David Cameron has made the NHS his political mission. “I can do it (explain his priorities) in three letters: NHS,” he once said. It was a reassurance that the NHS was safe in his hands. His conviction doubled as a vital tactical stance to prove that the Tories were ‘nasty’ no more. So, the news that he is re-affirming his faith with an NHS pledge card is telling – a response to the fact that the public do not trust the Conservatives with the health service. It’s back to square one.
According to Benedict Brogan, the pledges simply reiterate that the Tories can be trusted with the NHS. There is no attempt to explain how reform will unfold, nor indeed whether it will unfold at all. Rather, Cameron promises that waiting lists will be kept low, privatisation is not an option, funding will be sustained, care is to stay integrated, and the ‘N’ will remain in NHS.
As James argued in the magazine two weeks ago, Cameron has blinked. Lansley’s ambitious reforms have endangered the central tenet of the decontamination strategy. Therefore, they have to be carefully diluted or even dropped.
The retreat is not without danger. First of all, Cameron is now open to the charges of weakness and indecision, which emit a fetid air. Backbench Tories have also made it clear that they will fight for Lansley’s reforms as a matter of principle; determined to resist concessions to the Liberal Democrats. Finally, as Brogan notes, the spending implications of keeping waiting lists down are ominous, especially if Lansley’s reforms are so emasculated that the government cannot arrest falling