NHS - Rewriting the script

Jeremy Hunt is trying to rewrite the script on the NHS.

When he became health secretary he knew that the combination of unpopular reforms to the health service - which Ed Miliband has dubbed David Cameron's poll tax - and an unprecedented squeeze on NHS funding would allow Labour to run their traditional campaign "you can't trust the Tories with the NHS".

Given David Cameron's use of his "love" of the NHS to burnish his "caring, compassionate Conservatism" this posed a real threat to the Tories' ability to win the next election.

So, Hunt decided to present himself as the champion of the patient challenging the institutional failures of the NHS.

After playing the Mid Staffs inquiry straight he decided to use yesterday's Keogh report to blame Labour for covering up the NHS's failings and for putting ministers' reputations before patient care. His political aim is to demonstrate that the health service needs more than love - it needs a cure that Labour cannot be trusted to administer.

The Tories fear they can never win the battle for the voters' hearts on the NHS, but they can blunt Labour's attacks. They are learning from the first piece of advice any hired political consultant will offer - "define your opponent before they can define themselves".

On borrowing, welfare and now the NHS the Conservatives are trying to tell the electorate what Labour stands for before Ed Miliband gets round to doing it.

PS: The constant denials that Lynton Crosby did not lobby or advise on health policy ignore one thing the Conservatives admit he did do. He advised the Tories to "scrape the barnacles off the boat" ie discard any plans that would cause unnecessary and distracting political rows - like those on minimum alcohol pricing and, er, plain cigarette packaging.

Nick Robinson, Political editor Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

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