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.