Andy Burnham’s assault on the government’s galloping privatisation of the NHS in England is a welcome decision to fight on ground favourable to the Labour Party.
It combines an attack on David Cameron’s duplicity, having promised no top-down reorganisation of our health services, with a reminder that, for the Tories and Liberal Democrats, private profits are all-important.
No issue is more important for the majority of voters than the NHS — the post-war Labour government’s jewel in the crown.
As on so many other issues, public opinion throughout Britain has been in advance of the parliamentary parties on the need to defend the NHS as a public service.
Burnham is mistaken to whitewash what Labour did in government, ordering an internal market and introducing the private sector as a Trojan horse.
He ought to have put his hands up and accepted that the Tony Blair government was wrong to spoon-feed the privateers, encouraging them to expect a greater role in providing profits-guaranteed services.
However, the shadow health secretary’s readiness to excuse what new Labour did in government should not detract from the positive statement he has made now and the decisive way in which he frames it.
Burnham makes it clear that Cameron and his Liberal Democrat hangers-on have no electoral mandate for the demolition job they are doing on our NHS.
He warns that the privatisation bandwagon they have unleashed will know no bounds and will be rammed through “at a pace and a scale that we have never seen before.”
The Labour frontbencher is correct to demand a moratorium on new contracts for NHS clinical services being signed until after the next election.
To press ahead with new handovers of public cash to the private sector in contracts that would extend long after the next election is an effort to tie the hands of an incoming government.
However, just as Labour could have scuppered the Tories’ privatisation of the railways by informing those lining up to jump on the gravy train that it would be reversed on day one of a Labour government, so a similar statement now would unnerve the privateers.
Labour, the unions, health campaigners and NHS patients — that’s nearly all of us — have a vested interest in countering the neoliberal approach to healthcare.
No country that relies on private provision of health can match the achievements of our NHS in providing comprehensive care to all, irrespective of income, that is free at the point of use.
US-style insurance models, which the conservative parties admire, are a goldmine for the private finance sector and are notorious for excluding the poorest and most vulnerable people.
Politicians must be told to forget any idea of introducing this inhuman approach, either directly or through the back door via the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that is currently being negotiated behind closed doors by the European Union and the US.
Just as Cameron wants to sign off private-sector contracts without an electoral mandate, TTIP would allow US companies to sue a British government in a pro-business kangaroo court for loss of profits if it challenged privatisation.
There is no halfway house in this controversy. There can be no sitting on the wall.
The NHS only works as a public service financed collectively through general taxation. It must not be milked or undermined by greedy privateers and venal politicians.
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