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Is Daniel Hannan giving traction to a Gordon recovery?

August 14th, 2009

How dangerous for the Tories are his US comments on the NHS?

It is no accident that in his first act following his return from holiday that David Cameron has emailed party supporters with a strong defence of the NHS. For he more than anybody realises that what is central to decontaminating the Tory brand is to get his party fully behind the health service.

In speech after speech Cameron has stressed that the NHS is safe in Tory hands and budgets will be ring-fenced – a message that has been picked up in the polls which now show that the health service is not the negative for the Tories that it used to be.

But could all this be put at risk by the current health-care debate in the US and the repeated appearance on American TV of Daniel Hannan – the lucid Tory MEP who is a fierce critic of the UK system. Could his views raise question marks over the Tory commitment and provide an opening for Labour?

What’s happening is that right-wing critics of Obama’s health-care reform plans are pointing to the UK as an example of what can happen if you create in that awful phrase “socialised medicine”. And if they need evidence then Hannan is on hand to provide it.

And what a gift to Labour this might be. For a key part of their defence against the Tory onslaught will be to point to splits and to suggest that whatever Mr Cameron might say there are hard-line right wingers in his party who are ready to undermine what Labour created in 1948.

This could be vital in the coming battle. For if Labour is to impede Cameron’s progress then they have to find a way of getting activists fired up and to provide a reason for former supporters to get out to vote. For a large part of Labour’s current polling plight has not been caused by switching but by a reluctance of those who traditionally identify with the party to back them next time.

If handled smartly then the NHS issue could help change that.

Mike Smithson