Thursday 28 March 2013

What Happened To Make H&F's Conservative Councillors Capitulate In Negotiations To Save Our Hospitals?

How government health chiefs now view H&F
since they have started
backing their hospitals 
cuts plan
Ask anyone who has studied negotiation: is it a good idea to back down from a strong position; take away all pressure from your opponent; and shake hands on a deal months or even years before any deadline requires you to do so? You will get a very clear answer - No! So why did our Borough’s Conservative councillors lead the Council to do precisely that when they stopped their support of the cross-party, residents-led campaign to save local hospitals?

This matter was considered at an emergency Full Council Meeting called last week by my fellow Labour councillors and I. It was a chance for Conservative councillors to explain themselves, in public and on-record. Hundreds of people turned out to listen. Some angry, some distraught and some just keen to understand what had happened. But no good answers came.

One resident perceptively pointed out how the ashamed body language of the Conservatives’ more thoughtful elected representatives became increasingly more squirmish as their own side tried to explain what had happened. In short, their argument is that this was the best possible deal they thought they could get.

But this was the first deal the government offered them and they immediately snapped it up. The Conservative/Lib Dem government also offered Ealing Council and Lewisham Council similar initial deals at the same time and those elected representatives (of all parties) turned them down and said their residents deserved much more. So what was the real reason our Conservative councillors capitulated?

It turned out that there has been a considerable amount of disquiet amongst local Conservatives about attacking their own government’s policy of hospital cuts. Many had never wanted to join the residents-led campaign in the first place. When the government offered them a cop out they took it and figured they could use council funds to blanket the Borough with propaganda spinning what they had done.

They have so far spent over £20,000.00 of tax payers’ money telling residents that they have “Saved Charing Cross Hospital.” Nobody who has studied the facts or heard their explanations believes that’s true. In fact, in the panic of trying to explain themselves last week, one Conservative councillor admitted nothing had been finalised and nothing yet agreed - underlining how the Conservatives have undermined their negotiating position. 

If this is such a "great deal" and an "amazing triumph" why did Conservative councillors sneak off behind the backs of the residents, they had pledged to work with, and agree all this in secret? Why did they only tell their former partners in the residents campaign about their "brilliant success" the day before they announced it on a glossy council leaflet posted out to all Borough residents? And why did they not call for any type of independent clinical assessment of this deal before they agreed it and before they announced it?

By the end of the meeting our Conservative councillors' had demonstrated that their position is no more than a bad-judgement call, a political mistake, an inept negotiation and a betrayal of residents who expected our council to put their health needs first.

So, at last week’s meeting my Labour colleagues and I called three separate votes. All the Borough's councillors were required to vote for or against the following:
  1. A commission that will carry out an independent clinical assessment of these proposals
  2. For the Council to ask the Secretary of State for Health to hold a public inquiry into how these proposals will affect local residents
  3. For the Council to re-open negotiations with Government health chiefs to get a better health deal for Hammersmith and Fulham's residents.
All of our Borough’s Conservative elected representatives voted against those proposals. They were therefore blocked from happening.

So now residents face a situation where our council has agreed that the A&E at Hammersmith Hospital will close and the A&E at Charing Cross Hospital will close leaving no accident and emergency services in the Borough. Nearly all other acute health facilities at Charing Cross will close. Charing Cross Hospital will be reduced to 13% of its current size; and 60% of the Charing Cross ground site will be turned over to the Conservatives' property speculator friends. And all of this while London’s population is set to expand by the equivalent of a city the size of Leeds over the next 12 years.

My Labour colleagues and I will continue to stand with local residents and will keep campaigning against these hospital closures.

It’s not too late for Conservative councillors to realise their mistakes. I for one would welcome it if they re-joined the Save Our Hospitals campaign. I know how difficult it is to oppose those in your own party. My local Labour colleagues and I opposed the last Labour London Mayor on the western extension of the congestion zone and the last Labour government on the third runway at Heathrow. But there is no more important issue facing the Borough than saving our hospitals for current and future generations of residents. Once those critical health services have gone they will not be coming back. 

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