18th January, 2016
What did New Labour ever do for the NHS?
Funny you should ask…
Taking stock of my recent increasing family size over a double espresso while nonchalantly browsing though my twitter feed, I notice the plaque on the wall reads: ‘Women and Children’s Hospital opened in 2003 by Cherie
Blair Booth QC’. [Ed – corrected]
My attention drifts back to the phone. I half-heartedly pick up a heated exchange between a Corbyn fanatic and a so-called “red Tory.” I suspect by now you’ve pretty much figured out how these exchanges panned out.
The foundations beneath my feet, the plaque on the wall, the fruits of our high-tech, highly skilled local NHS maternity hospital, this outstanding modern NHS family service still manages to symbolise everything that was good about New Labour. I suspect however, the Corbynistas on my timeline taking aim at Tony Blair conveniently overlook New Labour’s social investments.
Despite the controversy surrounding alleged mismanagement of PFI contracts New Labour managed to transform an ailing dilapidated service into a modern pioneering world-class institution. It is often said Tony Blair spends most of his time out of office defending the progress made while in government. In a recent insightful piece for The Spectator Blair did just that. Tony Blair went on to point out satisfaction rates in the NHS were higher than at any time since it was created.
With hard hat at the ready I shall retreat to my bunker and offer further snapshots of New Labour’s record on the NHS:
- Between 1979 and 1997 the number of people on NHS waiting lists went up by more than 400,000. By 2009/10 the number had fallen by almost 600,000.
- In 1997, 284,000 patients were waiting for over six month for treatment. By 2009/10 the NHS was delivering the shortest waits on record with the average wait for in-patient treatment running at 4.5 weeks.
- By 2009/10 two million more operations were carried out each year than in 1997, including more than double the number of heart operations.
- New Labour also invested in a record 89,000 extra nurses and over 44,000 doctors in the NHS.
- New guarantees were made that people would see a cancer specialist within two weeks if their GP suspected cancer.
- Whatever your condition you would not have to wait more than 18 weeks from GP referral to the start of hospital treatment – and most waits were much shorter than this.
I could go on…
So why are we not making much more of these facts? Why didn’t Labour under Ed Miliband do more to take on the previous Coalition Government’s needless and wasteful whole-scale reorganisation of our NHS? To answer these questions you can point directly to the disastrous 2015 general election result and the disaster that followed the 2010 General Election. While the Conservatives and the Lib-Dems fashioned out a forced rose garden marriage – Labour retreated into drown-out leadership race complete with a subsequent five year wash-out at the hands of Ed Miliband.
Remember Miliband’s “I’m no Brown or Blair” speech? That’s right, from that moment on the then Labour leader failed to make the arguments on the worldwide banking disaster, the economy, immigration and New Labour’s investments on NHS, schools and policing. In fact, the long overdue publication of the Beckett report into why Labour lost in 2015 is set to point to failure to confront these issues.
We can probably second-guess that Jeremy Corbyn and his followers would be dismissive of this report. This expected rebuttal will again lead to my point. The new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, like his predecessor, will glaze over 13 years of Labour’s history. After all Jeremy Corbyn spent the majority of his life as an MP (most notably and disgracefully while Labour was in government) voting against his own party. Even David Cameron could not compete with Corbyn’s 500+ votes AGAINST the previous Labour government.
The animosity towards the previous Labour government from the staunch Corbynista is very much alive. From the various conversations encountered on the Left versus Moderate debate, not one Corbyn supporter has either praised or acknowledged Tony Blair’s traditional socialist policies – these include:
- From 1997 nearly 3,000 Sure Start Children’s Centres opened, reaching 2 million children and their families.
- The introduction of the New Deal, helping over 2 million people into work.
- Over £20 billion invested in bringing social housing to decent standards.
- Equalised the age of consent and repealed Section 28.
- Free admission to our national museums and galleries.
- Introduction of a National Minimum Wage.
- Statutory Trades Union recognition.
- Introduced and extended the right to ask for flexible working.
I could go on, but what’s the point? I’ve been an active Labour member for quite a few years but unfortunately these days I tend to question why bother at all. It is incredibly infuriating especially when I witness first-hand the devastation caused by George Osborne’s relentless attack on local government. By witnessing the fall-out from ever-decreasing local budgets, you can understand why there’s an upsurge of membership from the left. I get that part.
Nevertheless it comes down to a set of principals – if you want to change the status quo you have to be in a position to govern. To govern you have to convince the convincibles (aka the voters) by understanding their interests and putting forward persuasive arguments.
In making these arguments, you have to also recognise previous achievements – in this case, the left has to learn to appreciate Tony Blair. After all if Andrew Fisher, Corbyn’s top policy adviser now suggests Blair’s “joined-up government, what matters is what works, evidence-based policy-making” is what Labour needs to get back to, “because they had been incredibly successful” all may not yet be lost.
Belatedly, but timely for this blog post, Tom Baldwin, a former senior adviser to Ed Miliband has just said publicly (no longer just “privately”) ‘Successive Labour leaders made a mistake in telling voters Tony Blair was “crap”‘
“You would not catch the Tories doing it any more than you would find a car manufacturer trying to sell you a new model with adverts saying all its recent cars have been crap,” he said.
“But that is what voters hear when three successive Labour leaders have, in different ways, spent their time telling the world what’s wrong with Tony Blair.”
By Shane Jessop