Sunday, July 01, 2007
Labour Party Ambulance
If it's Wednesday it must be Wigan
We had a good day in... What was that place, Tom? 'I don't remember, John.' 'Well, it was Thursday, it must have been...' Tom Church and John Hart only met last November (1982).
Since then they've travelled more than 12,000 miles together round Britain in a converted ambulance as the spearhead of the Labour Party's NHS campaign.
They've visited 206 places, often starting at 9 am, finishing only at the close of evening meetings, sometimes seven days a week. The ambulance was designed to take the Labour Party's campaign to the grassroots.
The aim was to provide flexibility for local work, and to maintain a coherent national link between what could otherwise have been a series ofdesparate fights to save local services. It was also designed to provide a strong visual aid for publicity, although this was not the top priority.
It was clear from the start that if the party was to put over socialist arguments for a nationalised health service-as distinct from the liberal sentiment that the NHS is 'a good thing'-it could not rely on the media True the ambulance had its problems.
In the North it was moved on by a traffic warden for parking on double yellow lines. It was banned from one town centre by the Tory council. In another an irate shopkeeper threw a bucket offishwater into it. For Tom and John the tour has been a lesson in political campaigning. Early on they discovered that what the public really wanted was information. Privatisation was an issue which particularly aroused public interest. People were concerned about the contracting out of ancillary services as well as the long waiting lists for NHS treatment.
The two drivers tested the ground in Tory strongholds, and found that on a popular issue like the NHS, they could at least talk to people and raise some interest.
Whether such a populist approach could actually win votes is another question. At any rate the party's Euro Unit is using an open-topped double decker bus for its campaign; and have you heard what's planned for the anti-cruise campaign... ?
Sally Coetzee New Socialist March/April 1984