Tag Archives: andrew dilnot

Critics of Miliband’s speech have forgotten the magic words: ‘Check against delivery’

An idiot: Matthew Hancock thinks Ed Miliband should be censured for something he never said [Image: BBC].

An idiot: Matthew Hancock thinks Ed Miliband should be censured for something he never said [Image: BBC].

It really is staggering that the UK Statistics Authority has criticised Ed Miliband for a claim made in a draft of a speech that went out to reporters but was not, in fact, used.

Speeches – especially those made by politicians – are checked by several people, not just the author or the person delivering it (these are not necessarily the same person), and even then, the speaker can decide to omit parts or include new information in the moment.

That’s why the words “Check against delivery” appear at the top of every speech issued by political parties to the press. They protect the organisation and its speaker from exactly the sort of criticism currently directed at Mr Miliband by Andrew Dilnot of the UKSA (who should know better) and business minister Matthew Hancock (who made the complaint and therefore, clearly, does not).

Miliband took his information – a claim that four-fifths of all new private-sector jobs created since 2010 are in London – from the Centre for Cities thinktank. Both have stated that they believe the claim to be accurate.

That doesn’t have any bearing on the argument, in fact. The version of the speech received by the press makes it perfectly clear that the statistic is independently-sourced, not an official figure from the Office for National Statistics.

So not only did Mr Miliband not mention it, but there is no official figure against which to compare it. Mr Hancock, Mr Dilnot and the whiners in the news media are attacking him for something he hasn’t done – and that is the only unsurprising aspect of this story.

After all, it isn’t the first time Tories have made false accusations about the Labour Party.

They’re still trying to make us believe the financial crisis was caused by Labour, rather than bankers.

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DWP’s shame: Facts reveal how ministers duped the press

Lest we forget: We know that, on average, 73 people died every week between January and November 2011 - after undergoing the DWP work capability assessment administered by Atos. Who knows how many are dying now?

Lest we forget: We know that, on average, 73 people died every week between January and November 2011 – after undergoing the DWP work capability assessment administered by Atos. Who knows how many are dying now?

Today the DWP finally released its press release claiming that huge numbers of people who wanted Employment and Support Allowance have been found fit for work instead.

Interestingly, the DWP story differs from that published by the BBC, even though the corporation must have used a version of the press release provided to it in advance.

In the BBC story, released on Saturday, “More than a million others withdrew their claims after interviews” – but the DWP press notice, released today, claims “More than a million others withdrew their claims before reaching a face-to-face assessment”.

In addition, the DWP release features a long section on its Disability Confident roadshow, and there is another statistic which claims that the proportion of disabled people in work has reached 45 per cent.

Disability Confident, designed “to encourage more employers to hire disabled people”, “to showcase the talents of disabled people and highlight their tremendous value to the British economy” is, on the face of it, a good idea.

But I wonder if it isn’t a smokescreen to hide how the DWP is pushing thousands of disabled people into saying they are self-employed and taking tax credits rather than ESA, in order to fudge the figures and make it seem as though good work is being done.

Vox Political reported on this before ,and it is worth adding that the BBC itself ran the original report that work advisers were pushing the jobless into self-employment.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive…

Of course, the best source of ESA-related statistics is on the iLegal site where the figures behind the press release have been picked apart by an expert who doesn’t have a vested interest in saving ministerial face.

They show that an average of 83 per cent of the 1,078,200 Incapacity claimants who were assessed qualified for ESA between October 2012 and May last year, while 88 per cent of the 1,332,300 ‘repeatedly assessed’ were re-qualifying.

While the DWP and the BBC have claimed 1.8 million people have magically disappeared from the Incapacity/ESA claimant count, the DWP’s own figures confirm that overall numbers have reduced by only 156,630 since May 2010.

The iLegal article makes it clear that “the claimant count is far from a static number; each month thousands of claimants come on and off all benefits”. But it seems clear that the BBC/DWP figure is a conflated total, simply adding up all new claims – rather than claimants – from 2008 onwards.

This is exactly why UK Statistics Authority chief Andrew Dilnot chastised the government after the Conservative Party released an almost-identical press release last year, using then-current (but still inaccurate) figures and not mentioning Disability Confident.

Let’s go back to the number of people found ‘fit for work’ after assessment. Has everybody forgotten the hammering that the government took during a debate on Atos’ handling of the Work Capability Assessment, exactly a year and a week ago today? If you have, don’t worry – you can read all about it here.

The debate demonstrated time after time that the work capability assessment, as devised by the DWP’s Conservative ministerial team and run by its employees at Atos, was not fit for purpose; that the overwhelming majority of those who had been found ‘fit for work’ were nothing of the sort; and that “this is a government that is perfectly happy with a system that is throwing thousands of sick and disabled people to the wolves”.

The government refused to listen. Then-Employment minister Mark Hoban (standing in, conspicuously, for Esther McVey, who was minister for the disabled at the time) said the independent reviews conducted by Professor Malcolm Harrington had identified areas of improvement and appropriate steps were being taken.

This claim was false. Out of 25 recommendations made by Professor Harrington in his year one review alone, almost two thirds were not fully and successfully implemented.

