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The Not-So-Precious Truth About the ‘Precious’ NHS

When British Prime Minister Theresa May gave her traditional New Year's speech on December 31, one line -- actually, just one word -- jumped out at me. May spoke of the importance of “taking a balanced approach to government spending, so we get our debt falling but can also invest in the things that matter -- our schools, our police and our precious NHS.”

Yes, “precious.” She actually described the National Health Service as precious!

Now, one might easily forgive her for describing, say, Britain's finest doctors and nurses as -- oh, I don't know -- how about “treasured”? Or for using such language to celebrate modern medicine -- robot surgery, wonder drugs, cutting-edge diagnostic technology.

But no: Theresa May was talking about a government bureaucracy. It struck me as both ridiculous and scary -- a perfect example of the statist mentality at its most perverse.

I already knew that the Brits have been brainwashed for generations into thinking their NHS is some kind of miracle. (Recall, for example, the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics, which climaxed in a bizarre tribute to the NHS.) But May's use of the word “precious” was a new one to me.

Curious, I did a bit of Googling. I discovered that May is far from the first person to speak of the NHS in this way. In 2011, Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham warned of “David Cameron's determination to turn our precious NHS into a U.S.-style commercial system.” A January 2015 column in The Sun was headlined: “Stop sticking the knife into our precious NHS.” Last March, Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon urged Scotsmen to vote SNP if they wanted “a government that's committed to our precious NHS.”

There's a lot more where that came from. Plus plenty of references to “our beloved NHS.”

One is reminded of the closing sentence of 1984: “He loved Big Brother.”

It's sad enough to see this sort of thing in a Nordic social democracy. It's even sadder to see it in the home of Magna Carta, a country that, in 1940-41, stood alone in a life-or-death war against totalitarianism. Of course, this whole socialist mess started right after the war ended, with the Brits unceremoniously dumping the century's great hero of freedom, Winston Churchill, and installing in his place a Labour government that, bucking the advice of doctors, took control of the kingdom's health-care system.

Even at its most successful, a welfare state doesn't exist to give life meaning -- it's no more than a means to an end. But in socialist countries, the rhetoric of politicians and state-subsidized media inevitably transforms it into something resembling a religion. So it is with the NHS in Britain.