There’s a great temptation for an opposition leader to give answers praising motherhood and apple pie when taking part in a Q&A with members of the public. Especially when that session marks the start of your party’s conference season and your party has set out very few formal policies so far.
But Ed Miliband today, as well as announcing crowd pleasers on energy and pensions, caused a bit of a stir by accepting that a Labour government would not ‘spend another’ £3 billion dismantling the frameworks created by the Government’s Health and Social Care Act.
‘There’s no more important institution that expresses, I think, the real soul of the country than the NHS, because I think it expresses a whole set of values which I think the British people share in common. On the Bill, let me give you a direct answer: I think what would be not sensible is for us to come along and say, ‘well, Andrew Lansley, now Jeremy Hunt, they’re changing all the arrangements, have these new clinical commissioning groups and so on, and we’re just going to reverse it all back and spend another £3bn on another top-down bureaucratic organisation’.
‘But I think I can make you this promise that you’re looking for: We will put the right principles back at the heart of the NHS. The key thing about this Bill that I believe we’ve got to understand is that it actually says in the notes for the Bill – I’m sufficiently geekish that I read them before one Prime Minister’s Questions – it says in the Bill we should have the same model for the NHS as we had for the privatised utilities, gas and electricity companies, water companies and others. No, that is the wrong model for the NHS, that is the wrong values.’
Initially this was read as the Labour leader saying he wouldn’t repeal the Act, when Andy Burnham has repeatedly said Labour would do just that. Burnham then tweeted: ‘I’ll repeal the Bill. Full stop.’
Labour spokespeople are insisting that the party remains committed to repealing the Act, but the point is that Ed has accepted that even if the legislation is scrapped by a Labour government, the new bill that is then brought to Parliament will contain Clinical Commissioning Groups rather than a return to Primary Care Trusts or some other new commissioning framework.
This will be the case for many other reforms that the coalition government has brought in. Though Labour has bitterly opposed many large-scale changes, returning certain sectors such as health, education and housing to the state they were in before the 2010 election will cause more upheaval in practice than is worth it. Yesterday Ipsos MORI revealed that Labour now has a 30-point lead on health, which shows that Miliband is being pretty brave to admit to thinking practically.Tags: Andy Burnham, Ed Miliband, Labour, Labour conference 2012, NHS, UK politics