The government also claimed, repeatedly, that Prof Harrington had supported the migration of Incapacity Benefit claimants to ESA. When fellow blogger Sue Marsh contacted him for confirmation, he responded: “I NEVER—repeat–NEVER agreed to the IB migration. I would have preferred that it be delayed but by the time I said that, the political die had been cast. I then said that i would review progress of that during my reviews. The decision was political. I could not influence it. IS THAT CRYSTAL CLEAR?”

I’d say so – to everybody but the Coalition government.


A good reporter at the BBC would have had all this information to hand. They would have known that the work capability assessment was extremely controversial and had been shown, many times, to be unfit for purpose. They would have known that the government had been slapped down by the UK Statistics Authority after releasing an almost-identical press release last year. They absolutely should have known that other reporters in the same organisation had revealed that the DWP had been pushing disabled people into claiming they were self-employed in an effort to cook the books.

With all that information to hand, it begs the question: Why did they then go ahead with the propagandised misrepresentation of the facts that appeared on the BBC News website on Saturday?

And, before reporters at Business Standard (“A million Britons found lying for illness benefits“?), the Belfast Telegraph, International Business Times UK, Metro, The Times, Channel 4 News, Press TV, Descrier, SME Times, AoI Money, The Mirror, Gloucester Citizen, Huffington Post, Evening Standard, and especially the Daily Mail, whose article was hysterical in both senses of the term, allow me to ask…

What’s your excuse?

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BBC confirms ‘Tory mouthpiece’ accusation with updated lies about ESA


I have complained to the BBC and the UK Statistics Authority about this disgrace.

Today (January 25) the BBC published a scurrilous little screed claiming that “nearly a million people who applied for sickness benefit have been found fit for work”. Needless to say, the figures come from the Department for Work and Pensions and aren’t worth the time it took to type them in.

The story states: “The DWP claims 980,400 people – 32% of new applicants for Employment and Support Allowance – were judged capable of work between 2008 and March 2013.

“More than a million others withdrew their claims after interviews, it adds.”

It goes on to say that disability campaigners had stated that the work capability assessment tests were “ridiculously harsh and extremely unfair”, but says nothing about the fact that an almost-identical story was withdrawn last year after it was found to be riddled with inaccuracies – if not outright lies.

Even more bizarre is the fact that the story does provide the factual reason for claims being withdrawn. They “either returned to work, recovered or claimed a benefit “more appropriate to their situation”.

In other words, these people used the system in exactly the right way, yet the DWP – and the BBC – are pretending that they were trying to fiddle it in some way.

To explain what happened last year, let’s look at a letter from Sheila Gilmore MP to Andrew Dilnot, head of the UK Statistics Authority, and his response. You can find it on page 39 of the DPAC report on DWP abuse of statistics.

The letter from Sheila Gilmore states: “On 30 March 2013 an article by Patrick Hennessy entitled ‘900,000 choose to come off sickness benefit ahead of tests’ was published in the Sunday Telegraph. Please find a copy enclosed. I believe that the headline and the subsequent story are fundamentally misleading because they conflate two related but separate sets of statistics. I would be grateful if you could confirm that my interpretation of what has happened is correct.

“The sickness benefit in question is Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). People have been able to make new claims for ESA since October 2008, but those in receipt of the benefits it replaced – Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance, and Income Support on the grounds of disability – only started migrating across in April 2011.

“The article implied that many of this latter group were dropping their claim rather than having to go through a face-to-face assessment, with the implication that they were never really ill in the first place and had been ‘playing the system’.

“However I have checked the figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions and it would appear that the figure of 900,000 actually refers to all those who have made new claims for ESA since its introduction over four years ago, but who have since withdrawn their application before undergoing a face-to-face assessment. These people were not claiming the benefit before and generally drop out of the system for perfectly innocent reasons – often people become ill, apply as a precaution, but withdraw when they get better.

“Of the 600,000 people who have been migrated from Incapacity Benefit over the past two years, only 19,700 have dropped their claim. This is the figure that should have featured in the headline, but the 900,000 figure was used instead.”

Mr Dilnot replied: “Having reviewed the article and the relevant figures, we have concluded that these statements appear to conflate official statistics relating to new claimants of the ESA with official statistics on recipients of the incapacity
benefit (IB) who are being migrated across to the ESA.

“According to official statistics published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in January 2013, a total of 603,600 recipients of IB were referred for reassessment as part of the migration across to ESA between March 2011 and May 2012. Of these, 19,700 claims were closed prior to a work capability assessment in the period to May 2012.

“The figure of “nearly 900,000” referenced in the article appears to refer to the cumulative total of 878,300 new claims for the ESA (i.e. not pre-existing IB recipients) which were closed before undergoing assessment in the period from October 2008 to May 2012.

“In your letter, you also expressed concern about the apparent implication in the Sunday Telegraph article that claims for ESA had been dropped because the individuals were never really ill in the first place. The statistical release does not address the issue of why cases were closed in great depth, but it does point to research undertaken by DWP which suggests that ‘an important reason why ESA claims in this sample were withdrawn or closed before they were fully assessed was because the person recovered and either returned to work, or claimed a benefit more appropriate to their situation’.”

