FOR MANY years, the political debate on the National Health Service has revolved around funding levels for local hospitals and totemic issues like A&E waiting times which resonate with voters.
However it is far more nuanced than this. It’s also about social care provision so the elderly and house-bound can live in dignity, a point highlighted by those spending watchdogs who accused Ministers of exaggerating their extra investment in the NHS because headline figures did not take account of budget cuts in this sector.
And it’s also about Cinderella services like mental health which were largely ignored until Nick Clegg started using his influence as Deputy Prime Minister in the coalition Government and began to champion this issue.
Like the public’s understanding, and appreciation, of the disabled or loneliness as Leeds MP Rachel Reeves prepares to spearhead a national campaign previously championed by the late Jo Cox, attitudes are changing – and for the better. However, it is a scandal that children are having to wait up to three years in South Yorkshire – Mr Clegg’s own political patch – for referrals.
These are, potentially, vulnerable young people and they, and their families, should not have to wait an age for support, and treatment, which should be readily available as a matter of routine.
This is not about party politics – it is about doing the right thing for sufferers of mental health. Just because this is an invisible condition does not mean that victims should suffer in silence. Quite the opposite. For too long, people have endured a double injustice – the stigma of a hidden illness and the inability of the NHS, and others in society, to recognise its seriousness.
To her credit, Theresa May did cite mental health as a priority area on the steps of 10 Downing Street. Perhaps the new Prime Minister, in a spirit of consensus, can begin by inviting Mr Clegg to continue the agenda which he started to advance – there’s much still to do.
JUST because Britain voted for Brexit on June 23 does not mean that the country will, in future, be less immune to global terrorism. Far from it – Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, makes clear that “terrorists do not see borders as barriers to their barbarism”.
Like it or not, the Government would be guilty of moral cowardice if it washed its hands of Europe’s migration crisis. Issues like security, and the resettlement of genuine refugees, require global co-operation rather than the narrow isolationism that some advocate.
That said, it is perturbing that there are only four Royal Navy vessels patrolling Britain’s borders at present, and that it will take a year for another four boats to become operational – there have already been instances of groups of Albanians being rescued from the sea as they risk their lives to reach these shores.
Border controls will be an integral part of Theresa May’s Brexit negotiations, not least because of sensitivities across the Irish Sea and the reluctance to reinstate security posts – a symbol of the Troubles – between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Yet, in many respects, the withdrawal of passport checks is one reason why the migration crisis threatens to overwhelm the EU and also Angela Merkel’s reputation in Germany. Because of this, Ministers need to act – or any security weaknesses will be exploited with, potentially, serious consequences.
Great Balls of fire
LEFT wrong-footed when voted out by his Morley & Outwood constituents in May last year, Ed Balls looks set to quickstep his way back into the public limelight by appearing on the next series of Strictly Come Dancing.
Aides to Mr Balls clearly believe that their man will be more fleet of foot on the television dance floor than he was as Shadow Chancellor to wobbly Ed Miliband prior to the last general election.
Yet Mr Balls could become the unwitting victim of tactical voting if his fancy footwork does not pass muster. When it comes to the public vote, there’s every likelihood of the ex-MP winning by a landslide because the watching millions, not least his Tory opponents, do get a kick from those clumsy contestants with two left feet. There have to be easier ways for a politician like Mr Balls to re-ingratiate themselves with the public – leading the Labour Party would, and should, be a waltz in comparison to a slip-up on Strictly.