The Week: Labour Needs a New Attack Line to Defeat the Tories on the NHS

At PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn devoted his six questions to the NHS in a tribal ding-dong about what he called “privateering”.

He was at his strongest when he attacked with figures for waiting lists, the declining number of GPs and so on - and he got in a catchy fact about Virgin Healthcare being paid £1.5m for a rejected bid. He was weak when trying to defend Labour figures who’d advocated private sector outsourcing, and worse when he cried out, “From the party that opposed the NHS in the first place, that is a bit rich!”

It is the kind of line that appeals to tribalists who like to trot out historical grievances. It means nothing to most voters. And of course, it neglects that in 1945 the Tories went into the election with a promise for a health service “free at the point of use”.

Theresa May’s best moment was probably where she attacked Labour "scaremongering": after all, the NHS is still free at the point of use.

It is not that Labour is wrong, but Corbyn was going on familiar attack lines. Labour is the party that cries privatisation like others cry wolf. If this were effective, then Labour would have been in charge of the NHS for a greater period of its existence.

Even now the NHS is regarded as a priority by voters over Brexit, yet Corbyn is behind - just - in the polls. Voters also know it needs reform.

Jeremy Hunt is currently negotiating with the Treasury for a long-term funding plan. After the biggest squeeze in the NHS’s history, the politics of the NHS is about to change. Corbyn needs voters remember the pain and attack any future plan as inadequate. For it to work though, he needs new attack lines.

Moggwatch (Part Two)

There is a section is Hywel Williams's Guilty Men where he explains how the then Welsh Secretary John Redwood became to be addicted to ‘the hit’. In other words, media attention.

I wonder if Jacob Rees-Mogg has developed a similar addiction.

This week the chair of the bizarrely named European Research Group has questioned whether Theresa May really wants to leave the European Union. The tactic is becoming familiar. Before the referendum, Brexit was easy-peasy. Now its failures are due to a litany of reasons. None of those reasons are the idea itself.  There is something petulant in the Moggish idea that any form of compromise is "not really Brexit". 

There have always been obsessives like Rees-Mogg in the Tory Party. The difference is they tended to be ignored.

I doubt if Rees-Mogg will stand for the leadership. I doubt he’d get through to the membership voting round, and if he did whether he’d be able to sustain a winning campaign.

Enoch Powell looked rather silly when he stood for the leadership in 1965 and received 15 votes. Margaret Thatcher loved to mock arch wet Jim Prior for his nineteen - and found him easier to sack because of them.

Far from papabile, instead Rees-Mogg is ensuring any successor needs his blessing. These are such stuff as nightmares are made of.  

Mr Corbyn Goes to Belfast

The idea that the British Government is ‘a honest broker’ in Ulster has often been overplayed but does have some weight.

Tony Blair was able to succeed where his predecessor failed because he was trusted. By talking of his long-standing belief in a united Ireland, Corbyn has blithely overturned two decades of bipartisan policy. And he couldn’t have chosen a better moment.

That Corbyn also said “constitutional process” would determine Ulster’s future shows how far he has inched since he voted against the Anglo-Irish Agreement. It does not matter however. His comments ensured that he call for a “rekindling” of the spirit of the GFA was forgotten. Naive at best.

That some on the left are applauding shows their opportunism: they - rightly - condemned the Tory-DUP pact on the basis that it threatened the Good Friday Agreement. They should call Corbyn out on the same basis.

Whatever the logic of a united Ireland, Corbyn’s central contention - that there has been a historical majority on the island for unification - is dubious.

Put aside the overwhelming majority against in Ulster or even the grotesque idea that the North’s self-determination could be overruled by a majority in the Republic. Historically many Catholics were weary of an influx of Protestants from the north. Although a post-Brexit poll show an increase in support, the prohibitive cost has generally meant that opinion polls in the Republic are nuanced. In 2016, a poll found 46% in favour, 32% against. Other polls show unification support halving were it to mean taxes go up. This is not a nation of Gandhis.

Opinion polls are just that. But what is Jeremy Corbyn basing his opinion on except his own prejudice?

The Politics of Year Zero

It was irritating when Blairites did it. It is irritating when Corbynistas do it. Yes. The Labour party was an anti-austerity party before Corbyn. Yes. It put human rights at the centre of its agenda. None of this is new. Politics existed before Corbyn.

House of Lords reform has been on the agenda for over a century. Someone please tell Owen Jones.

The idea that Corbyn’s commitment amounts to a great step for democracy is rather like saying that a report that bears shit in the woods is a leap forward for zoology. Jones should also note that it was the hated Blair who enacted the greatest reform - and that was a compromise measure. 

Rather than treat the news as if he had just announced he had split the atom, perhaps Corbyn supporters should, in less idolatrous fashion, ask how he would succeed where others have failed, and what is different about this pledge than any of the others. Everyone agrees that the House of Lords needs reforming but there is no agreement as to how. Corbyn’s statement does not change that.

The best guess at the moment is that any Corbyn government will be supported by two other parties. Without a parliamentary mandate, he won’t be able to use the Parliament Act to override the Lords. Parliamentary time is always limited - one reason Nick Clegg’s recent attempt failed. Even in 2022, Brexit will be his priority, and a domestic agenda.  

Just some of the hurdles he would face in government would face. He also has to get into government before Owen Jones can wave their Lordships “Goodbye!”  

Question of the Week

Nicky Morgan sums up after questioning HMRC on the government’s Customs Union options.


More about the author

About the author

Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).

A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.

Follow Graham on Twitter.

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