Last week's by-election in Wythenshawe & Sale East was always likely to be a difficult seat for any opposition party to take away from the Labour Party, let alone the likes of an insurgent party like UKIP, who apart from having to rewrite their policy manifesto from scratch, had very little by way of a political apparatus in this Labour stronghold.
All that having been said however, the by-election has been held, Labour's candidate, Mike Kane garnered the most votes from a wholly miserable and derisory turnout of 28%, UKIP came a creditable second with a much improved electoral support, the Conservatives came a disappointing third and the icing on the cake, was the Liberal Democrats losing their deposit, having failed to achieve a miserly 5% of the popular vote.
Now although there seems little doubt that Labour's apparently impressive result relied heavily on postal ballots, which their local party machine undoubtedly took advantage of, to date there is no suggestion, let alone credible evidence that Labour or its candidate, did anything that breached current electoral rules, save for being extremely well organised, during what was a very short and "compressed" by-election campaign. Obviously being the incumbent party and having a pre-existing election infrastructure in place, gave Labour an enormous advantage, but hey, c'est la vie, that's life, it's nothing that the other parties haven't and wouldn't have done in the past, so it's a pretty pointless exercise to keep complaining about it, as some people in UKIP are doing. Unfortunately for all of us, including the people of Wythenshawe & Sale East, Mike Kane, is now the legitimately elected Member of Parliament for the constituency; and so it's time for us all to move on from that particular ballot and concentrate our minds on other things.
Even some of the most ardent Labour supporters admit that Mr Kane is little more than a party apparatchik, who just happens to be a locally born Labour Party member; and is a man who will undoubtedly put national party interests ahead of local constituents needs everyday of the week. After all, that is the nature of party politics in modern Britain, much to our country's shame.
To illustrate the point perhaps, I was particularly interested in the fact that Mr Kane attributed much of his own electoral success to the fact that he had dealt with local issues, as opposed to the bigger, national events that were occurring, examples being the closure of Wythenshawe Hospital's local A & E Department, the rising costs of energy, the falls in their standards of living; and all of the other everyday sorts of issues that people complain about to their elected representatives.
It was this "banging on about" the local hospital that got me wondering why the people of Wythenshawe & Sale East don't appear to have a shiny brand new hospital, complete with a state-of-the-art A & E Department, able to treat anyone with anything, bearing in mind that the local hospital was only approved by Tony Blair's New Labour government in 1998? Was part of the problem, not only the Coalition's almost complete reorganisation of the English NHS that Andrew Lansley introduced in 2010, but also the fact that Wythenshawe Hospital was financed and built under one of New Labour's much vaunted PFI (Private Finance Initiatives) contracts? Subsequent research showed that not only was the hospital constructed under one of these PFI deals, but also that by the time the contract is completed, the local Health Trust will have repaid sixteen times the original build price to the private contractors. According to one source mortgage payments alone at Wythenshawe Hospital amount to an estimated £29 million per year, monies that cannot then be spent on doctors, nurses, healthcares, medical equipment, surgical operations, patient transport, etc. etc. etc.
For as much as both legacy parties, Labour and Conservatives "bang on" about the NHS, with each blaming the other for the health service's almost inevitable failings, for the purpose of this particular blog posting we're looking at Labour's years of sheer hypocrisy on the matter; and boy, do they have form. For all of Labour's double talk on health as they wandered around Wythenshawe and Sale East canvassing for votes, whether in the form of Ed Miliband, Andy Burnham, or even their prospective candidate, Mike Kane, each and every one of them must have been keeping their fingers crossed that nobody pointed out to them that they are equally culpable for the dire state of the NHS, as are their Conservative adversaries; and yet they have the barefaced cheek to use the closure of the local A&E to sell their own political brand to the masses.
As is often the case with our current crop of politicians, they have highly selective memories when it comes to their own shortcomings, something that we are happy to remind them of when it comes to the subject of the National Health Service.
After all, how could we forget that it was Tony Blair's government which in the process of renegotiating GP contracts, ended up allowing family doctors to opt-out of the out-of-hours care services that had previously existed, while at the same time giving GP's a significant increase in their pay. As a result of this catastrophic renegotiation, alternative measures had to be put in place, including telephone helplines, employment of sometimes foreign locums and additional workloads for frontline NHS staff.
The much talked about and reported takeover of Hinchinbrooke Hospital by Circle Healthcare, a for profit private healthcare company was initially negotiated by the Labour Party; and only subsequently signed off by the succeeding Coalition government of David Cameron.
