60 Years on Labour is no longer the party of the NHS

If the results of a YouGov poll published in the Daily Telegraph this morning are anything to go by, Labour is no longer the party of the NHS. Only 1 in 5 respondents to the poll – commissioned to coincide with the publication of the Darzi Report – believed that Labour would improve the health service over the next ten years. Even more tellingly, 31% of voters now think that the Conservatives would do the best job of running the NHS, with only 23% nominating Labour.

These figures seem to reflect an underlying shift in the standard people are judging the parties against on the NHS. In the past people favoured Labour on the NHS because they needed someone who could be “trusted.” After eighteen years of Conservative neglect, people thought that Labour would run the NHS better because it had the political will to do whatever was necessary to “save the NHS” from middle-class flight and chronic under-investment. This faith came from the understanding that in some way a National Health Service free at the point of use was considered constitutive of the Labour Party; the two were so closely intertwined that one could hardly exist without the other.

Fast-forward ten years and that sense that the NHS is in mortal danger is gone. The challenges facing the health service are suddenly much more prosaic. Value, efficiency and quality are what people are looking to government for. 44% of poll respondents think “a great deal” of money is being wasted on the NHS; 38% more think that “a fair amount” is being wasted. 78% think that the NHS has too many managers. People don’t seem to want the party with the strongest emotional attachment to the NHS anymore. The NHS doesn’t need to be “saved,” it needs to be run more efficiently and less bureaucratically. After the Credit Crunch, Northern Rock and its bungled tax reforms, the voters no longer trust Labour to run things well. Labour has become the party of mismanagement. Instead when managerial efficiency is the country’s desideratum, people are increasingly turning to the Conservatives.

The government has implicitly recognised this change from a politics of emotion, to one based on cost-benefit analysis through its endorsement of Lord Darzai’s report. The report’s recommendations all aim squarely at delivering improved quality. Hospitals and GPs will be given incentives for good treatment; patient feedback will be published; choice will become a legislative right. The government’s focus is to be placed relentlessly on improved outcomes: an NHS that moves more quickly on approving drugs, that tailors its care to the individual needs of the patient, that minimises the danger of hospital-acquired infection. It all sounds very business-like, very efficient. One imagines that a management consultant would approve. Undoubtedly this is the smart approach politically, but – as an unavoidable corollary of the strengths of this approach – it resists neat media-friendly portrayal and could easily leave people in the weeks ahead without any clear sense of what it will involve. Johnson has memorably talked about this as ‘a once-in-a-generation opportunity,’ but I’m worried that there is too much disconnect between such rhetoric and the unglamorous substance of the report.

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3 Responses to “60 Years on Labour is no longer the party of the NHS”

  1. Clarence Says:

    Yes because the Conservative Party have such a wonderful record with the NHS don’t they? I sometimes wonder about the sanity of most people in this country.

  2. adammcnestrie Says:

    Just for the record, Clarence – if it isn’t clear – I don’t approve of the change. It is myopic and, although I am not sure this has any real place in politics, it is ungracious.

  3. krupesh4brent Says:

    I don’t know how people can come to the conclusion that the Tories are the Party of the NHS. Whilst all Labour members can agree that we should have a healthcare system free at the point of delivery to all individuals regardless of income, insurance, social status, and all other forms of discrimination, I don’t think the same can be said about all Conservative Party members.

    Whilst it is clear that reform is needed, the ethos of the current system must still remain.

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