Coffee House

Jeremy Hunt turns on Labour over union policy influence

10 July 2013

5:29 PM

10 July 2013

5:29 PM

One of David Cameron’s better lines at Prime Minister’s Questions was that the trade unions ‘buy the candidates, they buy the policies and they buy the leader’. In his final response to Ed Miliband, he said:

‘What is Labour’s policy on Royal Mail? It is determined by the Communication Workers Union. What is its policy on health? It is determined by Unison. What is its policy on party funding? It is determined by Unite.’

To underline that point, Jeremy Hunt has sent a letter to Andy Burnham this afternoon asking for ‘clarification about union influence over Labour health policy’. The letter, which you can read in full here, says Burnham altered Government policy ‘in response to union demands’. Hunt writes:

‘For example, as Health Secretary in 2009, you changed Government policy and introduced a ‘preferred provider’ rule in response to Unite lobbying led by Brendan Barber. This U-turn reversed a long-standing Labour policy commitment: revoking your manifesto aim to expand and develop different types of provision, contradicting the nine-month old NHS Constitution commitment to allow patients to choose the organisation providing their NHS care, and tearing up your Department’s legal principles on NHS co-operation and competition. You may recall that there were reports of Cabinet ‘consternation’ over how this change fit with Labour’s commitment to mutualisation, and charities and third sector organisations shut out of the health system by this change complained of a ‘back-room deal’.


The letter points to this fact sheet, which says ‘following requests from unions, there has been a significant policy change’. Hunt adds:

‘Shadow cabinet members now admit that Unite used donations to dictate candidate selection, but have so far denied that Unite used this influence to dictate policy. The evidence from your time as Secretary of State suggests otherwise. As such, I’m writing to ask you to come clean on the extend of Unite’s influence on Labour health policy.’

Hunt wants permission to let his department release dates and minutes of meetings and correspondence between ministers and union leaders from Burnham’s time as Health Secretary. He also asks for a list of all union donations to shadow health ministers’ constituency parties, election campaigns and parliamentary offices, a breakdown of all Unite’s involvement in discussions about Labour’s health policy and ‘assurances that Labour’s 2015 health manifesto will not be discussed with Unite or subject to any influence from them or other union donors to the Labour Party?’

As James said earlier, no party comes out well from a debate about funding. But since the Tories want this scrap, it’s not a bad idea to pursue the line that the unions have a very clear influence over party policy, even against the wishes of the Cabinet. The Conservatives are also trying to push back against Ed Miliband’s call for a £5,000 cap on donations, saying ‘he’s saying the taxpayer should bail him out of his union scandal’.

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Show comments
  • Dogsnob

    That’s ‘turns on’ in the Timothy Leary sense?

  • DWWolds

    If we are considering the way in which the unions influenced Labour’s health policy we should include the way in which the BMA stitched up the revised doctors’ contract with a large increase in salary in return for giving up weekend and evening working. That is one of the key reasons why we are having so many troubles with A & E today.

    • HookesLaw

      Huh? Labour incompetence gave away the GP contracts.

    • telemachus

      When the going gets tough beat up the doctors
      When it gets tougher beat up the nurses
      When you do not have a grip on your brief use a media storm on the unions to whip up a smoke screen to hide the fact that you cannot cut it as a minister
      Faced with the woeful Francis report on health service management in Stafford what to do?
      Sack the responsible manager Nicholson?
      Send in the police to lock up hard pressed professionals
      This man is a smug grinning disgrace

      • HookesLaw

        Nicholson was not the responsible manager.
        He was the part time chairman of the strategic trust and only for 8 months. The direct manager was the chief exec of mid staffs trust. He resigned.
        Its a popular policy on here to base a comment on totally fallacious facts.

