Bristol march against NHS privatisation. Photo: Alexandra Scandellari Bristol march against NHS privatisation. Photo: Alexandra Scandellari

Bristol’s carnival-esque demonstration against NHS privatisation put the Tories on trial

Demonstration doesn’t seem quite the right word for the Bristol march against NHS privatisation (‘no cuts, no closures, no more charges’) on Saturday the 27th May. At times carnival would have been the more descriptive term. With the aid of a booming wheelie bin-come-sound system, we wound our way down the Gloucester Road, from Horfield Common to St Andrew’s Park to the sound of Captain Ska, gathering up to a thousand protestors.

It was overcast when we assembled on Horfield Common, in Tory-held bellwether seat Bristol North West, where we were joined by the Labour candidate who offered strong words of support. We gathered, somewhat ironically near to a listed Victorian public toilet on the prominent main-road corner of the park, a surviving publicly available utility from a time before the NHS. One wonders, if the Tories had their way, whether our NHS will survive so long?

Who knows what will happen, but the numbers and energy as we set off made one thing clear, in Bristol at least, there is no shortage of ‘people willing to fight for it’. And we were sent off by the defiant voice through the speaker system of a local nurse and activist who expressed the passion and dedication of health workers towards their work in the service, which the Tories seem hellbent on undermining.

The sun joined us as we started to march, and dance, down Gloucester Road. Even though it is one of the main arteries into the city passers-by in cars, buses and on foot didn’t mind the disruption. It seemed very much that the city was with us in fighting against the cuts and privatisation that are decimating our health service. Horns honked support and people leant out of windows cheering as we went by. The Arches (a famous brickwork overpass) echoed with chants of ‘Save our NHS’ and ‘NHS hands off it – it’s for people, not for profit’.

Then we gathered for the rally in St Andrews Park. A picturesque scene, the speakers, kicked off by Ken Loach, spoke in front of a fallen tree surrounded by a lively crowd. For all the fun there was also a sense of the seriousness of the situation facing the NHS and a determination to fight for its survival no matter the outcome of the election. The demonstration heard first-hand accounts of the effect of the Tory cuts, from midwives, nurses and junior doctors. Needless to say, there was a strong anti-Tory message too, ‘Tories out’ was the sentiment echoed on T-shirts, placards, and badges.

With only ten days left of the general election the threat posed to the NHS by the Tories and their health secretary Jeremy Hunt, hell bent on its privatisation, is a fundamental campaigning issue. Private sector companies like Virgin Care already have their claws into our health service and the vultures of American capital are circling. The fight to defend the NHS will continue, whatever the outcome of the general election, but the next ten days are a critical operation. The patient can be saved but it will require a determined movement and, crucially, the removal of the Tories from Downing Street on June the 8th.