“Be prepared to defend hospital closures in court”

“NHS leaders looking to deliver change and transformation in their local health economy should be prepared to defend their plans in court, rather than pretending that the likelihood of legal action will never happen, Rob Webster, CEO at South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS FT, has warned.

Chairing a session entitled ‘Saving Our Services – Why are local campaigns fighting to save the NHS from transformation?’, at last week’s NHS Confed17, Webster, who is also the lead for West Yorkshire and Harrogate STP, said that even if the health service does “harness the power of communities, you can bet we will still have a fight with some people about change”.

“One of the lessons I’ve learnt,” said the former NHS Confed boss, “is so long as you have engaged with people throughout the process and have done it in the right way, and so long as you have some clinical and public voices behind the changes you want to make, and as long as you’re prepared to go to court, if and when you have to, and win, then the change will happen.

“Somebody will refer you either to the secretary of state or to a judicial review. Get ready for it, and work through it, rather than pretending it’ll never happen or thinking that if it happens it is the worst thing in the world. Get yourself ready and it will work.”

During the session, Webster asked panel members what they thought should be the priorities with regards to the STP and change agenda for the new government.

David Lock QC, former MP and legal advisor to the NHS, said: “STPs were an object lesson in how not to do public engagement.”

The idea that the NHS needed space to have honest conversations with itself before going out to the public created a huge deficit in public trust, he argued.

“The process and the constraints put on those running the process, and not to be public about what they were doing, was enormously damaging,” stated Lock. “If the ministers want to keep the STP process going on, they are going to have to do an awful lot more emphasis on bringing the public with them. In the end, you cannot deliver public services in the face of public opposition.”

Cllr Robert Smart, an advisor to the ‘Save the DGH campaign’ in Eastbourne, stated that the health secretary needs to slow down the process of the STPs “and make them into a proper 10-year strategic view”.

“And if that takes a couple of years to produce, then it takes a couple of years to produce,” he told the audience of delegates. “It isn’t a question of suddenly saying, ‘in three months’ time, we’re going to convert 40% of acute spending into community spending’.”

The following day, Jeremy Hunt admitted that, given the result of the latest general election and with the negotiations around Brexit starting just a couple of days ago, it is now unlikely that the government will be able to introduce legislation for STPs in the next few years – if at all.

Imelda Redmond, national director of Healthwatch England, also called on Hunt to “reward, and encourage, engagement with the public” on the STPs.
“It is number one on people’s agenda of what they love about the country, and what they care about,” she said. “Why would you not harness that, and get the best care we can?”

And Jeremy Taylor, CEO of National Voices, stated that the government must give the health and care system the resources it needs, and give it the time it needs to make change.

“There may be legal requirements on consultation, but there are also psychological requirements: you need time to build trust and relationships,” he reflected. “If you are doing this at breakneck speed it is just not possible to do it.”

However, NHS Improvement boss Jim Mackey also told the conference that it is possible to get “90% of the way there” with accountable care systems and accountable care organisations within the current legislative framework – “but we need to prove it”.

NHS England’s Simon Stevens later confirmed the nine areas that will officially form part of the first wave of ACSs.

Webster concluded by agreeing that time and resources are really important. “It sounds like you need to plan in the medium term and understand the money you have to do that. You could call it a sustainability and transformation partnership trying to bring everyone together,” he joked.

“I think it’s good that we have an audience that thinks it is not right to be dishonest or patronising. What we need to do is be honest and get alongside people and harness the power of communities.”


Another Tory dirty trick during the general election campaign?

“The Conservative party allegedly operated a secret call centre during the election campaign that may have broken data protection and election laws, according to an investigation by Channel 4 News.

An undercover investigation by the programme has found that the party used a market research firm to make thousands of cold calls to voters in marginal seats in the weeks before the election.

Call centre employees working on behalf of the party used a script that appeared to canvass for support rather conduct market research. On the day of the election, call centre employees contacted voters to promote individual candidates, which may be a breach of electoral law, the investigation claimed.

At the start of the election campaign, the information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, wrote to all the major political parties reminding them of the law around telephone calls and data protection. She said that calling voters to promote a political party was “direct marketing” and was regulated by law.

The government also announced during the campaign that it wanted to tighten up the laws on nuisance calls and a bill on the issue was included in the Queen’s speech.

The Channel 4 News investigation, which ran over several weeks, found that a team employed by the Conservatives rang voters from a call centre in Neath, south Wales.

