Tuesday, August 18, 2009

David Cameron's Health Care Dilemma

Disrupt party unity or give Gordon Brown a massive gift?

As the health care debate continues to rage in the United States and (sadly to a much lesser extent) in Canada, British Conservative party leader David Cameron is facing a health care debate of his very own.

He's essentially been presented with two options -- severely punish a group of Tory MPs, led by Daniel Hannan, who have endorsed the views of American opponents of health care reform who have also targeted Britain's National Health Service as an example of why Americans do not want to institute universal health care.

"I wouldn’t wish it on anybody," Hannan told FOX News. "We have a system where the most salient facts of it you get huge waiting lists, you have bad survival rates and you would much rather fall ill in the US."

The Labour party wasted no time whatsoever in jumping all over Hannan's remarks, treating them, in a "secret agenda"-esque manner, as the secret "true policy" of the British Conservative party on health care.

"This lays bare the Tories' deep ambivalence towards the NHS," said British Health Secretary Andy Burnham. "Their election strategy is not to talk about it. Cameron knows there is deep hostility towards it within his ranks."

"Hannan is not the only one. Many senior Tory MPs privately agree with him," Burham added. "Mr Cameron looks rattled today. Dan Hannan's attack lays bare the real face of the face Tory Party."

"Despite Cameron's frantic backtracking, it's clear he and Hannan are much closer than he wants people to think," he concluded.

Which is actually rather different from Cameron actually had to say about the NHS.

"One of the wonderful things about living in this country is that the moment you're injured or fall ill - no matter who you are, where you are from, or how much money you've got - you know that the NHS will look after you," Cameron said.

It should be no surprise that Cameron has been so quick to defend the NHS. Hannan's comments have jeopardized a long-standing rebuilding and rebranding program by the Conservative party, one that has placed it well-poised to win a Blair-esque majority in the next general election.

And with some very stormy political clouds ahead, it's of little surprise that Gordon Brown is eager to jump on Hannan's remarks in an attempt to derail the Tory train.

"It is understandable that the Conservative leadership have tried to distance themselves from those in Tory ranks who criticise the NHS," Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently remarked. "But the truth is that there are two Tory faces on the NHS. Behind all the recent talk of commitment, the party has not truly been reformed."

To make matters worse for Cameron, Burnham has called on Cameron to bar Hannan and the other members of the Atlantic Bridge Group from the upcoming Conservative party conference.

Which clearly places David Cameron in something of a quandry: if he forbids Daniel Hannan and the other members of the Atlantic Bridge Group from attending his party's convention, it will sew disunity within his party and disrupt Tory momentum. If he allows them to attend, Gordon Brown and Andy Burnham will use it as an opportunity to continue smearing the Tories with "hidden agenda" fear mongering.

Unfortunately in Britain -- as in Canada -- the focus on the political side of the health care debate has disrupted any attempt to substantively discuss the issues surrounding the matter.

For example, health care quality in Britain has seemingly stagnated over the past two decades.

Unfortunately, forcing David Cameron to juggle his support of the NHS with Daniel Hannan's criticisms of it draws attention away from issues such as this. Whatever they may have to say about it in public, Gordon Brown and Andy Burnham are not really doing the British public any good by trying to transform the NHS into a political hand grenade.

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