The Conservative Party must be getting very desperate indeed.
Faced with the failure of the plan to belittle Ed Miliband, the Tories are making a belated attempt to take some of Labour’s policy ground with a promise to provide £8 billion extra, every year, for the NHS.
The Conservatives have already told us they will be squeezing the economy by (at least) £30 billion over the next five years – if they remain in office. The National Health Service is ring-fenced from those cuts, we are told, but that hasn’t prevented real-terms funding from falling during most – if not all – of the Parliament that has just ended.
The Tories had no intention of adding funds to the NHS – or at least, they didn’t until today.
Despite claims that the health service in England alone needs another £8 billion in order to cope (the shortfall is £30 billion but NHS boss Simon Stevens reckons “efficiency savings” – cuts – will cover £22 billion of it), the Conservative Party had been hoping to keep it quiet and let the public service quietly starve while private, profit-making firms strip it of its most lucrative sources of funding; the services that attract the most money.
Like the plan to attack Miliband, this was a mistake; Labour has campaigned forthrightly on the needs of the NHS and the public has responded strongly.
So the Tories have wheeled out Jeremy ‘Misprint’ Hunt to announce a funding commitment that they don’t have the ability to honour.
It is exactly the kind of fiscal ineptitude of which they were accusing Labour, before the other party publicised its fully-funded plans for government.
Asked how the Conservatives would fund the pledge, Mr Hunt said the economy had been turned around and pointed to investment in the service during the last Parliament, when the government guaranteed an above-inflation increase in funding, according to the BBC.
He said: “If you want to be sceptical about the commitment, look at the track record.”
Okay, let’s do that: Look at this table, from the UK Statistics Authority’s monitoring review paper, Real Terms Estimates for Health Expenditure in England over the Spending Review Period, 2010-11 to 2014-15, as published in Vox Political‘s article on funding last year. It shows known spending, according to the most up-to-date statistics available at the time (June 19, 2013), along with estimates for the remainder of the current Parliament.
The rows relating to changes in spending are all minus figures – meaning spending was less than intended, not more.
Mr Hunt also lied: “We inherited an economy that was shrinking and we’ve turned it around.” In fact, the Coalition Government took over an economy that was expanding, thanks to the stimulus budgets of Labour’s Alistair Darling, and killed it stone dead with the unnecessary, ideologically-motivated policy of austerity.
It seems likely the only reason the economy started improving at all is simply that it reached the bottom of its cycle and there was nowhere to go but up; this would have been nothing to do with the Conservatives or the Coalition.
What we’re seeing is fantasy funding – building castles – or rather, hospitals – in the air.
Judging the Tories on their record, they certainly won’t be improving health here on the ground.