Labour Cannot Win on the NHS Alone

Rachel Megan Barker, Young Fabian member writes on last night's by-elections.

Yesterday, the Labour Party lost Copeland; making it the first time the party of government had won a by-election in 35 years. And I think most of us know, whether or not we’d like to admit it, that the toxic view of the leadership among voters played a huge role in that loss.

 I think we also all know that there are other issues that the Labour Party faces, and I think one of those issues goes back to before the election of Jeremy Corbyn; to the later years of Ed Miliband’s leadership. This obsession with talking excessively, sometimes almost exclusively, about the NHS.

 People love the NHS, of course they do. Everyone wants the NHS to be better funded and better equipped. But the NHS doesn’t fill people with hope or with aspiration. People don’t think of a country with a better NHS and feel hugely optimistic for the future. It doesn’t make people excited.

 It says a lot about the state of the current leadership that they’ve managed to copy most of the bland, uninspiring aspects of Ed Miliband’s leadership and add in the toxic nature of hard left politics, without really coming up with anything new or exciting. Our messaging in Copeland felt so akin to those months in the run up to the General Election where it seemed like we had nothing substantive to say about education, jobs and infrastructure; about anything really except for repeating over and over that we would protect the NHS.

 I don’t know exactly what Labour’s messaging should be going forward. I know it should be multifaceted, and I believe it should focus on empowerment. But good messaging is not created in a think piece; it’s created by bringing together focus groups and really talking to the electorate. And to do this effectively we need to accept that we cannot win while we focus so intensely on the NHS.  

That is not to say we should stop fighting for it, or that we should in any way change our policy on it. Labour is and always will be the party of the NHS. But if we cannot be more than that we will continue to see losses like Copeland, and we will continue to see our electoral chances decline.

 Rachel is a Young Fabian member. Follow her on twitter at @rachellybee

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