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Do we care more about the NHS or moats?

Posted on 4 June 2009 | 12:06am

I’ll come on to ‘vote Labour’ in a moment, but first …. It’s amazing how
quickly your spirits can be restored if you get outside the noise of the
Westminster media bubble.

I mentioned yesterday I was on my way to a mental
health conference in Hull, part of ‘Business Week’ on Humberside. My event was
aimed at persuading employers of the business case for tearing down the stigma
and taboo which surrounds mental illness, and pointing out the risks of
overlooking good and talented people who admit to a mental health problem. It
was at the Hull Truck theatre, an impressive venue currently showing a play
about the ups and downs of following Hull City.

I did my usual stuff, most of
which will be known to regular visitors either from my ‘Cracking Up’
documentary (in the vlog archive) or from when I was helping to launch the Time
to Change campaign
. Copies of the ‘World Without’ report we did on great
historical figures with mental health problems were lying around the place and
I was introduced with the help of a short government ad suggesting Florence
Nightingale would likely be  rejected by modern nursing recruiters on the
grounds of her own mental health record.

I did a q and a, in which almost all
of the questions were about mental health issues. I then did interviews with
about half a dozen journalists, mainly radio. Again, nearly all the questions
were about mental health, just a couple added on the end about the current
Westminster frenzy, and GB’s future.

Ah, I hear the big willy journos from the
nationals saying – local hacks, just don’t get it … Expenses and GB meltdown
is the only show in town.

But is it? In the q and a one of the questions I
didn’t answer terribly well was my assessment of how well or otherwise I
thought the Labour government had done in improving mental health services. It
was the kind of question I would have been able to answer with a battery of
facts and figures back in the days when it was my job to carry them around in
my head or my briefing folders. So I blathered on a bit about how successive
health secretaries ‘got’ the issue,  Alan Johnson had made it a priority,
Labour had provided the resources, the NHS had worked with the grain of reform
and I thought things had improved. 

But a far better answer came from the
woman from the NHS who spoke after me and who could not have been clearer that
the government had delivered huge extra resources for the NHS, and the NHS
staff were making that money work to deliver real improvements. And as she
spoke, I thought what a crazy world we live in – that Labour promised to ‘save
the NHS’, has done so, with enormous consequences for people’s lives and
livelihoods, and there is a risk of the country voting in extremists  and
opportunists because Gordon is copping it for every MPs’ expenses claim.

said from day 1 that the expenses story is a serious one, not to be sniffed at.
But the way the media has allowed it to drown out all other news and debate has
done a disservice to its role in democratic debate ahead of today’s elections.

What, in the end, is more important? Improving the NHS or Douglas Hogg’s bloody
moat? But we’re not angry about the NHS, the voices in my head (figurative …
relax, doctor) answer back … We’re angry about expenses. Fine, I say, get as
angry as you like … And don’t blame me if you get angry and ashamed at the
antics of the BNP if they get a foothold in the European Parliament, or you get
angry at Lib Dems cutting council services they described as vital, let alone
the anger you’re going to feel if the Tories revert to type should they get
their hands on the NHS again.

Like I said at the top … Vote Labour.

  • Tony


    The problem is that great truism that the electorate takes previous achievements for granted, and only care about about what’s going to happen next.

    Without a good narrative of where Labour want to take the NHS next, all that’s left is a (admittedly quite accurate) negative message about the risks of voting Tory.

    Scare campaigns can work if they’re accurate and there’s a positive alternative to sell. Until both these elements are in play, I don’t think Labour will be winning any votes on the NHS (or any other issue).

    You’ve got to have a carrot as well as a stick.

  • Charlie

    The best interests of the Labour Party and Britain will be served by voting for anyone but Labour.

  • Jane A

    Good work going off to do the mental health and stigma work again. Keep up the very good work.

    It is hard sometimes to keep perspective about Labour achievements when all the noise about regicide and expenses dominate the airwaves. But when the expenses are paid back, reformed and set straight, the achievements of the NHS under Labour will still be there, via increased funding, Foundation Trusts, and drastically reduced waiting times, to name but a few. These improvements contribute to the health and wellbeing of millions of people. And that’s what counts.

