Keir Starmer is simply immoral

I still can’t ignore what Sir Keir Starmer said about private healthcare. It should have been the biggest story of the week, far bigger than Rishi Sunak’s mistake when he missed a meeting of world leaders after attending the memorial for British veterans in Normandy.

To remind you, the moderator of the first live debate, ITV’s Julie Etchingham, asked both party leaders for a one-word answer to the following question: “If you had loved ones on a long waiting list for surgery , If you think this is the only way forward, do you use private healthcare?”

“Yes,” said Sunak.

“No,” said Starmer.

Surprised, either by Sir Keir’s unusual clarity or by the answer itself, the presenter gave him a second chance:

“Absolutely no? What if your loved ones were on a waiting list for surgery?

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

I’m not sure what’s more alarming: the prospect that he was telling a cynical lie, or the horrifying possibility that, if God forbid, he were a close relative of the necessary operation, he might actually be that cold-hearted.

Dishonesty may seem at first glance to be a more plausible explanation. Many politicians tend to say what they think their audience wants to hear, and Starmer has more flexible opinions than most.

As recently as March 2020, he described 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? The Corbynite or the anti-Corbynite? The former editor of the Trotskyist magazine Socialist Alternatives, or the centrist father of boringville?

The answer is that he said what he thought his target audience wanted to hear at the time. When he rose through the ranks of Labour, he was a man of the left. When he tried to win the leadership of the party, it suited him to suck in the Momentum activists. After he won, he wanted to show that Labor had left Corbynism behind and was therefore taking on them.

Who was he trying to impress on Monday night? Not the electorate as a whole, which, according to YouGov, would give the same answer as Sunak at 74 to 17 percent. Many of the 74 percent shudder at Starmer’s response. Could he really be so inhuman as to deny care to a loved one, even one of his children, based on some deep ideological principle?

Perhaps Starmer aimed his response at the NHS unions, whose members wield disproportionate power within Labour. But I think the most likely – and, frankly, creepier – explanation is that the Labor leader was telling the truth.

First of all, his answer was unusually emphatic. He didn’t sound like a man who weighed his words. On the other hand, he repeated it the next day, thinking of his mother, who had tragically suffered from a chronic illness.

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

Now people can take all kinds of strange positions out of conviction. Sometimes we can respect their beliefs even though we disagree with them.

All religions seem bizarre to non-adherents. And Starmer’s position on healthcare is more religious than practical. There is no utilitarian justification for refusing to pay for surgery for a family member who needs it. It’s not like you’re helping anyone else. On the contrary, you are taking up a place on the NHS and extending the queue for others.

Should we nevertheless respect his principled strength, just as we would respect the piety of someone who is willing to suffer for a faith we do not profess?

Well, that depends on faith. For example, the Aztecs believed that the only way to ensure that the sun would continue to rise was to cut out people’s hearts and sacrifice them to the god Huitzilopochtli. As sincere as they were, it’s hard to feel much sympathy. Being willing to prolong someone’s pain out of a dogmatic commitment to equality of outcome seems to me to be another belief with which we should have no sympathy.

Remember, Starmer is not a private citizen imposing his cult-like dogmas on his own family. He aspires to run our healthcare system. We will all climb those bloody pyramids to satiate his egalitarian deity.

You might think it ridiculous to write about creepy Mesoamerican rituals in the same article as the NHS. But only a religious analogy captures how our underperforming health care system is being handled. 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 healthcare systems that are taken for granted in almost every other European country. But this would be seen as blasphemy against the NHS. Sorry, RNHS.

If you think I’m laying this on a bit thick, think back to the lockdown, which was defended in explicitly 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 reforms in exchange for the record amounts of money being spent on the system, we adopt a similar votive attitude. We are there to pay, not to ask difficult questions. Huitzilopochtli must be fed, not negotiated with.

Starmer’s beliefs, whether they stem from socialism or filial loyalty, make nonsense of any hope that Labor would spend some of its political capital on reforming health care. To the extent it had a plan, it had promised to use the private sector to reduce waiting lists. But how could Starmer, feeling as he did, lead such a plan?

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. Imposing VAT on private school fees will ironically be Labour’s only use of our Brexit freedoms.

If we want to reduce inequality while raising standards, we would not put private schools out of business, but make all schools private – in other words, give parents an education voucher to take with them to a school of their choice. But whether out of jealousy or respect for public sector unions, Labor won’t go anywhere near the idea. It would rather cram more children into state schools than send them elsewhere, reducing pressure.

Here in reality lies Labour’s Huitzilopochtli, the irrational principle to which the rest of us must make sacrifices. When pushed, it favors equality of misery over prosperity for some. It would be better if we all lived in 400 square foot houses than some of us in 1200 houses and others in 6000 square foot houses.

Before the campaign began, there was vague hope that Starmer would be different. Now we know better.

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