Commentary and opinion on national and regional politics by Seema Malhotra

Monday, 3 May 2010

The Story the Media chose not to tell you last Friday – the Story of Jacqueline Denny

Labour List Blog:
Last Friday Labour launched final week election posters in Birmingham, at an event attended by the national media. Part way through the event, the drivers of a passing refuse collection lorry began shouting at the gathering, where Gordon Brown was standing with around ten of the Cabinet. Whilst distracted the refuse collection lorry apparently clipped a car, which then went into a bus stop. Luckily no one was injured.

As you can imagine, the loud bang caused real concern and for a moment it wasn’t clear whether the event would stop. None of us knew the seriousness of what had happened, and whilst Peter Mandelson calmly held it together, officials and police, as well as some of the media, ran over to see what had happened. It became clear that whilst the car was a write off, there were no evident injuries. The event then continued.

After the speeches, Andy Burnham led the Prime Minister over to meet a woman who was standing near me. Her name was Jacqueline Denny. She was a Labour supporter who had been introduced to him earlier that morning, who wanted to say thank you to Labour for their investment in the NHS. She had not had any previous contact with the Labour Party.

The day before she had been given the all clear from breast cancer, aged 65. She’d been diagnosed with breast cancer around 3 years earlier, shortly after her husband died. At the time she was still coming to terms with her husband’s death, and she described the faultless care she had received from the NHS though that time, not just medical but emotional. She’d been operated on very quickly and received very good drugs following the operation, all of which she believed contributed to her recovery.

She wanted to say thank you to Labour, and felt that she really wanted to say something positive in the election campaign. She had phoned a radio station in Birmingham, and someone had suggested she call the Labour Party. She phoned the regional Labour Party, and told her story. That night, she was invited to come and see the cancer pledge being launched the next morning.

In her own words, she had phoned because she was fed up with the negativity she was hearing in campaign coverage and wanted to talk about something positive, mainly her experience of the NHS. Indeed, not just her experience but that of others. This included her young grandson, who recently had to receive treatment at a specialist hospital unit in Stoke, where the family had been offered accommodation near by so they could be near the toddler.

The reason why she felt so strongly was that the treatment she and her family and friends were receiving was no accident. The treatment she received was because Labour had invested in the NHS, and brought the waiting lists down. She wasn’t a statistic, she wasn’t a number, she was a real person. And this is what Labour’s choices had meant for real people.

She recounted also the story of how things had changed from the Tory years. In the eighties, as a mother of four young children, she was told by her GP she had varicose veins and needed treatment. In Feb/March of that year, she was given an appointment around Feb for July 22nd. She went on July 22nd that year, to be told she wasn’t on the list.

When she enquired, they found that the reason was that the appointment was for the following year. Apparently even the GP was shocked. She was told that in order to speed things up she would have to go private, just to see a consultant and get on his list, let alone get treatment. The mum of four young children, from an ordinary working family with limited income, had to find £100, just to be seen by a consultant. And if she hadn’t been treated quickly, she could now have been suffering from ulcers and other potentially more serious conditions.

Recently someone close to her in her family had a similar varicose veins problem. She was referred by her GP to the same hospital, Solihull, and was treated within a week and a half. In Jacqueline’s own words, it was amazing.

She didn’t call the media on Thursday and come to a Labour Party event on Friday to tell everyone to vote Labour. She did want people to think about the election, and stop the negativity. She also wanted people to take the NHS into account when they cast their vote, because she didn’t want to risk a return to the old days, or to take health services for granted. She also remembered previous recessions; the number of home repossessions, high unemployment. And in the view of this ordinary mother and grandmother from Birmingham, this recession had been different. The effects of it had been reduced, and Labour had led the country through it.

Jacqueline was filmed speaking to Gordon and interviewed by almost all the media. Notes were taken. Recordings were made. But her story did not receive the coverage that a negative story would be likely to receive.

However Jacqueline’s story has been inspiring for me, for those that met her. I’ve recounted it on the doorstep across London and in the West Midlands over the weekend, and her words “I’m not a statistic. This is what Labour had done for real people.”

The media acted like paparazzi on Friday, and I wasn’t the only one to think of Princess Diana and the distasteful photography of her car crash. Luckily the driver was not injured, and apparently said later he would still be voting Labour.

So when you read about Labour’s so called election car crash, remember that the real story was that of Jacqueline Denny, who wanted to thank Labour for what has been done for her and her family, and to tell other voters too. I hope you find it as inspiring as I did as we go into the final days of the campaign.