Today, at the TUC march in London, Ed Miliband said that, if elected in 2015 “on day one we end the privatisation experiment on the NHS”. Brave words? Or deeply cynical and a touch mendacious?
60 or 70 years ago, nationalisation without compensation was possible. The original owners would scream and shout, but eventually it would be a done deal. The world, however, has moved on considerably since then, and is now a far more complex, combative and above all litigious place.
We might deplore, even hate, and rightly so, what’s happening with the carpetbagging of the NHS, the corruption that rides on its coattails, and the government lies and manipulation by means of which it’s been allowed to happen, but the contracts which have been negotiated are lawful and binding, even if the acts that brought them into being were those of sharp-suited thieves.
And therein lies the problem. Assuming that Miliband can get the appropriate bill(s) through Parliament** – and let’s be realistic, nothing at all is going to happen on day one, it’s going to take months at least – then Labour can take back the NHS without compensation. These days, though, the ousted companies will do a lot more than kick and scream.
**By no means certain, as a lot of MPs and peers have a vested interest in many of the companies that have (legally), hijacked the NHS, doubtless some of them Labour MPs and peers.
They’ll sue for breach of contract, and anything else they can think of.
Labour will might try to claim that the contracts were not theirs, but the previous administration’s – which won’t wash. The contracts will be with the government – and if Labour takes over the reins of government, they take over the contracts too.
Labour – or any future government moved to take back the NHS en bloc – will find itself mired in breach of contract litigation, and doubtless litigation of other, quite possibly quite creative, varieties too, until hell freezes.
No government can afford that. Not only will it soak up a massive amount of time and energy, it will bankrupt them, and quite possibly the country too. And where would we be if we couldn’t afford a pointless war or two?
Miliband must know this, which would make today’s statement a flat-out lie. If he doesn’t know this, and didn’t seek advice on whether or not it was doable, before opening his mouth, then by god he’s in the wrong job now and, if he becomes prime minister, will be so far out of his depth the prospect is terrifying.
I really don’t think he’s thought this through, but well before 2015, he really must do so, and explain exactly what he plans to do, because if he opts for compulsory nationalisation without compensation, whatever’s left of the NHS by then is liable to collapse like a house of cards.
Why? Because by 2015, I suspect most of the NHS will be in private hands, and if compulsory privatisation happens, some or all of the incumbents might be moved to cut their losses walk away. True, whatever dedicated staff still remain could keep things running in the short term but, in the inevitable hiatus, who pays the bills? And the wages?
I really do not believe that what Miliband promised today is possible.** The best we can hope for, I believe, is years of haggling and negotiation, and before it’s over, the the public might tire of the chaos, and Tories might well be back.
**I have a feeling that what he meant by “end the privatisation experiment” is simply “no new contracts”. Which is not the same thing at all as taking back the NHS.