This morning, a major demonstration took place in opposition to £30m in cuts being proposed to health services in Brighton and Hove. The focus of the campaign was inevitably the Royal Sussex County Hospital in the centre of the city, and the Conservative MP in whose constituency the hospital sits, Simon Kirby MP, was inevitably challenged to justify his position on services – in particular in view of his recent apparent support for new facilities at the Royal Sussex site.
Challenged on Twitter, he responded with this rather extraordinary response:
It’s that phrase – “playing party politics” – that really brought me up short. It sounds laudible and consensual, but it’s really a piece of avoidance. To understand it, you need to reflect that Kirby has been a loyal supporter of the Government who has happily backed austerity budgets and the Health and Social Care Act; the very measures that have brought about the current crisis in NHS funding in Brighton. But instead of defending those decisions when he’s called, he seeks to take those profoundly controversial and, yes, political changes out of the debate. It’s about picking and choosing the issues which he’s prepared to debate.
It’s not a confident response. If Kirby had the courage of his convictions he’d be willing to defend the decisions he voted for, not to exempt them from scrutiny.
It becomes important when one remembers that Brighton Kemptown is a highly marginal constituency – Kirby’s majority is a little over 1300 in a seat Labour held from 1997 to 2010. Kirby’s strategy for re-election appears to many (and not just the cynical) to be to play up his local connections and downplay his support for the Government’s austerity and privatisation agenda. He’s entitled to do that.
But what he is not entitled to get away with is to refuse to respond to challenges to his voting behaviour, his record, by placing them “above party politics”. And I’m confident his electors won’t let him get away with it.