    I shall vote Labour today, and always.

  • Boudicca

    Wrong. Gordon is ‘copping it’ because he is a useless Prime Minister who is so emotionally illiterate he manages to alienate pretty-much everyone: colleagues, opposition, the electorate, the Royal Family, foreign Heads of State.

    He should do the decent thing and resign …. but he isn’t a decent and honourable man. He IS a coward and a bully.

    As for the rest and the final ‘vote Labour’ – hahahahahahahahahahaha. Dream on.

  • Alina Palimaru

    Recently, I saw Daniel Hannan bloviating again on Sean Hannity’s disgusting show about how horrible Britain is. Hannan…NHS… which reminds me how people gloss over the havoc that the Tories would inflict on national health care in the UK. So below is my response to Hannan’s outrageous comments that the NHS is a 60-year mistake. You can also take it as a warning for what the Tories would serve you on their silver plate.

    < >

  • Mrs Clayton

    Call me an old silly, but perhaps if Mp’s from all parties could stop claiming for moats, helipads, hanging baskets and TV’s that cost thousands, If they could just try and restrain themselves from changing house moretimes than most people do their bed linn and perhaps if a few more of them offer to pay back the expenses that may be allowable, but certainly not acceptable, then we could free up quite a bit of mone over the next few years to pour into the NHS.

    Corrupt representatives syphoning off money for their unnecessariily lavish lifestyles can hardly be expectd to be trusted with yet more of my money together with the health of my family. I’m scared they might whip out a liver for a minister when I am in having my tonsils out.

  • Helen Johnson

    I, like Jane, shall vote Labour too, today and always. But Alastair, we want you back. Today, we shall be trounced. That is for sure. And, moving on, Westminster is behaving like a sixth form common room, when people who used to be prefects are prefects no longer. And have spent the last hour on the phone about it to various NW constituency people. There is no endgame in sight. If they had a thought in their head about what they were doing, I might feel more relaxed, as it were.

    All best H

  • Alan Quinn

    The Labour flag in my garden, vote Labour placards are hanging from my bedroom window next to my union jack flag.

  • Helen Johnson

    Oh, see you all over the weekend. And regroup.

  • Ronald

    Boudicca, I find your blunt “wrong” highly amusing, and although I am not a resident of Britain I am aware of Alastair’s history with British politics. So before you attempt, although rather vainly; to cut down a very well written blog entry. Perhaps you should take into consideration the experience and knowledge your attacking.

    Good Article, It is a shame that the expense claim scandal has taken up so much of the media energy in Britain. I wonder if the media are capable of handling any more than one major story at a time?

  • paul canning

    I know all this Alastair – I’m culturally Labour. But like a lot of gays in the US are getting with Obama, as an advocate for gay asylum seekers I can’t get past what monstrous policies Labour has overseen regarding them. When you know the personal situations it’s nigh impossible. Plus I can see the Tories being *better on this issue! Truly.

    I understand politically why this has happened – why, in general, the Home Office has been left to deal so badly with the whole issue of asylum – but this just makes it worse and really is an utter betrayal of Labour’s core values. Plus LGBT Labour have just ignored it, only now taking any interest.

    I’m sure there are other previously loyal people who feel betrayed and it isn’t good enough to just keep saying NHS! NHS! NHS! – it’s marginalising and sending people to the back of the bus.

    Locally I will (tactically) vote LibDem, in the Euros I will vote Green.

  • red_imp

    I have to say all the Parties are as bad as each other thats not to say i’ll go and vote an extreme party mind.

    In the end I will vote for the Councillor that seems to be “seen”(actions speak louder than words) to have made an effort in helping the Local community no matter which party they are in.

    And in the Euro’s any party that wants to dump us straight into the Euro without a referendum won’t get my vote simple as. Thats not to say Im against joining the Euro I just want to be given the choice and see both sides of the story.

