The Tories are waking up to the fact that no one trusts them on the NHS. Photo: Getty
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Why David Cameron's political point-scoring on the Welsh NHS won't wash

The Daily Mail and Prime Minister peddling myths about the Welsh NHS won't work in their favour.

Even by its own historically shameless standards, the Daily Mail has had a week to forget.

The paper’s week-long “exposé” of the Welsh NHS has actually managed to expose just two things, both of which we already knew. One, they print what the Tories ask them to print and, two, David Cameron is running scared of his record on the NHS in England. 

Today was down in the Daily Mail’s diary as the climax to their Crosby-inspired campaign. Day five of five, the killer blow, another front-page splash to peddle Tory lies about the Welsh NHS and divert attention from the crisis facing the health service in England.

Except, something’s not quite right: a quick glance at the Mail’s front page and Wales is nowhere to be seen. Dig deeper (if you can stomach it) – through the nonsense, the scare-mongering and another abhorrent attack on Ed Miliband’s dad – and you’ll see we haven’t just been knocked off the front-page, we’ve been relegated as far down as page 21.

So, why such a flat finale to this orchestration of Tory spin?

I’d suggest two simple reasons: the effective rebuttal from the Welsh government – fully armed with statistics and data to unmask Mail myths – and the Tories in Westminster waking up to the fact no one trusts them on the NHS – and the more they talk about it, the less still they’re trusted.

At every turn, Wales’ health minister Mark Drakeford has been one step ahead of the Daily Mail, in some cases batting back charges from the Tory rag before they’ve even been thrown.

On today’s offensive – cancer care – Mark and I, and numerous others, have already let it be known that Wales outperforms England (90 per cent start treatment within 62 days in Wales; just 84 per cent in England do), so the paper’s lie was put to bed before it was even put to print.

But, suffice to say, the truth has never got in the way of a good story for the Daily Mail, which would suggest there’s a second, more strategic, reason the paper has wound its neck in.

Namely, that when David Cameron runs down the Welsh NHS to political point-score, who exactly does he think his audience is? 

People in Wales certainly aren’t going to listen to a Tory on the NHS: they remember all too vividly the destruction and decay the Thatcher and Major governments left our public services in.

Meanwhile, voters in England rightly want the Prime Minister to talk about the English health service; they know all too well, that when Cameron obfuscates and talks about Wales, he’s avoiding the question and running away from his own record.

So I hope that when Lynton Crosby considers the fate of his and the Mail’s failed campaign, his advice to the Prime Minister is along the following lines:   

Keep talking about the Welsh NHS, keep reminding people in Wales how far we’ve come from the days of Tory neglect where patients were waiting over two years for straightforward operations.

And keep shying away from your record in England too: your wasteful top-down re-organisation, a million English patients waiting over 4 hours and the worst year in A&E for over a decade.

Lastly, I’ve lost track of the exact number of times you’ve mentioned the Welsh NHS at PMQs – it’s around 40, give or take a slander or two – but try reaching 100 before the election comes and see how voters in both England and Wales feel about it.

Owen Smith MP is shadow secretary of state for Wales

Owen Smith is a Labour leadership candidate and MP for Pontypridd. 

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Politics doesn't just connect us to the past and the future – it's what makes us human

To those people who tell me that they’re not interested in politics, I often say: “But politics is interested in you!”

I have long been haunted by a scene in George Orwell’s great novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Winston Smith, the hero, is forced to watch propaganda films depicting acts of war and destruction. He is moved by something he sees: a woman trying to protect a child by wrapping her arm around him as they are attacked. It’s a futile gesture. She cannot shield the boy or stop the bullets but she embraces him all the same – before, as Orwell writes, “The helicopter blew them both to pieces.”

For Winston, what Orwell calls the “enveloping, protecting gesture” of the woman’s arm comes to symbolise something profoundly human – an expression of selflessness and of unconditional love in an unforgiving world. Scenes such as this we now witness daily in footage from the besieged eastern Aleppo and other Syrian towns, people in extreme situations showing extraordinary dignity and kindness.

I read Nineteen Eighty-Four for the first time in late adolescence. I’d dropped out of sixth-form college without completing my A-levels and was commuting on a coach from my parents’ house in Hertfordshire to London, where I worked as a junior clerk for the Electricity Council. During this long daily journey – sometimes two hours each way – I started to read seriously for the first time in my life.

I was just getting interested in politics – this was the high tide of the Thatcher years – and Orwell’s portrayal of a dystopian future in which Britain (renamed “Airstrip One”) had become a Soviet-style totalitarian state was bleakly fascinating. Fundamentally the book seemed to me to be about the deep ­human yearning for political change – about the never-ending dream of conserving or creating a better society.

Nineteen Eighty-Four was published in 1949 (Orwell died in January 1950, aged 46), at a time of rationing and austerity in Britain – but also of renewal. Under the leadership of Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill’s deputy in the wartime coalition, the Labour government was laying the foundations of what became the postwar settlement.

The National Health Service and the welfare state were created. Essential industries such as the railways were nationalised. The Town and Country Planning Act was passed, opening the way for the redevelopment of tracts of land. Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent was commissioned. New towns were established – such as Harlow in Essex, where I was born and brought up.

To grow up in Harlow, I now understand, was to be part of a grand experiment. Many of the families I knew there had escaped the bomb-ruined streets of the East End of London. Our lives were socially engineered. Everything we needed was provided by the state – housing, education, health care, libraries, recreational facilities. (One friend described it to me as being like East Ger­many without the Stasi.)

This hadn’t happened by accident. As my father used to say, we owed the quality of our lives to the struggles of those who came before us. The conservative philosopher Edmund Burke described society as a partnership between “those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born” – and I find this idea of an intergenerational social contract persuasive.

Progress, however, isn’t inevitable. There is no guarantee that things will keep getting better. History isn’t linear, but contingent and discontinuous. And these are dark and turbulent new times in which we are living.

A civil war has been raging in Syria for more than five years, transforming much of the Middle East into a theatre of great-power rivalry. Europe has been destabilised by economic and refugee crises and by the emergence of insurgent parties, from the radical left and the radical right. The liberal world order is crumbling. Many millions feel locked out or left behind by globalisation and rapid change.

But we shouldn’t despair. To those people who tell me that they’re not interested in politics, I often say: “But politics is interested in you!”

And part of what it means to be human is to believe in politics and the change that politics can bring, for better and worse.

What, after all, led so many Americans to vote for an anti-establishment populist such as Donald Trump? He has promised to “make America great again” – and enough people believed him or, at least, wanted to believe him to carry him all the way to the White House. They want to believe in something different, something better, in anything better – which, of course, Trump may never deliver.

So politics matters.

The decisions we take collectively as ­humans have consequences. We are social creatures and rational agents, yet we can be dangerously irrational. This is why long-established institutions, as well as the accumulated wisdom of past generations, are so valuable, as Burke understood.

Politics makes us human. It changes our world and ultimately affects who we are and how we live, not just in the here and now, but long into the future.

An edited version of this essay was broadcast as part of the “What Makes Us Human?” series on BBC Radio 2’s “Jeremy Vine” show

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage