After their campaign on law and order dissolved into chaos, the Tories tried to take the moral high ground on health. It didn’t work.
Most particularly, it didn’t work for Boris Johnson, who was challenged on the subject by prime minister-in-waiting Jeremy Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Questions.
Mr Corbyn was keen for Mr Johnson to explain why his government had held secret trade talks with US firms that would nearly triple the price of medicines bought by the NHS, creating serious pressure on the service at a time when it is already under enormous strain.
I discuss the issue here, or you can watch this video to have it in a nutshell:
Tory trade officials have been warned that the subject of 'drug pricing' is so sensitive they must not mention it in emails but use the term 'valuing innovation' instead.
Turns out 'valuing innovation' will cost our NHS an extra £500 MILLION A WEEK.
Bang that on the side of a bus pic.twitter.com/ABRPxdq73Y
— The Prole Star (@TheProleStar) October 30, 2019
Note also that “drug pricing” is now to be known as “valuing innovation”. And, as a TV comedian once said, from now on radiation will be known as “magic moonbeams”.
Here’s Mr Corbyn, opening his questioning in PMQs – and Mr Johnson’s answer:
Corbyn delivers a huge truth bomb at #PMQs today. If Johnson denies something then it’s most likely true.
— Rachael Swindon (@Rachael_Swindon) October 30, 2019
Of course, Mr Corbyn was well aware of the situation regarding the cystic fibrosis drug Orkambi; it was his intervention that succeeded in getting it provided on the NHS, we’re told.
Mr Johnson’s claims about building 40 new hospitals fare less well in the fact-check. As Mr Corbyn put it: “As for the fabled 40 hospitals, that figure dropped to 20 and then finally dropped to six.” They’ll be down to none in the event of a Conservative election victory.
Mr Corbyn continued: “We learned this week that Government officials have met US pharmaceutical companies five times as part of the Prime Minister’s planned trade deal. The US has called for “full market access” to our NHS, which would mean prices of some of our most important medicines increasing by up to sevenfold. While the Government are having secret meetings with US corporations, it is patients here who continue to suffer.”
And he said: “Of course we need to import medicines from various places; I just want it to be done in an open and transparent way. I do not want secret talks between Government officials, on behalf of Ministers, and big pharma corporations in the USA.”
He slammed Tory privatisation of NHS services, which has skyrocketed with more than £10 billion being frittered away to private companies and their shareholders, rather than supporting the health of UK citizens.
He said: “What we do not want is private companies like Virgin Care suing our NHS for contracts that they did not get. Our NHS should be focused on making people better, not making the wealthy few richer.
“National health service A&E departments have just had their worst September on record. This morning, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine said that this winter the NHS needs more than 4,000 extra beds.” But under Boris Johnson’s government, he said, the number of people in England waiting for an operation has now reached a record high of 4.4 million.
He continued as follows:
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) October 30, 2019
And he concluded: “Despite the Prime Minister’s denials, the NHS is up for grabs by US corporations in a Trump trade deal. Is it not the truth—the Government may not like this—that this Government are preparing to sell out our NHS? Our health service is in more danger than at any other time in its glorious history because of the Prime Minister’s Government, his attitudes and the trade deals that he wants to strike.”
It is indeed the truth.
Mr Johnson spluttered on for a while but the best he could do in his defence was quote a discredited CBI claim that Labour would spend nearly £200 billion on a privatisation programme; the CBI itself has admitted that the claim was based on questionable assumptions and withdrawn it.
He lied that Labour would tax corporations, people, pensions and businesses – in fact Labour will only increase taxes on the people earning the most, who are therefore most able to accommodate such a charge.
And he said Labour would condemn the UK to two more referendums – on Brexit and Scottish independence. He neglected to say that he would consign us all to even more Brexit uncertainty as he would try – yet again – to push through a departure on the worst possible terms for the majority of the nation.
Finally, he appears to have become tongue-tied in his predictions of the future, mixing the roles of his party and Mr Corbyn’s.
I’ll fix that for him now:
“That is the future for this country: drift and dither under the Conservative party, or taking Britain forward to a brighter future under Labour. That is the choice this country faces.”
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