What he was saying, in his officialese way, was that the Conservatives had wrongly ‘conflated’ monthly figures into a cumulative total; they had misled the press about the figures’ significance; and the press release (which then mysteriously disappeared) ignored a clear caveat in the DWP’s own report that the reason the claims were dropped each month had nothing to do with fear of medical assessment but were because people recovered and went back to work, or else were switched to another benefit deemed more suitable to their circumstances.

Now the BBC has resurrected this story, with brand new, larger numbers that add in the totals for 2013 without telling you whether these were all new claims, or repeat claims, or a mixture; they are all treated as new.

The claim that 980,400 people had been found fit for work after medical tests – the feared Atos work capability assessments – is also extremely questionable – as the BBC well knows.

Its own Panorama programme, ‘Disabled or Faking It?’, investigated whether the DWP was knocking people off-benefit in order to hit financial targets – in essence, making people destitute in order to show a budget saving. A Channel 4 Dispatches documentary, ‘Britain on the Sick’, proved that this was happening. Both were shown at the end of July 2012.

I have complained to the BBC and to Mr Dilnot about the deeply offensive and defamatory way in which these lies have been resurrected, in order to encourage the general public to hold people who are genuinely ill in hatred, ridicule and contempt. If you believe this cause is just, go thou and do likewise.

This behaviour is even more appalling when one considers the rise and rise of hate crime against the sick and disabled.

Members of groups such as DPAC or Black Triangle may even wish to take libel action against the corporation and the DWP on the basis of this report.

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Iain Duncan Smith: Big on belief – lacking in truth

Strong beliefs: But is Iain Duncan Smith about to say a prayer - or is he eyeing up his next victim?

Strong beliefs: But is Iain Duncan Smith about to say a prayer, or eyeing up his next victim?

I believe that Chris Huhne really wasn’t a crook
I believe Britannia Unchained is a readable book
I’m prepared to believe that the government isn’t leaking
And that Boris Johnson sometimes thinks before speaking
Yes I believe J Hunt is clever
Norman Tebbit will live forever
And that GM foods will make us healthier
And there were WMDs out in the desert.

I believe that Cameron means what he says.
And that Michael Gove got good ‘O’ Level grades.
And I believe our courts are great;
That the NHS is safe:
And the economy’s professionally-run…
And that George Osborne knows how to do his sums.

And I believe that the Devil is ready to repent
But I don’t believe IDS should be in government.
(With apologies to Rowan Atkinson)

Early to bed and early to rise… means you have a chance to hear the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions put his foot down his own throat on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Needless to say, I missed it. It’s a shame, because the letter of complaint I was to write to Andrew Dilnot of the UK Statistics Authority would have been slightly different if I had.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

In yesterday’s article, I mentioned the need to query a claim attributed by the BBC News website to the Department for Work and Pensions. True to my word, I wrote – and sent – the following:

A report on the BBC website has stated, ‘More than 12,000 people have moved into work after being told about the benefits cap, the government says.’

“It continues: ‘The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) said that 12,000 claimants have found jobs over the last year, after being contacted by job centres. The job centres warned them they might have their benefits capped if they did not find employment.’

“I am writing to ask you to investigate this claim, as I believe it may have its origins in a previous statement that you have already shown to be false – relating to a claim that 8,000 people had found jobs because of the benefit cap.”

I went on to quote Andrew Dilnot’s letter containing his verdict on the ‘8,000’ claim – that it was “unsupported by the official statistics” in two documents, one of which “explicitly” stated that the figures were “‘not intended to show the additional numbers entering work as a direct result of the contact’”, while the other noted “Once policy changes and methodological improvements have been accounted for, this figure has been no behavioural change.’”

I also drew attention to the comments made by John Shield, the DWP’s Director of Communications, at a meeting with the Commons Work and Pensions Committee last Wednesday (July 10) when he seemed to be saying that Mr… Smith ignored his officers’ advice and went ahead with a false statement.

I now dearly wish I had known about the part of the Today interview in which Mr… Smith discussed his own opinion of the affair.

The Huffington Post reported it as follows: “Challenged over the fact his statement was not supported by officials statistics published by his own department, Duncan Smith said: ‘Yes, but by the way, you can’t disprove what I said either.'” We’ll come back to that in a moment!

“‘I believe this to be right, I believe that we are already seeing people going back to work who were not going to go back to work,’ he said.

“‘I believe that this will show, as we move forward ,that people who were not seeking work are now seeking work.'”

“The work and pension’s secretary was mocked by Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Anne McGuire, who tweeted that ‘I believe’ was ‘a substitute for facts in IDS world’.”

Well, maybe his Roman Catholic upbringing makes him a creature of strong beliefs.

Unfortunately, his beliefs don’t hold a candle to the facts – and yes, we can disprove what he said!

The blog alittleecon takes up the story: “Ipsos Mori undertook telephone interviews with 500 of the 8,000 people who had found work since the announcement of the benefit cap to try to show that people had been motivated by the cap to find work.

