After a summer of crisis and opportunity, can Labour’s progressive NHS policies be sustained?

What does the Labour reshuffle mean for the development of its NHS policy?

For the first time since June the Labour Party has a full Shadow health team for England. Only Justin Madders MP continued in post throughout the chaotic summer period that included a failed coup and a similarly unsuccessful challenge to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. Post-reshuffle, and with Diane Abbott promoted to shadow home secretary, what can we expect from the new health team led by Jonathan Ashworth?

Corbyn’s re-election as Labour leader with an increased mandate of almost 62% of those voting, followed an extraordinary window in Labour Party governance. With most of his shadow cabinet resigning en masse, Corbyn was obliged to promote many of his less experienced parliamentary supporters to shadow cabinet roles. The result was both paradoxical and positive – a thinly populated but enthusiastic and very progressive opposition front bench.

The first front bencher to resign in the coup was shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander, who subsequently criticised both Corbyn’s leadership style and also the actions of shadow chancellor John McDonnell.

Alexander’s replacement as shadow health secretary was Corbyn ally Diane Abbott. During the next three months Abbott published a series of speeches, articles and blogs very much more radical and progressive than those of her predecessor, in terms of supporting the NHS workforce and of reinstating a publicly provided, national health service. This culminated in her speech to the Labour Party conference on September 27. Abbott told us that Labour stands with the junior doctors. She said that NHS England’s Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) “seem like a vehicle to drive through cuts and closures” and that “where they are purely about cuts, Labour will fight them.” She pledged that “under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership the Labour Party will be committed to halting and reversing the tide of privatisation and marketisation of the NHS… Labour in government will repeal the Health and Social Care Act”. And she stated that “The NHS will be returned to a publicly owned, publicly funded, publicly accountable universal service, as outlined in the NHS Reinstatement Bill now being piloted through Parliament by my colleague Margaret Greenwood MP, with the support of the Labour leadership.” Continue reading “After a summer of crisis and opportunity, can Labour’s progressive NHS policies be sustained?”