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  1. Election 2024
29 May 2024

The junior doctors’ strike is not a gift to Labour

A short-term campaigning win on the NHS is also a long-term headache.

By Hannah Barnes

Junior doctors are set to strike for five days in the run-up to the election, from 27 June to 2 July. This undoubtedly is more damaging to the Conservatives than Labour. The Health Secretary Victoria Atkins has branded it a “highly cynical tactic”. But it’s not good for either party: from Labour’s perspective it’s a major distraction, one that will only make its pledge to tackle waiting lists that much harder when it (most likely) takes power on 5 July.

But it still could have been a good day for Labour to draw the public’s attention to Conservative mismanagement of the NHS. Instead, it was mixed at best. On the media round this morning the shadow health secretary Wes Streeting delivered his carefully crafted line: “don’t give the matches back to the arsonists,” a rather punchy way of saying don’t let the Tories wreak even more havoc on our health service. That, unfortunately, is where the success ended. Labour has spent all day being asked distracting – but important – questions about Diane Abbott (has the party formally barred her from standing or not?) when it could have been attacking the Conservatives. It is hard not to see this as an own goal of Labour’s making.

Even so, both Streeting, and Keir Starmer have appeared more grown-up and conciliatory in the last few hours than the government has done in 18 months. No, we can’t give you the 35 per cent pay rise you want, the Labour leadership says. But yes, we will sit down with you, talk and listen. If the public believes Labour is the only party capable of bringing this long-running pay dispute to an end, perhaps that matters more than a day of campaign point-scoring.

[See also: Does Keir Starmer have anything to fear from the left?]

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