Could the NHS Bill end up hurting Labour’s prospects?


9:55 am - May 27th 2011

by Sunny Hundal    


      Share on Tumblr

At 9am yesterday morning, Labour shadow health secretary John Healey gave a speech calling for the NHS bill to be scrapped because it essentially meant the end of the NHS.

At around 11am Nick Clegg gave a press conference and pretty much did just that; saying it would most likely have to go back to the House of Commons for a debate. This sequence of events not only highlights the problems Labour have, but the coming battle over NHS ‘red lines’.

The Labour problem is simply this: John Healey’s speech in the morning was ignored by most of the national media, including the Guardian (though their NHS live-blog covered it).

This is partly because Healey said nothing new and partly because the media is much more interested in Libdem-Conservative fights over the NHS than what Labour is saying. In a sense, Libdems have positioned themselves to become the de-facto opposition on the NHS rather than Labour.

For Labour this presents a deep tactical problem: the party’s own base will complain (and some already are) that they’re not doing enough to save the NHS while the Libdems are doing it all. They might even lose that traditional edge on which party is seen as the best on the NHS.

As I’ve said before, the shadow health team needs more fire-power; John Healey is just ineffective at breaking through the noise. It looks like the party is just being complacent – waiting for events to help them rather than trying to find ways to make noise. What are Labour’s ‘red lines’ for example? Anyone know? Are they opposed to all the proposals or just parts of it?

If the NHS Bill means the end of the ‘N’ in the ‘NHS’, then why aren’t they doing more to shout about this from the rooftops?

This is where the Social Liberals stand on what amendments they would like to the NHS Bill. Dr Evan Harris is pushing strongly for them.

Last night, Tory back-benchers released their own set of demands to the BBC:

» The declaration that any qualified provider, including private companies and charities, should be able to provide care. Mr de Bois said: “Government should do nothing that stands in their way”, but Mr Clegg said earlier on Thursday there would be “no sudden, top-down opening up of all NHS services to any qualified provider”

» A clear date – April 2013 – “when statutory responsibility must transfer from the top-down bureaucracy to GP consortia”. Mr de Bois said this was “a very reasonable period of time”, but Mr Clegg said there should be “no arbitrary deadline”

»The requirement for all GPs to take on these new responsibilities, right across England. Mr de Bois said “there must be no two-tier NHS”, but Mr Clegg said this change should be introduced in a “planned, phased way”

It now looks like the battle is between the Tory back-benchers and the Libdem-left.

Labour desperately need to find a way of breaking through or they’ll be marginalised in this important debate.

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  


About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
· Other posts by


Story Filed Under: Blog ,Health

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Reader comments


Unfortunately this is just part of the lot of being in opposition. The media is always more interested in what the government has to say. So Nick Clegg’s comments yesterday were always going to be more newsworthy than John Healey’s. That isnt to say that some of your criticism is not valid, perhaps someone else might do a better job of getting the media’s attention but it really is not easy (one reason why Cameron did stunts like the husky trip, it didnt do much except get him in the media).

The reality here is that the dispute is between the lib dems and the tory right, whoever looses will be dramatically weakened. If you want a view from the right check out James Forsyth’s piece in this weeks Spectator (I believe the only place it is online is on Politics Home Pro – but you need to subscribe) the right are getting very nervous not just about the NHS but the whole project.

I dont think even if Clegg “wins” he (or the Lib Dems) will get the credit, they will still get blamed for all the bad things that will inevitably happen, in marketing speak their brand is so tarnished by the tuition fees disaster that it is difficult to see them regaining creditability whilst still in government.

2. Alisdair Cameron

Labour’s trouble on this is their track record.It was New Labour and the likes of Alan Milburn, and Patsy Hewitt (both since seeking big bucks from the private health sector, quel surprise) who set this train in motion, with ISTCs, hiving off FTs to status of just another provider, the woeful and wasteful marketisation,touting the prospect of polyclinics around the likes of CareUK and VirginHealth, bollocksing things up royally with disastrous PFIs and the IT fiasco, so keen were they to see the private sector make inroads.Then there’s the deliberate infestation by NewLab of McKinsey privateers all through the upper echelons of the dept of Health…
Healey’s gone some way towards apologising, but there’s still mistrust among those committed to the NHS and in the NHS, and the quietness and apparent ambivalence at the top of Labour as to the role of the private sector,marketisation etc does not engender confidence, nor support for the party.

The “red lines” brigade don’t seem to understand how a coalition works.

If they make demands, which the other party are unwilling to accept, the law just doesn’t get passed.

And given that what they want is for the bill to get passed, that’s the same as saying, they lose.

As the minority partner in a coalition government the LibDems one could argue that they are the Opposition; certainly they have more power to affect change to policy than Labour.

Apologies for the atrocious grammar in that last; that’s what comes of re-arranging sentences multiple times and hitting send without a final read-through.

