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Electing to care? Party Politics and the National Health Service

Since its inception, political parties of all stripes have taken credit for the successes and apportioned blame for the failures of the National Health Service. Indeed, even before the NHS was even a sparkle in the eyes of its political fathers, British political parties sought to badge themselves as 'caring' and their opponents as heartless, spendthrift, or feckless (depending on their political persuasions). In the interwar years, an ever-growing proportion of the public (and especially women over the age of 21, via the 1928 Representation of the People Act) gained the power to directly affect policy -- to VOTE. At the same time, medicine gained in stature and in power. If in the middle and late nineteenth century, doctors could do little to heal the sick,while hospitals might well finish them off, by the early twentieth century, public health and sanitation clearly saved lives. By the interwar years, doctors could save at least some of their patients -- if the sick could afford to pay them. Taken together, these two factors -- more (and poorer) voters and better (and costlier) medicine -- made rhetorical support for the provision of at least some health services for the poor, indigent, and vulnerable population a vote winner. But only in times of austerity has such support been at the heart of election campaigns.

The Interwar Years

The 1929 'Flapper's Election': appealing to women in an era of economic crisis and hardship...

Labour Party General Election poster1929

Labour Party General Election Poster 1929

Labour Manifesto: 'The Labour Party recognises that the burden of social injustice and economic exploitation falls with special severity on women, and that women are very seriously affected by Unemployment, Low Wages, Bad Housing and by any restriction of the necessary public expenditure on Education and on the Health and Welfare of Mothers and Children. The prevention of Maternal Mortality will be an immediate concern of a Labour Government.' James Ramsay MacDonald, 1929

Conservative Party General General election 1929

Conservative Party General Election Poster 1929

Returned to power in 1924 after Britain's first brief Labour Government (under James Ramsay MacDonald) had extended the benefits available to the working poor, the Conservatives had ground to make up, particularly with the new ranks of women voters. Partly in response, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin presided over the Widows, Orphans and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act of 1925 -- but also over falling wages and the General Strike of 1926.

Labour General Election Poster 1938

Labour Local Election Poster, after campaign pamphlet c. 1930s

Cradle to Old Age Conservative Party Poster 1929

Conservative General Election poster, 1929

 Conservative Party Election Poster 1931 Labour Political Poster 1950 Jarrow 
Building the Peace, Claiming to Care  


Conservative Election Leaflet 1950

Claiming the NHS since 1979  


Conservative Party Election Poster 1978/9

Re-use, recycle, and re-emphasise...  


Labour 2015 Doctor Can
And the voters' view: a plague on both your houses?

 Labour Party Poster 2005 graffiti

(c) Velvet Selkie, 2005

 Conservative Elections Poster 2010 Grafitti

(c) Getty