Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Jim Murphy and the politics of juvenile posturing

The formula for a better NHS? Whatever the SNP promises plus 1,000 more nurses, says Jim Murphy.

Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy has issued a statement in which he promised an "additional 1,000 nurses in Scotland over and above the SNP plans that we inherit."

This may sounds like a positive move, but in fact it merely highlights Labour's desperation and Murphy's unimaginative approach to political leadership.

Murphy is trying to reach out to the 190,000 Labour supporters who voted Yes in the independence referendum. I wasn't one of them, but if I was I'd be hoping for something more convincing than this.

Murphy has accused the SNP of "starving" Scotland's NHS. Whatever the truth behind such accusations,  pledging arbitrary increases on as yet unveiled SNP plans is downright irresponsible.

Let's get this right. Whatever the SNP promise, Labour will pledge a further 1,000 nurses. Even if the SNP was to pledge a further 5,000 nurses, Labour would promise 6,000. Murphy's motivation is obvious - it isn't to responsibly create a more efficient and fit-for-purpose health service, but simply to outdo the SNP.

He has succeeded in his mission - he's outdone the SNP on the stupidity front. "Think of a number, any number, and add 1,000...and abra cadabra - the NHS problems will be resolved" is something a five year old would come up with.

Murphy isn't interested in engaging in a serious, evidence-based dialogue about how to improve Scotland's NHS. He doesn't even seem particularly keen on getting to grips with the financial issues he is so keen to highlight. He has no interest in understanding where change is needed and where the right investments can be made to address those needs. Not for Murphy the inconvenience of detailed assessments of need and cost - it's much easier to make lame, glib and frankly juvenile pronouncements of extra nurses, whether they will be needed or not.

It's not just that this is a rather pitiful attempt at one-upmanship from someone who is supposed to be a political leader - it also underlines how Murphy, and probably Labour more generally, thinks about the NHS. For them, quality of care provision is a simple matter of "more nurses" without any further considerations as to how care is delivered and the NHS works. The notion that they can simply out-promise and out-spend the SNP to create a better NHS is stunning in both its simplicity and its naivety.

It's little more than political posturing of the worst kind. For those of us who have spent much of our professional lives working in the NHS, such overtly politically-motivated policy statements demonstrate both a lack of understanding and a lack of willingness to engage with the real issues. Scotland's NHS is facing particular difficulties and challenges, but these will not be rectified by foolish and grandiose promises or of parties attempting to outdo each other. The NHS does not need to be treated like a political football; neither does it need to be subjected to uncosted political shopping lists.

In terms of clinical provision, there are opportunities for a Labour leader with an active and genuine interest in making improvements to listen to service users, charities, lobby groups and current research and put forward a costed and considered plan for reform. But the notion that "need" equates to 1,000 more nurses than the SNP can promise is intellectually offensive. Patients deserve better.  Voters deserve better. Come to think about it, Scottish Labour deserves better.

So far, Jim Murphy's leadership style seems to be one of juvenile posturing. "1,000 more nurses than x" is not an election pledge, it's a foolish statement of immense proportions underpinned by petty tribalism. It is pitiful, lazy, and plainly irresponsible. I'd like to see a Labour leader actually seeking to better understand the complex difficulties within the NHS, and make some attempt to deal with them. Murphy has shown that he is unable to do either.

This kind of desperate appeal to populism is unlikely to work in the interests of either Murphy or his party.  No doubt some will be reassured by his "concern" for the NHS and his simplistic "solutions". But those he really needs to convince will see this stunt for what it is. This is not a policy statement, but a misguided attempt to outshine the SNP. It seems Murphy has yet to learn that leadership is about more than taking on ill-thought positions in order to score some easy points.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrat MSP Jim Hume has obtained statistics showing an increase in Scottish NHS staff being absent from work due to mental health related issues. He is urging the SNP government to take overdue action to recognise the problems being experienced by many NHS staff (and the human costs of strain and stress) and improve access to mental health services. It's good to know that someone is providing some responsible leadership in creating an NHS more responsive to clinical need.


Stuart said...

"Think of a number, any number, and add 1,000...and abra cadabra - the NHS problems will be resolved" is something a five year old would come up with.

Brilliantly put. Good to see the internal conflict Murphy has now created within his own party. What a prick.

GK said...

If the SNP pledge "1000 more nurses than Labour" then the world will disappear down a logical worm hole. Or something.

Lollysmum said...

Murphy hasn't created arguments in his party. It's all a put up job to make it look like he is undisputed leader of ScotLab & is defying Milliband. Nothing could be further from the truth. This spat has been manufactured between Ed, Jim, Diane Abbott et al. She is seen to be at odds with Ed (a lie actually)but she needs exposure to gain support for her planned bid for London Mayor job & she's also earning brownie points from Ed for helping out with this stunt. Voters remember public disagreements but not the detail but this all helps to keep JM in headlines.