Tara Hamilton-Miller: Tories stand their ground over NHS

The quandary with Daniel Hannan is that Tories either want to smack him or hail his 'tell it like it is' cavalier attitude.

Tara Hamilton-Miller
Tara Hamilton-Miller

Any Brit in a Fox News studio might get excitable and put on a show. Buoyed by the flattery of the glitzy anchors with perfect hair, Dan 'the thinker' Hannan caved.

The problem with the NHS is that patients' experiences are utterly subjective. For every 100 patients who have a glowing, grateful review, there will be a horror story. A doctor friend says: 'We are on our knees, we have no staff. Every time I go to work I am risking the lives of patients. It is impossible to be at 15 bedsides.' There is obviously a mess and that cannot be ignored.

The Hannan incident did, however, reveal how our party leaders mobilise in a crisis. Gordon Brown turned to Twitter. His wife, Sarah, appears to be incapable of carrying out life's simplest tasks (buying string, eating a Cornetto) without telling the world about it in 140 characters, and this is influencing our PM. Brown's Twitter campaign was cynical and sentimental.

Cameron acted fast - 'I'm out here straight away!' - offering his commitment to the NHS and brushing Hannan off as 'eccentric'.

The Government has waited a miserable year for the chance to take a potshot at the Conservatives, and it was going to make the best of it. Health Secretary Andy Burnham's statement looked gleeful, but too gleeful: 'This is his (Cameron's) worst nightmare.'

Burnham should be careful questioning Cameron's personal allegiance to the NHS; the Tory leader has spent a lot of time in NHS hospitals over the past six years and knows only too well their expertise.

Conservatives should and need to keep the message going. Even though there is financial uncertainty, shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley has admitted the Tories will increase spending on healthcare - Labour hasn't. Lansley also speaks fluent NHS; he has been honest with healthcare bodies and earned respect.

Cameron should note: by playing the 'eccentric' card on Hannan, he will have to use it sparingly in the lead-up to the election. And that could be eight months away.

Tara Hamilton-Miller is a political adviser and formerly worked for the Conservative Party press team

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