19 October 2012

Dr Jokers in the House of Cards

When I first heard of the NHA party (National Health Action party) earlier this year, I followed it on Twitter (@NHAparty) and then on its recent website. The official launch is to take place on 15 November in Old Palace Yard, Westminster.

My initial feelings were that it might present the Tories with every politician’s (and general’s) nightmare of having to fight on two fronts simultaneously. In this case, UKIP would be on their right flank and NHA on their left, the first draining away their natural supporters and the second picking up the centre-undecided sort of voters they need to get more seats at the next election than they managed in 2010. I expected an onslaught on NHA to start fairly soon from the usual right-wing press and internet sources. But the opening rounds have come from well to the left of centre in the form of an article posted on the LabourList website, The National Health Action Party must be strangled at-birth, because:
It can only prosper at the expense of the only truly NHS party – the Labour Party. The National Health Action Party’s only offer is independent MPs voting how they please on everything from abortion to trade union rights, with no accountability or even consistency. But their potential to prevent Labour winning seats, as Richard Taylor did in Wyre Forest, is huge.
The article explains that:
Dr Richard Taylor beat the sitting Labour MP David Lock in 2001 after a huge campaign against the closure of the A&E. The Wyre Forest seat had gone Labour in the landslide of 1997. The ‘Health Concern’ campaign was supported by the local Lib Dems, who stood their candidate down to help defeat the Labour MP. Taylor was elected with an 18,000 majority. It was a famous victory.  
… Now Taylor has launched a new political party to stand more independent candidates like him. It’s called the National Health Action Party, and aims to stand fifty candidates against sitting MPs who support reforms to the NHS. This will presumably include current and former health ministers, and high profile MPs such as the party leaders. For example, one of the party’s founders Dr Clive Peedell is rumoured to be taking on Lib Dem Ian Swales in Redcar.  
The NHS is the closest we have to a national religion. People are passionate about their local NHS services, even when they aren’t very good, and better ones are available further away. If 50 National Health Action Party candidates stand across the UK, with ‘Dr’ ahead of the name on the ballot, and a party logo eerily reminiscent of the NHS logo, they will hoover up tens of thousands of votes in 2015. I doubt any will win seats. But they’ll win enough votes to keep the Tories in power. Why? Because they kinds of people likely to vote for an ‘NHS candidate’ are the kinds of people Labour needs to win to take seats from the Tories and Lib Dems.
We need some opinion poll data to clarify all this, once the average voter has some idea of what the NHA party is about. It also depends on just which seats the NHA candidates will stand in. Two of their FAQ answers shed some light:
4. Won’t you increase the chance of the Conservative and Liberal Democratic Party candidates being elected by splitting the anti-government vote? How many candidates will be standing at the next general election?  
We are not intending to contest all parliamentary seats. Instead we will be carefully and strategically selecting seats where we will have the best chance of being elected, or where we can have the biggest impact on the public’s consciousness. We hope to field about 50 candidates in the next general election.  
5. The Labour party have said they will repeal the Health and Social Care Act, so why do we still need a political party to defend the NHS?  
As of yet, the Labour Party has not given a detailed account of how they intend to repeal the Act or explained clearly what would replace it. Furthermore, we have seen the frequent practice of all major parties failing to honour their pre-election pledges. The Labour Party’s record on the NHS is also poor. It helped open the door to the exploitation of the health service by commercial providers. The NHA Party will be vital for ensuring that any future government repeals the most damaging aspects of the Act and restores the NHS to its founding principles.

No comments:

Post a Comment