An inside report from the ‘Startled Socialist’
I write this just hours before online polling ends – at 17.00 hours on Wednesday 17th March – for the three Executive positions and 20 nationally elected Central Council (CC) delegates of the Socialist Health Association, one of Labour’s oldest (since 1930) and most important affiliated socialist societies.
The SHA’s branches had all concluded their elections of branch Executive and CC delegates in AGMs by mid-January this year. Eight weeks later, an AGM was timetabled for 6th March – later moved to 20th March for no stated reason – whereby the outgoing Executive should submit their reports and annual accounts for all members to approve, and motions of an annual nature should be presented and debated. After that, normally, the new executive and new CC delegates proceed with a first meeting to start the business of the year.
May to November 2020: Gaming Democracy
Last year’s branch AGMs were held out of sync with the national AGM because of the snap General Election of 2019, in agreement with the 2019 Chair and ongoing Secretary. When this fact was identified in a CC meeting last spring, an opportunity was seen and seized by the new Labour First-supported Chair Brian Fisher and others to render all but one English branch ‘unconstitutionally elected’. This left the CC consisting of the West Midlands branch delegates, mostly Labour First sympathisers,, two from Wales, two from Scotland, the 20 national delegates and several ‘replacements’ chosen by the Chair, and possibly the Secretary, for their Labour First sympathies: they were people who had stood in their branch AGMs but had not been elected. The CC was now dominated by an executive and delegates more sympathetic to a ‘mixed economy’ in health, with a more relaxed approach to private sector involvement and less supportive of the NHS Reinstatement Bill.
The current Treasurer Martin Brooks replaced Irene Leonard who was deemed to have ‘resigned herself’ when she found her work untenable because she was denied access to scrutiny of the PayPal account, through which most members’ fees are received and many of the incidental expenses are paid out.
The Secretary of the SHA, Jean Hardiman-Smith has held her elected office for some years. Her husband, Ken Smith is the part-time paid Administrator of the organisation.
Legal action was pursued on behalf of those excluded, a Letter Before Action, not pursued to the High Court for want of funds. It is believed that Brian Fisher, the Chair on behalf of the ‘coup’ organisers sought legal advice from Labour’s top drawer law firm Edwards, Duthie and Shamash on ‘governance issues’. Today, in the reluctantly-released-to-members Treasurer’s report for the past year we learn that £7,360 has been spent on solicitors ‘by SHA’. We still do not officially know the law firm, the hourly fee earning rate, the heads of law consulted on, the advice given, but we know that last year’s exclusions from Central Council and possibly this year’s unspecified, yet alleged breach of GDPR are at least part of what the advice was for. No permission was sought from the CC to approach solicitors. It seems yet another £4,000 has also been requested from the CC. This late submission of the Treasurer’s report is the final straw that has led me to write this piece.
Since December 2020: Gaming democracy II
Labour First announced a recruitment drive in December when they put out a call to their members and supporters to take over the SHA properly. This lured everyone from left and right into a massive recruitment effort. The cut-off date for participation in the national online poll and formal AGM had been 31st December by custom and practice. Two Labour First-supported members from West Midlands branch ’supervised’ all the branch AGMs.
The branch elections eligibility freeze date was fairly unclear and in the event recruitment for branch votes went right up to the wire. In Greater Manchester branch people were still joining after the AGM had started. When the London branch left unexpectedly won the London AGM, creating a massive 30 delegates, it became vital for the Labour First-supported SHA executive to address the new balance of forces in the SHA, given that numerically London had received a huge boost to its delegation size and membership numbers to participate in the election of officers and national delegates. Notably London’s delegation is not entirely derived from the left of the SHA but it meant that the gains Labour First made last year might not hold without some other manoeuvres. Here are just some of them:
1. Some or all branch secretaries were denied access to the up-to-date membership lists: emails and phone calls to the national office requesting the lists were made but not answered. Branches were keen to get on with organising meetings of members for legitimate purposes. I believe they were denied access in order to make new branch officers look incompetent, unaccountable and out of touch. Also, a series of emails from the Chair to all members followed, barefaced electioneering and ‘virtue signalling’. Presumably the Labour First-supported executive believed that left branch officers’ access to full membership lists would result in those branch executives behaving similarly inappropriately.
