Observations Body Politic

Choice—a love Labour’s lost

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d6319 (Published 03 October 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d6319
  1. Nigel Hawkes, freelance journalist, London
  1. nigel.hawkes1{at}btinternet.com

Tony Blair’s NHS reforms worked, so why does Labour now oppose Andrew Lansley’s plans, which are heirs to Blair’s?

There was a telling moment at the launch of the King’s Fund’s new and excellent analysis of Labour’s NHS reforms, Understanding New Labour’s Market Reforms of the English NHS (BMJ 2011;343:d6179, 27 Sep, doi:10.1136/bmj.d6179). Adam Oliver of the London School of Economics wondered aloud why Labour had not made more of its biggest success, the reduction in waiting lists, in the 2010 general election campaign.

He got his reply instantly from a member of the audience. “Because by then choice had become a dirty word in Number 10,” hissed Patricia Hewitt, as if driven to give witness by forces beyond her control. Ms Hewitt, of course, was Labour’s health secretary from 2005 to 2007, in the middle of an unprecedented three terms of Labour government, which the party is now trying to unremember.

Prime ministers who serve lengthy terms often suffer a crash in reputation afterwards, but you would not have heard a Conservative conference at any time boo the mention of Mrs Thatcher’s name as last week’s Labour conference booed Tony Blair’s. Here is a man who delivered to Labour what …

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