“The problem is that they did not find that. Remember, IDS originally tried to claim that all 8,000 had moved into work because of the benefit cap. The survey found though that 15% of them hadn’t even heard of the benefit cap, and another 31% only knew a little about it. Only 57% remembered being informed that the cap would affect them, and of these, 71% were already looking for work.

“About half of those who remembered getting a letter about the cap took action afterwards. For 31%, this meant looking for work (although half of these were already looking). This means of the 500 surveyed, only around 45 people started looking for work because of the cap that weren’t doing so before. 45!!

“Looking at the results then, and if we assume the survey was representative of all 8,000 people, far from being able to say all 8,000 found work as a direct result of the cap, the best that can be said in reality is that about 720 people started looking for work and found it after hearing of the cap that weren’t looking before. Not a particularly impressive behavioural change.”

There can be no doubt about this. Ipsos Mori is a reputable polling agency and its figures are trustworthy.

It doesn’t matter what Iain Duncan Smith believes, his figures were wrong – plainly wrong.

He has no business peddling them around the TV and radio studios as though they’re set in stone.

He has no business mentioning them at all.

And, if he is determined to keep pushing his falsehoods on us, claiming they aren’t lies because he believes in them, then he has no business being a Cabinet Minister.

Waiting for the ‘snail media’ to catch up

'Snail' media: The BBC News website was nearly two months behind the political blogs in its reporting of a major story.

‘Snail’ media: The BBC News website was nearly two months behind the political blogs in its reporting of a major story.

“On Tuesday, this was a serious Conservative Party policy proposal, being reported in national newspapers. Now, it’s ‘never’ going to happen,” trumpeted web campaigners 38 Degrees in an email last night.

They were, of course, referring to the Tory idea that it would be all right to restrict consultations with an NHS doctor to three per year per person – presumably the Rupert who dreamed it up thought everybody who mattered would have private health insurance instead, and this seems to be borne out by the material in the rest of the policy document.

I’m perfectly happy with this result. In fact, I think it is blogs like Vox Political that helped make it happen because – as you’ll know, o loyal reader – Vox reported on this particular scandal on Sunday, two days before.

I’ll admit, the material in the article was sourced from the newspapers, but what’s interesting is that it took a further two days for the mass – or as I intend to call it from now on, the ‘snail’ – media to cotton on that the whole idea is utterly ludicrous and the public won’t fall for it.

During that time, the Vox article went viral, and Vox readers have never really been known for keeping their opinions to themselves.

A ‘snowball’ effect then ensued, leading to reports in the papers of the public reaction and the 38 Degrees petition, which resulted in Jeremy Hunt’s grumpy tweet: “In case being misled by ‘neutral’ 38Degrees e-petition, it IS NOT and WAS NEVER going to be Conservative policy to limit GP appointments.”

He’s only upset because we spoiled his fun, I expect.

Vox Political was not the only blog covering this story, as far as I’m aware, and I certainly don’t want to suggest that it was any more instrumental in this little victory than anyone else. What I’m saying is it demonstrates that bloggers are starting to drive the political agenda.

The problem is the length of time it takes the mass – sorry, ‘snail’ – media to catch up.

Consider this story on the BBC News website (powered by Atos, in case anybody forgets) yesterday:

Under the headline ‘Incapacity benefit test claims ‘conflated figures’ – watchdog’, it states: “Suggestions that 878,300 benefit claimants dropped their claims rather than take a medical test have been challenged by the statistics watchdog.

“Tory chairman Grant Shapps was quoted saying that nearly a million people had “taken themselves off” incapacity benefit instead of sitting the test.”

Again, it’s great that this nonsense has been challenged, and the challenge has been reported. What’s not so great is the timescale.

Because the Skwawkbox blog, run by Steve Walker, challenged this nonsense almost two months ago.

The comment in the BBC story – by Andrew Dilnot, the now famous head of the UK Statistics Authority – was that “research by the Department for Work and Pensions suggested that one important reason for those cases being closed was because the person ‘recovered and either returned to work or claimed a benefit more appropriate to their situation’ instead.”

That is uncannily close to Steve Walker’s comment that “this represents nothing more than ‘churn’ – a turnover of claims withdrawn because of perfectly normal things like people getting better, or finding a job they can do even if they’re ill” – published on April 2!

I’ll accept some people may dispute the blogs’ influence on the outcome of the ‘NHS consultation’ issue, but on this one it seems unlikely there can be any doubt. Mr Dilnot’s letter followed an inquiry from Sheila Gilmore MP, who follows Vox Political and is certainly likely to have read my report on this matter. It seems likely that she also follows Skwawkbox. The amount of time between those articles’ appearance and the piece on the BBC website is the time it took for her to receive a response to her inquiry on the matter from Mr Dilnot.

Isn’t it a shame that the BBC didn’t do any fact-checking for itself?

So there you have it: If you want proper political news – and proper analysis of events – forget the ‘snail’ media and go to the blogs. We’re faster and more accurate, and what’s more, we make things change.

For the better (in case Iain ‘We’re changing their lives’ Smith was wondering).