  • Craig, Oxfordshire

    Alastair, the game is up I’m afraid.

    I won’t vote today. You see, I have a problem according to today’s media – and that is that I am a Labour voter. But putting a cross next to the Red Rose where I live would be utterly pointless. My politicians wear cord top to toe, drive Land Rovers, support hunting and speak in a way I thought extinct. I think the Labour share last time was sub-10%.

    You’ve blogged regulary about the right-wing media (especially print, which to my mind – The Mail, The Express, The Telegraph and now even the Times are to the right of even Fox News) being anti GB and now, it’s come to fruition. There are no truths anymore. There’s only what the media want you to think. Charlie Brooker made the point expertly on Newswipe recently – the story is always negative, it’s always self-fulfilling for the media and it’s always anti-government.

    Labour are going to have the worst result imaginable over the next few days – and the worst general next year in living memory. I think what you’re trying to say is – the public will get the government they deserve. But it’s more to the point – the media will get the government they deserve. The only shred of light is… they’ll give Cameron the shortest honeymoon imaginable. Because if they’re not criticising the government of the day – they’re not selling newspapers.

  • AnnA

    I might have voted Labour had anyone in my area spent any time at all campaigning and bothered to drop a leaflet through the door, let alone door stepped me!! The BNP and UKIP have made the effort, why not Labour? Seems to me that locally the party’s just given up the ghost so today I’m voting Lib Dem. It pains me as a born and bred labourite and I really hope both locally and nationally the party pulls itself together and regains the backing of people like me for the general election. Sorry Gordon, but you’ve got to go and, for the good of the party, (much) sooner rather than later…

  • Chris Simkins


    I voted Labour this morning, however….

    When I consider the short and medium term future of the Labour Party I feel myself sitting in a valley devoid of any hope or inspiration.

    In the short term, many are trying to get rid of Gordon Brown (and I can see why, even if I don’t agree) but how do they answer the question ‘Then what’?.

    Whatever happens to Gordon Brown, there’s surely no individual or collection of MPs who can perform the miracle required to turn around public perception right now.

    So it seems Labour will live and die on policy. And unfortunately, that rarely seems to persuade the public without a big personality to sell it. Parties are almost pointless without personalities to inspire.

    There seems to be an inevitiablity to Labour’s next few years. The political circle of life almost.

    How can you (and we) seriously respond to this problem and offer inspiration (and hope)?

  • mary


    Congratulations on carrying on with the mental health promotion. You are doing wonderful things for the most deprived people in society and I applaud your courage. You deserve the good publicity that is coming your way on this.

    While I have no idea whether or not Mr. Brown listens to your advice on the expenses issue, I would say that if it is true that Robin Cook warned of this problem as long ago as 2002, then it is a crying shame that no one bothered to listen to him then. Allowing Mr. Speaker to challenge the Freedom of Information act as it applied to MPs’ business was a dreadful mistake. Those Cabinet Ministers who didn’t even feel the chill when Jacqui Smith’s expenses were outed don’t seem to have much political nous, now do they?

  • Stuart McGowan


    For the first time in twenty years, I could not bring myself to vote Labour today.

    Sadly, I just can’t see any hope for the country with the current party leadership.

    Labour still has several impressive talents in its front ranks but, until Gordon is made to realise that it is time for him to move aside, none of them are going to have the chance to take part in a proper leadership contest, where they can debate their own ideas for taking things forward once again.

    Until that happens, we are just going to face a continual disintegration of what had been, during the Blair years at least, a strong, progressive movement. It is too important for the country that that is not allowed to happen.

    My sincere wish is that Gordon sees sense and goes on his own and avoids the inevitable internal fighting within the party that would simply result in Labour facing another 18 years in the wilderness.

  • Em

    Thank God for the level-headed people who can see the forest for the trees and are voting Labour today. I applaud you.

    The moat issue reminds one of feudalism and serfdom; the little people were born so that their toil should benefit those who won the lottery of the womb. Image-wise it is fertile ground.