        • telemachus

          Stafford was a small trust and small trusts have always required supervision by their regional managers
          He should go
          He should go now
          Smug Hunt talked about CQC pensions
          Nicholson’s pension should be used for front line services

      • Colonel Mustard

        “When the going gets tough beat up the doctors
        When it gets tougher beat up the nurses
        When you do not have a grip on your brief use a media storm on the unions to whip up a smoke screen to hide the fact that you cannot cut it as a minister
        Faced with the woeful Francis report on health service management in Stafford what to do?”

        That’s a bit harsh on New Labour and Burnham even by my standards. But then again he did resist a properly independent enquiry with the very weak excuse that it would distract the managers – presumably from continuing to manslaughter patients. Curiously he did not play this management distraction card when it came to Hillsborough or Bloody Sunday.

        And of course we had Baroness Young’s testimony about New Labour and Burnham trying to bury bad news. She, an insider, ought to know.

        • realfish

          The pressure is ratcheting up on Burnham, not only because of his incompetence over Stafford, but also because of his apparent massaging of NHS performance (and it now appears he allowed Unite (and other health sector unions?) to dictate policy).
          It was interesting that earlier this week, Cameron accused Miliband of ‘being too weak to sack Burnham’
          Miliband has questions to answer about why he appointed a man under such a cloud; faced with this mounting pressure, Miliband will quietly look after himself and bend with the wind.
          Burnham should start looking for a job outside politics. Soon.

          • telemachus

            Burnham cares
            Burnham is not smug
            Burnham was on top of his brief
            Burnham got the Ball rolling on Stafford
            Burnham is disliked by the silver spooners because he is scouse

            • Colonel Mustard

              Burnham presided over disasters at the NHS and is a closet fascist like you.

        • telemachus

          The right distort and misrepresent
          On another thread they take my remarks out of context.
          CP as an organisation may be distasteful but Julia, my good friend, has praiseworthy views on leadership and there is more justification for charity status than most private schools
          Machine organisations are not to the liking of telemachus whether hers or McCluskey Labour

          • Colonel Mustard

            Dissembling tripe. Middleton is Common Purpose. Common Purpose is Middleton. If you, a Stalinist, are really friendly with her and that is not just more Walter Mitty nonsense, it makes her, and you, even more suspect.

          • David B

            While the left just prevent free speach. That’s why I’m prevent from even making comments on LabourList while you must make 20 to 30 comments a day here. The right listen the left block

  • Chatterclass

    Oh, but we won’t mention the links that Jeremy Hunt has with private healthcare providers (given that his cousin and mentor Virginia Bottomley, whose seat he took over, is or was until recently a director of BUPA) and that the first private group to take over a hospital donated over £1.4 million to the Tories,and that the Tories have a multitude of links to private healthcare providers etc. I could go on. If this is a fight he wants to have, I am sure Labour would be delighted.

    • Colonel Mustard

      But has he sponsored corporate manslaughter and cover-ups like Burnham? That is the real question. Last time I looked private healthcare providers had a better record of care and significantly less negligent killing on their hands than the NHS under Labour.

      • HookesLaw

        Given the relative numbers treated that would not be difficult. But I take your point.
        I know from my own experiences that the NHS (at least in my area) is working very hard to put compassion back in healthcare and also welcomes public patient involvement.
        The NHS is working hard within a budgetary constraint. This is the same for healthcare all over the world. It is becoming increasingly unaffordable and it would be nice to see some sane commentary on what the solutions to this are.

        People who grandly want to sweep the NHS away should look at France where their health service is billions in debt and Germany where people are finding the private top ups increasingly expensive.

        • Colonel Mustard

          I don’t want to sweep them away just purge them of the New Labour management types and frameworks that have shifted focus from patient care. Hospitals are top heavy with too much management, no doubt immersed in diversity training and other Labour BS, and too little ward level discipline and supervision of basics – like ensuring patients are properly fed, watered and kept clean.

          Unions have undermined staff discipline, as has the rights culture and making a sacred cow out of nurses.

          • HookesLaw

            Agreed and that is happening. Thanks to a (mainly) conservative government.

            Does your local trust have a public involvement panel(s) if so you can join it (them).
            If your trust is a Foundation Trust it probably has a public membership that is open to everyone which will give you a democratic say in the trusts affairs.

