Labour’s lack of ambition in going for a core vote 35% strategy is matched by the dangers of making the NHS the centrepiece of that approach. So far the more they mention the NHS the more their vote stays in the low 30s.
The first idiocy of it is the General Election in 2015 will not be about the NHS in Scotland or Wales. Health is a devolved issue, so what UK Labour says about the NHS is irrelevant for how the health service is run in Scotland, as Mr Brown’s vow made clear. As Labour needs to win back support from the SNP in Scotland, they need a UK appeal on Union policy to win in May 2015.
The second danger is that Labour runs the NHS in devolved Wales, so people can compare and contrast the Welsh NHS under Labour with the English NHS under the coalition. The comparison is far from helpful to Labour. In the border areas Welsh patients come seeking healthcare in English facilities. The financial settlement in Wales from the Assembly has been less helpful than the English settlement from Whitehall. The Welsh NHS has worse problems with the quality of care and waiting times than the English.
The third error is in supposing that most voters will buy the lie that a Conservative government would privatise and damage the NHS. This is the same lie that Labour hurled against Conservatives during the period of their wins from 1979 to 1992. It did not stop Conservatives winning then. Nor did that government privatise and destroy the NHS as Labour claimed. The Conservatives just kept putting more money into the NHS, as the Coalition has done. Ironically it was Tony Blair who decided to privatise some treatments, in a bid to speed up patient care and cut waiting lists. All 3 parties have long accepted the use of private sector contractors and suppliers in the property and hotel sides of the service, and for the purchase of drugs and medical equipment.
It will be interesting to see if Labour continue with this ill judged pathway to the Election. Every time the electorate want to talk about immigration, Labour does another NHS story. Every time people want to talk about the impact of the EU on our borders or our energy bills or our criminal justice system, Labour says that is just a few Tories or UKIP banging on about Europe. Labour says and offers nothing on the EU. Everytime people talk about jobs, taxes and the deficit, Labour just talks about the minimum wage and attacks bankers.
They may discover that seeking to cut yourself off from much of the mainstream conversation by always visiting a hospital or finding some mistake with the English (but not the Welsh) NHS is not a good way to boost your vote. They also need to remember that most adults under 70 years of age are fortunately normally healthy and not therefore personally preoccupied day by day with the NHS. They want to know there is free treatment available should need arise, but no main party in the UK wishes to take away that insurance.