    I’m not surprised journalists focused on questions germane to the occasion since we are all concerned with health and mental health, but for Westminster journos, the narrative is developing in their favour. Shall I risk a metaphor about an anticipated insurrection that does not happen? Wouldn’t the foreign correspondent be disappointed to have travelled halfway around the world only to find peace where she expected dead mothers and children on the streets? The troubles at Westminster may have terrible consequences for the people and government but the story is coming to a satisfying point in the journos’ telling of it. They live for such carnage. Naughtie was all plummy-voiced and funereal as he was laying it on thick this morning…

  • James

    I’m afraid you’re making my ‘hypocrisy alert’ flash red again – how can you one week complain about how the media trivialises issues, and then turn a choice between the main parties to one between ‘the NHS and moats’ – ie Labour is the only party that cares about the NHS whereas all the Tories care about is cleaning their moats? Yes Douglas Hogg was a twat to claim for his moat, but to imply or infer from that that the Tories would prefer “moats” over “the NHS” is distortionary, wrong and disingenous. I expected better.

    I’ve got an alternative headline for you to show you what I mean:

    Do we care about keeping manifesto commitments over income tax, or toilet seats?

  • betty curtis

    Tories & the NHS don’t mix.

    Their record is abysmal ie seriously bad

    During the Thatcher years Virginia Bottomley was Health Secretary—-What a shambles to the extent of disarray and Filthy Hospitals because Cleaning was put out to Private tender.

    During that time I had to take my elderly mother for Hospital tests and we wouldn’t even sit on the chairs in the waiting room—To explain–The orange plastic chairs were black ingrained with dirt and when we looked around walls Floors and skirting’s were so dirty we were shocked.A breading ground for germs that was the cause of Mrsa and other such bacteria that can kill vulnerable patients.

    My mother had been in both Domestic & Nursing within the NHS for around 15years before she’d retired and was always proud of her work and told me how Matron always carried out daily inspections for cleanliness of Nurses & Hospital.

    Matrons had been removed from Hospitals so nobody from these private companies was interested in the hygiene in our hospitals.—It was the cheapest companies to do the cleaning that won the Tender for the job.

    It was after this that I backed Nurses & Hospital workers for better pay & conditions and took my kids and marched through Glasgow with unions who represented the Nurses.
    I was distraught at what was happening to our NHS that had been the envy of the world. Things were really bad and Nurses left the NHS to go into private nursing for better wages & conditions.

    Unless you actually know just how bad things were in the NHS before Labour got in you won’t fully realize the amazing difference of improvement that we all take for granted now.

  • CPW

    Ah, Alastair, ever the opportunist. You know you’re as bad as the Telegraph types at heart and that’s what you are really inveighing against. It’s all self loathing when we get to brass tacks.

    The people of Burnley – you know it well, your home away from home, remember – were angry about their NHS AE dept. closing quite recently. Little Miss Usher did her best, but alas, the artex on her ceiling was in the end really too much of a distraction. So the unsightly artex went. And so did the hospital.

    Vote Labour – The Socialist Labour Party this Thurs.

  • Stronghold Barricades

    I am a long term sufferer of the NHS, though not as a mental health patient, and attend a consultant at least every six months

    I have got used to the ineptitude of the system, the stone walling by doctors who wish to preserve their budgets to comply with government targets

    I would have to say that had I known that the NHS was this bad I would have chosen to go private because if something goes wrong someone is more likely to be held to account before I die, and I’m likely to get my money back

    With the current NHS I’ve had to pay to endure the queues, the treatment, and the incompetence

    There is nothing wrong with the NHS, the simple answer is there is no accountability, and no one is scared of losing their job by making a mistake unless it manages to get into the newspapers. Is that any way to run a service?

    The people in the system know this, just look at their morale.

    Labour has “updated” the NHS by paying doctors vastly more, increasing specialisation and reducing service availability. How else do you have a GP with a list of patients who he would struggle to see 10% of in a year let alone all of them if their was a disease outbreak just once.

    Realistic targets

    No reward for failure