While Ed Miliband wasn’t exactly Mr Pugnacious today at PMQs, one of his better blows was when he read out the promise in the Coalition Agreement to ‘stop the top-down reorganisations of the NHS’ and asked whether that would be on a list of broken promises in the audit of government achievements. Labour always sees the NHS as an easy way to score points now that the government’s hard-won credibility has been scuppered by the Health and Social Care Act, and naturally Miliband roused some cheers from his MPs.
James argued back in December that it is now impossible to have a mature conversation about the NHS. Indeed, the Tories are now to the health service what Tesco is to nice-looking coffee shops: a combination that arouses suspicion, whether or not it is warranted.
It is for this reason that Jeremy Hunt’s clear mission to be a ‘patients’ champion’ by strongly condemning poor standards of care in hospitals is so important: the party needs to move on from the Health and Social Care Act. The anticipatory coverage of Sir Robert Francis’ report on Stafford Hospital has already attacked Labour’s target-driven culture, and as Tim Montgomerie argued recently in the Times, Jeremy Hunt’s response to this report is essential as a renewal of Tory NHS vows. That report is due towards the end of this month or the start of the next, and it will be a pivotal moment for the Conservatives in their quest to claw back Labour’s poll lead on the NHS.