Hospital marches

One of Tony Blair's more extraordinary legacies has been to radicalise Middle England, transforming quiet folk into angry demonstrators.  From the fuel tax protests to countryside marches, people who would never have dreamt of taking to the streets before have felt impelled to make their voice heard.

Of course, our West Sussex demonstrations are civilised affairs.  We aren't the kind to turn over cars or pelt bureaucrats with eggs, although as a politician I frequently remind myself that, just across the border in Lewes, John Prescott was burnt in effigy.

In a dictatorship, people march because they have no vote.  In a democracy, they march because the system doesn't seem to be responding to their views.  The real antidote is to give local people the power to take decisions for themselves.

Until that happens, we all go on marching.  On Saturday 15,000 of us were in Chichester, supporting St Richard's hospital.  On Wednesday we presented petitions in support of the Princess Royal and Worthing & Southlands hospitals at Number 10 Downing street.  Villagers have packed in to public meetings at Pulborough and Henfield this week to make their views known.

At the Chichester rally I made the point that if anyone was actually listening we wouldn't have had to protest for the second time.  But the good news is that, at last, it seems that the public's concerns are being taken on board.

At the Pulborough meeting, the Primary Care Trust said that new proposals were being examined to retain "the majority" of A&E services at all three hospitals.  The issue will be what the word "majority" means.  But this could be a real advance.

So people power can work.  Brothers and sisters unite!  Take to the streets!  Our voice is being heard.  After all, as Thomas Jefferson said, a democracy is nothing more than mob rule.

Michelle Taylor