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Margot James responded to claims that the Conservatives were running down the health service in order to privatise it. The Question Time audience did not believe her and called her a liar.

No wonder the audience of the BBC’s Question Time became so furious at Margot James when she claimed the Conservatives fully support the National Health Service – she has historical links with private health companies.

Responding to a suggestion that the Conservatives are “ideologically underfunding the NHS so they can make the argument for privatisation,” Ms James – recently appointed as a Culture Minister, said, “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Audience members retorted, “Liar!” Ms James, on the back foot, had to defend her claim: “No I am not a liar. I have spent time volunteering in the NHS over the last four or five years.” Doesn’t that mean the Tories have denied the service the money needed to employ trained staff?

“I am not a liar. I believe in the NHS and so does my government and we do put more money into it.” But not enough to cope with inflation and increased demand generated by the effect of punitive Conservative policies on UK citizens.

The question that sparked the row suggested that the NHS was “haemorrhaging” nurses, with one in 10 leaving the profession.

Audience member Rebecca Shirazi, a Labour Party council candidate and activist, had said: “What I don’t understand is that there’s so much public support to put more money into our NHS; to pay our nurses more; to support our nurses, and reinstall the bursary program. Because if you’re going to be a nurse, and you’re going to qualify earning less than £30,000 a year, but you ended up in so much debt with such high interest rates to pay, why would you do it? It doesn’t make any sense. And I wonder if the Conservative government that we have is ideologically… underfunding the NHS so they can then make the argument for privatisation.”

Here’s the moment:

Another audience member – herself an NHS nurse, said, “Nurses are leaving … because they can’t believe the conditions that they are working under.” She said: “We work with our hearts and our hands and our heads and we are not valued. We are losing money.” She added that she knew a nurse who was leaving the profession because she was earning £100 less than her 17-year-old son who has no qualifications and is an apprentice.

Panellist Dustin Lance Black said: “The nurses and the doctors are saying it’s so incredibly difficult and unbearable, the conditions they’ve been put under here. And let me tell you, you don’t want private medicine either. You don’t. What you need is a real investment in the infrastructure and an investment in the NHS… And that’s going to cost money.”

He added: “Who’s benefiting? It’s these corporations. It’s these businesses that are coming here and are reaping the rewards of all you beautiful healthy people. And I want an in-depth examination to make sure they’re paying their fair share for the rewards they’re reaping.”

Another audience member said attributing the loss of nurses to Brexit was “a cop-out.”

She added: “It’s due to a chronic lack of planning and foresight for our workforce… We have no nurses because we’ve taken away the bursary; we are not supporting people going into education; we are not planning for the future, making sure we’ve got GPs, doctors, nurses, physios. We are disregarding the NHS.”

Andy Burnham raised the issue of social care – responsibility for which was added to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s brief in the Cabinet reshuffle of January 8. He said: “Social care staff are in an even worse position. They do 15-minute slots, they don’t get the travel time between the 15-minutes, so they don’t even get paid the National Minimum Wage.

“Social care in this country is utterly broken. I tried to fix it as Health Secretary, since then there’s just been point-scoring about it… It is time for social care fully to come within the public National Health Service… Older people have seen services utterly slashed and there has been profiteering on the backs of these vulnerable people.”

Ms James’s protestations ring hollow when one realises that she was listed in a dossier compiled by the Unite Union linking MPs who had voted for the Conservative Health and Social Care Act 2012 – which introduced private, profit-driven health companies into the NHS – with the same companies that would profit from the change.

Ms James was listed as having “co-founded public relations company, Shire Health Group. The company was sold to business partner Ogilvy & Mather for £4 million in 2004, with the Conservative MP Margot James appointed Head of European Healthcare for marketing parent WPP Group. She stood down from WPP in 2008. WPP are a marketing giant with a massive list of healthcare clients. One of their companies, Grey Healthcare Group, boasts having 14 of the top 15 pharmaceutical companies as their clients.”

Ms James responded to the report at the time of publication: “I resent this smear… I have no links to private healthcare. I have previously been a director of an NHS trust and did not take a salary, despite being entitled to one.”

But nobody had suggested she had a current link to private healthcare, and her decision not to take payment for working as a mental health manager for Parkside NHS Trust merely reinforces the implication that the NHS doesn’t get enough funding.

Here’s a quick reminder of some more of Ms James’s decisions in Parliament:


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