‘So a good week for Labour – and a good week for Twitter. But has it been a good week for intelligent debate, or for those who care about the quality of our health services? No.’
– David Ottewell, Manchester Evening News opinion
That Labour has done well to exploit the #welovethenhs Twitter campaign is beyond doubt. But some fear that our politics is damaged by sloganeering. Slogans don’t win arguments and ‘there is an argument to be won,’ says David Ottewell. ‘Institutions are not there to be “loved”,’ whines Iain Dale.
Neither of these assertions is true.
Tory MEP Dan Hannan’s performance on Fox News caused us to take stock and consider what we’d all do without the NHS; what those who find themselves out of work, poorly paid or aged might do without the NHS.
#welovethenhs reminds us of a very real emotional bond that is shared by and unites all right thinking Britons. And there is nothing silly in admitting love for an institution. Some feel nostalgic for their old school and it sounds bizarre, but many Conservatives love the monarchy.
Yes, it is a slogan, but it is not an empty slogan or so many people would not be so keen to chant it. Tweeting #welovethenhs is an assertion of Britishness and a celebration of our society’s most civilised values. Dan Hannan attacked those values and #welovethenhs ensured he lost the debate.
Nevertheless, the NHS is not perfect and, like every other institution, it never will be. There is a debate to be had over how it might best evolve to meet the challenges ahead. That debate will not happen between political parties as political parties don’t debate each other in any meaningful sense. Constantly at war, they campaign against each other and for themselves.
The real debate occurs within each party, in parallel. Labour will always be united around the idea of an NHS that delivers healthcare free of charge at the point of access, with any rationing done by clinicians. The Conservatives meanwhile are increasingly preoccupied with esoteric debates on the size of the state and the efficiency of markets.
This is all the better for voters who will eventually be offered a genuine choice when the election comes.