Operating from a script, the staff carried out calls for “market research” and “polling”. Identifying likely Tory voters in marginal seats could be important for the get-out-the-vote operation on election day, and also enable a political party to better direct its canvassing operation.

On election day, undecided voters were told that “the election result in your marginal constituency is going to be very close between Theresa May’s Conservatives and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party”.

They were then asked:

“So does knowing that you live in a marginal constituency that will determine who is prime minister for the Brexit negotiations, does that make you a lot more likely to vote for Theresa May’s Conservative candidate or a little more likely to vote for Theresa May’s Conservative candidate, or are you still unsure, or does it not make a difference?”

At an earlier stage of the campaign, the call centre staff said they were calling from a company called Axe Research, which does not appear to exist. Under the Data Protection Act, callers must disclose who they are and how the data will be used.

Asked what Axe Research was, one supervisor told Channel 4 News: “It’s just the name we do these surveys under, basically. I did a Google search, nothing comes up. But as far as anyone’s concerned, yeah, we’re a legit independent market research company.”

A week before the election, the same call centre staff started saying they were calling on behalf of Theresa May’s Conservatives.

The Conservative party said the call centre was conducting market research on its behalf, and was not canvassing for votes. The call centre confirmed it was employed by the party, but denied canvassing on its behalf.

A Conservative spokesman said: “Political parties of all colours pay for market research and direct marketing calls. All the scripts supplied by the party for these calls are compliant with data protection and information law.”

Evidence obtained by Channel 4 News suggests that on the day of the election, staff called voters in 10 marginal seats, including Bridgend, Gower, Clwyd South and Wrexham.

According to the Representation of the People Act, it is illegal to employ someone “for payment or promise of payment as a canvasser for the purpose of promoting or procuring a candidate’s election”. …”


Demonisation of the poor – Trump shows how to do it bigly

“Donald Trump has said he doesn’t want “a poor person” to hold economic roles in his administration as he used an Iowa rally to defend his decision to appoint the wealthy to his cabinet.

The US president told a crowd on Wednesday night: “Somebody said why did you appoint a rich person to be in charge of the economy? No it’s true. And Wilbur’s [commerce secretary Wilbur Ross] a very rich person in charge of commerce. I said: ‘Because that’s the kind of thinking we want.’”

Congressional Black Caucus refuses to meet with Donald Trump
The president explained that Ross and his economic adviser Gary Cohn “had to give up a lot to take these jobs” and that Cohn in particular, a former president of Goldman Sachs, “went from massive pay days to peanuts”.

Trump added: “And I love all people, rich or poor, but in those particular positions I just don’t want a poor person. Does that make sense?”


The DUP, corruption, transparency

“The government needs to get its business through parliament – that’s what governments do. So it’s no surprise that the prime minister is looking to bolster her reduced number of MPs with the support of others, specifically the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). But at what cost to the government’s reputation for fighting corruption?

Northern Ireland doesn’t currently have an elected government. Four months ago the devolved administration collapsed in acrimony following controversy about the ‘Cash for Ash’ scandal over the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme. The assembly election which followed didn’t change the fact that politicians from both nationalist and unionist traditions needed to agree to work together to restore devolved government. This hinged on demands for the DUP’s leader Arlene Foster to stand aside for the duration of the independent public inquiry into RHI scheme, which she has refused to do.

To re-cap: the UK’s prime minister is seeking support for her government in negotiations with a party leader who lost her hold on government over serious questions about the use of public funds.

There have been several recent corruption concerns in Northern Ireland. The National Crime Agency has opened an investigation, at the request of the local police, into the sale of Northern Ireland assets owned by the Republic of Ireland’s National Assets Management Agency (NAMA). Other issues relate to the management of public contracts for housing maintenance. Meanwhile, the funding of most of Northern Ireland’s political parties remains unusually opaque. All of this is hard to assess, but we have a responsibility not to just shrug and accept such things as a normal part of modern politics.

A possible deal to support the new UK government in parliament is not the only reason why transparency over who funds Northern Ireland’s political parties now matters to British politics. The DUP was used as a channel for hundreds of thousands of pounds to support the Leave campaign during last year’s EU referendum.

In the past five years, the UK has established itself with a reputation for global leadership in the fields of tackling corruption and its counterpart, promoting open government. The UK has risen to be in the top ten of Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index, the Serious Fraud Office has acquired one of the better anti-bribery enforcement records around the world, and this country has been a leader in the Open Government Partnership.

