Junior doctors have been on strike this week, an astonishing thing to happen that, in itself, demonstrates the terrible political diplomacy that Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health, has demonstrated as he attempted to push through his agenda.
Mr Hunt’s central talking point is that the policy he is pursuing is a manifesto commitment. In interviews he suggests that the British Medical Association (BMA) is attempting to block the manifesto commitment, and therefore the will of the British people.
That is not quite true, for several reasons. First, the manifesto pledge is for a so-called “7 day NHS”, the idea being that routine clinics and elective procedures should also take place at the weekends, when its more convenient for many people. The manifesto pledge only says that hospitals will be ‘properly staffed’, and nowhere does it say that this will be achieved by reducing the out-of-hours pay for doctors (achieved by re-defining late evening and Saturday work as normal working hours). It would have been an odd sort of voter who assumed that would be the case.Secondly, the BMA are not seeking to block the implementation of the policy, but simply disagree with Mr Hunt on the way to find the staff and resources to deliver it.
Regardless of these subtlties, Jeremy Hunt’s soundbite is an effective piece of political propaganda. Its the sort of trite trope that can be trotted out in a few seconds and will stick in people’s minds. It needs to attacked directly.
Enter Dr Dagan Lonsdale. During a TV interview about the strike, he convincingly undermined the ‘manifesto commitment’ line. I thought he made a particularly pertinent and pithy point, so I put it onto an image and tweeted it.
— robertsharp59 (@robertsharp59) April 26, 2016
What Governments have to do with manifestos is that actually have to have a plan to implement them after they are elected. And that’s the problem here: the Conservative government have been elected on the back of a promise they have no plan for, no funds for, and no staff for, and doctors are just being ridden over for politcial expediency.
Manifesto commitments do carry political weight. But that does not absolve politicians of the need to negotiate their implementation.