Some two decades ago, in Sydney, Australia, I ran a campaign. Many of my friends who were living with HIV/Aids were living in dire poverty. One of my friends was surviving in part on what he could grow in his back garden. So myself and the founding Editor of Sydney's gay newspaper (who sadly died before the campaign wound down) started a campaign to draw attention to their plight and demand that people lobbying around HIV/Aids take the issue of poverty more seriously.
We were successful and I ended up getting an award. What we also got was a hell of a lot of grief from those running HIV/Aids lobbying because, to describe their comments broadly, we were distracting from the big picture. And that big picture was making sure that new drugs could get trialed quickly, that promising drugs were properly supported and that as many as possible could get into trials (this was a time when candidates would be excluded for reasons such as that they might get pregnant).
Although I'm proud of that campaign, looking back I'm not proud of how those leaders were portrayed. This was a time before HIV drugs that really worked became widely available. Some of the hopeful ones were prolonging lives but many, many people were still dying. I am not unusual in having 50 people, including many good friends, die. My generation of gay men fought like rats in a sack over how best to fight this. There were a couple of other policy ideas which I supported which I got seriously thrashed over, as well as my being involved in a clinical trial of herbal medicine.
That job involved making compromises and it meant working with government and it meant working with the pharmaceutical companies. Yes, sometimes lobbying them including running campaigns on certain issues against them, but mostly it was about putting on a suit and tie and attending endless meetings and reviewing a vast amount of documents. Many of those activists ended up become so skilled they could probably have qualified as pharmacists.
Who would they have sat opposite? People like the Head of Policy and Government Relations (the former job of contender for Labour Party Leader Owen Smith MP) for a company like Pfizer. They would work with them and - I know this for a fact - most of the people sat opposite would work in good faith back with the activists.
Standing outside with a placard only got you so far. This is a hard lesson gay activists learned very early on over HIV/Aids. Knowing when to invade a Cathedral and when to sit on a Committee with so-called 'Big Pharma'. That was the sort of practicality required in order to save as many as could be saved.
Gobsmacking stupid Corbyn comments
Launching his bid to retain the Labour leadership, Corbyn said this week:
I hope Owen will fully agree with me that our NHS should be free at the point of use, should be run by publicly employed workers working for the NHS not for private contractors, and medical research shouldn’t be farmed out to big pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and others but should be funded through the Medical Research Council.explained that the reason he made this stupid comment was:
It plays into the suspicion of many of his supporters that big business is always bad and doesn’t help society, whether that be by employing a lot of people, or, in the case for big pharma, responding to demand for drugs by researching and producing drugs. Big pharma is one of those dirty bogeymen that it is easy to set up as The Enemy, without really thinking through what the implications of taking out that Enemy might be.The Medical Research Council (MRC) last year spent £506 million on research grants. Pfizer spent $6.6 billion (£4.8 billion). The world’s top 10 pharmaceutical companies between them spent just under £50 billion – 100 times as much as the MRC.
When I heard Corbyn's remarks I immediately thought of my dead friends and yelled very loudly on Twitter, for which I got a mostly positive response. How fucking dare he play politics with something as serious as this?
Let me just go back to what happened in Australia. Activists then would have positively wanted someone like an Owen Smith as the Head of Policy and Government Relations for a company like Pfizer. Anyone who thinks otherwise wasn't there and should just butt out.
Corbyn's policy suggestion would be an absolute disaster for health (not that he's ever going to be PM, of course). This should disqualify him but as Isabel suggested it's the opposite because his base has stupidly forgotten the lessons from something like HIV/Aids and prefer pious posturing to actual policies which help actual people. Anyone can dig up or even tell personal stories about some awful thing 'Big Pharma' has done. Harder is coming up with ways you can make sure those who produce most of the drugs that real people need do that essential job.
Instead we get jawdroppingly stupid memes like this circulating alongside endless crap - led by Corbyn, Diane Abbott et al - that working for drug companies means you can't be a socialist and that therefore disqualifies Smith.
Or ones like these that demonise pharmaceutical companies (none of the below is true):
A diluted scientific nerve
Corbyn is also a big, big fan of the con job known as homeopathy having signed a number of motions in Parliament backing it including one wanting NHS homeopathic hospitals and another which not only criticised the House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee investigation into homeopathy but, as the science writer Ben Goldacre puts it, its language included "vindictive" attacks on him including "ad homs against me personally."
Asked to defend his signature on one motion here is what Corbyn wrote:
Junior doctor: Corbyn "b******s"
During his reign Corbyn has been criticised for mouthing platitudes on health but failing to support his Shadow Health Minister, failing to support striking junior doctors and failing to stop his Shadow Chancellor from trying to corner health policy for himself.
Will Turner, a junior doctor picketing St Thomas' Hospital - just a few hundred yards from where Prime Ministers Questions was taking place in the Commons - criticised Corbyn for not mentioning their strike at PMQs.(Source)
Dr Turner said: "It should be big news. It should be talked about on the biggest platform of political discussion we have got. We are unsure of the Labour agenda. They seem to be very vocal about Jeremy Hunt, very vocally pro the NHS, but not very vocal about junior doctors.
"One hundred per cent, Corbyn should have raised it. They are the Labour movement, it's a huge mobilisation of a massive work force. It's a missed opportunity."
Mr Corbyn raised education, child poverty and the economy but did not criticise the Prime Minister over the Government’s handling of the strikes.
Joe Lipton, a 32-year-old junior doctor also picketing at St Thomas', said Mr Corbyn had disappointed him.
Dr Lipton, of Beckenham, south east London, said: "I don't feel surprised. It's a familiar sense of anger that this is slipping down the political and public agenda when all of us have so much strength of feeling. I'm disappointed there isn't a vocal opposing speaking on our behalf.
"Jeremy Corbyn has spoken about the NHS in general but it is the fact he hasn't raised it today in parliament, when we are on strike for a record 48 hours, that I am disappointed about."
A consultant, who refused to give his name, described the Labour leader's silence as "b******s".
The shadow health secretary, Heidi Alexander, had to stage a physical sit-in outside Corbyn’s office in order to get a decision from him on Labour party policy on the NHS.(Source)
Heidi Alexander, who quit as shadow health secretary last weekend, has criticised John McDonnell’s “totally unacceptable” conduct in setting up a team of NHS policy advisers without telling her.
The Guardian reported earlier on Thursday that McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, had secretly created a group of advisers, bypassing Labour’s usual policymaking processes, and that two of the advisers were or until recently had been members of other political parties. McDonnell’s involvement with the group was first disclosed by Health Policy Insight, an influential source of NHS analysis.
In a series of tweets on Thursday, Alexander said: “John McDonnell invited NHS campaigners to a meeting in the Commons but didn’t invite me. I challenged him about it. I was then invited and I was shouted at by some of the attendees.”
After that meeting on 13 April, she said, “John McDonnell then invited them to form an advisory group (again not telling me). I found out about this, said it was totally unacceptable and it must not be an advisory group.”
If it isn't clear by now that Jeremy Corbyn on health is not just incompetent but positively dangerous then I don't know what evidence will convince. But then the Dear Leader has made clear he's not a huge fan of 'evidence based' solutions now hasn't he?
MRC/drug research info via Ross Clark.
Corbyn screengrab credit @twlldun
UK medical research funding breakdown image via @josephclift
Thanks to Glyn for prodding me into writing this.