Tuesday 7 June 2016

Why do people who like the NHS vote Tory?

There are an awful lot of Tory politicians who hate the NHS with a burning ideological passion. Their hatred is driven by the fact that the NHS is a glowing and extremely popular example of state socialism.

The problem for the Tories is that people (including a huge majority of their own voters) really like the NHS. They can't just abolish it because there would be public outrage about it. That's why they've chosen to subject it to death by a thousand cuts rather than just outright abolish it as they'd actually like to.

The 2012 Health and Social Care Act was clearly designed to carve the NHS open for privatisation. Meanwhile a number of other Tory policies such as budget cuts, the forced closure of dozens of A&E units and maternity wards,  driving young people away from studying towards careers in the health service by scrapping bursaries and conducting an ideological war with junior doctors and deporting non-EU NHS workers for the "crime" of not earning above £35,000 per year all look designed to put the service under such severe strain that they can offer up privatisation and American style health insurance as the solution.

It's not just some idle crackpot conspiracy theory to claim that the Tories hate the socialist NHS and are intent on damaging and underfunding it as much as possible in order to offer up privatisation and private health insurance as the solution, just take a look at these quotes from Tory politicians. 

  •  "They did not believe they could win an election if they told you what they were going to do [carve the NHS open for privatisation] because people are so wedded to the NHS." - Michael Portillo [source]
  • "[The NHS] would not be out of place in Stalinist Russia" - Tory MP Peter Bone [source].
  • "It would be political suicide for a party to introduce [charging for NHS services]. They could only really do it if there was a feeling in the country that health services were falling apart." - Paul Charlson Chair of Conservative Health [source]
  • In 2005 Jeremy Hunt co-authored a book calling for the NHS to be "denationalised" and replaced with a private insurance based system. In 2012 David Cameron saw fit to put Hunt in charge of the NHS. [source]
Opposition to privatisation of the NHS is one of the most strongly held public opinions in the UK. A 2013 YouGov poll found that 84% of people believed that the NHS should be run as a not-for-profit public service, while only 7% favoured privatisation. This means that for every one person who supports what the Tories have been doing to the NHS since 2010, there are 12 who oppose it.

This leaves us with the big question of why so many people who actually like the NHS would vote for a political party that has such a passionate ideological opposition to its very existence.

There are obviously many potential answers because Tory voters are not just one homogenous blob. However one of the most likely answers is ignorance.

  • Tory voters could be ignorant of the fact that the NHS is an example of state socialism in action, and that the Tory party is ideologically opposed to anything socialist.
Aside from ignorance, another possible reason that people who like the NHS voted for a party that is ideologically opposed to it and is intent on running it into the ground is that they're indifferent. If they're not ignorant of the facts outlined above, then they obviously thought that they would be getting some other payoff from voting Tory that justified putting the existence of the NHS at risk. 

Perhaps they're extremely well off and were looking forward to more Tory tax cuts for the rich paid for through impoverishment of the disabled and the working poor? Perhaps they were property owners looking forward to benefiting from more of George Osborne's economically insane house price inflation schemes? Perhaps they're not well off but were suffering from temporarily embarrassed millionaire syndrome? Perhaps they knew a bit about the risk to the NHS, but are so economically naive that they actually believed in the Tory austerity con?

Whatever the case, somehow 24% of the electorate voted for the Tories, which under our outdated and bizarrely unrepresentative system was enough for them to get a majority government. So the Tories are back in power and more determined than ever to run the NHS into the ground and privatise as much of it as they can get away with, even though only 7% of the population support such policies.

The problem is that the Tories have spent six years getting away with their ideological assaults on the NHS, not because they have any popular support for such policies but because not enough people seem to care enough to do anything about it. The public apathy towards the ongoing ideological attacks on the NHS are a disaster because as Nye Bevan (the founder of the NHS) once said; "the NHS will last as long as there are folk with faith left to fight for it".

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