UKIP, the NHS and perils of protest voting

By Savi Hensman
May 3, 2013

The United Kingdom Independence Party won around a quarter of the votes in wards where it fielded candidates in English local elections. Mainstream parties may be tempted to shift even further to the right in order to win over UKIP voters. But this might end up losing them electoral support, as well as being unjust and deepening rifts in society.

Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, formerly dismissive of UKIP, said that “it is no good insulting a political party that people have chosen to vote for". He claimed that “hard-working people” want the government to do “"More to help with the cost of living, more to turn the economy round, more to get immigration down, to sort out the welfare system.”

Scapegoating minorities indeed tends to be popular across the world at times of economic crisis. And a YouGov survey does indicate that desire to reduce immigration and get Britain out of the European Union are top issues for those who say they might vote for UKIP in a general election.

However this may in part be because sizeable sections of the leadership of mainstream parties have played along with such ideas. And those currently in favour of such measures might well blame the party in power for any negative consequences.

Some UKIP policies are likely to be highly unpopular, and it is likely that some who voted for this fringe party would be most upset if its leaders had the power to run the country in the way they saw fit.

Coalition policies on the NHS have provoked huge public opposition. Neither the Conservative nor Liberal Democrat parties admitted to these before the last general election. UKIP however championed privatisation, and wanted to go even further than the government has dared.

A policy statement in March 2010 declared, “UKIP believes that the NHS can and must be substantially improved. It is far too centrally managed, is inefficient and wasteful.” Its alternative system “will introduce private sector efficiency and “also allow people to fully ‘opt out’ of the NHS in favour of private health provision.”

UKIP proposed that “County Health Boards will put out to tender healthcare services such as Hospitals and GP surgeries. These tenders will be in the form of ‘franchise agreements’ and ‘franchise partners’ in which private companies (non-profit and profit making), charitable trust, co-operative professionals and other legally recognised associations offer to run key services for a fixed budget. This brings to the NHS private sector efficiency and innovation... Franchise partners would be sought for all areas of the NHS including GP surgery franchise contracts, hospitals, ambulances, dental and mental health care, with contracts issued in bidding processes”. In its vision “Employees will serve the NHS but be employed by private organisations.”

While UKIP is in thrall to damaging far-right ideology, it is also highly opportunistic. In November 2012, UKIP Croydon expressed indignation that the urgent care centre at the local hospital was “run by Virgin (as in Trains, Media and Broadband). This means that the team which decides if you are treated by the NHS in the emergency department is answerable not to the government or to the taxpayers but to Virgin’s shareholders.” So there is no guarantee that a major party adopting a policy supported by UKIP will not later be attacked by UKIP for putting this into practice.

A major reason for voting for UKIP was unhappiness with the major parties and, for many, such a vote is a way of showing disaffection. This deserves to be taken seriously. It is time to abandon damaging austerity measures and instead revive the economy, as well as addressing many people’s sense of powerlessness under the current system.

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(c) Savitri Hensman is a regular Christian commentator on politics, social justice, welfare and religion. She works in the care and equalities sector and is an Ekklesia associate.

Keywords:UKIP | privatisation | NHS
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