The summer is heating up – but are the Conservatives melting down?

Swivel-eyed loon: And Jeremy Hunt is a member of the government, not a grassroots Conservative association.

Swivel-eyed loon: And Jeremy Hunt is a member of the government, not a grassroots Conservative association.

The Conservative Party is eating itself from within. It is therefore an odd time for members to go into Labour marginal constituencies, trying to undermine support with a loaded questionnaire.

That, however, is exactly what we have seen this weekend. But then, what did you expect from the Party of Doubletalk? The Nasty Party? The Party that sows Divisive-ness wherever it can, while mouthing platitudes like “We’re all in it together”? The Party that claims it is responsible with the nation’s finances, while threatening to run up greater debts than any of its rivals ever did?

Let’s start on financial responsibility: Sir Mervyn King, who retires as Governor of the Bank of England next month, has warned that the ‘Help to Buy’ scheme for new mortgages must not be allowed to run indefinitely. The scheme has the state guaranteeing up to 15 per cent of a mortgage on homes worth up to £600,000, and is intended to run until 2017. Sir Mervyn’s fear is that the government will expose the taxpayer – that’s you and me – to billions of pounds of private mortgage debt. He said the UK must avoid what happened in the USA, where state-backed mortgage schemes had to be bailed out.

This particular scheme has already run into flak from those who claimed it was a “second-home subsidy” for the very rich. The new criticism raises fears that the Conservatives are actively engineering a situation that will create more unsustainable debt – and we all know what they do to resolve that kind of problem, don’t we?

They cut. Most particularly, they cut parts of the public services that help anyone who doesn’t earn at least £100,000 per year.

And no – before anyone pipes up with it – nobody receives that much on benefits.

For doubletalk, let’s look at Michael Gove. The Education Secretary was heckled and jeered when he appeared before the National Association of Head Teachers’ conference, where members passed a motion of no confidence in his policies.

The BBC quoted Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT: “What I think he’s failed to pick up on is the short termism of the targets and the constant change, [which] means that people no longer feel that they’re doing the job that they came to do, which is to teach children.”

Mr Gove said he had been “delighted with the warmth and enthusiasm” that had greeted some of the government’s education policies.

But he went on to say there would be no change of course: “What I have heard is repeated statements that the profession faces stress, and insufficient evidence about what can be done about it. What I haven’t heard over the last hour is a determination to be constructive. Critical yes, but not constructive.”

Doubletalk. At first he was saying one thing when we know he means something else entirely; then he went on to ignore what he had been told – by the experts – because it did not support his policy.

Meanwhile, of course, the Conservative Party is eating itself alive over Europe. There are so many angles to this, it’s hard to know where to begin!

We know that Conservative backbenchers tried to amend their own government’s Queen’s speech with a motion regretting the lack of intention to legislate for an in/out referendum on membership of the European Union, and we know that 116 of them voted in favour of that motion. That wasn’t anything like enough for it to pass, so David Cameron didn’t have to worry about resigning (as suggested in previous articles on this blog).

Next thing we knew, the Telegraph‘s political editor, James Kirkup, told us a government figure close to the Prime Minister had said the backbenchers had to vote the way they did because they had been ordered to do so by grassroots Conservative association members, and they were all “mad, swivel-eyed loons”.

Downing Street has denied that anybody said such a thing, but Kirkup has tweeted “I stand by my story” – and anyway, the damage has been done. Conservative association members were already at loggerheads with the Parliamentary party and the government, we’re told, because they believe their views are being ignored.

(One wonders what those views might, in fact, be. This could be one case in which ignoring the will of the people is actually the more sensible thing to do!)

Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, has said the Conservatives are “united” in their view of Europe – but then, Jeremy Hunt – as Health Secretary – told Parliament that spending on the NHS has risen in real terms since the Coalition came into office, and we know from Andrew Dilnot, head of the independent UK Statistics Authority, that this is not true.

Lord Howe, on the other hand, has accused Crime – sorry, Prime – Minister David Cameron of “running scared” of Eurosceptics and losing control of the party. This is the man whose resignation speech, which memorably included a comment that being sent to deal with the EU was like being in a cricket team whose captain had broken his bat, signalled the end of Margaret – later Baroness – Thatcher’s career as Prime Minister.

Who do we believe, the silly youngster or the boring old guy? That’s right – we believe the old guy who already brought down one Prime Minister. Perhaps he can do the same to another.

Meanwhile, we were told on Sunday that members of Parliament are all set to receive a pay rise of up to £20,000, starting in 2015, the year of the next general election. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has been considering an increase of between £10,000 and £20,000, with the lower figure most likely – despite a consultation revealing that some MPs (all Conservative) thought they were worth more than £100,000 per year.

Backbencher pay is around £65,000 per year at the moment. This means the pay rise they are likely to get is 15 per cent, while those Conservatives who wanted £100 grand expected a rise of 54 per cent.

Average pay rises for working people over the last year were less than one per cent.

Do you think this is appropriate remuneration for the political organisation that said “We’re all in it together?” Because I don’t.

And this is the time the Conservative Party decides to float a proposal for a two-tier benefit system, in a survey sent to residents of marginal seats held by Labour.

