Health secretary Andrew Lansley
Health secretary Andrew Lansley. (Photo: Reuters) Reuters

Poor old Nigel Lawson. It must be a terrible burden for him to have been proven so completely right when he said that the NHS is the closest thing Britain has to a religion. If only he could also be proven correct on "global warming" (now rebranded "climate change" thanks to the freezing weather) then we could all celebrate a drop in energy bills.

While that happy day has not yet dawned it has been abundantly clear for some time that Lawson's assessment of the British adoration of the health service is not far off the mark.

The Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, is now finding this out to his cost and is only able to continue down the path he has chosen thanks to the power of the Prime Minister who at present seems determined to stick with Lansley and his reforms.

Perhaps Lansley feels that he has taken on the role of Martin Luther in challenging the established principles and practices of a gargantuan and supposedly saintly organisation. Even if he does not he certainly seems to have attracted the slings and arrows that would in past times have been reserved for heretics and the devil himself.

This of course is the depressing thing about the whole affair. The political debate on the whole issue is currently less enlightening than a theological discussion between a pair of illiterate mediaeval peasants.

It has been said of the Labour Party (which opposes the reforms) that its arguments against the proposals are "incoherent". True enough but the same word could be used to describe the Coalition's arguments for the reforms.

So instead of intelligent debate we are left with appeals to emotion rather than reason. Hence we get Labour claiming, no doubt with tears rolling down their eyes, that "We love the NHS" and even more absurdly the TUC calling on people to hold candle-lit vigils for the NHS.

Are there any other countries in the world where people could claim to love their healthcare system with such devotionand expect to be taken seriously?

One only needs to look at how much public money goes on the NHS (usually a little under one sixth of total government spending) to see that the chief source of the NHS' wonderfulness - that it is free - is a myth only slightly less ridiculous than some of those propagated by the pre-Reformation Catholic Church.

The protectiveness that the British people feel towards the NHS is also baffling given the somewhat mixed service the NHS provides. While there are many stories of excellent care and wonderful staff there are just as many about heartless nurses and deaths by diseases that were not present when the patient was first admitted. But then in the middle ages people put their faith in priests even as they were being ripped off with indulgences. Truly what a piece 'o work is man.

That the British are so emotionally attached to the NHS is an oddity that no doubt should get more attention from anthropologists than it does, but that does not excuse either the Government or the Opposition from failing to put forward an intelligent case for or against the proposals so that people can make an informed decision. Until that time we'll be stuck with a North Korean style crying contest to see who can demonstrate their love for the Dear Health Service the most.