The Heart of the Matter
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED TO ME during the Labour Party conference. I had a heart attack.
I didn’t realise I’d actually had one. I thought it was food poisoning. Or violent indigestion. Or something. No huge chest pains, nothing. Later I found out out it’s what they call a silent heart attack. Anyway, having gone all the way to Brighton as a delegate for the constituency of South Thanet, I decided to stick it out. And it was absolutely fantastic.
Because what we saw in Brighton was Labour Party conference beginning to change. Changing from a top-down organisation into an outfit where the grassroots are starting to take power.
It was a big contrast to last year’s affair, where the ranks of disbelieving, angry MPs and the other assorted malcontents skulked around waiting for what they felt was the inevitable fall of Jeremy Corbyn. There were far fewer moments of breathtaking hypocrisy, too. The most spectacular was that of deputy leader Tom Watson who even tried to dredge up a gag with a pun on Momentum’s name - after the vile things the man had called the group in the past.
Jeremy’s closing speech was pretty good. And I was still listening to it while suffering from the after-effects of my heart attack. But maybe that helped! His trick was in devoting his words to the people who helped him achieve what he’s achieved rather than making it about himself. That way he allowed his essential niceness to come out in classic Corbyn fashion.
Anyway, a few days later, like a cartoon character who notices that he’s run out of cliff to run on - and now is going to plummet to certain destruction - I went to my GP, who packed me off to Margate hospital which sent me to Ashford hospital - which in turn transferred me to St Thomas’s in London.
Then began the most amazing battle to save my life. The heart attack had managed to blow a hole in my heart and a team of skilled and dedicated people set out to patch it up. A doctor said I had a 50-50 chance of surviving. The hospital people, from the top (Italian) surgeon to the nurses, just gave everything they had to save me. More than once I felt like crying. Why not when you’re surrounded by people doing their absolute everything for you? I saw them unleash the most incredible energy and dedication, not just for me of course but for all in their care. And I saw in those days a vision which, strangely enough, took me right back to the Labour Party conference. A vision of teamwork, unity, commitment. A vision of what we need to do to turn the world of work around us into something new and different.
Because here’s the problem. We can have a wonderful Labour Party conference. We can a successful Labour Party. We can have Jeremy at his best. But without a new motor for our society, for our community, we’re going nowhere. And that’s what I saw in those strange and semi-lit hours while the hospital ranks kept alive - that motor. Far fetched? A post-operative hallucination? No. In our free market, post-industrial world we’ve got used to the idea that everyone does something because they’re paid to do it. That everything is about profit and that money controls everything. The relationship that says I do this to save your life is altogether different. And that doesn’t just mean what happens in St Thomas’s Hospital. Grow somebody food. Produce them clothes. Protect them from the cold. In countless ways help them achieve a better life. It may not be as drastic as mending their heart, but it is still the commitment of us all to look after each other. A community devoting its talents to the most important things there are – our fellow human beings. Farfetched? Wild? How’s it all going to be paid for? Where’s the money going to come from? Isn’t the NHS already crumbling? Yes, but those who will tell you the NHS is crumbling are the same who said the banks were going bust. The same who used to say that there was no alternative to the free market economy, who saw a future of increasing privatisation and capitalism triumphant. We’re starting again. And it’s not going to be easy, that’s for sure. It’s going to take the most radical transformation of our world. And there’s no way round it - because the Jeremy Corbyn project simply won’t happen, except in its most radical version. Socialism is not about about just changing a government, or changing the political party, but changing society - and all of us along with it. And that’s exactly what we have set out to do. » This is an edited version of an article which appeared in Thanet Watch