As the curtain fell of the last parliament, the previous government passed the Criminal Finances Act, with its ground-breaking provision for Unexplained Wealth Orders to freeze the assets of kleptocrats using the UK as a safe haven. Much remains to be done but worryingly, some of the gains of recent years could now be at risk. The long road to the arrival of the Bribery Act reminds us that there are those who will seize any opportunity to lobby to weaken it, and others who in difficult times for the economy will argue we should seek to attract foreign cash irrespective of its origin. …”


Queen’s speech: a masterclass in Toryspeak!

… those made homeless by the fire should be rehoused “as close as practically possible” to where they lived before (HOW CLOSE?)

… will continue to work to ensure that every child has the opportunity to attend a good school (Owl lives this one – “continue to work to ensure”! Priceless! NOT “WE WILL ENSURE”!)

… will work to ensure people have the skills they need for the high-skilled, high-wage jobs of the future, including through a major reform of technical education ( more working to ensure)!

… work to improve social care” and “bring forward proposals for consultation” on social care (NOT WE WILL IMPROVE)!

… bring forward measures to help tackle unfair practices in the energy market NOT TO TACKLE, JUST TO “HELP” TACKLE!

… examine “markets which are not working fairly for consumers”

Summary: we are stuffed, but I’m damned if we will admit it!

Bets on October election?

Claire Wright tells her side of the General Election story

AND she doesn’t whinge!

I originally intended to draft this blog in response to Hugo Swire’s repeated and tiresome accusations levelled at my supporters supposed abuse on Twitter and his insinuation that someone connected with me damaged his election posters.

I am not suggesting that Mr Swire didn’t get a hard time on Twitter, but his reaction to the challenging remarks, has been completely over the top.

For the record, once again, I have never ever asked anyone to, nor do I know of anyone, who damaged his posters.

And to respond only to these false allegations cheapens my campaign and the spectacular level of support my team and I received from a huge range of people right across the political spectrum during those six magnificent weeks.

It undermines the energy, the passion, the clear sightedness, and the unswerving determination that gripped so many of us during that frenetic time.

There were times that I felt (and I think many of us experienced) real joy at being involved in something that meant so much to so many people.

So you can see I see things very differently from our MP.

Here’s my story.

I was campaigning for the Devon County Council elections in Otterton which has a patchy mobile reception, when I reached the top of a hill and my phone suddenly started pinging with messages. I quickly learnt there was to be to be a general election on 8 June (eight weeks from that point).

Having previously hoped to run for a second time, my initial reaction was a deep groan.

I had no team, no funding and no structure. I didn’t even have a parliamentary bank account.

The only thing I had was the result from the 2015 general election, where I finished in second place with over 13,100 votes. It was a great first time result, but a successful new campaign in such a short timeframe seemed impossible….

…. Within an hour I was mentally planning a campaign.

There were two immediate priorities. First, I needed to know whether I had public support to run. Without this, I would not even contemplate running.

Secondly, if there was public support, I urgently needed a core campaign team.

I knew that I also needed significant funding for any campaign but I was confident that this would be resolved with crowdfunding, should I decided to stand.

By the time I had returned home, I had received dozens of messages urging me to run. For two days I kept my counsel before putting out a press release saying I was considering standing in the general election but if so, I would need an army of helpers if I had a chance of winning.

After this, I was deluged with offers of help. Hundreds of people offered their time, their expertise and their energy. I had thought a few might come forward but this was an amazing and inspiring reaction.

So it was settled. I would mount my second campaign for the East Devon Parliamentary seat.

While my gut instinct was powerfully present, I knew I was taking a risk. There was a possibility I could receive fewer votes than I had in 2015 due to the short timeframe and rumours of a LibDem resurgence. Fewer votes would have been humiliating, but the urge to run was very strong. I decided to take the risk.

I scanned the offers of help carefully, searching for potential core campaign team members. I also contacted a few people who had previously expressed an interest in helping me and who had excellent skills.

A meeting at Ottery St Mary Football Club was booked for on Monday 24 April. About 20 people with key skills attended.”

By the end of the meeting we had agreed all the key posts. The core team of 12 and the skeleton of a campaign was created.

I had been advised by the County Solicitor that I could not publicly declare as a General Election candidate until the Devon County Council elections were over, so to ensure we were fully ready for the launch on Monday 8 May, my team and I quietly beavered away on our preparations, including:

– setting up systems for volunteers, maps and canvassing
– drafting a campaign plan and writing campaign literature
– ordering publicity materials
– setting up the crowdfunding arrangements and a bank account
– reading the Electoral Commission guidelines to ensure we met them on all aspects of the campaign

There were also things like insurance and data protection issues to consider and comply with. It isn’t easy to get insurance as an Independent!