One question asked whether benefit payments should be the same, regardless of how many years a person has paid National Insurance or income tax. If people answered ‘no’, the next question asked what proportion of benefits should be dependent on a record of contribution.

This is insidious. If benefits become dependent on contribution, that means young people without a job will not qualify for benefits – they won’t have paid anything in, so won’t be able to take anything out. Also, what about the long-term sick and disabled (don’t start about fraud – eliminating the 0.4 per cent of fraudulent claims does not justify what the Conservative-led Coalition is already doing to 87/88 per cent of ESA claimants, or what it has started doing to PIP claimants)? Their claims are likely to continue long after their contributions run out.

This is, I think, a trick to allow rich people to get out of paying higher tax rates. Think about it – rich people pay more, therefore they subsidise public services, including social security benefits, for the poor. Get people to support benefit payments based on the amount of money people pay in and the rich get a nice fat tax cut while the poor get their benefits cut off.

Fair? All in it together?

There’s a lot of doubletalk, so sections are headed “helping with the cost of living” (they tend to make it impossible for people to meet that cost) or “making our welfare and benefits system fair”Tories have never tried to do this in the entire history of that political party.

And respondents were asked to agree with one of two statements, which were: “If you work hard, it is possible to be very successful in Britain no matter what your background” and “In Britain today, people from some backgrounds will never have a real chance to be successful no matter how hard they work”. The correct answer is to agree with the second statement, of course. And this government of public schoolboys have every intention of pushing that situation to its utmost extreme, so if you are a middle-class social climber and you think there are opportunities for you under a Tory government, forget it.

The whole nightmarish rag is prefaced by a letter from David Cameron. It’s very funny if you accept that it’s full of doubletalk and nonsense. Let’s go through it together:

“I’d like to know what you think about some of the steps we’ve taken so far – and I’d like to know your ideas about what more the Government can do to help families like yours,” he begins. He means: I’d like to know what we can say in order to get you to vote for us in 2015. We’ll have no intention of carrying out any promise that does not advantage ourselves and our extremely rich friends. The correct response is: Your policies are ideologically-motivated twaddle that are causing critical damage to this country and its institutions. Your best action in the future will be to resign.

“I think helping people through tough economic times means making sure our welfare and benefits is [sic] fair. That means ensuring the system helps those who do the right thing and want to get on. That’s helping rich people through tough economic times. We’ll make welfare and benefits as unfair to the poor as we can. That means ensuring the system helps those who support us and are rich enough for us to want to help them. Your changes to welfare and benefits have led to thousands of deaths. That is not fair. You are breaking the system.

“That’s why we’ve capped the amount an out-of-work household can receive in benefits, so this can’t be more than an average working family earns. Again I’d like to know what you think about the actions we’ve taken so far, and your ideas to the future.” It’s nothing near what an average working family earns, because they would be on benefits that top up their earnings to more than £31,000 – but you couldn’t cap at that level because almost nobody would have been knocked off the benefit books (all your talk about people taking more than £100,000 in benefits was nonsense). Resign, join a monastery and vow never to enter public life again.

There is no doubt about it – the cracks are beginning to show. Last summer, the Olympic Games gave us spectacular firework displays. As public unrest mounts, it seems likely that we’ll see even more spectacular fireworks this year – unplanned.

But then, that is why the Conservatives bought the water cannons that are being tested at Petersfield. When they go into use, we’ll all know what they really think of the general public.

Iain Duncan Smith has committed contempt of Parliament and should be expelled

It's a whopper: How big do you think Iain Duncan Smith's next Parliamentary exaggeration of the truth will be?

It’s a whopper: How big do you think Iain Duncan Smith’s next Parliamentary exaggeration of the truth will be?

Why is Iain Duncan Smith still a member of Parliament?

Apparently there is an offence, here in the UK, known as Contempt of Parliament. An MP is guilty of this if he or she deliberately misleads Parliament, and any MP accused of the offence may be suspended or expelled.

Our odious Work and Pensions secretary is a repeat offender. It is one thing to be “economical with the truth”, as the euphemism goes; it is entirely different to present known falsehoods to the House of Commons as though they were accurate.

Smith’s latest wheeze involves a press release released by his Department of Work and Pensions last month, in which he is quoted as follows: “Already we’ve seen 8,000 people who would have been affected by the [benefits] cap move into jobs. This clearly demonstrates that the cap is having the desired impact.”

There is no evidence to support the claim. This has been made clear by Andrew Dilnot, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, who said in an open letter yesterday (Thursday) that it was “unsupported by the official statistics published by the department”.

He added that an explicit caution had made it clear that the statistics used by Smith to support his claim were “not intended to show the additional numbers entering work as a direct result of the contact”.

In addition, figures released alongside the statement do not comply with the UK’s codes and practices on statistical releases, and concerns have been raised about the methodology and sourcing, along with possible advance sharing of the data with some – sympathetic? – media outlets.

As an aside, it seems unlikely that Mr Dilnot realised, when he accepted his role at the statistics authority, that it would be such a high-profile role. How many people had even heard of it before the Tory-led Coalition government came into power? Precious few, one suspects.

