Fury as Labour bans members for plot to defeat Jeremy Hunt

Jeremy Hunt hospital NHS
Ben Janaway

The Canary reported on 8 May about a progressive alliance plan to unseat Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. But now, three Labour members – Steve Williams, Kate Townsend and Robert Park – have been expelled from the party for supporting a GP-led challenge against the beleaguered Health Secretary. With the NHS in crisis, and Hunt widely blamed, the move could be seen as pedantic. Can Labour afford to play politics with lives at stake?

GP-led plot to oust Hunt

An alliance of Greens, Labour members, and Liberal Democrats united behind the National Health Action Party in direct opposition to Hunt. This action in Hunt’s South West Surrey constituency broke ground in party politics. For the first time, all the mainstream parties mentioned above had agreed to stand aside locally. And public support for Dr Louise Irvine, a harsh critic of Hunt, is the latest move in a chess game of tactical voting popping up around the country.

The alliance placed eliminating Hunt above and beyond individual party aspirations. Given the global criticism of Hunt’s chaotic NHS tenure, the progressive alliance has received huge support. By supporting Irvine directly, the parties involved made the best chance of ousting Hunt.

But the plan has fallen foul of Labour bigwigs, as public support for another party is a breach of Labour policy. And the party’s decision to expel its own members has sparked public outrage. Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas criticised both the Labour and Lib Dem leaderships for “betraying the people they represent”. She claimed: “There was a real chance to unite around a pro-NHS candidate to beat Jeremy Hunt, but Labour might well have now blown it”. Steve Williams himself said:

That’s all we were trying to do — trying to get the Labour Party to see the sense in having a single candidate to hold Mr Hunt to account for what he’s done to the health service.

A press release from the Progressive Alliance campaign group raises further concerns. Williams says in the release that Surrey seats have always been beyond the reach of Labour. But he invokes Labour doctrine to support his case for electoral alliances:

Clause IV of the Labour Party states: ‘by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone’. For me these aren’t just words on a piece of paper but a strategy the Labour Party must commit itself to if we want to see progressive change in Britain. Only by progressives working together can we beat the Tories.

Hunt must go

Hunt’s record includes alleged lying over the so-called ‘weekend effect’, seeking counsel from private healthcare firms, and waging war on NHS staff. With NHS debt at a record high, staffing in crisis, and healthcare groups fearing the worst, Hunt’s reign seems as incompetent as it is despotic. Crucially, a doctor with his record would face serious questions over the consequences of his words and actions. But seemingly, Hunt’s high office means untouchability.

In a recent car-crash interview, Hunt was embarrassed to admit a protracted failure of waiting time targets. He also failed to properly address concerns over nurses using foodbanks.

People over political games

The latest blunder from the Labour Party establishment, however, further amplifies the distance between MPs and the people. MPs should put ordinary people first, regardless of personal aspiration. And any chance to oust Hunt is of direct benefit both to the NHS and the population it serves.

The time has come to put people before political games. The sooner Labour learns that, the better.

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