A view from the Left

Labour Party

“Have you noticed doctor? She can’t see you.”

The care home staff, had described Marjorie as “Not herself”. Her chest was clear, her urine was clear. She was chatting quite normally to the daughter sitting on her right. But her other daughter had spotted a subtle change. Sitting on her left, it was as if her mother couldn’t acknowledge her. I checked out the daughter’s assessment and had to agree. When I moved to the left, as far as her mother was concerned, I didn’t exist either.

As a socialist GP and Councillor, I know how her daughter feels. Or at least, I used to. A sunny week in Brighton does seem to have changed all that. In autumnal Manchester 2014, it had seemed as if it was all over for the left. Labour Conference had been persuaded it was time to ditch our ‘embarrassing Uncles’, the Trade Union leaders who had founded and funded the Party for a hundred years. Ed Miliband announced that the next Leader would be chosen by OMOV – One Member, One Vote.
Far from being ignored and sidelined, the socialists in the Party are now centre stage. With 59% of the overall vote, the quiet man Jeremy Corbyn has taken the Leadership. At Conference, it is as if the Party has just woken up from a dream and is having to pinch itself awake.

As GPs, we should be thankful for the thirteen successful Blairite years. I can remember the 1990s when the wait for a hip replacement was 18 months, not 18 weeks. I can remember when pharmaceutical reps were unrestrained and evidence based practice a nice idea ‘in theory’. NICE guidelines have their limitations, but this Labour institution still acts as a bastion against profiteers and charlatans. Alan Johnson’s ‘Improving Access to Psychological Therapies’ did what it said on the tin, reducing first appointments in my patch to less than 9 weeks.

When I first met Jeremy Corbyn, over twenty years ago, I was collecting ‘celebrities’ from the Festival gate to speak in the Political Tent at the Big Green Gathering. Seeing me struggle to juggle my roles as organiser and mother, he swung my laughing toddler onto his broad shoulders and carried him across the rough ground. Twenty years ago, seen from the left, Corbyn was the acceptable face of mainstream Labour. As the window of political thought moved to the neoliberal right, he was seen as on the edge. Anyone further to the left fell off the radar entirely.

How will Labour fare under a Corbyn leadership? Already women in the Party are seeing the benefit with Angela Eagle his First Secretary of State in a shadow cabinet dominated by women. Far from routing the Blairite wing, Corbyn has kept former Health Secretary Andy Burnham as his Shadow Home Secretary and is relying on right Rosie Winterton to Whip them into line.

Are we seeing a new kind of leadership in politics? I do hope so.