Laura Kuenssberg can describe me as a Labour activist – I’m proud of my values

Omar Salem

I recently hit headlines after confronting Boris Johnson at Whipps Cross Hospital about the care of my daughter and the state of the NHS. I was then ‘outed’ by Guido Fawkes and Laura Kuenssberg as a “Labour activist”. The only problem was that I was already out – the first line of my Twitter biography described me as a Labour activist. Safe to say, Inspector Clouseau can stay in his role.

Many who knew me were infuriated by the way Kuenssberg reported the event. They felt that my views as a father were being diminished by the highlighting of my support for Labour. They were right that my primary reason for speaking to the Prime Minister was anger over my daughter’s treatment. However, I am also very clear that I was talking to him from a political perspective. This is because I strongly believe that politics has consequences, and there is a direct link between Boris Johnson and the Tories’ political decisions and the problems that the NHS is facing.

I was therefore comfortable being described by the press as a Labour activist. Although my Labour activism perhaps should not have been given quite so much prominence, I was more concerned about being described as a ‘heckler’, which I was not. In the end, it is because of my Labour values that I care about the NHS and public services, and I am very proud of them. As I pointed out to Laura Kuenssberg at the time, ‘Labour activist cares about the NHS’ is hardly a huge scoop.

I’m entirely comfortable with being described as a Labour activist, but that does not mean it is appropriate to use that term in other contexts – such as for journalists, especially when that approach is not applied fairly across the board. Still, in my case, I thought it was a legitimate piece of information that much of the public would want to be told.

Kuenssberg also came in for criticism for tweeting a link to my Twitter with the words “this is him” – allegedly encouraging a Twitter pile on. My feeling is that this was caused more by thoughtlessness than malign intent. I also believe that many of the criticisms of Kuenssberg, including in this case, were motivated by misogyny. Her male colleagues do not get the same treatment. It is for these reasons that I publicly defended Laura Kuenssberg, saying that she is “doing her job without fear or favour, which is a vital part of democracy”.

My criticism of the British media is about structural and systemic problems rather than individual journalists. For example, many broadcast journalists seem rather trigger happy with tweeting before properly checking out and scrutinising pronouncements from No10 and party spokespersons. The way that the pool operates is also questionable; the day I spoke to the Prime Minister they’d agreed to film but not interview him at Whipps Cross hospital. They would have essentially filmed an advert for the Conservatives if I had not intervened.

My main concern about being described so prominently as a Labour activist by the press is that it may deter others from party politics. Political parties are vital to our democracy and they can only function properly if everyone feels free to be involved in them. We should all raise a glass to political activists.

After my encounter with the Prime Minister, the chief executive of Whipps Cross Hospital visited our daughter’s room every day. He said that the hospital needed a complete rebuild. Whipps Cross is just one example of how our NHS is falling apart. Hospitals are crumbling, equipment is broken and repairs are not being done. Over the past decade, as part of austerity, money that was meant to be spent on equipment and buildings was diverted towards day-to-day running costs.

Because of this crisis, I have launched a petition for the government to provide the funding needed to remove the maintenance backlog and make sure that proper funding is in place for NHS buildings and equipment.

I am also campaigning for Labour in the general election, because Labour’s rescue plan is the only way to protect the NHS. Labour has pledged an extra £15bn over five years for new buildings and equipment. Labour would also raise NHS spending on capital projects to the average of other developed countries, which we are currently far below.

We need a Labour government because all NHS staff deserve to work in good conditions and to have the equipment they require to do the best job they can. Patients, too, deserve decent hospitals with safe, functioning infrastructure and equipment. We need to rebuild our NHS.

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