PJ Media

British Conservatives Tangle Over Their National Health Service

British Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan appeared on Glenn Beck’s show to opine on ObamaCare. His advice: “Don’t do it.”

He called the NHS “a 60-year failure” and pointed out that Britain had adopted its health care system in the midst of World War II when rationing was in vogue — not only for health care, but for food and gasoline. That America was considering a move towards socialized medicine in peacetime was unbelievable to Hannan.

Across the pond, the reaction from Conservative Party leadership was chilly, to say the least. Conservative leader David Cameron called Hannan “eccentric” and stated that “’no one should be in any doubt, for the Conservative Party, the NHS is our number one priority.” Meanwhile, critics on the left were far less kind, calling Hannan “unpatriotic.”

Now one can wonder what has happened to Great Britain to turn it into a nation where loving one’s country requires loving every bureaucracy that operates within it. However, there’s a larger scope to this row. Cameron and Hannan ultimately represent two archetypal visions of conservatism that are in conflict not only in Britain, but in the United States as well.

Hannan favors ending the National Health Service and creating a system of private accounts. The idea may seem like common sense to American conservatives, but Britain’s National Health Service is the third largest employer on the face of the Earth. That Hannan believes such a bureaucracy should be dismantled is a radical concept.

However, Cameron sees that the Conservative Party’s easiest path to victory in the next election is to accept the status quo regarding the National Health Service. And anyone who thinks otherwise is, at best, “eccentric.”

Thus, we see the fundamental conflict within conservatism on either side of the Atlantic. Hannan and those who identify with Hannan-style conservatism have a clear vision of what government should be like, what functions it should have, and what it shouldn’t do. Cameron conservatives are pragmatists who seek to keep the world the way it is. They’ll oppose the introduction of bad government programs, however once those bad government programs are established, they will accept them as a fact of life and even defend them.

If you need evidence of this, look no further than the U.S. Department of Education, a gift from the Carter administration. Ronald Reagan opposed it, as did the GOP platform. Everything critics said about the Department of Education at the time it was created was correct. In fact, in 1994 the GOP promised to eliminate the Department of Education. However, due to repeated failures at the 2000 Republican Convention, opposition to the existence of the Department of Education was pulled from the Republican Party platform. In 2008, even Ron Paul was silent about getting rid of the Department of Education even though it still does not educate children after thirty years of existence. Its only useful function is to release statistics throughout the year that indicate its total lack of effectiveness.

Were a prominent Republican to fly to some foreign nation with a federalist system during a U.S. election year and urge them not to establish a federal department of education based on the ineffectiveness and waste within the U.S. Department of Education, would the reaction be any different from what Mr. Hannan has received? Wouldn’t the GOP’s nominee for president assure voters that the Department of Education was the Republicans’ top priority? Should a national health care system be approved, it will within a decade be defended with equal vigor by leaders of the Republican Party.

The battle between these two types of conservatism underlies the intramural ideological struggle that has divided the political right over recent years. Visionary conservatives push for ideas like unlimited school choice, fundamental tax reform, and the repeal of Roe v. Wade. Status quo conservatives will be timid on all these issues, imagining little room for progress. For some, visionary ideas are even threatening.

In my state, status quo conservatives who grew up with only brick and mortar neighborhood schools are not comfortable with the proliferation of homeschoolers, charter schools, and virtual schools. We have a cap of six new charter schools per year in Idaho, and it took this year’s budget crisis to get the state legislature to accept the idea of regular schools offering students virtual classes.

Visionary conservatism not only should prevail, but it must prevail in order to save the republic. The fundamental problem with status quo conservatives taking the lead of a nation after liberal rule is that there is no change in direction — only a change in speed or at best a stop. Thus, a liberal government moves the nation to the left and then a status quo conservative government slows the left’s momentum and is replaced by a liberal government that moves the country further to the left.

A visionary conservative government, if strong enough, could reverse the direction of the nation. And we are getting to the point where we can no longer afford milquetoast. Entitlements are wreaking havoc on our nation’s financial future. Our anti-growth tax code needs to not be tinkered with, but tossed out and replaced. A growing list of government programs don’t work and our country can no longer afford to waste just because we’ve wasted money on these programs as long as anyone can remember.

Cameron and the status quo conservatives take the path of least resistance to victory. They only need to tap into the public’s paradoxical dissatisfaction with current leadership coupled with their general cautious nature when it comes to large changes. Hannan and other visionary conservatives have to sell the public on large fundamental changes in the way government operates, against the backdrop of a hostile media and powerful opposition whose livelihood depends on defeating them.

No doubt, many status quo conservatives on this side of the Atlantic will hail a Cameron win as an example that American conservatives should seek to emulate. However, Cameron’s refusal to take on hard issues and push back against the ideological advances of the left will turn any Tory victory into a Pyrrhic one and a speed bump on the road to national ruination.

American conservatives would do well to avoid this fate.