On policy, Labour needs to do to the NHS what it has done on rail and energy

26th July, 2014 2:07 pm

“A radical manifesto which transforms our society… A new settlement for our country”.  That was Angela Eagle’s promise to delegates in Milton Keynes last weekend and, in many areas, they will be happy with what has been agreed.


One million new homes built over the next Parliament, a radical overhaul of the energy market, and part re-nationalisation of the rail network.  Put together and these ideas have the potential of forming a new settlement akin and worthy of those achieved in 1945 and 1997.

What these three policy objectives have in common too is that they combine detailed policy proposals with ‘doorstep friendly’ ideas for the campaign.  Take energy. The central plank of Ed Miliband’s speech at last year’s party conference was Labour’s decision to reform the energy market (detailed policy proposal) with an energy price freeze in the interim (‘doorstep friendly’ idea).

Bringing these two elements together has been one of the core strengths of Ed’s leadership and has allowed Labour to set the agenda in areas where it performs best – from the cost-of-living crisis through to the response to the phone hacking scandal.

After last weekend’s conference, he must now do the same on health.

Andy Burnham’s vision of whole person care is as radical as the other policies agreed by the National Policy Forum (NPF).  Bringing together health and social care services could transform the way we care for people with long-term conditions like diabetes and dementia, while at the same time responding to the challenges of an ageing population and rising medical costs.

However, unlike other areas to emerge from Milton Keynes, it has yet to consistently be an eye-catching (or certainly headline catching) part of Labour’s 2015 offer.

Why? Because as Mark Ferguson said on Saturday, we are still yet to see what the final offer on health and care is and what the pitch is to voters on the doorstep.

As Labour embarks on its summer NHS campaign, the leadership needs to build on the broad commitments agreed at the NPF and begin to articulate a radical and credible offer for the future of the NHS and social care system in England.  This offer should do three things.

Firstly, resonate with the public and set the agenda like the pledge to reform the energy market did so effectively last year.  To do so means being able to respond to the people we meet on the campaign trail that worry about how they are going to afford to care for their elderly parents or want to ensure their mums and fathers are treated with dignity and respect at the end of their life.

Secondly, it must honestly face up to the dire financial outlook for the NHS, which was highlighted only this week when the Department of Health confirmed that it had cleared out the cupboards and spent every pound of its budget for the first time since 2006.  Having an answer to how an integrated health and care system will be funded should be central to any policy proposals.

Finally, it must seek to outflank Number 10 and the Conservatives who are desperate for the NHS not to be an election issue this time around and who are consistently trying to silence it.

This is by no means an easy task, but Miliband and his team should be comforted by the position they are in to develop this offering.

Labour has a consistently strong lead on the NHS over the Conservatives, which is in stark contrast to before the last General Election when some polls showed Cameron’s team aheadLabourList’s recent readers’ poll also illustrates Andy Burnham’s credibility with supporters and strength within the shadow cabinet as a champion for his brief.

The NHS was a radical centrepiece of Labour’s 1945 campaign and it should be once again in 2015, by having the answers to a complex policy area and making them meaningful to the electorate.  Let’s hope we don’t let them down.


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