I am not saying that Jeremy Hunt has handled the junior doctors dispute well, but there is an absurd belief among many of his opponents that he is engaged in a conspiracy to undermine public support for the NHS so that he and his Tory friends can enrich themselves in a private insurance-based system that would replace it.
Normally such conspiracy theories are not worth wasting much time on, although it is worrying that so many junior doctors themselves seem to believe it (as James Kirkup pointed out, doctors are clever people but can be quite naive about politics).
Unfortunately, the conspiracy theorists include the leader of the opposition, who said on Monday:
The NHS is underfunded. Every hospital has debts. Those debts are being met by selling assets and cutting back on services. I just sometimes wonder if there isn’t a deeper agenda here – to gradually reduce the efficiency and effectiveness of the National Health Service at the same time as promoting the private medical industry.
"Just wondering" is the standard device of the conspiracy theorist, as anyone who has read David Aaronovitch's Voodoo Histories will know: they retreat from assertions that cannot be substantiated to "just asking the question".
This is a particularly silly theory. The one piece of "evidence" for it, apart from the Conservative government's refusal to spend more public money on the NHS, is a pamphlet produced by Douglas Carswell, then a new Conservative MP, in 2005. Jeremy Hunt was one of the Tory MPs listed as contributing to it, although he didn't write the chapter on the NHS and disagrees with it. Even so, the chapter on the NHS talks only of an increasing role for private-sector providers of healthcare in a universal healthcare system.
The theory requires only a moment's thought to self-destruct. All you have to do is to imagine the meeting at which David Cameron, George Osborne and Jeremy Hunt discuss what to do about the British electorate's support for the NHS. "Let's spend more money on it, but not enough to satisfy everyone, so everyone will hate us and distrust us to manage public services and vote for us at the next election to replace the NHS with a private-sector free-for-all and our friends will get rich."
Not even Jeremy Corbyn thinks that, so why did he say it?
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