It was a hugely busy time. And many of us were getting to bed well after midnight and getting up again at around 5am to stay ahead of the work.

My caffeine drought ended immediately. Without copious cups of tea and coffee every day I couldn’t function.

My manifesto, which had been put together in 2015 based on a survey and conversations with thousands of people, was updated to include my position on Brexit (a proper parliamentary vote on the final deal) the NHS latest atrocities meted out by the Conservative government and the appalling slashing of school funding, which is causing massive problems for teachers and pupils across Devon and the country.

With years of obfuscation and lies drip fed to this country by the Conservative government often about ministers own record on our NHS and public services, I was determined I would tell people the truth about what was happening.

My manifesto addressed this in the space that was available. I enlarged on these remarks at my public meetings and at hustings.

Austerity has done terrible things to this country. Those of us who always believed that there was another way are now angry yet vindicated following the Prime Minister’s declaration that there will be no more austerity.

Because of course, she knows she cannot force more cuts through with a hung parliament.

This is good news, but the NHS is already on the verge of being sold off wholesale to developers. That’s what The Naylor Review and NHS Property Services have already started doing across the country.

Some of us have campaigned against this in our local communities. I have held two public demonstrations at Ottery St Mary Hospital and held the slippery managers of NHS Property Services (which now owns 12 community hospitals in Eastern Devon) to account as a member of Devon County Council’s health scrutiny committee.

One would have thought the local MP might be concerned about the risk the ownership of NHS Property Services posed to 12 local community hospitals, but instead Hugo Swire gatecrashed a demonstration I held in May last year. He asked me if he could address the 200-strong crowd which I agreed to. But rather than expressing his concern, he used this time to accuse me of scaremongering and being politically motivated.

In his follow-up blog post he disrespectfully dismissed the Ottery residents who were present at the protest as a “pack.”

There are many other examples I could give of Hugo Swire’s desultory record of fighting for local people but that one pretty much sums it up for me.

Although I might just give his dreadful record in parliament a quick mention. He has never, by his own admission, voted against the party whip.

In 16 years.

Back to my manifesto, I was confident that the 2015 pledges were still valid after knocking on hundreds of doors in the recent Devon County Council elections.

On Thursday 4 May the Devon County Council elections took place. I learnt that I had achieved 75 per cent of the vote with 3,638 votes, which is the biggest majority in Devon, once again.

I was over the moon with the result. But there was no time for a break or to celebrate. We had an announcement launch to prepare for on the Monday (8 May)!

I gave a speech and we Facebook live-streamed this event, which was held at Exmouth Rugby Club. I found the ability to stream straight to the internet and interact with residents at my events enormously exciting.

It prompted at least two members of the public to turn up speculatively at the Rugby Club and ask for my A1 boards!

We launched my manifesto at Sidmouth the following week to an audience of around 80 people. Once again it was live-streamed on Facebook and as with all my events I took questions from the floor without knowing what they would be in advance.

The campaign funds soon came flooding in and by the end of the campaign we had secured almost £13,000, in over 200 separate donations – nearly as much as we raised in a whole year during 2014/15.

With hundreds more volunteers, we were determined that every house (within a village and town at least) would receive a copy of my manifesto. This includes around 5,000 in Exeter and Topsham, so it was a tall order. Around 60,000 copies were printed so we had some spares.

And before the postal vote deadline, our 600 (by the end of the campaign we had 700) volunteers had managed to deliver to most houses in the constituency.

Aided by our teams of volunteers we then embarked on an enthusiastic four weeks of leafleting and door knocking.

The best way I can describe the way my campaign felt to me was as though I was caught up in a maelstrom of energy. It was a whirlwind of positivity. A force of nature, caused by a desire by many people to elect someone they believed would stand up for them in parliament, someone they already knew would work hard for them and who they could trust to put THEM first.

I simply had to keep up with the amazing momentum.

It was clear at the first hustings and from the tweets from the LibDem parliamentary team that their strategy appeared to be to target me, in the hope they could claw back some of the votes they lost to me in 2015.

Their claims that I could never win, nor have any influence in parliament were political slurs and were levelled at me so often on Twitter that I was forced to block one of their team – a first for me.

