Jeremy Hunt v junior doctors is a battle that continues to rage. Corbyn’s Labour Party have taken an unequivocal position: the junior doctors can strike as long and as deep as they like. Usually, a Labour opposition in this position would cover its backside, just in case someone dies as a result of the whole thing, or it rages on and on and public opinion begins to swing against the doctors. But no, they’ve gone in full steam.
Hunt himself seems to be biding for time, playing the reasonable man against the rabble card (not saying the junior doctors are rabble, just to be clear, but that is the way the Health Secretary seems to be playing this). One of the things he came out with at the end of last week was that if no deal could be worked out between his department and the junior doctors, then he would resort to a “nuclear option”: simply impose a new set of contracts on the junior doctors.
A lot has been written already about the pros and cons of Labour’s position on all of this, so I won’t drudge all that up for discussion. But I have thought of an angle I haven’t read elsewhere, which is this: if Hunt, as Health Secretary, decides to impose a new set of contracts upon the junior doctors, the Left will actually find themselves in a bind, whether they know it or not. Because they are the ones who want a complete public, run by the government NHS. And as Health and Social Care Bill demonstrations showed, they want the Health Secretary to be ultimately responsible for the delivery of the NHS. So if Hunt thinks this is the only way forward, who are the Left to say that’s ideologically unsound? Bring in arbitration? But then that’s “privatisation” surely, or at least outside interference in the running of the Health department, which should according to the Left be left to get on with it on its own?
They can turn around and say that Hunt is a Tory, but that’s extremely lame and doesn’t get to the heart of the matter: should the NHS be run by central government or by a mixture of stakeholders? If you think the former, then you can disagree strongly with whatever Hunt decides to do about the junior doctor’s strike, but in the end you have to stand by the idea that it is ultimately his decision to make. To think otherwise goes against the grain of all thinking on this from the Left over the past half a decade at least.
This is one of the reasons that the Tories seem less fussed than you would think about the strikes. They realise that the bigger problems, long term at least, sit on Jeremy Corbyn’s plate.