1. Theresa May is lucky at the moment. Her image as a grown up, calm professional politician remains the case for large numbers of people. She's not in control, her government is beset by crisis and paralysis, and those backbenchers retain their potential for trouble, but appearances assume a reality of their own if cultivated by enough outlets. May, understandably, would like to extend her honeymoon period indefinitely. Apart from the weekly drubbing at Prime Minister's Questions, the polls consistently show she hasn't got too much to worry about at the moment but she's been in the game long enough to know things can change, and however implausible it might seem presently Labour will close in on the government eventually. The NHS crisis has that potential to erode the Tory lead. Time and again, hospital winter beds crises follows Conservative governments as night follows day, and as they don't see it as a problem to be solved but rather managed. After all, taking the health service to the edge of crisis makes to argument that we can no longer afford to fully fund appear that bit more plausible.
2. May's announcement that the GPs will be expected to stay open for longer is entirely in this mould. Rather than release more money or undo the market mechanisms strangling the NHS, the Tories are looking for a way out, something or someone apart from themselves that are to blame. We know from repeat research, press reports and the like that the proximate cause of the problems is demand. Demand driven by the cutting of adult care services, the closure of GP surgeries thanks to an ongoing recruitment deficit, and the shutting down of NHS Walk-in centres. The Tories know this very well: their refusal to act on it isn't a matter of ignorance. Indeed, for them the fact that somehow the entire system hasn't collapsed and is treating record numbers is something to be celebrated. Nevertheless, singling out the GPs is about deflecting blame. The BMA are entirely correct that the government is casting around for a scapegoat.
3. Political ideas and arguments are powerful if they chime with enough people's experiences. The singling out of GP's services is no accident. Everyone knows, thanks to targets introduced under the blessed Blair that getting a doctor's appointment is bloody difficult. How many people have waited until the moment a surgery opens to try and blag an emergency consultation? It's not so much GP services are overstretched, but the rules by which they operate reduce the efficiency of the service and make for worse, more stressful experiences for patients. Because of this, lengthening opening hours appears to make sense. Dialing in to beat the engaged tone would become a thing of the past if only services were available for longer, and you wouldn't have to nip along to A&E. It therefore follows that GPs are the ones to blame for the NHS crisis because they're not doing their jobs properly. The political logic from the Tories' point of view is sound, because their argument might rub against a kernel of some patients' experiences. But we know this isn't a serious solution to a serious problem because the directive comes without the release of any extra money to fund the new opening hours, and that means reduced services, albeit available throughout the day.
It's almost as if the Tories are willing to run down the NHS further to avoid embarrassing headlines.