Whilst it might seem unfair to pick upon the Labour Leadership contest as that political party sets out to implode, it is never the less fair game because one of the candidates, Owen Smith seeks to claim that the “Tories are privatising the NHS”. Whilst one can understand that this is a shibboleth specifically designed to appeal to Labour Party members against a background where his chances of winning the leadership seem rather slim, as a statement it is both a lie and an insult to the intelligence of the public at large.
However it is not the “lie” that is important in this case but rather what that lie says about the state of mind of us the electorate and from that, how the language of politics needs to change radically in order that we as a Country can face the challenges of our immediate future.
The Art of…
It is said that politics is the “Art of the possible” because whatever the politics of any particular party, when they get into power, they must govern for all and that includes the people who didn’t vote for them directly or even, didn’t bother to vote at all so the “possible” comes down to whatever is broadly acceptable right across the political spectrum. The problem this brings with it is well illustrated by what happened to the LibDem party when following being part of the Coalition Government between 2010 to 2015, their support melted away at the 2015 General Election their supporters apparently appalled at the inevitable compromises that came with power and in particular, over things like university fees.
However there was another oddity about them, their high water as far as their number of sitting MPs being during the Parliament 2005/10 when Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, they had 62. In fact they lost 5 MPs in 2010 which was unexpected as during 2008/9, so unpopular were Labour that it seemed that the LibDems might well become numerically, the second party at the next election in 2010. The crushing shock of course was the 2015 election when they (LibDems), were reduced to just 8 MPs.
Something similar might well happen to the Labour Party if as seems likely, the Jeremy Corbyn ‘Cult’ bandwagon rolls on because they would lack the required political stance to recover ground in Scotland and former heartlands let alone make inroads into the Home Counties so that they could form a UK Government. Still interesting though that may be, it is all just a backdrop to what I want to write about which is rather about US as an electorate rather than THEM regardless of whichever political party they come from.
There are two policy areas that regardless of political party, generate the greatest number of platitudes if not downright lies by politicians, Housing and the Health Services. In neither area can ‘demand’ be met satisfactorily or put slightly differently, in no way can the public’s expectations be met and this situation will get worse and not better so the real question becomes: “Are these expectations at all realistic in the first place ?”
Housing and Health Services are linked significantly by one common factor, age, longevity and an ageing population will have a significant impact on both. The 2011 Census gives us quite a lot of insight into significant factors such as the number of people who are living alone, worth a look: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160105160709/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/census/2011-census-analysis/do-the-demographic-and-socio-economic-characteris
Now whilst you can prove anything with statistics there are some obvious trends to be found and one in terms of the impact on housing is not just the numbers of people who live alone but also, what they are living in. An interesting feature was that whilst 28% lived in one bedroom accommodation, 65.2% lived in 2/3 bedroom properties. Obviously one is running into concepts of “having a home” where both divorce and bereavement have their part to play in how these numbers are arrived at but longevity is also a significant factor. Put simply, the longer people live by themselves, the longer their property remains “off the market” and unavailable for reuse for other people, this is a significant factor in attempting to meet the demand for housing. Top this up with unconstrained mass immigration and you will never catch up with demand.
The NHS is a very similar story, people live longer and therefore place ever greater demands upon the service, as my Mum said “I don’t mind being old, I do mind what comes with it !” Whilst the following is anecdotal rather than statistically factual I can remember growing up in London during the post war 1950s in a very working class area of South London and as an altar boy often served at funerals. The old boys would retire at 65 and we would be burying them most often two years later. Compared with today when someone retiring at 65 is likely to live in retirement for another 20 years or more. Longevity though not yet constant good health until death has impacted not just the NHS and Housing but also pension schemes especially final salary ones that were only affordable when the pensioner only claimed for 2-5 years at most, today longevity combined with low interest rates and final salary schemes have become an extinct species.
When the NHS kicked off in 1948 it had a budget in today’s terms of £9 billion, today it is more than x12 that and yet neither the population nor the economy has grown by that same factor. Today’s NHS services would have seemed like the Promised Land to the people that originally set it up and I’m sure that they would be amazed by what people today expect from it but the truth is that health spending is a bottomless bucket without any sides, the more money you throw at it, the more it will consume…
We Need a Conversation
Owen Smith talking about a ‘secret plan by the Tories to privatise the NHS’ is totally stupid because it is just not possible to do even if someone thought they wanted to. For any company to want to get into the “Health Care Business” they would need to see the potential for profit which with lots of old people, is not a remote possibility. Rather like life assurance, the deal only works if many pay in and few claim, with lots of old people bed blocking hospital wards and the principle of “Free at the point of treatment”, there is no commercial potential for businesses to get involved other than as suppliers.
The real “private” aspect of health care does not come from corporations but from medical staff acting as individuals. Nurses qualifying and then opting for part time work through agencies, Doctors becoming GPs and only working part time or once qualified at the taxpayers expense, going into private practice or moving abroad for richer pickings. This is not a rare set of events that results in the NHS relying on importing nurses from the Philippines and Doctors and Dentists from Europe. If the “resources” have moved into the private sector then it will follow that in order to reduce the pressure on the NHS, some work will be sub contracted to that sector by the NHS.
The point is that whilst some may argue about the cause and effect, the truth is that the NHS is funded by the taxpayer, it is OUR money that is being spent. As most people use or will use the service, instead of talking total bollocks as Owen Smith is, we need to have a conversation right across society about just how we sustain an efficient NHS, leaving it to politicians and junior doctors each with their own vested interests is going to get us the taxpayers of this service getting nowhere.
The Art of the Possible
This is where politicians stumble and get frightened, their view being that we the electorate don’t want to hear the truth, don’t want to consider the hard choices and they may well be right but that cannot excuse them from trying to provide leadership. We need courageous politicians because the changes already in motion could overwhelm and divide society badly if not handled correctly and we the public also need to step up to the plate also, get involved and not leave it to other people who we can blame if things go wrong, we need to show courage too.