A few days ago Charles Adams and David Laws wrote a lengthy blog for Progressive Pulse in which they demonstrated why any UK government is quite capable of funding a world-leading NHS healthcare system. In so doing Charles and David did what many people do when confronted with the task of dealing with an important policy issue – they employed informed, rational thinking to come up with a well argued, feasible solution to the age-old question that all policy making seeks to address in one form or another: who gets what, when, and how. In this case, healthcare.
Sadly, sensible, rational, thinking that delivers outcomes that benefit the majority of ‘stakeholders’ has nothing to do with healthcare policy in the UK. What drives government thinking and action is what underpins Tory policy making in many areas, such as housing, social care, economic policy, regulation and law-making, and Brexit of course – IDEOLOGY – specifically red in tooth and claw, free market neoliberalism driven on by people who can and should be described as zealots.
Of course, given the public’s belief in and valuing of the NHS the Tories cannot take the road that Republicans continue to pursue in the US in their attempts to dismantle Obamacare (after the failure of Republican moves in Congress the Affordable Care Act is now being dismantled or undermined piecemeal by Trump using executive orders). Thus, while many Republican politicians (having also taken a similar “turn” into neoliberal zealots – or ‘extreme partisans’ to use a phrase frequently used by US commentators) are happy to attack Obamacare and its real or alleged shortcomings head on, in the UK we have the dismantling and destruction of the NHS by stealth, lies and deception. Thus, deliberate underfunding supported by a series of related policies are all part of a grand strategy to destroy both the actuality and essence of the NHS – a strategy now probably three quarters delivered. And nobody has been better at designing and implementing this meta-policy than Jeremy Hunt and his many free-market accolytes and supporters at the Department of Health and within the senior echelons of management within the NHS.
In summary then, since the 2008 economic crisis, Tory (and Republican) politicians have maintained an ideological assault on anything – any policy, idea, or proposal – they associate with the period of social democracy that stretched from the end of the 2nd World War through to the late 1970s. Indeed, as their version of neoliberalism is far more extreme than that of Reagan or Thatcher, ideological zealotry has taken us well beyond what were considered right-wing policies in the 1980s. Much is now made in some sections of the media and commentariat that with the emergence of politicians of the left such as Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders in the US (who are actually no more left wing than a 1970s social democrat) the age of neoliberalism is coming to an end. That may be so. But its death will be slow, and its zealots will cause maximum damage to all and sundry as they see the tide of history turn against them. History teaches us that this is what zealots do. Personally, I doubt the NHS that we once knew and loved will survive – it has already been turned into little more than a brand under which a multitude of commercial organisations milk the system for all it’s worth.
So, as with the existence of the so-called ‘magic money tree’, which appears when any neoliberal politician needs to fund a policy of their choice and then magically disappears when they don’t, let’s not continue to blame the demise of the NHS, or indeed the failure of policy in housing, probation services, elderly care, and the disaster that’s universal credit (and many more) on government’s lack of money. As Charles and David demonstrated in their earlier blog this is not the issue. But they failed to mention the real culprit – ideologically zealotry, or extreme partisanship if you prefer the more polite expression.