            My local trust is currently trialing and will no doubt implement more detailed interviews for all new posts to examine a candidate’s worthiness to be a member of a caring profession. This action is actually a very real result of the (Public) Francis enquiry initiated by the conservatives rather than the internal ones by Burnham.

            This is the result of conservatives actions. The NHS is working hard under the conservatives.

        • Tom M

          “…France where their health service is billions in debt…”
          Figures for that please.

    • HookesLaw

      Look in Labour’s manifesto. Gordon Brown was promising more private involvement in the NHS.

      As for Bottomley (non executive director of BUPA) — Socialist Peter Jay (former son in law to Jim Callaghan), the former British Ambassador to the United States, is a cousin, as are Lord Hunt of Chesterton (Labour), and Lord Oakshott of Seagrove Bay (Lib-Dem). Her niece is Kitty Ussher (former Labour minister) and her other cousin is the Labour MP Tristram Hunt.

      What a joker you are.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Keep attacking them boys. Don’t give them an inch. It’s a real pleasure to see some fight from the Tories at last.

  • salieri

    It would be preferable if Ministers spent more time on ministering, or whatever it is they do, and less on writing long rhetorical questions to their opponents which have no purpose beyond political posturing.

    • HookesLaw

      Ministers are perfectly justified in responding to political attacks from the opposition.
      Indeed Hunt is turning out to be an astute appointment in what Labour regularly turn into a political department. No wonder Labour were keen to smear him.

    • Colonel Mustard

      If a long letter from Hunt can contribute to preventing further Labour-sponsored manslaughter of the helpless elderly in our hospitals I’m all for it.

      • salieri

        Amen to that – but sadly the effect of a request for clarification of Union influence on bygone health policy will be zero. Rhetorical questions achieve nothing: they are merely designed to score points. As you point out to the village idiot, however, it might have been more promising to ask: why is adulation for the NHS compulsory? That’s not a rhetorical question – but no politician dares to ask it.

    • FF42

      I agree. The public, I think, would be more impressed by Jeremy Hunt if they saw him concentrating on sorting out the many problems of the NHS rather then scoring points over the Opposition. Some of those problems have been festering for ages; some introduced by this Government. It doesn’t matter. It’s up to the Health Secretary to deal with them.

  • David Lindsay

    Yes, but most people agree with the unions on health policy. If the Tories had gone into the Election with their present health policy, then Labour would have won outright. It is also bought and paid for. But by the American healthcare companies.

    • Ian Walker

      How about most taxpayers? Or even better, most net tax contributors?

      Labour. Wasting other people’s money since 1924

      • David Lindsay

        “Net taxpayers” are impossible to calculate in this country. You probably mean “people whose income tax is more than their public salary or state benefits”, but that is not remotely how it works.

        The answer would be the same, though. Everyone loves the NHS, and that’s just that. It is never going to change. That’s Britain. If you don’t like it, then move. Although to where, these days, I cannot imagine.

        • Robert_Eve

          Well I don’t love the NHS.

          • David Lindsay

            Well, you don’t love, like or remotely understand Britain, then. Time was when you could have gone to America instead. But not now. So you are stuck here, whether you like it or not. Diddums.

            • HookesLaw

              American taxpayers pay a fortune funding their national health care programmes.

              • Wessex Man

                So what do think we do? we pay through the nose for dirty smelly, inefficient, louse houses with stinking A and Es nursing staffwho ignore you or can’t speak English. Then wallies like you and David Lindsay keep telling us the NHS is the envy of the world. No it’s not, I’ve been in Spanish and German Hospitals that truly shame our sub-standard rubbish!

                • HookesLaw

                  I don’t say the NHS is the envy of the world but I know the broad brush you paint is not true either. I do regularly meet some of the people who try to make my health local service work.

                  What I point out is that large amounts of American public money is spent on their public health service. Millions of people in the USA get their health care via various public health systems. Mr Lindsay is being disingenuous implying that America’s health care is all private. He also ignores problems elsewhere in the world as to NHS critics.

