White Paper: power grab, sea change or cementing in the status quo?

Some of the headlines and reports on the leaked draft White Paper outlining plans for a new top-down reorganisation of the NHS are quite remarkable. The Times and the BBC, clearly following a steer from Downing Street both heralded the plans as a step to “scrap forced privatisation and competition within the NHS”.

In the Daily Telegraph an article by Theresa May’s former chief of staff Nick Timothy also proclaims a sea-change in government policy, headlined “Covid exposed the folly of turning the NHS into an unaccountable quango” – and as if that were not enough to have Torygraph readers spluttering over their porridge, a sub-headline apparently questioning Margaret Thatcher’s political legacy: “Years of market-based reforms have ended up increasing bureaucracy, waste and inefficiency.”

There seems to be a consensus among the media reports that the new draft represents a substantial shift of policy: but is this really the case? Sometimes the real clues to a statement lie in what is left out rather than the words it uses. Most of the 40 pages of the leaked draft are giving retrospective recognition and legal status to a fait accompli.

Full story in The Lowdown, 9 February 2021