A protest against the government's health reforms. Photo: Getty
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The government's NHS reforms have been "disastrous"

A respected health policy think tank, the King's Fund, has blasted the government's restructuring of the health service.

Bad news for David Cameron, and another "weapon" in Ed Miliband's NHS armoury, as a think tank blasts the coalition's "disastrous" health reforms.

A think tank respected on health policy, the King's Fund, has found the government's restructuring of the NHS "distracted" from patient care. Its chief executive, Chris Ham, told the BBC:

People in the NHS focused on rearranging the deckchairs rather than the core business of improving patient care.

That's contributed to the increasing waiting times and declining performance that patients are experiencing.

The think tank report finds the government's "set of policies designed to streamline and simplify the organisation of the NHS ended up having the opposite effect" and adds that the new system is "bewildering in its complexity" and has left a "strategic vacuum" in some areas.

Although this criticism was just reserved for the first three years of the government's changes, and the think tank's report found focus to have returned to patient care in the past two years, this report is still a big blow to the Prime Minister. His party has been suffering a lack of trust from the electorate on the health service ever since it began pushing the controversial Health and Social Care Bill (now an Act), which is something Labour has been playing to its advantage in the polls.

The report also levelled criticism at Labour, accusing it of "crying wolf" with "ill-founded" claims that the coalition has been privatising the NHS. I have also argued that the opposition's cries of "privatisation" lack authenticity, considering the last Labour government's role in letting the market in. Yet if independent bodies are nevertheless focusing on the government's failures regarding the NHS, this will only fuel the success Miliband has had so far in making the subject central to his election campaign.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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5 things Labour has blamed for the Copeland by-election defeat

Other than Labour, of course. 

In the early hours of Friday morning, Labour activists in Copeland received a crushing blow, when they lost a long-held constituency to the Tories

As the news sank in, everyone from the leadership down began sharing their views on what went wrong. 

Some Labour MPs who had done the door knock rounds acknowledged voters felt the party was divided, and were confused about its leadership.

But others had more imaginative reasons for defeat:

1. Tony Blair

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell told Radio 4’s Today programme that: “I don’t think it’s about individuals”. But he then laid into Tony Blair, saying: “We can’t have a circumstance again where a week before the by-election a former leader of the party attacks the party itself.”

2. Marginal seats

In a flurry of tweets, shadow Justice secretary Richard Burgon wanted everyone to know that Copeland was a marginal seat and always had been since it was created in 1983.

Which might be true, but most commentators were rather more struck by the fact Labour MPs had managed to overcome that marginality and represent the area for eighty years. 

3. The nuclear industry

In response to the defeat, Corbyn loyalist Paul Flynn tweeted: “Copeland MP is pro-nuclear right winger. No change there.” He added that Copeland was a “unique pro-nuclear seat”. 

In fact, when The New Statesman visited Copeland, we found residents far more concerned about the jobs the nuclear industry provides than any evangelical fervour for splitting atoms.

4. The political establishment

Addressing journalists the day after the defeat, Corbyn said voters were “let down by the political establishment”. So let down, they voted for the party of government.

He also blamed the “corporate controlled media”. 

5. Brexit

Corbyn's erstwhile rival Owen Smith tweeted that the defeat was "more evidence of the electoral foolhardiness of Labour chasing Brexiteers down the rabbit hole". It's certainly the case that Brexit hasn't been kind to Labour's share of the vote in Remain-voting by-elections like Richmond. But more than 56 per cent of Cumbrians voted Leave, and in Copeland the percentage was the highest, at 62 per cent. That's an awful lot of Brexiteers not to chase...

I'm a mole, innit.