With the General Election campaign underway, it is inevitable and understandable for the issue of the NHS to be brought up by both major parties. It is easy logic; the NHS is a symbol of national pride so being seen as its champion brings votes – potentially many of them.
YouGov’s tracker of political issues for this election has placed health as the second most important, with 40% of people naming health as their priority. It would be ludicrous for politicians to avoid speaking about the NHS – which these days is somewhat a political football – when there is clear evidence that voters see healthcare as one of the most pressing issues we face today.
The meaning of what constitutes a political football is meaningless as any issue can be seen as something which politicians exacerbate and manipulate.
A political football is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as “A problem that politicians from different parties argue about and try to use in order to get an advantage for themselves”, giving immigration as an example.
Immigration is an interesting example as it is taught and considered through a political lens; however, the political language used should be neutral.
The NHS itself cannot be described with neutral language as its whole concept is based on introducing a socialist option to the market. The NHS was founded in 1948 in the post-war period which saw an astounding political shift to the left.
Today it is still an institution, with its mere existence threatening the pure capitalism seen abundantly in the US. The idea that a service is free at the point of use and provided for by the whole country is still fundamentally radical.
The NHS is only seen as apolitical as we have had seven decades of socialised, universal healthcare, meaning it seems the norm. Even though the centre-right Conservative Party claim to defend the NHS, it is not a centre ground issue; it is a popular issue, so is redefined as an institution that all parties share. However, being redefined as being above left and right-wing is dangerous given that the party in power derides left-wing solutions for other social issues, such as transport.
The Conservatives are allowed to defend the NHS, and I would welcome them to invest properly in it too, but the party should be honest that the NHS is a product of left-wing thinking, an example that mixed socialism can be successful. Nothing about the NHS can be described neutrally: statistics are used bluntly to claim the NHS is failing by missing targets.
The people who work for the NHS are not a monolith, they will vote for different parties, but ultimately, they all work for a system which makes the country equal as consumers. The NHS is important to the public, so politicians should be free to talk about it. However, it should not be a political football. The NHS is like a tree that grows with funding, faith and foresight. It may be old and grand, but remember, it is always at risk of being cut down.
Image Credit: The Mirror