Passionate fighting isn’t something we equate with gentle Newbury folk, but the fire is in the belly of many in West Berks. It’s there because the NHS is under threat of destruction by the Conservative government.
On March 4th, 2017 a band of merry Newbury Labour members made their way into London to join 250,000 likeminded NHS believers. By train, by union coach and by car, a group of us found our way to a corner of Tavistock Square and unfurled our Newbury Labour banner and shared out the banners.
We ranged in age from 5 to 72yrs, and we stood eagerly waiting for the start of the march. We were surrounded by colourful, serious, but friendly and earnest folk. Many were nurses and doctors and others who work diligently in the NHS. They shared their deep concern of the current state of things, and what they feared was the inevitable outcome if this government doesn’t change course, quickly.
We watched more and more banners and placards and signs come into the square. Soon the pre-made union style banners were matched in number to the homemade, sporting slogans like, “No Hunt Sabotage”, “NHS, Save it for our children”, “How can you make a profit out of people who are ill?”, “Wake Up! Your NHS is being stolen”, “The Cruel Lie. The NHS is Safe in our Hands”, Live On with #Our NHS. Die Off without”, and the colourful hand drawn and painted, “Save our NHS”. The most popular was the gruesome but very telling full size vulture perched atop an NHS sign. The bird had ripped apart the NHS sign and it was bleeding as the dripped from it’s beak and claws.
After a long hour of people continuing to pour into the space which was the march launch pad, and the air thick with anticipation, we finally got underway. And it wasn’t long before we all got into the rhythm of our march. We even had the chance to dance along to the sound of a great band who had speakers on a bike and they roved amongst us and played the entire way.
The journey took us down through the streets of Bloomsbury, then across Shaftesbury down past Trafalgar Square. The crowds were behind us and while many tourists were a little bewildered by our procession, those in the know where clapping and encouraging us as we passed.
Eventually we made our way down Whitehall. The entire road was closed for us, so we had the space and the freedom to simply take in the grandeur of what is one of democracy’s great sign posts. But it was the booing that could be heard as marchers made their way past no. 10 Downing street which showed us democracy at work. The people were speaking loud and clear.
At the end of Whitehall we filed into Parliament square. It too was closed off to traffic as the roads were teeming with people once all the marchers had assembled. There was a great buzz and we mixed happily amongst fellow Labour CLP’s, including our neighbours up in Whitney.
On the stage we heard from an array if speakers. We listened to those, who like the majority of us, have used the NHS across their lifetimes. We listened to the stories of those who were brought to the UK by the Government to work in the NHS. And we listened to the union leaders and the politicians.
But when the leader of the Labour Party took to the stage, the entire crowd fell silent. There was a feeling that this could go either way for Jeremy Corbyn. He had, just a few weeks before, voted divisively with the government on the European Union Withdrawal Bill. His initial introduction was not met with the full crowd support.
Then he started to speak. “The NHS is in crisis, in crisis because of the underfunding in social care and the people not getting the care and support they need. There are those waiting on trolleys and those who are desperate to get into an A&E department waiting hours for treatment. It is not the fault of the staff. It is the fault of a government who have made a political choice.” He called on Philip Hammond to properly fund the health service with an emphasis on social care and mental health services in the next budget due a few days later. And he urged us all to “Defend the NHS with all your might”.
Suffice to say, the speech was well received, and the man at the head of the Labour Party showed what it is to deliver a stirring speech.
The day ended for all of us with a quick de-brief at a nearby pub. We huddled in to try and warm up on what turned out to be a rather chilly afternoon down by the Thames.
And while the March may be over, the call for us all to Defend the NHS has resonated well. Please sign the petition at our Northbrook St stalls held monthly. And get writing to your local MP, you local councils and ask them what they are doing about the NHS funding crisis and the Social Care crisis!