Wednesday, 1 October 2008


It is Breast Cancer awareness month, and the Tory Party are having their conference. David Cameron, their 'man with a plan' to lead Britain into better times, has pledged a 'say no' policy, predicated on a lack of 'miracle cures'.  To what exactly?  Gordon Brown may be a terminally dull and uninspiring leader, but the current parlous state of the economy has a Capitalist cause, its roots not in public spending but in the corporate greed of Cameron's cronies in the City. I fear a return to the 'values' of Thatcherism may prove toxic to the NHS, and to cancer patients in particular, reliant as we are on a tantalising, but increasingly expensive, cocktail of ground-breaking new treatments. 

Take my own treatment, Herceptin. It remains expensive, due perhaps to the monopoly of its developer, Roche Pharmaceuticals. But it is the NHS that has made it widely available to people like myself, an NHS I saw repeatedly holed in its bows by the forces of Thatcher. That was the era when 'private' companies took over the cleaning operations within hospitals. The legacy? MRSA. That was the era that saw repeated cuts to all kinds of services, based on the Iron Lady's sub-Keynesian theory that 'there's no such thing as society.' Margaret Thatcher called open season on any service that was public, rather than private. Hers was the era of the Poll Tax, with residents of Labour Councils (i.e. those dedicated to public spending) paying three times more than Tory bastions, like Westminster, run then by Dame Shirley Cohen, who absconded to Israel rather than pay back the taxpayer the money she had accumulated by selling off public housing and even public cemetaries!  (I was particularly unfortunate with my London Poll tax since my Camden (Labour) flatlet commanded a huge rate;  a mere fifty yards away in Westminster, they paid a mere £80 per year because their Council had no more public services to spend its money on!)  If Labour has messed up these last few years, it is only because it hasn't gone nearly far enough in rebuilding a Welfare State that was systematically dismantled in one short decade of Thatcher cuts and diktats. If Labour hasn't gone far enough to redress this balance by increasing taxation (such as the reintroduction of a supertax on some of the financiers, for instance, who have caused such havoc in the current economy), can we really expect Cameron, Son-of-Thatcher to  help us cancer patients? Don't be fooled by the shiny red cheeks and winning smile. 

In 1979, the first year I was able to vote, I fell for Margaret Thatcher's ralling cry during the Winter of Discontent. ('The British people can't bury their dead..') The great Tony Benn came to speak at my college at London University, and, to my eternal shame (mitigated, perhaps, by my youth and political naivety), I turned my back on him and voted Tory. Fast forward ten years, and the legend 'Third Term, Third Reich' appeared on the bridge at Chalk Farm. Fast forward to an era of greed and sleaze. And tax cuts, sure! 

I don't think I would have been alive today if the Tories had been in government. And, were I still living in Central London, there would probably be no public cemetary left in which to bury me. It's bad enough seeing cancer patients fighting for life-saving/prolonging drugs today.(Even today, the BBC has reported the shocking story of a young breast cancer patient's fight for Avastin.)  Tomorrow, if the Tories get in, I fear the lights will go out for good on the current Cancer Plan. 

A Man with a Plan indeed. We have been warned.