Green spin, Labour and saving the NHS

A recent Green Party leaflet seeks to draw a distinction between the Green Party and Labour on the future of the NHS, by quoting a line attributed to  Andy Burnham’s office to the effect that there would always be a role from the private sector in delivering world-class healthcare in the NHS.

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The implication, presumably, is to portray Labour as a party of privatisation while the Greens remain committed to a publicly-provided NHS.

It’s spin, and moreover spin that is revealing of the Green Party’s political methods.

The quote, which in fact dates from much earlier than this June, actually comes from a briefing note from 2012 on the Health and Social Care Bill, then passing through Parliament.  The full document can be found on the Socialist Health Association’s website but it’s worth quoting the reference to private sector provision in full:

Labour and the private sector

  • Labour believes the private sector has a role to play in delivering world-class care to patients.
  • In Government, we used private sector capacity to bring down NHS waiting lists to their lowest ever level. We introduced the Independent Sector Treatment Centre (ISTC) initiative to help reduce waiting times for treatment at busy NHS hospitals while increasing patient choice, by letting private companies carry out planned, straightforward procedures such as hip replacements and cataract operations.
  • However, when our capacity needs were met we reduced the use of the private sector – for example in 2007 Alan Johnson announced that there wouldn’t be a third wave of ISTCs.
  • We are clear that there is a difference between using private providers to support the work of the NHS and privatising the NHS.
  • Labour introduced the NHS constitution – reaffirming rights to NHS services, free of charges and with equal access for all.
  • In 2009, Andy Burnham announced that the NHS would be the ‘preferred provider’ of choice when it comes to delivering services. This meant that NHS trusts would be given the opportunity to improve first, before tenders for services from the private sector would be considered.

In other words, it’s part of a much more nuanced argument about how the private sector might take on some functions in delivering NHS care.  It is a world away from the full-scale privatisation that is now being pursued by the Coalition, having legislated away the Secretary of State’s duty to provide healthcare.  And the implication in the leaflet that Labour is supporting de facto privatisation – in contrast to Caroline Lucas’ opposition to privatisation – is, to put it at its mildest, deeply disingenuous. Is Lucas actually saying that Greens are opposed to any private sector involvement in the NHS?  It seems unlikely – there has always been some work carried out in the private sector, and by the voluntary sector too.  It shows that Greens are more interested in grandstanding than in detailed policy formulation; but then I suppose that is the luxury of knowing you won’t have to make tough decisions in Government.

I think the approach in this advertisement points to an important aspect of the Green Party’s political positioning – that it appears to be far more interested in attacking Labour than the Tories.  Far from being a principled party of the left engaged in a quest to “do politics differently” its focus appears to be on undermining Labour, even on issues where there is little to choose between the two (or on issues like rented housing where the Green Party has simply and blatantly appropriated Labour policy).  Why do they not turn their fire on the Tories with anything like the same zeal?

Here in Brighton and Hove, the answer was provided in a short and tart tweet from a Labour activist: Labour is fighting to save the NHS, Caroline Lucas is fighting to save her seat.

More generally, the Greens know they cannot form a Government; even if Lucas is re-elected her single Parliamentary vote will make little difference.  But, eleven years after the Iraq war, so much of the Green political project appears to be, quite simply, about not being Labour; about attacking Labour.  It’s a self-indulgent, inward-looking and ultimately frivolous political method.

And it’s a reminder that, at heart, the battle in the Brighton Pavilion constituency is between an MP who can talk a good talk on BBC Question Time and one who can make a real difference in Government.  And there are no prizes for guessing which approach will save the NHS.

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6 thoughts on “Green spin, Labour and saving the NHS

  1. Rubbish! Nothing like accusing your opponent of what you are doing yourself. And attacking the Green Party won’t encourage me to vote labour again, it just reminds me of the Tories.

  2. This obsession with the Greens is both tiresome and revealing; the zeal of the convert or in your case a re-convert.
    There is an election just 9 months away, the outcome of which will define this country for a generation.
    The Tories are the enemy, and a pretty nasty and formidable one, so spray some ‘cyber-ink’ in their faces.
    The Greens are done, a spent force, and almost certainly will play no part in national politics in the foreseeable future.
    I am not a Green party member though am grateful for the i360.
    Incidentally Labour could display some shrewd far sightedness by championing PR. They could then dominate coalition government for decades on a more radical agenda; or of course we may have Tory / UKIP coalitions, but hey, that’s democracy.

  3. Incidentally a better title would have been Don’t mention the Greens.
    It contains an excellent summary of New Labour’s NHS policies (certainly informative from my perspective) and then moves on to the main purpose which is more attacks on the Greens, for basically just electioneering – a cheeky poster, and no doubt for being cheeky enough to dare to run a council in Brighton.
    One could almost call it ‘Enochs Law’ after Enoch Powell, a brilliant classics scholar, destined for No 10, who unfortunately went-off on one whenever he saw ‘too much colour in the High Street’.
    Green rag at a bull in your case
    How about attacking the Tories. Can you do that.

  4. Your obsessional spinning against the Greens and attempted reassurance about Labour’s path on the NHS isn’t shared by Dr. Wendy Savage, the respected President of Keep our NHS Public, who said: “Caroline Lucas has been a powerful voice in Parliament against the legislation which is leading to the privatisation that has put our health service at risk under the past two governments.”

    Note her words: the last TWO Governments. Why is she less sure about Labour than you and more sure of Caroline Lucas?

  5. I will agree to vote for Labour if they agree to abolish the “internal market” rubbish and end usage of PFI. Most green voters are not completely anti-Labour, and will vote for Labour if they move significantly left. I also don’t think this is the issue. Most voters, even Tory and UKIP ones, rightly or wrongly, want the NHS in public hands. They see (again, not agreeing with them) private companies as skimming off the top of public services by doing the easier work.
    We wouldn’t need private companies if public sector unions were not so powerful, nearly 100% of privitasation cost cutting is from reducing worker’s wages, so if you just cut wages you can keep things in the public sector.

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