A new dawn has broken, but will the sun shine on the NHS?

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Labour landslide will send Keir Starmer to Downing Street

Labour has won a landslide, scoring a series of wins across England, Scotland and Wales. Sir Keir Starmer is projected to win a majority of 170 – just short of Tony Blair’s 1997 win.
Although the Conservatives avoided the total wipeout predicted by some polls, this will be scant consolation for leading Tories. Scores of ministers lost their seats, including a record number of Cabinet Ministers. Former Prime Minister Liz Truss was defeated and the Conservatives failed to hold the seats formerly held by previous incumbents Theresa May and Boris Johnson.
Despite the extent of its victory, Labour was not immune from shocks – former Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth was defeated, while Wes Streeting only just held his seat, surviving with a wafer-thin majority of 500 votes.
Starmer is expected to visit the Palace later today and will then begin appointing his Cabinet.

A new dawn has broken, but will the sun shine on the NHS?

The great British electorate heard dire warnings about a ‘supermajority’ and decided it didn’t care or even understand what one was. While the size of a majority (so long as it is workable) might not matter in policy terms, Labour’s landslide will only serve to ratchet up public expectations about how much and how quickly the new Government can introduce change. Nowhere is this expectation greater than in the NHS.
Trust in Labour is stronger on the NHS than on any other issue. YouGov has found that 43% of Britons think that the health service will get better under Starmer, compared to only 25% who believe a change in government will have no impact and 18% who think it will get worse. Labour’s commitments on waiting lists have also hit home, with the public expecting reductions. 41% believe that social care provision will improve, despite the absence of immediate action promised in Labour’s manifesto.
The challenge is that a whopping big majority has not changed any of the fundamentals on the NHS. No more money. No more nurses and doctors (and some of those are on strike). Even more people on waiting lists. Real change will take time (and people and money), but the voters are unlikely to show a great deal of patience.
The lesson of the past five years is that things can change quickly. Trust can quickly turn to betrayal. Even Tony Blair learnt the hard way that a failure to meet expectations on the NHS would be politically toxic, leading to him ripping up existing spending plans and paving the way for the NHS plan.
To have any chance of meeting expectations, the new Health and Social Care Secretary will need to do three things. First, settle with the junior doctors. Labour cannot afford to have the new Government’s honeymoon marred by further strikes. Presumably the deal in Wales offers a framework. Second, make progress on cutting waiting lists before winter bites. Expect early announcements on waiting list initiatives. Third, prepare for winter. We are as little as six months away from when a winter crisis might hit. Blaming the previous lot will only work for so long with an impatient electorate. There is no time for Labour to waste.

All change in Parliament

It was a humbling night for parties of government across the UK. While the Conservatives’ dramatic fall will naturally dominate the headlines, the SNP in Scotland also experienced significant losses and Labour’s vote in Wales fell by 4 points. It is an illustration of the scale of the challenge facing Labour in moving from opposition to take the reins of power – the story of this election was in some ways that of an increasingly volatile and sophisticated electorate that is willing and able to let its displeasure be known at the ballot box. Labour’s ‘change’ message resonated, but now they must deliver – not only on the NHS, as above, but also on the economy, criminal justice, immigration, and beyond.  
The nature of the defeat for the Conservatives means that many prominent figures from the last Parliament will not be returning to Westminster – beyond the big names, this means that many health champions have departed the scene, from former Cancer APPG Chair Elliot Colburn to stalwarts like Peter Bottomley and Maggie Throup.
There will be of course a lot of new faces, many of whom will be keen to make their voices heard on the NHS – from more familiar figures such as former Shadow Health Secretary Heidi Alexander for Labour and Nick Timothy for the Tories, to complete newcomers – some of whom we previewed in our 24 for 24.
All eyes will now turn to Westminster, with the debates following the King’s Speech the first opportunity for new MPs to demonstrate their credentials on health and start to make a name for themselves. Exciting times ahead!