Yet it has now become a household name, due to the Tories’ continued and persistent use of faked statistics.

They claimed the NHS budget was rising when it had fallen – and only yesterday we saw one consequence of this; the critical strain facing accident and emergency units. Remember, many hospitals are having their A&E units closed, adding to the strain on those that are left. Why is this happening, if not to save money?

They also claimed – in a party political broadcast, no less – that the national debt was falling when in fact it has risen massively over the course of this Parliament.

And now this.

Smith is, as mentioned above, a repeat offender: He also stated recently that around a million people have been stuck on benefits for at least three of the last four years, “despite being judged capable of preparing or looking for work”. These figures were, of course, inaccurate – they included single mothers, the seriously ill, and people awaiting testing.

Oxfam’s Katherine Trebeck, policy and advocacy manager for its UK poverty programme, said in The Mirror that this was “beyond the pale”.

She said: “The vast majority of people who are out of work would jump at the chance to take a job that paid them a wage they can afford to live on.”

And the TUC’s general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said in The Guardian: “Only people with weak arguments need to make up statistics.

“The secretary of state needs to apologise – not just to Parliament, but to the many who cannot find jobs, for misusing his department’s statistics in this way.”

The DWP has issued a statement supporting Smith, but its argument is extremely weak. It said anecdotal responses of staff and claimants supported what he had said: “DWP staff and claimants are telling us the cap is impacting behaviour and leading to those affected finally entering the world of work.”

Anecdotal evidence is not fact and cannot be presented as such. Our good friend Wikipedia describes it in these terms: “Because of the small sample, there is a larger chance that it may be unreliable due to cherry-picked or otherwise non-representative samples of typical cases.Anecdotal evidence is considered dubious support of a claim; it is accepted only in lieu of more solid evidence. This is true regardless of the veracity of individual claims.

Manipulation of statistics by the DWP and its secretary of state prompted Debbie Sayers and fellow blogger Jayne Linney – who has supported Vox Political articles many times – to launch a petition on the change.org website, calling on Parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee to hold Smith to account for his habitual offences against government statistics.

The petition is here, and at the time of writing has more than 76,500 signatures. Please sign it if you haven’t already done so.

It’s time for Iain Duncan Smith – who remains, let’s all remember, Vox Political‘s Monster of the Year for 2012 – to put up or shut up. He must either admit that he lied to Parliament and to the people in order to justify his despicable treatment of the most vulnerable people in the country…

… or he must be expelled from Parliament like the disgrace that he is.

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‘May? Fox? Nobodies! Don’t forget my benefit cap will ruin workers’ pay claims’, says Smith*

Return of the savage: Iain Duncan Smith is using his benefit cap to claw back workers' rights. YOUR rights.

Return of the savage: Iain Duncan Smith is using his benefit cap to claw back workers’ rights. YOUR rights.

It’s as if they’re having a competition.

After Liam Fox, the disgraced former Defence Secretary with nothing at all to gain from his outburst, made a fool of himself by making a series of outrageous demands about government spending (the BBC website picks out “We need to begin a systematic dismantling of universal benefits and turning them into tax cuts”), Iain Duncan Smith stepped into the breach to “dismiss” the Archbishop of Canterbury’s warning – despite its firm basis in fact – that benefit changes will drive more children into poverty.

Clearly the man this blog refuses to call anything but Smith is getting worried that he might fail to retain Vox Political‘s coveted Monster of the Year award in the face of such strong competition – don’t forget Theresa May weighed in with a plan to strip everyone in this country of their hard-won human rights – that he felt it necessary to step up.

We’ll put the rabid Fox down first. Vox correspondent Big Bill called it right when he said Fox was already damaged goods.

“He can be sent out to air these ideas without any further potential loss to the party,” Bill wrote.

“If Cameron started airing them or Osborne, there’d potentially be loss to their status, I imagine Tory thinking has it, and they’re too valuable to waste but Fox is already a political phantom, no more than the fading echo of a career mournfully walking abroad at Westminster.

“If more opprobrium’s heaped on his head, well, then, the party’s learned those ideas won’t fly and no loss to anyone. If by any chance they start to be taken seriously then these ideas will indeed be taken up by Osborne and Cameron.”

Judging from the comedy Prime Minister’s response, the ideas didn’t fly at all and in fact went down like the R101.

But let’s not waste the opportunity to pour scorn on Cameron’s comments. Having already fallen foul of the facts in the past, he simply couldn’t resist the opportunity to show that he hasn’t learnt anything and loves the taste of his own shoes.

“There is one piece of advice I won’t take. That’s the piece of advice saying ‘You ought to cut the National Health Service budget’,” said the PM, past the foot he’d just wedged in his mouth.

How quick he was to forget that Andrew Dilnot, head of the UK Statistics Authority, wrote to caution the government that its claims of increased spending on the health service, year on year, during every year of the current Parliament, were inaccurate. Mr Dilnot stated that the figures show a real-terms cut in expenditure between the 2009-10 tax year when Labour was in power, and 2011-12.

