One reason that Ukip seems rather quiet at the moment is that it doesn’t have very much policy to talk about. And one reason for that is that there’s a row going on over the slow progress of the party’s manifesto. The Times today says Ukip has sacked Tim Aker from writing the manifesto – as Seb pointed out recently, he did have rather a lot to do, what with being a Ukip councillor, fighting for the party in a marginal seat and writing the manifesto – because he was running behind deadline.
But one thing we can be certain of is that Ukip’s manifesto, when it does come out, will play super-safe on the NHS. In the interview with the BBC in which he suggests the NHS could yet be replaced by a private insurance system, the Ukip leader also makes it quite clear that the rest of his party don’t want that view in its election campaign literature. As James said at the start of this year, no-one dare break the consensus on the NHS – and it’s a wonder Farage even thought it wise to say what he has, given Labour is already using his comments as ‘proof’ of what Ukip really wants to do to the health service.
It’s not clear which party will really think it wise to break cover on the future of the NHS and be honest with voters about what it really thinks it needs. In terms of political ability to do so, Labour would be best-equipped, given the cushioning of a big poll rating that it currently enjoys. But so long as Andy Burnham runs the party’s health policy, there is little chance of doing that. The Tories would have to be in a particularly self-loathing mood to break the silence, given the Health and Social Care Act was one of the most poisonous changes wrought by this current government. The Lib Dems tend to revert to a Labourish stance when pressed on the health service. And Ukip knows the political damage campaigning for big changes to NHS funding would cause.
But at some point nice platitudes about ‘our NHS’ won’t work any more. That doesn’t mean that a private insurance system would work, or indeed many other ideas. But the idea that the parties can keep talking about the long-term future of the NHS in the same terms that they use to describe the health service now is something they all privately know won’t work. It will be interesting to see which party really starts talking about this, rather than denying accusations about its moves from other parties.