The NHS was the defining issue of the Labour leadership campaign because both candidates knew it had the power to get their supporters fired-up. But only Jeremy Corbyn wilfully ignores the differences between his supporters and the wider electorate. His post-election flagship policy, after all, is the removal of private sector involvement in the NHS. And with the thoughtful, dispassionate hand of shadow health secretary Diane Abbott grasping the rudder, Labour’s course appears well and truly set. Unfortunately for the dwindling part of the Labour party still keen on governing, voters – as opposed to Labour activists – don’t actually tend to care whether they are looked after by the NHS or a private service. So why have Corbyn and Abbott made a campaigning mountain out of a privatisation molehill?
A quick look at the objectives of Momentum NHS, so similar to Corbyn’s recent epistles on the subject, reveal its influence. And Momentum isn’t done yet. It’s lobbying for a motion at Labour party conference that would commit Labour to the complete public provision of social care as well as health. The cost would be colossal. It would also represent the largest top-down reorganisation of the NHS ever attempted, larger, incidentally, than the Lansley reforms. Most importantly, there’s not a shred of proof that publicly owned and provided health services outperform private provision. For every much-trumpeted piece of research that rates the NHS highly, another shows it lags behind on cancer survival rates, stroke mortality rates, or another important metric. None of these evidence-based-blasphemies will intrude, of course, at Labour party conference.
It would be wrong, though, to focus solely on the entryist machinations of Momentum to understand Corbyn’s policy on the NHS. Unlike Momentum, the left’s weakness for the politics of nostalgia and utopia predates the campaign to elect Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour party. And the myth that the NHS is under secret assault from the forces of privatisation is as old as the hills. The emotional appeal of that myth is obvious – who wouldn’t enjoy playing the brave hero facing overwhelming odds? But this is not the sixth-form common room. This is one of the world’s largest employers being treated as if it is beyond reproach and has nothing to learn.
Jeremy Corbyn is almost guaranteed to be re-elected as Labour leader on Saturday. There is every reason to believe that, having consolidated his position, he will double down on his pledges to eradicate the private sector from health, education, energy and transport. Labour party conference may even see the birth of a more hare-brained scheme that will delight Corbyn supporters and alienate voters in equal measure. What unfortunately won’t emerge from Liverpool is a party capable of, or even interested in, rational, evidence-based policymaking. For that reason, if no other, Labour as a party of government is destined to disappear into folk memory.