Is Cameron making the NHS his Clause 4?

Is Cameron making the NHS his Clause 4?

cameron cuts

    The Daily Telegraph is not happy

It was this site in May 2005 that first talked of the Tories having a “clause 4 moment”. Then we used it in the context of choosing Ken Clarke which we thought would have “symbolic importance” because of the long Tory history of splits over the EU.

The way that the new Tory leader has decided to make the NHS the subject of his first major policy pronouncement reflects his desire to make this the first major issue to demonstrate a break from the past – a clause 4 if you like.

For although Margaret Thatcher could declare that “the NHS is safe in our hands” few could quite believe from the way that she said it that she was telling the truth. For even when Labour was at its lowest in the 1980s the one policy area that almost always produced positive polling results was the NHS.

In an analysis in the Times under the headline “Cameron’s smart move on health” Nigel Hawkes observes: “The main victim of his (Cameron’s) new policy is the abandonment of the patient passport, invented by Liam Fox, now Tory Party Chairman. It was defensible, but barely, and John Reid, Labour’s ideological bovver-boy, gave it a hard time at the last election. The idea was to encourage NHS patients to take themselves off to private hospitals by paying half the cost. The Tories said that this would ease queues. Labour argued that it would simply hand money to those who already intended to go private. Electorally it never cut any ice, but gave Mr Reid plenty of fun claiming that the Conservatives were planning to privatise the NHS. The claim was nonsense, but by the end nobody could be bothered to argue the case. Even Dr Fox fell silent.”

While Cameron’s approach might be getting the good headlines and TV coverage it is causing some heart-searching in the Tory press.

The Telegraph’s main leader this morning sets out the dilemma: “….Many say that Mr Cameron’s speech yesterday was part of a sophisticated political game that he has been playing since he took over the Tory leadership from Michael Howard. His aim, they argue, is quite clearly to drive a wedge between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the unreconstructed socialist at the Treasury, by supporting the Prime Minister over every policy that annoys the Chancellor most. This may well be a clever strategy. But we would rather hear honest convictions, bravely stated, than see a grandmaster of the political arts, shuffling pieces on a chess board. After more than eight years of Blairism, we suspect that there is a growing body of opinion in the country that agrees with us.”

The Guardian wonders what will happen when Cameron’s Conservatives start having some polling reverses.

Its leader observes: …”The speech was notable for what it did not contain: no routine bashing of health managers, no declaration that he would extend the market to community health programmes as the government proposed briefly last year and no wriggle room to introduce NHS funding through social insurance. The implications of this will infuriate the right, which wants tax cuts to be a priority and is desperately hoping that Mr Cameron’s message is, as the Daily Telegraph suggested on Monday, “no more than a few cuddly platitudes designed to win back the middle ground. Assuming the new leader is not playing such a cynical game, the yelps of pain from the right can only get louder in the coming months. This will not matter to Mr Cameron for as long as the polls are good and his MPs stay loyal. But if the lustre goes from his poll rating or the May local elections do not prove a triumph or the economy stays strong and does not damage Gordon Brown, he will need the backing of his party. That is when the right will move to make him their captive. He will need to fight them. If he gives in to their exhausted arguments then the dazzle of his early days will seem nothing more than a passing trick of the light.”

On the Betfair betting exchange the Tory General Election price tightened up a notch and is now at 1.14/1.

Mike Smithson

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