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Fifty Thousand People Raged Against the Tories in Manchester Yesterday

They turned up outside the Party Conference in a bid to save the NHS.

The Conservative Party Conference got off to a shaky start in Manchester yesterday. As the various MPs, aides and their interns arrived for four days in Tory paradise, they were met by around 50,000 protesters demonstrating against pretty much everything Cameron and his pals have done since coming to power. The overriding theme, however, was fury at what the protesters see as the privatisation of the NHS.

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Those marching through Manchester city centre reckon that, through selling off the most lucrative parts of the NHS to private healthcare companies, Britain is sleepwalking towards an Americanised health system, where citizens have to pay hundreds of dollars a month for health insurance. The government, for their part, argue that there's no agenda to privatise the NHS, claiming that the service will remain funded by taxation, even if you do end up being treated by someone on Richard Branson's private payroll.

I took the train up to Manchester to check things out.

When I arrived, I managed to get my hands on a conference programme, which gave me a better idea of what would be going on at the Tories' closely-guarded meet-up. For instance, one fringe event called, “A More Liberated NHS?” was to be hosted by Reform, a centre-right think tank, with input from Baxter Healthcare, a private healthcare company.

In the past, subsidiaries of Baxter’s parent company in the US have been accused of, among other things, exploiting a loophole to sell drugs to Medicaid for tens of thousands of percent more than they’re worth, as well as avoiding paying tax from 2008 to 2010. Dr Daniel Poulter MP, a Conservative health minister, was scheduled to attend the meeting.

Then there was the event named, "Commercialising Innovation On the NHS", which didn't seem like a title that would reassure many of the protesters. It must be tricky for the government to hear their voices above the stream of donations flooding in from all the private healthcare firms hoping to take over the running of NHS services.

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One of the first people I bumped into was Dr Clive Peedell of the National Health Action Party, who had just run 42 miles from Leeds to be there. After he caught his breath, I asked him what had incensed him so much about the government's handling of the NHS that he'd decided to run almost two marathons in one day to have his point heard.

"I’m really angry with what the government is doing," he told me, stating the obvious. "They promised they wouldn’t privatise it, they promised there wouldn’t be a top-down re-organisation, but that’s exactly what the reforms are all about.

"Since the Health and Social Care Act has come into being, 25 new big contracts have gone out; 21 of those have gone to the private sector and only four to the public sector. This is privatisation by definition. Over time, billions of pounds will go to the private sector instead of frontline care. It will go to private shareholders, there will be low corporation tax, offshore tax havens and all the rest of it, so we’re losing that money from frontline patient care."

Elsewhere, people were taking a more explicit stance to make their anti-privatisation feelings known.

This is Kaya Mar, the artist whose memorable work you may or may not remember from the birth of the royal baby. Here he was again, sticking it to authority with his satirical paintings. The imagery's subtle but spend enough time staring at them and I'm sure you'll get the gist.

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Then came the protesters who were there to protest not only against the privatisation of the NHS, but against every grievance they personally have with the way the country is run. Like this guy, who was in no mood to dumb down his message. Or indeed to write that message in a way that was legible to anyone who didn't stop him to stare awkwardly at his chest for a couple of minutes.

In summary: The government is doing a shitty job looking after Tameside hospital, the bosses of which are doing a shitty job and need to be sacked.

This guy, on the other hand, decided to address approximately all of the political topics currently being discussed in the UK. Unfortunately, this method of protest is always destined to fail; you can't overload a brain with too many messages – it's like firing hundreds of tennis balls at a child and expecting them to catch them all.

Though admittedly the BAN AGGRESSIVE FARMING!!! banner is quite eye-catching.

There was also a strong turnout of people who don't want to see badgers being culled. I asked these guys what they thought of the privatisation of the NHS and they all looked a bit non-plussed at first, before the guy on the left eventually said, "Er, it’s bollocks."

So at least he'd grasped the basic gist of the march.

This guy didn't seem so sure of why exactly he was marching through Manchester with a load of people holding signs.

"What is the other thing?" I asked, referring to his placard.

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"What other thing?" came his response.

"That's what I'm asking: What is the other thing?"

"Well, we don't know, do we? It could be anything."

Deep, man. It seemed strange to me that with so many real problems to tackle people would choose to fabricate new, non-existent ones.

Ditto.

People were also there to protest against the reforms to the benefits system that have been introduced by Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith. This banner is a subtle but unfortunately misspelled pun on his name.

Rick here explained to me why people are pissed off about those benefits reforms: "It's not just cuts, but a removal of [disabled people's] human rights. Thousands of people have died within six weeks of being told they’re fine," he said, referring to government tests carried out by French firm ATOS that determine whether or not you're disabled enough to be entitled to benefits.

As the march neared the conference and the noise of the the crowd increased, so did the number of police officers lining the roads, making the conference centre look like a bit like a newbuild fortress under siege from an army of angry peasants.

There were even police positioned up on the roofs of nearby buildings, presumably to pop a cap in the ass of any ageing NHS supporter or badger protector whose vibe got too militant.

After a bit more walking, we reached the park, where everyone was listening to speeches, sitting around, visibly growing bored before deciding to head home…

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Or complaining about fracking in drag.

The speeches ended pretty soon after we'd arrived, so instead we were were treated to a folk band encouraging us to, "Get on the groovy train," over and over again.

Aneurin Bevan, the ex-Labour Minister of Health who founded the NHS, famously said that the service, "will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it". Yesterday showed that there are still plenty of those folk around. However, there are also plenty of companies and people with a financial interest in buying up bits of the NHS to then make money out of sick people.

The Labour Party has pledged to repeal the controversial legislation, should it be elected into power. But, as several people on the march pointed out to me, they basically started the service's path to privatisation the last time they were in government. I guess the only thing we can do now is wait and see how things turn out; I just hope that we don;t end up in a situation where we need to sell one kidney to afford an operation on the other.

Follow Simon (@SimonChilds13) and Chris (@CBethell_photo) on Twitter.

More stories about people wanting their healthcare to help them stave off death:

How the Tories Stuck the Knife into the National Health Service

Uninsured Americans Are Crowdsourcing Health Care Costs

Bucharest Rioted for Healthcare