“After 13 years in government, what does it say that the best they can offer is that, at some point, they might stop making things worse?” That was Keir Starmer’s final contribution to Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday. The Labour leader used the session to attack the Tories’ record on the NHS, quoting from a report by the King’s Fund think tank that concluded that, though Covid “exacerbated” the issues facing the health service, the ultimate cause of the crisis was a “decade of neglect” under the Tories. He contrasted the current state of the NHS with the health service under the last Labour government, demanding to know why patients “always wait longer under the Tories” and when cancer patients will again receive the “certainty of quick care that they got under Labour”.
A revealing moment came when Starmer asked Sunak about his pledge to reduce NHS waiting lists. The Prime Minister told MPs that the government has already eliminated two-year waiting lists and is on track to eliminate 18-month waiting lists this spring, with plans to “go further” and eliminate year-long waits by next spring. His comments were met with notable quiet from the Tory benches, in contrast to the whoops and cheers that usually accompany responses related to the government’s (perceived) achievements. “That’s it,” said Starmer, seemingly reflecting what some Tory MPs were feeling. “He’s promising that, one day, although he can’t say when, their record high waiting lists will stop growing. And that’s it.”
The ‘more than a decade of Tory failure’ line has been a consistent feature of Labour’s criticism of the government and a key attack the party has used against Sunak, in an attempt to tie the Prime Minister to the Conservatives’ record and prevent him from presenting himself as a fresh start for the country. Both Bridget Phillipson and Wes Streeting highlighted the government’s long-term failings during their respective opposition day debates on Wednesday. The Shadow Education Secretary declared that teachers have been “overworked, overstretched and undervalued” for a decade and accused the government of creating a “growing teacher recruitment and retention crisis”, while the Shadow Health Secretary told MPs that the health service is facing the “biggest crisis in its history” and argued that patients are suffering “as a direct result of 13 years of Conservative mismanagement of the NHS”.
Polling indicates that a majority of the public agrees with the opposition’s assessment. According to the latest research by YouGov, 68% of voters disapprove of the government’s record to date, including 53% of Conservative voters. Worse still for the Prime Minister, the polling came after his new year’s speech, during which he set out what he sees as the “people’s priorities” – supporting Phillipson’s argument that the Prime Minister’s address represented a “total failure to set out how he intends to build a better Britain”.
On LabourList this morning, we have a piece from Labour for a Green New Deal’s policy co-lead Alex Stephenson on the group’s new campaign, Public Power Now, which calls on the Labour Party to reaffirm the commitment to public ownership of the entire energy system. Stephenson writes of the campaign: “We aim to widen the debate around public ownership of energy and build the political forces necessary to take the entire energy system beyond profit.”Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.