It was the Labour government of Tony Blair that established the Commercial Directorate within the NHS, which subsequently rolled out the privately run, for profit, Independent Treatment Centres that typically undertake "bulk" specialist surgeries, such as cataracts, hip replacements, etc. Although it was initially claimed that such centres would improve patient outcomes and free up valuable NHS resources, in fact independent research would seem to indicate that these private sector providers often "cherry-pick" their patients, taking the easier, more straightforward cases and leaving the most difficult ones to be treated by the NHS.
A report by the Nuffield Trust indicated that PFI interest repayments in the NHS rose from £459 million in the year 2009-10 to £629 million in the year 2011-12, a £200 million increase within a two-year period.
Even though PFI deals were first instituted by the Major government in 1992, the Labour administration of Tony Blair proved to be a much greater advocate of such schemes, rapidly expanding the sector from 1997 onwards, to include schools, hospitals, clinics and much larger civil infrastructure projects. The main attraction for Blair and his government was that PFI schemes allowed his administration to provide people with a range of brand new schools, hospitals, etc. without the national exchequer having to spend a penny piece, as the costs of construction were carried by the contractor. However, as these were guaranteed contracts, with high interest rates and running for extensive periods of time, 25, 30 and even 60 years, some critics claimed that all Blair's government was really doing was racking up insurmountable debts for future taxpayers, a criticism that has proven to be true. As a result, it has been conservatively estimated that every single household in the country now owes £400 towards the costs of the various PFI deals that have been signed, although as such schemes continue to be agreed, that £400 figure is probably way out of date. All the same, households throughout the UK are still going to be paying for schools, hospitals, roads, etc. that they will probably never see, or ever use in their lifetimes, thanks to the New Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
As of 2012 the various PFI schemes already agreed are thought to be costing the country in the region of £8.6 billion, while the British taxpayer will still owe a total of around £121.4 billion on projects that only have a market value of £52.9 billion, a figure that will inevitably decline as the structures get older and less useable.
Taking into account associated cleaning and maintenance costs that generally form part of such schemes, the total amount owing on PFI schemes is reported to be in the region of £229 billion, which is hardly surprising when you consider one recorded instance of a replacement wall socket costing £320 to the users of the building. On another occasion a PFI hospital was reported to have been billed £52,000 for a job that was later costed at £750, while in another case, a PFI contractor increased the cleaning bill by £2500 per year, following the demolition of a smokers shelter on a hospitals grounds.
In some cases the private contractors involved in providing these schemes are said to be achieving returns in the region of 70-odd percent, almost a doubling of their investment. It is perhaps little wonder that a hospital in Bromley will eventually cost taxpayers around £1.2 billion to buy, some ten times its original construction cost. As previously mentioned, the new hospital at Wythenshawe will eventually cost the taxpayer sixteen times what it cost to build, while the redevelopment of a hospital in Nottinghamshire will reportedly cost the public purse around £2.0 billion by the time it's finished, assuming of course that it ever is; and that the local health trust doesn't go broke in the meantime. With annual mortgage payments of £750 million per year until 2043, it does make you wonder if any patient living in that particular area can have any confidence that they and their children will continue to receive free at the point of delivery healthcare, now and into the future.
The sad thing is that even if that particular hospital trust went bust and closed tomorrow, the private PFI contractor would almost certainly still get paid by the taxpayer. Take for example the case of a school in Belfast, built under the PFI scheme, but which then closed after seven years, leaving it empty and abandoned. The empty building will still cost the taxpayer in the region of £370,000 per year until 2027, when the deal is finalised and the taxpayers of Northern Ireland actually own it, although what sort of condition it will be in by then is anyone's guess.
The irony is that thanks to the Labour Party we probably have some of the most expensively modern hospitals of any country in the world, yet haven't got the money to staff or run them properly, principally because the Labour dealmakers failed to negotiate sensible long term arrangements for providing us with the sorts of schools, hospitals and infrastructure that we needed. Over recent months we've had Andy Burnham, Labour's Shadow Health Secretary bemoaning that state of today's NHS under the Coalition of David Cameron, the same Andy Burnham who was personally involved in at least 200 PFI contracts during his time in office; and who has subsequently admitted publicly that some of the PFI deals agreed by the last Labour government's were wrong.
So we have Labour's latest and newest MP making great play of the fact that his local hospital is facing cutbacks, that they've lost their A&E Department, that his local community are struggling to cope with the austerity measures being imposed by the Coalition. Well, perhaps Mr Kane would like to take up his concerns with his Parliamentary Labour Party colleagues when he gets to Westminster; and ask Mr Miliband, Mr Balls and especially Mr Burnham why they did such a crap job of financing the Health Service, Mr Kane professes to care so much about. After all, it was their Labour government that agreed the deal that built Wythenshawe Hospital in the first place, so it must be their fault that there's no money left to run it?