The problem with that is that the first year of the coalition was basically one long love-in between Cameron and Clegg – publically. The Lib Dems might have been fighting Tory policies left right and centre, behind closed doors, but they were unwilling to tell anyone about it. Now, they seem to be getting a lot more assertive. Which may win back some doubters, but not many, the damage was done with the student fees issue. If he “rides to the rescue of the NHS”, Clegg will avoid doing even more damage, but it will be very hard to repair what’s been done.

7. donpaskini

“For Labour this presents a deep tactical problem: the party’s own base will complain (and some already are) that they’re not doing enough to save the NHS while the Libdems are doing it all. They might even lose that traditional edge on which party is seen as the best on the NHS.”

Alternative theory – it is better for Labour if the Lib Dems lead the fight to derail the NHS reforms.

Labour needs to sort out its policy on the NHS in time for the next election (as a sign of how big a task this is, we’ve only just got rid of Andy Burnham’s idiotic idea that Labour should pledge to cut the NHS by more than the Tories). That should be John Healey’s focus.

In tactical terms, Labour forces government to drop NHS plans would be a short term boost which no one would remember in 2015 (might even be politically better for the government to be defeated by the opposition than to force through the Lansley plans and watch the disaster unfold and annoy the public).

In contrast, Lib Dems force Tories to drop NHS plans has the potential to lead to a really entertaining war which emboldens the Lib Dems to exercise their veto on other malign government policies, drives the Tory Right into revenge attacks, and paralyses the government in a way which makes them look incompetent and divided.

“It’s amazing what you can achieve when you don’t mind who gets the credit”.

You are right about this. Labour is taking too much of a back seat and the LibDems are trying to use the Bill to make them seem like they are “saving the NHS”.

Let’s just remember some history. Labour did save the NHS in 1997 when it had to pour money into the service. When have we heard from the current team about what Labour have done over the last decade? Nothing. Complete fuck all. And Lansley kows this. In debates the Tories spout total lies like “Labour would have cut the NHS” (untrue) and “Labour wasted money in the NHS” (again totally untrue, most of the money was well spent). Yet every time such lies are spouted by CCHQ or Lansley, Healey just turns the other cheek. What the fuck is going on???

Yes, Labour made some mistakes. PFI (though not as bad as the Tories make it out to be) cost more than it should. ISTCs were a disaster. Polyclinics were a great idea but turned bad because they had to be private. Outcomes were improving, waiting times were down, morale in the staff was good, hospitals were rebuilt. There are a lot of things Labour did very well.

But back to the LibDems. When you have a Bill as appalling as the Health and Social Care Bill, you do not “save the NHS” by amending the bill and change a few bits. You save the NHS by stopping the Bill and stopping Lansley’s shock and awe handling of the NHS. It’s about time Healey upped his game. I don’t quite want to see fisticuffs with Lansley outside Richmond House, but that is the limit: he should throw everything else at the government.

@8 ” “Labour wasted money in the NHS” (again totally untrue, most of the money was well spent).”

The ONS doesn’t appear to agree with you one that. NHS productivity has been going down significantly since 2001.

http://www.statistics.gov.uk/articles/nojournal/HealthCare_290108.pdf

10. Chaise Guevara

“The ONS doesn’t appear to agree with you one that. NHS productivity has been going down significantly since 2001.”

Falling productivity is not the same thing as wasted money. Your link shows that ouput rose over the period. You wouldn’t expect productivity rates to stay the same regardless of total investment.

So the ONS doesn’t agree or disagree that “the money was well spent”; it provides data that could support either statement, depending on personal opinion.

(as a sign of how big a task this is, we’ve only just got rid of Andy Burnham’s idiotic idea that Labour should pledge to cut the NHS by more than the Tories).

I am not an apologist for Burnham (I think he is a completely ineffectual politician with a chip on his shoulder) but I think you are not right there. (See here.)

Over Labour’s time they increased NHS funding by an average of £4.8bn a year (4 to 6%). The last Darling budget gave 5% real terms increase for 2010/11 and flat funding (ie 0% real terms) for the following two years. Burnham (like the rest of the country) believed that the Tories would “protect” the budget and continue the increases. He argued that if the Tories cut local authority funding that would mean big cuts in social care funding which would lead to more costs for the NHS, so Burnham argued that the social care budget should be protected.

At the time of the June Budget, Burnham thought that Osborne would give 1% real terms increase for 2011/12 (remember, Darling gave 0%). Burnham argued against this 1%. This was a stupid thing to do because it lead to the Tories saying that Labour would cut the NHS (as I said, I think Burnham is useless). Osborne has given the NHS flat funding for 4 years until the next election. In other words no more than Labour would. In fact, Osborne has even raided the NHS budget by taking £1bn a year from the flat funded NHS budget and handing it to local authorities for social care (much as Burnham suggested), so this actually means a real terms cut. Yet Burnhams daft statement, which was misreported by the Tories and then echoed by a clueless Press means that they keep saying that Labour would have cut the NHS. Now you are doing this too.

