Doctors' health reform challenge threat to marginal seats

Posted on: 22 March 2012 by Alexander Hay

With an election still some time away, the real goal must be to win the propaganda war

GPs challenge 50 MPs in marginal seatsIt is not said enough that sometimes you should pick your enemies a little more carefully:

We are shocked by the failure of the democratic process and the facilitating role played by the Liberal Democrats in the passage of this bill. We have therefore decided to form a coalition of healthcare professionals to take on coalition MPs at the next General election, on the non-party, independent ticket of defending the NHS and acting in the wider public interest.

So said a letter published in The Independent on Sunday. We have been here before, of course. Doctor-turned-independent MP Richard Taylor remained in his Wyre Forest seat for nine years, until – oh, the irony – the Liberal Democrats decided to contest his seat, leading to him losing to the Conservative candidate. Surgeon Professor Tim Briggs nearly contested Labour MP Tony McNulty's Harrow seat until funding miraculously materialised for the rebuilding of the Stanmore hospital Taylor had vowed to protect.

There is a flip-side to this, however. Thirty one doctors stood for parliament in 2010. Those elected or re-elected included Liam Fox and obstetrician Dan Poulter, both of whom support the 'reforms' the GPs are resisting.

Nonetheless, this is a powerfully symbolic move. While the elections are two years away (assuming no meltdown on the part of the coalition government), the gesture has made headlines and also made it very clear that among those opposed to the NHS bill, some of the most vociferous are those who actually run it.

It is this propaganda war, rather than anything in parliament, that will decide the fate of Andrew Lansley's destructive and hubristic NHS bill, which would open up the health service to the same free market forces that didn't exactly beddazzle when they took over the trains and manifest themselves as the Private Finance Initiative.

The public know this, of course, as do the doctors. But the only way to prevail is to keep the public aware of what is at stake. In so doing, the doctors are only too aware that it is fear of bad publicity, rather than simple democracy, that may stop the government.

But since the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats who make up the coalition neither won a working majority, nor had any mention of the bill in their manifestos, it seems parliamentary democracy is once again relegated to background noise.

Both sides know the argument has to be won in the public arena, or by proxy if the public lack any interest in the matter. And it is not certain the government will win. After all, in a poll of most and least trusted professions, doctors came first, whereas politicians were less popular than even journalists...


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Alexander Hay

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