                  Spain’s healthcare faces large cuts

                  In Germany people have to pay extra top ups to their statutory insurance. 10% of the country are totally private. The German health service is taking many measures to cut costs

                  German hospitals a heavily in debt (‘half of Germany’s 2000 hospitals are set to be in debt by the end of this year’)
                  This remark…
                  ‘A portion of the money…will go towards improving hygiene
                  standards in hospitals.’
                  …tells me that hygene standards actually need to be improved so are far from perfect.

                • Wessex Man

                  Come with me to my Local large NHS Hospital A&E to which I took a neighbour on a Friday night when she had such pain that she couldn’t stand upright and had a job to control herself.

                  8.00pm Arrive with her in agony, try to be taken seriously, refuse to listen to me and insist that she gives all her details and not me who knows her full name, address, dob, next of kin.

                  9.00pm Help her to female toilet, as “no nurses available, we’re very busy tonight as it’s the week-end” in first toilet find bowl full with excrement and paper, in the second a bucket full of sick and urine covering floor.

                  10.00pm Receive phone call from her daughter who will be there within an hour. Jen put on a stretcher, wired up to pads to check heart rate and all other vitals checked by a nurse. wheeled out of cubicle into passageway to let someone into cubicle.

                  11.00pm Daughter held up in traffic, call a nurse to help Jen who’s unfortunately had accident.

                  11.30pm Daughter arrives, blows her top that no Doctor had seen her mother, told to stop shouting and if not happy with service go to another Hospital, she says no, I’ll ring ***** **** MP who’s a personal friend!

                  Midnight Jen examined by Doctor and sent to assessment ward.

                  It’s no a broad brush stroke, it’s the truth! I don’t particularly care whether you in agree or disagree with me! I saw and I’m no Labour lover that particular Hospital has fallen apart in the last few years and I know that I received far better care than that medically and was not treated in such a humiliating fashion in Spain and Germany!

            • Colonel Mustard

              The Mid-Staffs manslaughtered were “stuck there” too, whether they liked it or not, whilst Burnham and Nicholson discussed their management targets and leading beyond authority – and accountability.

          • Colonel Mustard

            + 1 and we are far from alone. Labour and their supporters continuously conflate their 30 odd per cent (and by goodness it is odd) with “everyone”. They say “the public” when they really mean “Britain’s disproportionately vociferous and opinionated lefty minority”.

        • Count Dooku

          The same NHS that has killed thousands and covered it up? Which private firm could get away with that?

        • Andrew Morgan

          Fortunately for you , I suspect you havent been ill yet. Your unadulterated love for the NHS is nothing to do with loving Britain, and when shared as it has been by so many of the population, has been responsible for the uncritical receiving of fairly second rate healthcare compared to most other developed countries.

        • Tom M

          “Everyone loves the NHS”? I think that as most people don’t use it that might be a stretch. I believe that most people look upon the NHS much the same way as you look at the fire brigade or police. Nice to know they are there and hope they work properly but I hope I never need either.
          The people most in love with the NHS are the political activists and unions followed closely by the politicians. The NHS is a wonderful godsent plaything for the politicians. Oh what fun. All you’ve got to do is point out the other lot’s errors (and there’s always a lot of them). Come up with some more reforms (from people who have never run anything in their lives) chuck in a few more billions of taxpayer’s money and the merry-go-round continue on its way.
          Move? I did. The health service in France? Dream on Britain you just don’t know what a proper health service even remotely looks like.

    • HookesLaw

      Even if that were true (which it is not – people are appalled at labour’s management of the NHS) it still ignores unions influencing policy with their pressure and funding.
      What healthcare companies? Do they give the tories 3 million a year? Do they account for 80% of tory funding? Do they have votes at tory conferences do they sit on committees deciding the manifesto?

    • Colonel Mustard

      How about most elderly patients? Those at Mid-Staffs for example?