2. The national AGM was postponed from 6th to 20th March for no reason, except all the work that had been created for the Executive out of the London AGM. During this period, another branch, South West, was created with their own delegation, now able to vote in the adjourned AGM.
3. A meeting was convened by the Executive of the old CC for 13th February -‘unscheduled’ because normally there is no business between the branch AGMs and the national polling/AGM. At that meeting a new cut-off date for eligibility to vote was moved from 31st December to 13th February at noon (during the meeting). For a whole month since the branch AGM cycle, I believe Labour First had been further recruiting when others were resting with the certainty of eligibility at 31st December. Also, the CC voted to remove questions, voting and debate from the AGM. Members were to submit questions in advance and receive replies by email at an unspecified time. No resolutions of an annual or constitutional nature were to take place either.
4. On 4th March branch secretaries and chairs received an email from the national Executive ordering destruction of membership data currently held. An unsubstantiated breach/complaint about misuse of data was alleged. Surprisingly, branch officers were invited to ask the Administrator to send out all correspondence on behalf of branches. This had not been offered at any stage in the seven weeks following the branch AGMs in mid-January. In fact there was no answer to attempts at contact by the unwanted branch executives.
5. On 5th March a further email was sent to all members outlawing a launch of the left’s ‘Our SHA’ campaign launch by Zoom due to take place on 6th March. The Executive alleged three left Vice Chairs were ‘using official branch emails’, despite the fact that all organising had been done using existing established WhatsApp and other digital networks. It is not known what information Labour First’s ‘Support for NHS’ campaign used to organise their launch. Certainly there has been an egregious use of the full membership list by the Labour First-supported current Executive to send out partisan emails to all members disguised as normal communication to members.
6. On 10th March members received their online ballots in an email from CES. Many have not recognised this source and ignored it. Others have not received anything, yet with support have contacted Civica to rectify this. The deadline for return of these ballots is 17th March at 17.00 hours. We do not even know the size of the electorate as membership lists have not been made available to secretaries on the left. In addition, there is the additional requirement to send an email to request to attend the AGM this Saturday. The deadline for sending in questions is 18th March at 9.00 hours. We should receive the results of the online polls by Thursday night. At some stage before Saturday’s ‘AGM’ a Zoom or Teams link will presumably be sent only to those members that have emailed in.
This is not going to be a normal AGM of the SHA. It seems it is not being run so that all members might equally participate.
What’s it really all about?
So far the Labour First-organised wing of the SHA has not made manifest any major policy disagreements it has with the SHA left. The current Chair has worked closely with Keep Our NHS Public in particular in responding to the Integrated Care Systems consultation. The divergence will become more apparent after the AGM.
The Labour Party has been slow and unskilful in responding to ten years of Tory stealth developments on Health and Social Care. The SHA has tried over the years to be a critical friend to the Labour front bench, trying to nudge it in the right direction. Other campaigning organisations have helped. But as we face the imminent implementation of a USA-style Accountable Care/Integrated Care System model for health care provision in England (and possibly throughout the four nations), the Labour Party is instead focusing on purging the CLPs and socialist societies of their left members, all being done in order ‘for Starmer to succeed’.
There seems to be an unlimited budget for Labour Party litigation in this cause. So far we know little about Starmer except that he is an Atlanticist by inclination, evidenced by his time as DPP. Jonathan Ashworth has already said Labour will go along with the Integrated Care Systems, yet with democratic accountability.
We on the left wish to oppose these changes to the NHS completely as they are a Trojan Horse for big business extracting even greater profits, delivering a narrower and much smaller NHS offering to the public. We believe that the NHS should exist only to satisfy patient need. We know that the amount of treatment and care offered is in an inverse relation to the profit that is extracted from the budget.
Please support the ‘Our SHA’ slate:
Officers – Chair – Mark Ladbrooke
Secretary – Punita Goodfellow
Treasurer – Esther Giles
Central Council Members to vote for:
Image: https://www.rt.com/uk/379439-nhs-protest-london-healthcare/ © 50_shades_of_gracey © Instagram, licensed under creative commons licenses
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