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Wednesday, February 22, 2012 

It's the new poll tax!

Slightly churlish as it is to criticise Ed Miliband when he's finally making some headway at prime minister's questions, it would be nice if we could consign the "this could/will be their poll tax" analogy to something like John Rentoul's banned list. Handy as an allusion as it is, it most definitely doesn't work when applied to the coalition's NHS reforms. No one is going to have to pay a flat rate to use the NHS if the bill gets passed, even if it might in the long run lead to further privatisation.

What's more, using it tends to ensure that the issue will never become as toxic for the government or prime minister personally as the poll tax did for Margaret Thatcher (and it's worth remembering in any case that it was the Conservatives themselves who turfed her out, not the electorate). During Labour's time in office sub-editors, comment piece writers and campaigners variously described the err, privatisation of the NHS, road tolls, the London congestion charge, foundation hospitals, ID cards and the 10p tax rate as all having the potential to become as totemic as the poll tax was (and there's doubtless some I've missed). Of those, road tolls and ID cards never became reality, the London congestion charge is regarded as something of a success, the reforms in the NHS took place and polls suggest that as Labour went out of office satisfaction with the health service was at record highs, while the 10p tax rate was all but forgotten as the economy imploded.

This isn't to suggest that if the reforms do go wrong, and considering how Cameron and Lansley seem determined to ram them through against the wishes of almost every major health organisation that it might not have an impact come the next election. I suspect though that it will come back to how the economy overall is doing, and how the cuts have panned out. Not quite as snappy a soundbite, that.

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