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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  • jay

    You seem to think that we should do stuff because of the effect on voters and not because it is the right thing to do for the country.

    • BenM_Kent

      What? A Party pledging to deliver what the voters want?
      Heaven forbid!

  • Dan

    They need to promise a big spending increase (whether that’s paid for through a National Insurance rise like has been suggested, or some other method). Absolutely no-one is going to believe it’s possible to make the NHS better by “reforms” or making it more “efficient”.

    The NHS is absolutely one of Labour’s trump cards, since that’s one of the few areas where people still regard the last Labour government as having done a very good job (I don’t get the sense that Tory propaganda on Mid-Staffordshire has had any imprint on the general public at all), but to take advantage they need to be believable in promising things will be better, and the only way of being believable is pledging more money.

    • JoeDM

      Tax, tax and tax again. And then waste it on huge IT project that don’t work and ridiculous doctors contracts !!!

      • Dan

        Yawn. Even many of Labour’s harshest critics (both from the Left and even among many hardcore Tory voters) admit they did a pretty good job on the NHS. It improved on virtually every measure, and that was only because they pumped so much more money into it (though it could’ve improved even more had they not wasted so much money on inefficient “competition” and semi-privatisation measures, which were eventually abandoned because it became clear how useless they were).

        • Doug Smith

          Labour’s ‘semi-privatisation measures’ were not abandoned and are being developed further by the Tories.

          If the privatisation of the NHS is to be reversed, and the health of millions prioritised over the profits of the private sector, Labour will need to initiate major reforms.

  • Saddo

    As always with you lot, where’s the money coming from?

    Who is exactly going to pay for and build 1 million homes? Come on who? Where will they be built? Who will actually be able to buy them?

    Who’s going to pay for buying the franchises and then the running costs of the railways? Who and how?

    The NHS in England is being focused where it should. At patients. Given how freaking dangerous it is to get sick in Wales why should anyone trust labour to run it in England?

    Labour screwed us all last time. With Beaker/Wallace in charge things will be a whole lot worse.

    • gunnerbear

      “The NHS in England is being focused where it should. At patients. Given how freaking dangerous it is to get sick in Wales why should anyone trust labour to run it in England?”

      Fair comment!

    • BenM_Kent

      “Who is exactly going to pay for and build 1 million homes?”

      It should be the government of course, reversing the disastrous 1980s Council House flog off. Waiting for private developers to do it and we’d be here a lifetime, as UK’s housebuilding record since the 1980s proves.

      “The NHS in England is being focused where it should. At patients. Given how freaking dangerous it is to get sick in Wales why should anyone trust labour to run it in England?”

      The NHS in Wales performs well enough, and under the last Labour government satisfaction was a record levels. It is one area where the ast Labour government can point to real achievement. Tories burying their heads in the sand trying to wave all that away don’t help themselves.

      • gunnerbear

        “It should be the government of course…”

        The government has no cash of its own. It either has to borrow it or raise it via taxation (or in extremis use something like QE which is really merely delayed borrowing as gilts have to be paid for).

        What method do you suggest?

        • Redshift1

          For housing, borrowing makes a massive lot of sense. You’d save money in housing benefit. You’d save money in JSA payments. I could go on.

          • gunnerbear

            Don’t forget though that is a price for borrowing as well (hopefully lower than the HB bill).

    • Redshift1

      Who’s going to pay all those builders to sit on the dole? For all the government’s bluster we’ve had over 2 million unemployed for years now and construction hasn’t recovered, it has all been driven by services (despite Osborne reigniting the SouthEast housing bubble). We need more houses, we need to get builders back into work.

  • treborc1

    Forgive me did I miss something the railways if this is policy then boy what a farce, energy nothing has been decided except a long winded farce of a cap and more companies for the big six to buy up.

    And education is not a policy it’s a rag tag of accepting some of the Tories ideology and some of the labour ideology mixed up which will see free schools stay according to the Minister go according to the leader.

    House building , OK what houses just saying house building is not good enough we need to be told, go on say council housing have a go.

    I do not think the people like this type of politics they like plain speaking bot hidden agenda’s

    Caps and cuts and Austerity are labour problems they are basically unable to telkl us what they will do because they are scared still of answering the Tories who will ask how will you fund it, surely you have an argument.

    your still way to close to the Tories on what matters most to the people including the beloved hard working, Austerity, if the Tories have this right well we may as well give them another term.

  • MonkeyBot5000

    “One million new homes built over the next Parliament,”

    Sounds good, but I won’t vote for it unless I see some cast iron details before the election.

    “a radical overhaul of the energy market”


    “and part re-nationalisation of the rail network.”

    The “part” part suggests that you have a plan. Experience suggests that I’m not going to like the plan. I want details.

    Full disclosure: If you give me details and I vote for you based on those details and it turns out that you lied, I am definitely going to brick someone’s windows.

    Play at your own risk.

  • Doug Smith

    “One million new homes built over the next Parliament”

    Other Labour figures have said 200,000 homes a year by 2020 – which may add up to considerably less than one million by 2020.

    No-one really seems to know what Labour’s policy is on anything. I suppose it amounts to saying what sounds good at any particular moment.

    • Redshift1

      That’s because the policy now goes further than the original one…

  • Steve38

    ‘a new settlement akin and worthy of those achieved in 1945 and 1997’

    This article is nothing more than electioneering drivel as typified by the above historically and politically meaningless statement. Whoever is Ben Nunn he unfortunately typifies today’s Labour party as the opportunistic principle free organisation that it has become.


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