I should add here that I have worked alongside the LibDems on the district and county council for years, just as I have the other parties. I have always worked with them productively and in a friendly manner. It was quite a shock to be the target of such hostility, albeit limited to their team of three.

My campaign brought people together from across the country. A friend visited from Nottingham and someone I had never even met before travelled from Kent and assisted us in Exmouth for a few hours.

It motivated a bright young man from Sidmouth to record a touching video outlining why he was working so hard to get me elected.

And it prompted a reconnection with a friend I haven’t been properly in touch with for two years.

There were countless emails from younger men and women who expressed a belief in me that I found extraordinarily moving and motivational.

I heard from disenchanted lifelong Conservative voters and people who had never voted before in their lives.

All were saying that they intended to vote for me and that I had offered them hope. It was so uplifting.

There were countless emails from residents with views across the political spectrum who said they would vote for me because I was already a hard-working councillor and they had confidence that I would be a hard-working assiduous MP.

If there were times when I felt exhausted and under pressure, it only took an email or Facebook comment along these lines to reinvigorate me. The big picture was endlessly present.

And I have made new friends. People that I hope to stay in touch with forever. My campaign team shared a rollercoaster experience that we will never forget. It wasn’t all plain sailing and at times the pressures were overwhelming. But we all gave 150 per cent to a cause we believed in passionately. And I will never forget their generosity of spirit and belief in me.

Although disappointed not to be East Devon’s MP, I was absolutely thrilled with the result of 21,270 votes – a 35 per cent share, up from 24 per cent in 2015.

Apparently the result is the best of any non Conservative candidate in East Devon ever!

Before signing off I must talk briefly about the Conservative national campaign, in which the behaviour of the Prime Minister allowed Hugo Swire to wriggle out of any hustings. Mrs May apparently could not even cope with the idea of a live interview on Woman’s Hour, which is a level of control freakery not seen in any prime minister that I can remember.

The Prime Minister’s inability to answer a straight question, instead sticking to a rehearsed script earned her the deserved label “The Maybot.”

But what I found most distasteful was the campaign of fear and negativity which the Conservative Party perpetuated against the opposition. There was no hope, no inspiration and no positive policy announcements.

Instead, the slurs against the opposition were nothing more than a stream of spiteful vitriol. I was quite shocked at how low the Conservative Party stooped in its vain attempt to retain seats.

The election result was 100 per cent deserved and my own view is that although the country is in unchartered waters right now, already we have seen that the worst excesses of the Conservative Party’s determination to shrink the state and force more people into abject poverty, somewhat thwarted.

What Mrs May isn’t confident of getting through parliament will be dropped. Despite the involvement of the dubious DUP, this new more consensual approach can only be a good thing for every single person living in the UK.

After six months of election campaigning I am relieved not to be knocking on doors any more, replying to thousands of messages and feeling as though my life consists of rushing at breakneck speed from one place to the next.

I am very happy to be reconnecting with my Devon County Council work, enjoying the sunshine, the stunning East Devon countryside and our local beaches in the company of my daughter or my lovely friends.

As for another election…. whether it is this year, next, or in five years, Hugo Swire can be assured that I will be ready.

Pic. A photo that symbolises the energy of the campaign. A group of us canvassing in monsoon like weather at Westclyst. The camaraderie made it surprisingly huge fun!”


Is EDDC Cabinet guilty of “groupthink”?

The theory of ‘groupthink’…

First formulated by the psychologist Irving Janis, it specifically applies to tightly knit executive teams composed of a dominating leader and ultra-loyal assistants with a drive to maximise in-group solidarity.

Suppose that in a first stage the team accomplished something extremely difficult, as May did in scheming her way to bid for the Conservative leadership. Especially important here was the intra-party arm-twisting of all the other candidates after the Brexit vote, so that she could ascend by coronation instead of having to fight an internal party election.

Janis argued that succeeding in this first stage struggle, against the odds, and with a centralising and controlling leader, then induces in the leadership team a distorted view of their own insights and capabilities.

Buoyed up by high morale, contemptuous of ‘outsiders’, and completely discounting any critical feedback received, the leadership team then goes on to make genuinely monumental second stage mistakes – as Blair did in committing to the Iraq war, and later sending troops to Afghanistan; or as Cameron did in his 2013 commitment to hold a Brexit referendum, and then his mismanagement of the doomy Remain campaign in 2016.”


Monumental second-stage mistakes? Such EDDC and its £10 million relocation plan – that replaces one HQ with an expensive new HQ and two expensive but smaller satellites in Exmouth and Sidmouth perhaps?