On 21 February, Downing Street refused to accept a petition from Cumbrian healthcare campaigners. The snub comes just two days before a crucial by-election in that county.
The rebuff was either an act of complete arrogance, or cowardice. But either way, it explains why the Tories may well lose.
Don’t answer and they’ll go away
The petition by the We Need West Cumberland Hospital campaign group appeals against a proposed downgrading of services at the hospital. The plans would particularly affect maternity services, and force expectant mothers to travel 40 miles for emergency care. The petition has received 30,000 signatures.
Local campaigner Siobhan Gearing tried to hand over the petition. As did Workington MP Sue Hayman, who arranged the visit. Downing Street had agreed to accept the petition at 4pm on 21 February, Hayman claims. But after initially being instructed to wait by police, a Downing Street security official told them it would have to wait until after Thursday, or they could alternatively leave it with police. They chose the latter.
According to The North-West Evening Mail, Hayman raised the issue in parliament. She said:
I am concerned that I have been prevented from handing in a petition that was properly booked in through the procedures because of a by-election, and that this has been politicised.
Downing Street claimed the proper “procedures weren’t followed”. But the police have now handed the petition over. And Downing Street stated it will ‘fully consider’ and respond to it. Downing Street added:
No decisions have been made about the future of health services in north, west and east Cumbria.
We understand the concerns of people living in rural areas and agree that patients should receive high quality care, regardless of where they live.
May’s second blunder
ITV interviewed May a week earlier. And the programme gave her ample opportunity to show that she ‘understood the concerns’ of Cumbrian residents over the downgrading of these services. But she refused to commit to opposing the plans. Instead, she dodged the question four times.
And now, her office has dodged the delivery of a petition on that very issue. If this downgrading is the defining issue for the Copeland by-election, May is absolutely failing to rise to it. And it could cost the Tories a chance at this parliamentary seat.
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