BRINGING UP TWO CHILDREN as a single parent and working to keep a roof over our heads meant that my ability to be politically active was limited for a number of years. But in 2013 an article on the bedroom tax prompted me to look into sanctions and cuts to public services and benefits. I was horrified to discover the scale on which the government was targeting the most vulnerable in our country. Looking for a vehicle to fight against this injustice I found the People’s Assembly Against Austerity. There wasn’t a branch in my home town of Swindon, so I set one up.
Fast forward five years and Swindon People’s Assembly has been built into an effective campaigning movement. A further boost to our activism came with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader, and a commitment that Labour was an anti-austerity party. I began to work more closely with the local Labour group of councillors and officers. We have organised local rallies and political talks and encouraged people who have never demonstrated before to come to protests and stand on picket lines. We have our voices heard on the local radio, in papers and on TV and have set up transport for local people to national rallies all over the country. I have learned a great deal from experienced activists, not least that there is strength in numbers and that people power really exists.
Then came the 2017 manifesto, which stood for everything I’d been campaigning for. So in September 2017 I decided to stand as the prospective parliamentary candidate (PPC) for North Swindon. I was selected in April 2018 with the support of many comrades with whom I have campaigned since 2013. One of my priorities since then has been a focus on our local NHS services. Last summer, five of our GP surgeries were taken over by the private company Integral Medical Holdings (IMH), which has a turnover of £37.5m and a parent company based in the Bahamas. IMH dismissed 50% of the staff as soon as they took over. Looking at their record of running down practices and putting surgeries into special measures I decided that this had to be challenged.
I was invited to speak on local radio and highlighted that people were waiting over two hours in some cases to get through to the new call centre. When they finally got through there were no appointments. The online booking system didn’t work and people were being sent miles away to see GPs they didn’t know.
The local Tory MP, Justin Tomlinson, had been contacted by many of his constituents. He posted platitudes about speaking sternly to IMH, saying that people needed to be patient as the company smoothed out its teething problems. Patients were posting on social media about their justified anxiety and fears. Prescriptions weren’t being filled, appointments were being cancelled and they couldn’t get through to the surgeries. Time and again Tomlinson commented with utter complacency that he was sorting it all out.
Much of the social media commentary was on a ‘community’ page run by local Tories. People started asking me to get involved as they felt the Tories weren’t doing enough, but the Conservative admins decided not to let me join. So I set up a new group specifically to deal with this issue, which now has over 600 members. We have held five wellattended public meetings, as a result of which residents have sent complaints to the local MP, the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Healthwatch and IMH.
Our protest outside the call centre hub was the lead story on BBC Points West and had wide coverage in the local paper and on social media. People attended who would not usually consider going to a rally or demonstration - but this issue brought the whole community together. The Tory councillors and MP continue to try to limit criticism of their lack of action - but residents are now aware of the facts and feel empowered to raise their voices.
My aim is to encourage a culture of standing together in solidarity and holding those responsible for all our public services to account.
member of the Labour Party, the People’s Assembly Against Austerity and Keep Our NHS Public