This morning’s Daily Mail reports that the British Medical Association has been accused by the NHS of instigating illegal action in pursuit of the upcoming strike by junior doctors.
A since-deleted blog post on the BMA website, which was shared via its Twitter account, appeared to encourage supporters to break rules on sympathy strikes and picket numbers.
The article is described by the paper as having been “written in the language of hard-left campaign groups”, and has apparently been disseminated by Momentum, Jeremy Corbyn’s grassroots campaign group.
Dr Yannis Gourtsoyannis, a senior member of the BMA’s junior doctor’s committee, called on members of the public and unrelated unions to swell picket lines.
He is quoted as saying: “A victory for the Junior Doctors would signify the first real crack in the entire edifice of austerity in the UK. Please stand with us. And when you need us, ask us. We will stand by you.”
This combative language suggests that elements behind the upcoming strike have more extensive ambitions than resolving the contract dispute at the heart of it – and that could be bad news for the strikers.
One of the criticisms levelled at the Government’s latest trade union reforms is that they are taking aim at a paper tiger: the likes of Len McCluskey might talk a big game, but the unions are simply not the potent political threat they were in the 1970s.
The language employed by Gourtsoyannis, and the tactics he advocates, risk doing serious harm to the cause he purports to be serving.
First, intimidatory mass pickets and news reports of illegal action will squander the stock of sympathy that any NHS staff enjoy with the general public, whilst lending credence to the Government’s own combative stance in the minds of swing voters.
Andrea Jenkyns, one of the Tories on the Health Select Committee, has already claimed that “the upper echelons of the BMA are more committed to ‘bringing down the Tories’ than getting the best deal for their members and ensuring patient safety is not compromised.”
That is also a more acute risk: that in their determination to up the stakes, the hard left will make it much harder for the Government to compromise.
Once you establish in the public discourse that a strike is a test of the Government’s virility, a resolution will take longer to reach and the terms will be tougher.
Prolonged industrial action by doctors hurts one group above all others: patients.
Many of the doctors involved in the strike – indeed, almost certainly the overwhelming majority – are acting in good faith. They must recognise that allowing their action to be hijacked by the hard left is contrary both to their interests and those of the people in their care.