Sunday, 27 January 2013

Save Lewisham Hospital - but don't politicise it

Yesterday I took part in the march to Save Lewisham Hospital. It was a great occasion, with around 20,000 members of the local community walking from Lewisham town centre, down past the hospital to a rally point at Mountsfield Park, where numerous speakers took the stage to speak about the campaign.

It was so good to see so many people in the demonstration, many of whom were so passionate about the hospital that has formed a central part of the community for many years. Particularly inspiring were the children born at the hospital, and the people whose lives had been saved by this vital facility. It was such an inspiring feeling to be marching with thousands of ordinary people who all felt the same way, singing songs to get behind this hospital and to save the NHS that so many of us hold dear.

What I didn't enjoy was the political co-opting of the protest by some groups and individuals. Early in the march I got stuck near one man who insisted on telling everyone in the vicinity "you all voted for Boris Johnson back in May, and where is he now??" Er, no, we really didn't. I quickly moved as far away from him as possible. I similarly tried to stay away from another loud man with a loudhailer who kept trying to turn chants of 'Save the NHS' and 'It Must Not Close' into some kind of Occupy movement. Happily, he didn't seem to getting a huge amount of response.

There was also, as might be expected, a Socialist Worker Party contingent present, and many of the banners bore their logos and slogans. This is something I'm particularly not a fan of, partly because it feels like a larger organisation co-opting something local for their own purposes, but also because it gives those against the campaign more fuel. Politicians including Nadine Dorries have already used their presence as a reason to dismiss the campaign, and it's not something we can afford to have happen.

That said, the demo was fully peaceful. For all there was a small number of people who clearly wanted to make it political, there was nobody being aggressive or rude, and the majority of attendees were there simply because the hospital is a part of their local community they care passionately about. It was so good to see a local community coming together in this way, and walking down the middle of Lewisham High Street with a mass of people chanting "Save Lewisham Hospital, Save the NHS", while cars going the other way sounded their horns in support, is something I will remember for a very, very long time.