Michael Meacher MP, who died earlier this year at the age of 75, was a junior minister in Health & Social Security before Thatcher’s victory in 1979, and subsequently was opposition spokesman on health (among other posts). He had a homely approach to political thinking about the NHS. In opposition he drew on the knowledge and experience of three unofficial advisors – a social scientist, and epidemiologist and a general practitioner – to develop health policy for Labour. The trio would be invited to meet Mr Meacher in a room in the House of Commons, or sometimes (when he forgot to book the room) in the nearby gardens, for a brief review of changes in the NHS and a discussion of policy options. There was no agenda and no minutes, nor was it ever clear that the discussions shaped Labour’s responses to Thatcher’s claim that the NHS was “safe” with her.
Mr Meacher’s successors as health spokesman – especially Frank Dobson and Robin Cook – developed wider and more formal consultation networks, including the British Medical Association, which upset those in the Socialist Health Association at the time who saw the BMA as the enemy. It is not clear that the wider approach to policy making made much difference, except perhaps to the relationships between the BMA and Blair’s governments, at least initially. There is a PhD thesis in there somewhere.
Another recent obituary, of Professor Giovanni Berlinguer, reminds News from Nowhere moles of the pleasure this Communist stalwart of Public Health Medicine experienced when explaining to leftists worried about privatisation that markets had existed before capitalism, existed within capitalism and would exist after capitalism. Even in health care.