Health professionals in the capital and politicians from across the party spectrum have long argued that the NHS would serve the city’s people better if more control of it was devolved to London level. Sadiq Khan subscribes to this view. Last November, he signed up to a devolution deal with the government, arguing that, “It is vital that the capital has the powers to plan and coordinate health services that meet the needs of local communities and ensure Londoners have proper access to them”.
This move by the Mayor has displeased some Labour members in Haringey, where Momentum activists and assorted non-Labour allies arranged the creation of what one activist has termed the nation’s first “Corbyn Council” by driving out a string of sitting councillors they disapproved of. A motion was proposed at two recent ward branch meetings, which stated that it “deplores” the memorandum of understanding setting out the devolution plan, considers that the Mayor “may have been wrongly informed and advised” and “therefore calls upon Sadiq Khan to reconsider his position as signatory to the document”.
Only one branch, Stroud Green, passed the motion, albeit overwhelmingly, and although this means it will now be sent up to the Hornsey and Wood Green constituency party for consideration, perhaps too much should not be made of it. Furthermore, the deal is an aspect of the government’s wider NHS reorganisation programme which health think tank the King’s Fund concluded last year had become increasingly influenced by financial considerations.
That said, Khan’s fellow signatories included London Councils and all 32 London clinical commissioning groups. As well as containing plans to bring health and social care services closer together, the deal encourages the NHS to sell its unused land and buildings in the capital, potentially freeing it up for housing. Whatever views are held among the signatories about the NHS reforms as a whole, the devolution proposals were clearly thought worth embracing in the interests of improving Londoners’ health and getting new home built.
Such possible benefits do not figure in the motion passed by the membership of Stroud Green branch, which disparages devolution as “fragmentation”, derides the disposal of unused NHS buildings for possible better use as a “sell-off”, complains that the deal “accommodates private providers” and asserts that it is “in direct contravention of Labour party policy”. Two key themes of Corbynite orthodoxy there: one, preserving the power and property of the central state is paramount; two, going against the leader’s wishes is unacceptable. The interests of patients and those requiring better social care in London are, perhaps, less of a priority.
The motion also indicates, in its small way, why Khan’s inner circle is, by all accounts, continuing to be very watchful of the political mood of Labour members in London as the Mayor’s reselection procedure approaches. No Momentum-backed challenger has yet emerged, but the Stroud Green motion shows why a measure of anxiety about that possibility might be justified.