Caroline Lucas’s first mistake
There is a lot riding on Caroline Lucas, our first Green Party MP. Greens want to prove that there is more to them then recycling, that they can provide a comprehensive programme of reform, and that they are not a bunch of loony, lentil-wearing wizards or worse – middle-class, stoners who refuse to shop in supermarkets (apart from Waitrose).
Fortunately, in Caroline Lucas we have an intelligent, articulate, and passionate representative who has already impressed people outwith the party with her statements on Trafigura and the Ian Tomlinson case.
So why, oh why, did she have to wander into the area of science policy and back the wrong side?
As described in a previous post, homeopathy is nothing more than a marketing strategy from a multi-billion pound pill industry. Clinical trials repeatedly affirm that it performs no better than placebo and yet it gets NHS funding above, for example, prescribing ice-cream when you’ve split from a relationship, or chocolate cake when you’ve got period pains.
So what did Lucas actually do?
The British Medical Association debated the following motion at their Annual Representative Meeting (ARM):
That this Meeting believes that, in the absence of valid scientific evidence of benefit:
(i) there should be no further commissioning of, nor funding for, homeopathic remedies or homeopathic hospitals in the NHS;
(ii) no UK training post should include a placement in homeopathy;
(iii) pharmacists and chemists should remove homeopathic remedies from shelves indicating they are ‘medicines’ of any description, and place them on shelves clearly labelled ‘placebos’.
David Tredinnick MP put down an Early Day Motion in Westminster saying that the BMA had “has overstepped its remit by making such statements without proper consultation with its own membership”. Lucas signed this EDM.
Lucas then seemed to ‘justify’ this signing with the tweet:
EDM is about lack of BMA’s consultation & argues that local NHS better placed to know patient needs, based on objective clinical assessment
The BMA ARM subsequently voted and passed the motion prompting another EDM from Tredinnick condemning the move. Lucas has not signed this one.
So what’s the big deal?
Firstly, it is disingenuous to say the BMA lacked consultation. They set their policy like most other membership organisations – motions are submitted, debated at the ARM and voted on. This is how Green Party policy is made, and a variation on this for all the other parties. Neither political parties nor membership organisations consult their entire membership on each of their policies – that would be far too cumbersome and unworkable.
Secondly, Tredinnick is a famous supporter of frankly bizarre medical faiths including ‘medical astrology’ as well as homeopathy. Again, his accusation of ‘lack of consultation’ is tactical not genuine. He seems to believe that if health policy is set at a local level, homeopathy will get a look in thanks to local campaigns far from the critical eye of regulation. This is a foolish assumption as the grass-roots campaign 10:23 against homeopathy demonstrates; nerds campaign locally too!
But what is most worrying is that signing an EDM like this is a sop to the complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) wing of the Green Party. EDMs are pretty pointless in themselves, but they are helpful for gauging the opinions of back-benchers, identifying who your friends are as a campaigner and a quick an easy way for MPs to be seen to be doing something while they concentrate actual time and energy elsewhere.
I sincerely hope that Lucas values the principle of evidence-based clinical decisions in the delivery of health services and licensing of drugs. If signing this EDM is a way of appeasing the CAM followers in the Party then, although I understand that decision politically, I don’t really respect it.
The Green Party has to appeal to more than its base to progress and one of the things that puts off non-Green voters is seeing the Party as full of woolly thinking. The ‘skeptics’ and science nerds who are the most vociferous in criticising the Green Party’s science policies are so vociferous, I believe, because they WANT to vote Green, they are more aware than most about the science of climate change and are generally left-leaning (OK, I might get shot down on that assertion!).
Lucas is only one MP and I don’t think she should take on NHS drug licensing as an issue. However she should also stay away from those issues that will alienate potential supporters and win her no new friends. Here’s my tip Caroline: Do not touch anything involving Tredinnick with a 50 metre bargepole.