Source: Labour List UK
Today Theresa May will formally announce a new 10-year NHS funding plan already trailed over the weekend. A £20bn boost – £394m a week – promises to go further than the infamous Brexit bus slogan, which vowed to offer the NHS the £350m a week currently being “sent” to the EU. And the increase in funding will be paid for with a “Brexit dividend”, according to No10. Unfortunately, no such dividend exists, and people have noticed.
“Tosh,” said Tory MP and former GP Sarah Wollaston. A “cash con”, declared The Mirror. John McDonnell put it best: “It’s a magic money forest!” The Institute for Fiscal Studies has been clear: there is no Brexit dividend. The Health Foundation has been clear: the proposed funding increase is not enough. Commenting on the government announcement, John McDonnell said: “You can’t trust the Tories with the NHS. Labour is pledging a 5 per cent increase this year and we are being honest with how we will pay for it. We are more than matching what the Tories propose and will go higher with a tax on the top 5 per cent of earners and corporations.”
The Tories have now admitted that the NHS needs more funding, but are not prepared to provide what is required to pull the health service (not to mention social care) out of crisis. Worse, they’ve tied it to the infamous Brexit bus slogan – a lie that the Tories have chosen to remind everyone of in the run-up to the 70th anniversary of the NHS.
This is despite the government’s acceptance that the state of public finances will deteriorate as a result of Brexit. (The Treasury is at loggerheads with half the cabinet, as ever.) Leave voters have always been aware of the negative impact of Brexit on the country’s finances – after all, they were told enough during the 2016 referendum campaign. Yet it is not economic arguments that won the EU referendum for Leave and warnings of its economic impact did not prevent Brexit.
So why choose to deliver on a lie? Who is May speaking to? She could have revealed a clean policy by fessing up to tax rises. (It may have required some thought: a new hypothecated tax? A 1p rise in National Insurance contributions, as suggested by IPPR?) Instead, a poor compromise means the Prime Minister has made little to no progress on gaining voters’ trust on the NHS, and has further damaged the Conservatives’ reputation for fiscal responsibility by being dishonest.
This is Theresa May’s Achilles’ heel. As ever, she prioritises party management at the expense of good government, and ultimately to the detriment of her party. This announcement could have gone some way to detoxify the Tories’ reputation on the NHS. But a policy designed to please her own troublesome backbenchers, a gift to the Brexiteers and specifically Remainer-turned-Leaver Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, has well and truly backfired.
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