Confessions of a Small 'c' Conservative And How We Save the NHS

Universal  health care for every citizen and free at the point of use and paid for out of general taxation.

This is a dry, orthodox definition of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service.

But there’s nothing dry about the way Britons see ‘their’ NHS.  It’s a cornerstone in the national psyche, in much the same way the Royal Navy once was. It famously had its own slot in the London Olympics’ opening ceremony, with a stadium full of pirouetting nurses.

And, for all the criticism leveled at it, especially by outsiders, the NHS retains a vast swathe of public support, across all parties.  Just as no one on the left seriously expects the abolition of the monarchy, no one on the right thinks Britain’s great socialist healthcare edifice is ever going to go away.

what the NHS does for those of us on the right is to remind us, and we need reminding, that sometimes we are just wrongNot even the Great Privatiser Margaret Thatcher dared to mess with the basic model.

Indeed, Prime Ministers of all political colours must rather genuflect before the shrine. David Cameron does, regularly. He loses no opportunity to remind the skeptical that he’s not only head of the government which runs the NHS, he’s a user of its services too.

And so he should.

I think what the NHS does for those of us on the right is to remind us, and we need reminding, that sometimes we are just wrong.  The goals of the NHS are noble, and, let’s admit it, precisely those a civilised state ought to aspire to.

It forces us to admit that we cannot in all conscience leave absolutely everything to the ‘free market’, and that those who think otherwise are the Taliban of our creed, idiotic fanatics who bring the moderate majority into disrepute.

By guaranteeing healthcare for everyone, regardless of ability to pay, we acknowledge, on a state level, that human interactions have to be more than mere financial transactions, and this seems to me a very good leavening.

But transactions there certainly still are, and on a gigantic scale.

The NHS has never come cheap. Indeed, its founder Aneurin Bevan was once asked how he had secured the doctors’ consent for the political settlement which bound them to the new service back in 1948. “I stuffed their mouths with gold,” he said.

the political party who will best guard the NHS is the political party who will best nurture the economyAnd the UK taxpayer has gone on stuffing. The NHS requires a figure not far off the nominal GDP of New Zealand every year to run.  

Now, as we said earlier, those taxpayers’ are, by and large, happy to pay. I am. You are. There is  an extraordinary and reassuring consensus on in this.

But one thing is abundantly clear. If we are going to sustainably have an NHS of this size, then it is going to have to have one of the largest and most vibrant national economies on Earth to piggyback on, year in and year out. And it is going to have to be reformed, not in the interests of creeping privatisation but in the interests of the survival of an institution most of us love. And I do mean love. 

There is simply no sense in which this vast project is going to be funded for long by punitive levies on the nearest banker, or by raising taxes much beyond their current levels. 

'That might buy you a better NHS for a few years, but then we'll be back to 2010 and 'sorry there is no money.' Ultimately, the political party which will best guard the NHS is the one which will best nurture growth. The NHS is a vast economy of its own, dependent on the broader UK's performance for its life blood.'

But give us the growth, we will happily fund the NHS. And, again, I do mean happily.  The proceeds of capitalism funnelled back to the greater good, with the agreement of all, or nearly all. This is what things are meant to look like, surely?

But it seems likely that at least part of Labour’s epic electoral failure was down to its inability to grasp this simple position.

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