The Conservatives have overtaken Labour for the first time since March 2012 in the latest YouGov/The Sun poll.
David Cameron has an inherent advantage in the public perception’s of his leadership qualities, in that he is doing the job every day and being seen to do so on the news. Credibility is an important currency. And Labour has already stated ‘the market went too far’ in the NHS. It is not a secret that many parts of the media try to present Ed Miliband in a negative light. Labour is trusted on the NHS, and the Tories are trusted on the economy; so a rationale strategy for the Tories is to make the link between the country’s economy and the NHS. However, real-terms NHS funding has effectively flatlined for a number of years now, not keeping up with the inflation in the system, and debt under this Government has got out of control.
For example, you’re more likely to get a discussion of the ‘bacon butty’ incident than a discussion of how NHS contracts have been aggressively been promoted to the private sector, or how the Health and Social Care Act (2012) locks in the market.
The Prime Minister often blames this lack of coverage on the era of the rolling news, but conversations in the social media have been very productive in exposing events which the BBC would rather not cover. David Cameron’s segment on the NHS was certainly passionate. Cameron must have been distraught at the closure of the Cheyne Centre which he had once fought to keep alive.
But actions speak louder than words. When Cameron claims he will protect the NHS he doesn’t say from whom or what he needs to protect it. He no longer talks about the importance of competition in the NHS and many of the initiatives associated with Andrew Lansley seem to have been quietly forgotten.
If David Cameron had wanted to win the trust of the medical profession, he would not have ambushed them out of nowhere with a ‘top down reorganisation’ which he promised would never happen. The £2.4 bn reorganisation is widely considered to be a tragic waste, when money could have, and should have, been invested in frontline services. The chunk of the speech on the NHS was little consolation to hardworking nurses who’ve witnessed yet another pay freeze, despite the economy’s performance recovering. Nurses, part of the lifeblood of the service, are not immune from the ‘cost of living crisis’, particularly if they are living in London and working in one of the powerhouse teaching hospitals.
A&E targets have been consistently missed during the duration of this period of office by the Conservative Party (and the Liberal Democrat Party).
The current Government need to address what to do about the ‘private finance initiative’. New contracts have been awarded during the lifetime of this Government, and, whilst they were undoubtedly popular under New Labour, their origin is clearly found in the John Major Conservative administration of 1992-1997.
David Cameron, in his conference speech, simply behaved so passionately about the NHS as if the Lewisham debacle had never happened. The current Government even spent money trying to win the case in the Court of Appeal.
GP waiting times have been an unmitigated disaster under this Government. There has been a marked rise in the number of NHS trusts in deficit. Jeremy Hunt is stuck in a time warp. He mentions Mid Staffs at every opportunity. Hunt, completely disingenuously, does not let the failures in culture, quality or management, identified at the CQC, soil his lips. The “Keogh Trusts” were dealt with due to failings which had occurred in the lifetime of and due to this government.
Like the referendum on Europe, promising ‘to protect’ the NHS could be ‘jam tomorrow‘, if the Conservative Party fail to get re-elected. It is either a sign of confidence, or sheer arrogance, that David Cameron and colleagues can hang these uncoated promises in thin air.
The position in an editorial of the Financial Times is clear – and damning:
“But in the bid both to draw a clear dividing line with Labour and reassure the wavering right, they have staked out a fiscal position that is neither sober nor realistic.”
And, hard though it might be to swallow, the Coalition appears to have an ‘edge’ on some key policy areas.
Labour would never have been able to get away with such dodgy promises, with their plans for government being watched like a hawk. With the help of the BBC and other supine media outlets, rather, there will be an inadequate scrutiny of these Conservative plans, which hopefully will be better articulated before the time of the election. As such, it does not matter what Labour promises its voters on the abolition of the purchaser-provider split, whole person care, the private finance initiative, reconfiguration of hospitals, GP waiting times, patient safety, and so on, if voters wish to vote for ‘jam tomorrow’.
The hope is that a Secretary of State for a Labour government would be able to untangle the UK government out of TTIP and CETA trade agreements further giving propulsion to neoliberal forces attacking the NHS. There is a hope that health and care finances will be properly funded in the next Government. All parties have arguably failed to have this conversation with the general public thus far.
Some policies of the current Conservative-led administration are incredibly unpopular with Labour voters: e.g. welfare benefits, NHS privatisation, repeal of the Human Rights Act. The feeling of many, currently, is that, while they do not particularly like this Government, they do not wish to vote for Labour which appears to be offering a diluted form of what the Conservative Party is offering. This is not in any way a indictment of the sterling efforts of the Labour Party Shadow Health Team.
But, before Labour attempts to plug the ‘funding gap’, it will need to resolve any ‘credibility gap’ first.