The 2019 General Election is, to many, an election on Brexit. However, the Labour Party are attempting to stop this. Corbyn’s party complained to Ofcom about Sky News coverage of the ‘Brexit Election’ and their headline on their website reads “Save our NHS | Vote Labour”.
Over the last decade the National Health Service has become a political football, and Labour’s attack on the Conservatives that they have failed to protect the NHS is irrefutably an intelligent electoral tool. But is their truth to it?
First of all, it is essential to look into the political history of the NHS. While Clement Attlee’s government passed the legislation to create the NHS in 1948, they were not the instigators of the initial developments into the NHS. It is right to give credit to Aneurin Bevan, and his colleagues, for implementing the reports provided to create the NHS but bypassing the reports and white papers in wartime creates a false narrative.
A Liberal member of parliament conducted the Beveridge Report of 1942, and the support amassed as a consequence crossed party lines. Two years later, the Conservative Health Minister, Henry Willink proposed a white paper on a socialised health service, with the full support of his cabinet colleagues. That said, the Tories were not as united as Labour on free-at-the-point-of-order health service. Both Brendan Bracken and Lord Beaverbrook threatened resignations over the issue, but eventually, they held their noses and backed their government. When the bill went to second and third reading, many Conservatives did oppose it, but after the legislation passed, there was little disagreement over the NHS.
Over the next 71 years, of which the Tories were in power for 46, the NHS remained in safe hands. Even during the Thatcher years spending on health rose by 60% between 1980 and 1987, and the proportion of government expenditure on the NHS rose from 12% to 15% between 1979 and 1996.
The Shadow Health Secretary, Jon Ashworth, has voiced concerns over the Tories PFI contracts. Between 2010 and 2019 the Tories organised 112 arrangements. However, when Ashworth was an advisor to the Treasury, he orchestrated the sale of PFI contracts, worth £8 billion. Over the Labour golden years of 1997 to 2010, PFI contracts hit a record high of 604, dwarfing the sales from the coalition government and the Conservatives post-2015.
Of course, in 2016, the NHS came to the fore of British politics. The Vote Leave bus claiming that ‘We send the EU £350 million a week let’s fund our NHS instead’ was a direct attack against the gross contributions that the United Kingdom makes to the European Union. In fact, Johnson is increasing this amount as the total contribution is expected to increase to over £400 million. If people believe that this pledge was dubious, then nothing compares to Labour’s cry that the Tories are going to sell off the NHS.
During his press conference, Jeremy Corbyn claimed that the NHS is still on the table during negotiations. The part of the NHS dossier that Corbyn was referring to is chopped up and misread. The document reads that ‘The NCM [US] approach makes total market access the baseline assumption of the trade negotiations and requires countries to identify exclusions, not the other way around’. Therefore, the US is inviting the British negotiators to take the NHS off of the table.
Corbyn goes on to say that ‘But surely you can’t believe that British officials would demand the NHS be excluded? Apparently not.’ Again, he is selective in the quotations of the confidential documents. Corbyn’s sole basis for the Tories keeping the NHS on the table is justified through this sentence: ‘the US should expect the UK to be a liberalising influence’. However, this snippet is not even about the NHS. The section of the document this quote is found does not refer to the NHS. Instead, it is a broader discussion on the liberalisation of services.
However, if you still believe the Labour Party on these documents, as almost half of Britons do, then what qualifies Labour to protect the NHS? If you dissect their role in the Welsh NHS, as well as the privatisation of the health sector, under Tony Blair, then Labour should not be trusted.
Since devolution in Wales, the NHS has been in the hands of the largest party in the Senedd. Labour has won every election to the Welsh Assembly, and whether they have been propped up by Plaid Cymru or the Liberal Democrats, the NHS in Wales is deficient.
In comparison to the Conservative-run English NHS, Wales health service is a complete failure. Even Adam Price, Leader of Plaid Cymru, attacked Labour and Richard Burgon on the previous ITV debate saying: ‘the most imminent threat to the NHS is not Trump, it is your [Labour] party.’ This is despite England and Wales having remarkably similar spending per head and number of GPs.
Despite, similar funding over the past decade, Wales trails England in almost all areas. In 2016, nearly a quarter of Welsh patients in major A and E-services had waiting times of four hours or more. In comparison, English patients waiting for the same time was only 17%. It is, therefore, no surprise then for every Englishman treated in Welsh NHS services, five Welshmen cross the Severn for treatment in England. There is a stark difference in Wales’ waiting time between referral and treatment. In 2015, just 63% were treated within 18 weeks, but in England, those within that time frame was 91%.
Therefore, if you are concerned about the NHS services in this election then remember that the record of Labour is not too dissimilar to the Tories regarding privatisation, and their record in Wales is nothing to aspire for.
By J Walters