profit, putting up the price of vital drugs and vaccines.

Just as we need better to protect our NHS heroes, we need to protect the NHS itself from attack. We own it. So let’s protect it, not with warm words or even pots and pans on a Thursday night.

We need an urgent amendment to the Trade Bill. Our NHS is not for sale.

And nor are our human rights.

Black Lives Matter is a movement, not a moment. It can be traced back to the struggle against slavery itself. I stand with them against structural and endemic racism.

And I will never stand with Rupert against Greta. Extinction Rebellion is in a noble tradition of peaceful direct action so that ordinary people might be heard. Free speech is a two-way street.

We need to fight the Overseas Operations Bill which according to Amnesty International would “effectively decriminalise torture”.

I’ll take no lessons in patriotism from this Tory Government after they left so many WWII survivors to perish in ill-prepared private care homes this year.

Friends, let’s be clear, beyond this terrible time, there will be no going back to January 2020. It’s either forward to a more equal, peaceful and sustainable settlement, or its far, far back. So, some will argue for 1920 or even 1820. I am not of their number.

And just remember, solidarity isn’t just the destination -.it’s the means of transport as well.

Image: Official portrait of Baroness Chakrabarti, Source: https://api.parliament.uk/Live/photo/jjCKoH6R.jpeg?crop=MCU_3:4&quality=80&download=true, Author: Chris McAndrew,  licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.