It would be so much easier for Ed Miliband to attract headlines if he could shout in Andrew Lansley’s face. As it is, the Labour leader has had to make do with giving a speech today attacking the NHS reforms. Within the parameters of what he might say, it’s an okay effort. The
predictable lines about ‘creeping privatisation’ are leavened by the admission that ‘the question is not reform or no reform. It is what type of reform.’ And he adds, by way
of a cross-party sweetener, that he would ‘get round the table’ with David Cameron to discuss ‘the future of the NHS’.
But the substance of the speech, rather than its rhetoric, is a little more questionable. There is, for instance, a heavy emphasis on what was one of the main policy ideas of Gordon Brown’s
terminal premiership: legally-binding ‘guarantees’ for public service users. As Miliband puts it:
‘I am clear: a small number of basic patient guarantees is right for the NHS.
Like 18 week waiting, four hour A and E waits, 1 week to get your cancer test done.’
Which then develops into an attack on the Tories for not sticking by such guarantees, just like it was under Brown. But if the politics are the same, then so are the problems attached to
this policy. The Economist’s Bagehot columnist wrote an insightful article three years ago about how it ‘may lead to an
orgy of litigation’, which I’d suggest CoffeeHousers read again. The bottom line is that these guarantees are probably unenforceable and, therefore, next to meaningless.
But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to hear Miliband pushing this policy now, post-Gordon. Labour’s 2010 manifesto
made reference to these ‘guarantees’ over 50 times. And the author of that
document? Yep — the current leader of the Labour party.