Mar 13th, 2013
What MPs have said about 38 Degrees
By Megan Bentall
Last week, almost 70,000 38 Degrees members emailed their MP about the government’s backdoor NHS privatisation plan. Members asked MPs to look at legal advice from leading NHS expert David Lock QC and sign up to an Early Day Motion to block the plans.
Lots of us got positive responses – but quite a few Conservative MPs included an identical paragraph in their replies, questioning the independence of 38 Degrees and the legal advice itself. They claimed that 38 Degrees is linked to the Labour party, and that the legal advice is biased. The paragraph in question is included at the bottom of this blog post.
These are quite serious allegations, so David Babbs, the executive director, wrote to every 38 Degrees member in these MPs’ constituencies to rebut the accusations and set the record straight.
Here’s David’s response:
‘Firstly, I would like to respond to your MP’s insinuation that 38 Degrees is linked to the Labour party. That’s totally untrue. 38 Degrees is independent of all political parties. 38 Degrees campaigns are are chosen by the members – we’re campaigning to protect the NHS from privatisation because that’s been voted a priority by 38 Degrees members. When the Labour Party were in government, 38 Degrees campaigns frequently challenged their policies too.
It’s true that David Lock QC was once a Labour MP for Wyre Forest between 1997 and 2001. But that’s not why he prepared the legal advice – he was hired to prepare the legal advice because he’s a preeminent expert in law relating to the NHS. As your MP will likely know, we cannot instruct a QC directly. We do so through our solicitors, who strongly recommended David Lock QC because of his great expertise in this area of law. Legal 500, which is a directory of legal practitioners, says of Mr Lock:
“David leads the public law group in No5 chambers and has a varied public law practice. He has extensive experience of acting for and against NHS bodies, local authorities and other public bodies in all aspects of public law. He is a recognised specialist in the law relating to the National Health Service and has many reported cases in this area.”
As your MP is also likely to know, barristers are bound by a code of ethics when preparing advice like this and wouldn’t be allowed to prepare “political propaganda”. David Lock QC’s professional opinion of the draft regulations was one based on his legal interpretation of their drafting – it is noteworthy than no objection has been raised of his interpretation by other lawyers.
I’m afraid your MP seems to be trying to use David Lock QC’s political history to distract attention away from the findings of his legal advice.’
38 Degrees members are rightly proud of our movement’s independence. So let’s stand up for it. If you have received a similar email from your MP, please feel free to point them to this blog post to clear the matter up. Do let us know how they reply!
In better news, and following the campaigning of 38 Degrees members and others, the regulations in question were withdrawn by the government. In fact, the government’s statement went some way towards confirming David Lock’s advice that the regulations’ drafting went further than government had previously assured Parliament.
A new version of the regulations was published on Monday 12th March. We’re getting more legal advice right now. Keep your eyes on the blog and website to see how things develop!
PS This is the kind of wording which was being used by a lot of MPs in their emails to 38 Degrees members:
“I know that this interpretation has been circulated by 38 Degrees through its own legal advice. I thought you may be interested to know that the author of the 38 Degrees “independent” legal advice is former Labour MP, David Lock QC, who was the MP for Wyre Forest until losing to Dr Richard Taylor, the Independent Kidderminster Hospital and Health Concern candidate who ran to oppose the last Labour Government’s NHS policies. Mr Lock remains active in Labour politics as Chair of the West Midlands Labour Finance and Industry Group. Indeed, while I fully appreciate your strong views on this particular issue, I did want to make you aware of the very close links that exist between 38 Degrees and the Labour Party. One Co-founder contributes significantly to the Labour Party, its leader and its unofficial website ‘Left Foot Forward’ while another put himself forward as General Secretary of the Labour Party last year, and a director described himself as “dedicated to the Labour cause’.”