12. donpaskini

Hi Richard,

June 2010:

“Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has urged the Government to ditch its pledge to deliver annual real-terms funding increases for the NHS every year of this Parliament.

Mr Burnham warned that the promise – which sets the Department of Health aside from almost all Whitehall departments, facing swingeing cuts – would mean the axe coming down even harder on other areas, including social care.

He said that Prime Minister David Cameron’s commitment had been driven by political expediency, because of the “toxicity” of health cuts for Conservatives during an election campaign.

Mr Burnham, a contender for the Labour leadership, acknowledged it was “counter-intuitive for a health spokesman to be advocating less spending on the NHS”.”

http://news.uk.msn.com/uk/articles.aspx?cp-documentid=153800095

13. alienfromzog

As I’ve said before, the shadow health team needs more fire-power; John Healey is just ineffective at breaking through the noise. It looks like the party is just being complacent – waiting for events to help them rather than trying to find ways to make noise. What are Labour’s ‘red lines’ for example? Anyone know? Are they opposed to all the proposals or just parts of it?

Sunny, you’ve made this critism before. I am not necessary disagreeing with you but would be grateful if you could expand further. I watched the opening statement from Healey in the opposition-day debate and siimilar have read some of his longer speaches. Speaking as someone who knows quite a lot about the NHS, I was impressed by his grasp of detail and nuance and his understanding of the issues. Are you saying that he doesn’t have that or that it doesn’t translate into political effectiveness?

AFZ

Labour have nothing to say, surely, because they popularised the reforms of which this bill is a logical conclusion.

Also, Healey’s questionable connections with private health care providers have been cited in Private Eye regarding his dismal performance against Lansley.

alienfromzog: Speaking as someone who knows quite a lot about the NHS, I was impressed by his grasp of detail and nuance and his understanding of the issues. Are you saying that he doesn’t have that or that it doesn’t translate into political effectiveness?

He has the detail, he knows the issues and he’s very competent. He just can’t translate that into political effectiveness, as you say. And he’s not very hungry to get out there and fight.

Sunny

To be frank, Healy is but one man in the front bench. Few, if any, are covering themselves in glory at the moment. I cannot think of anyone who appears to be taking the fight to the Tory front bench, and I include Milliband in this. The Coalition in general and the Tory Party in particular have been getting away with murder right across the board. We have heard disabled people bemoan the fact that they have been left out to dry, for example. We have seen job uncertainty and wage restraint on workforces while top earners have been seen to coin it in.

Looking across the Labour front bench, it appears that the guy who predicted the rapture was right, because the opposition benches are full of empty suits where shadow ministers should be. The strategy appears to be let them hang themselves with their own rope and the Tories are doing that with health. The Health debate is being driven by the public’s well-founded mistrust of the Tories on the issue.

To be honest, Sunny, the fate of the NHS is more important than the short-term fortunes of Labour. If they are willing to lop about while the political landscape is changing in front of their eyes, then that is a problem for Labour Party members. They need to unite and get stuck in, and win back the trust they have lost with the electorate.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Could the NHS Bill end up hurting Labour's prospects? http://bit.ly/jNWjpr

  2. Broken OfBritain

    Could the NHS Bill end up hurting Labour's prospects? http://bit.ly/jNWjpr

  3. Richard Blogger

    . @sunny_hundal is spot on: "Could the NHS Bill end up hurting Labour's prospects? http://bit.ly/jNWjpr "

  4. sunny hundal

    Could the NHS Bill end up hurting Labour? It now looks like Libdems are official opposition: http://t.co/pbKqenh

  5. Zoe O'Connell

    Could the NHS Bill end up hurting Labour? It now looks like Libdems are official opposition: http://t.co/pbKqenh

  6. Zoe O'Connell

    Could the NHS Bill end up hurting Labour? It now looks like Libdems are official opposition: http://t.co/pbKqenh

  7. Martin Deane

    Could the NHS Bill end up hurting Labour? It now looks like Libdems are official opposition: http://t.co/pbKqenh

  8. Niklas Smith

    Could the NHS Bill end up hurting Labour? It now looks like Libdems are official opposition: http://t.co/pbKqenh

  9. Andrew Page

    Could the NHS Bill end up hurting Labour? It now looks like Libdems are official opposition: http://t.co/pbKqenh

  10. Joanne Kaye

    Interesting analysis“@sunny_hundal: Could the NHS Bill hurt Labour? It now looks like Libdems are official opposition: http://t.co/pJTQp4X”

  11. Growing tensions over the NHS, Obama’s in town, and the Big Society re-launches (again): round up of political blogs for 21 May – 27 May | British Politics and Policy at LSE

    [...] The Staggers covers the growing coalition tensions over NHS reforms, and Sunny Hundal at Liberal Conspiracy considers whether the NHS Bill could end up hurting Labour’s prospects. [...]

  12. Daniel Pitt

    Could the NHS Bill end up hurting Labour's prospects? http://bit.ly/jNWjpr #ConDemNation





Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.