Keir Starmer is simply immoral

I can’t get past what Sir Keir Starmer said about private healthcare. It should have been the biggest story of the week, much more so than Rishi Sunak’s successful request for a meeting of world leaders after attending the commemoration of British veterans in Normandy.

To remind you, the moderator of the first one-on-one debate, ITV’s Julie Etchingham, asked the leaders of both parties to give a one-word answer to the following question: “If you had a loved one on a long waiting list for surgery, would If you felt that was the only way forward, use private health care?”

“Yes,” said Sunak.

“No,” Starmer said.

Surprisingly, whether due to Sir Keir’s uncharacteristic clarity or the answer itself, the presenter gave him a second chance:

“It’s not? If your loved ones were on a waiting list for surgery?”

“No,” Starmer repeated, touching impatiently. “I don’t use private health. I use the NHS.”

I’m not sure which is more frightening, the prospect that he was telling a cynical lie, or the horrifying possibility that, God forbid, a close relative of his who needed surgery, he would actually be so cold-hearted.

Dishonesty may be the most plausible explanation at first. Many politicians tend to say what they think their audience wants to hear, and Starmer’s views are more flexible than most.

As recently as March 2020, he was describing Jeremy Corbyn’s 2017 manifesto as “our foundational document”. Six months later, he had kicked the old boob out of the party.

Who was the real Keir? Corbynite or anti-Corbynite? The former editor of the Trotskyist magazine Socialist Alternatives, or the centrist dullsville father?

The answer was that he was saying what he thought his target voters wanted to hear at the time. When he was rising through the ranks of Labour, he was a member of the Left. When he wanted to win the leadership of the party, it suited him to fight Momentum activists. After winning, he wanted to show that Labor had moved on from Corbynism, so he picked fights with them.

Who was he trying to convince on Monday night? The electorate as a whole would not give the same answer, according to YouGov, and Sunak by 74 to 17 percent. Indeed, many of those in the 74 per cent must have been worried by Starmer’s response. Could he really be so inhumane that he would refuse to care for someone he loved, even if it was one of his children, on some abstruse ideological principle?

Perhaps Starmer was aiming his reply at the NHS unions, whose Labor members held disproportionate power. But I think the more likely – and, frankly, worse – explanation is that the Labor leader was telling the truth.

For one thing, his response was unrelenting. He was not like a man weighing his words. In another case, he did it again the next day, doing so in memory of his mother, who tragically suffered from a chronic illness.

Starmer has previously spoken about his mother’s distaste for the private sector. “You could not say a word against the NHS to my mother, in any shape or form,” he told the BBC’s Nick Robinson in November 2021. “I have an eternal memory. [is] from being in an intensive care unit, and it was very touch and go, and she took my hand and said ‘You’re not going to let your father go private, are you?’”

Now people can hold all kinds of weird jobs out of conviction. Sometimes, we can respect their conviction while disagreeing with it.

Every religion encounters strange people. And Starmer’s position on health care is more religious than practical. There is no sound justification for refusing to pay for surgery for a family member who needs it. It’s not like you’re helping anyone else by doing it. On the contrary, you are taking up a place on the NHS and therefore lengthening the queue for other people.

Should we at least respect his strength of principle, as much as we respect the piety of the person who is willing to suffer for a faith that we do not teach ourselves?

Well, that depends on belief. The Aztecs, for example, believed that the only way to ensure that the sun would continue to rise was to cut out people’s hearts and offer them to the god Huitzilopochtli. Sincere as they undoubtedly were, it is difficult to feel much sympathy. When I am willing to prolong someone’s pain for a dogmatic commitment to equality of outcomes, that strikes me as another belief that we shouldn’t empathize with.

Starmer is not a private citizen who imposes his dogmas on his own family. He wants to run our health care system. It will be incumbent upon us all to mount those steep pyramids to satisfy his fair deity.

You might think it would be too good to write ugly Mesoamerican rituals in the same article as the NHS. But only a religious analogy illustrates the treatment of our underperforming health care system. When Starmer says he would allow a family member to suffer in the name of state healthcare, he is expressing, in its purest form, the impulse that leaves Britain as a whole with lower survival rates than comparable countries.

We could keep more people alive if we moved towards the mixed health care systems adopted in almost all other European nations. But to do so against the NHS would be seen as blasphemy. Sorry, RNHS.

If you think I’m laying it on a bit thick, cast your mind back to the green, who defended in eloquently sacrificial terms: “Stay at home, protect the NHS”. We were servants of the RNHS rather than the other way around.

When we refuse to ask for meaningful reform in return for the record sums being thrown at the system, we adopt an equally positive attitude. We are there to pay for it, without asking ourselves questions. Huitzilopochtli is to be fed, not bargained with.

Starmer’s convictions, whether born of socialism or filial loyalty, raise hopes that Labor could devote some of its political capital to health care reform. To the extent that he had a plan, he was promising to use the private sector to reduce waiting lists. But how could Starmer, in his own opinion, be in charge of such a scheme?

An analogous argument could be made about Labour’s hostility to private schools. European countries do not tax education, because they recognize it as a public good. Ironically, only Labor will use our Brexit freedoms to charge VAT on private school fees.

If we wanted to reduce inequality and raise standards, we would not push the private schools into bankruptcy, but make all schools private – in other words, give parents an education voucher to take to a school of their choice. But, be it envy or horror of public sector unions, Labor will not be close to the idea. He would rather get more children into state schools than let them go elsewhere, easing the pressure.

Here, in fact, is the Huitzilopochtli of Labour, the irrational principle to which the rest of us are expected to offer sacrifices. If pushed, it prefers the equality of unhappiness to prosperity for some. He would rather we all lived in 400 square foot houses than some of us in 1,200 and others in 6,000 square foot houses.

Before the campaign began, there was a faint hope that Starmer could be different. Now we know better.

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