Camoron has never acknowledged this fact, even though it comes from an authoritative source. Maybe he’s no longer capable of listening to anything but the voices in his head.

He continued, saying it was “absolutely right that we have got a plan to get on top of our deficit”. Nice one, Call-Me-Dave. It is indeed, absolutely correct that you have a plan to get on top of the deficit. It’s also absolutely right that your plan does not work; will never work; will in fact make the deficit worse. It’s a plan to give you an excuse to shrink the state.

In that sense, Cameron’s difference of opinion with Fox is a sham. Perhaps he’s using Fox’s words to make his own scheming seem less objectionable.

Too bad. After nearly three years of this red-faced buffoon we can all see through him like a fishnet negligee.

And now, let’s turn to another Tory who won’t listen to anything but the voices in his head – Iain Pretentious Smith.

He has responded to calls from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, along with no less than 43 other Anglican Bishops, to reconsider benefit changes that will push an estimated 200,000 children into poverty. These are figures from The Children’s Society, which is a charity that deals with issues affecting deprived children every single day of its existence and should therefore, reasonably, know.

The letter states that the decision to increase financial support for families by no more than one per cent per year for the next three years, regardless of the rate of inflation, “will have a deeply disproportionate impact on families with children, pushing 200,000 children into poverty. A third of all households will be affected by the Bill, but nearly nine out of 10 families with children will be hit.

“These are children and families from all walks of life. The Children’s Society calculates that a single parent with two children, working on an average wage as a nurse would lose £424 a year by 2015. A couple with three children and one earner, on an average wage as a corporal in the British Army, would lose £552 a year by 2015.

“However, the change will hit the poorest the hardest. About 60 per cent of the savings from the uprating cap will come from the poorest third of households. Only three per cent will come from the wealthiest third.”

Only three per cent from the wealthiest households? It seems we’ve discovered why this plan is so attractive to the Party of the Rich.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby – who has yet to be enthroned – added: “As a civilised society, we have a duty to support those among us who are vulnerable and in need. When times are hard, that duty should be felt more than ever, not disappear or diminish.

It is essential that we have a welfare system that responds to need and recognises the rising costs of food, fuel and housing.” (Labour Party – and especially Liam Byrne – please note).

It was pleasing to see these words from the new Archbishop, who is clearly unafraid to enter political debates, despite the undue flack received by the former Archbishop, Dr Rowan Williams. The Church should speak up to protect those in society whose voice is not strong.

Of course Smith – a Catholic whose behaviour should have had him excommunicated from his own faith – was having none of it.

“I don’t agree that the way to get children out of poverty is to simply keep transferring more and more money to keep them out of work,” he said, possibly revealing a little more than he intended. It seems Mr Smith thinks that, rather than receiving benefits to support them, poor children should be sent out to work. Is he advocating a return to the despicable conditions of the 19th century, in which children were sent up chimneys to clean them?

Don’t put it past him – look what else he had to say!

He said this: “We are doing the right thing in bringing in the benefit cap. For the first time ever, people on low and average earnings will realise at last that those on benefits will not be able to be paid more in taxes than they themselves earn.”

Exactly. Those on low and average earnings will realise that, if they get the sack, they will not be able to cover their current outgoings, meagre though they may be.

The intention behind the benefit cap is – as Vox Political has stated in the past – to silence those on the lowest wages from seeking any improvement in their pay and conditions, and even stop them from complaining if their bosses decide to cut those things.

It is a wholesale – and despicable – betrayal of the vast majority of the British people.

Don’t you forget it.

*He might as well be saying that; it’s what his statements indicate.

‘The man who cut the NHS, not the deficit’

Life imitating art: I made this poster months ago, and it is pleasant that its words were echoed by Andy Burnham in the NHS debate.

Life imitating art: I made this poster months ago, and it is pleasant that its words were echoed by Andy Burnham in the NHS debate.

It was a debate the Labour Party could not win at the vote; the Coalition has the weight of numbers and is always going to vote down a motion that criticises its decisions and record – in this instance, it called for “much-needed honesty” in the public debate on the NHS, and “in particular, NHS spending”.

But it was also a debate that had to take place, and Andy Burnham, the Shadow Secretary of State for Health, was right to put the arguments before the public. Anyone listening to the arguments with an open, if inquiring, mind could see that Labour has won this argument.


The Opposition Day debate in the House of Commons yesterday was called by Mr Burnham after Andrew Dilnot, head of the UK Statistics Authority, wrote to caution the government that its claims of increased spending on the health service, year on year, during every year of the current Parliament, were inaccurate. He stated that the figures show a real-terms cut in expenditure between the 2009-10 tax year when Labour was in power, and 2011-12.

In fairness, the next sentence of the letter went on to say that, “given the small size of the changes and the uncertainties associated with them, it might also be fair to say that real-terms expenditure has changed little over this period”. Even so, that is not an agreement that funding had increased; it is an assertion that the best the government could say is that funding has been at a standstill.

Mr Burnham pointed out two drains on NHS funding that have taken £3.5 billion out of the system – savings of £1.9 billion that went back to the Treasury instead of being ploughed back into NHS services as promised, and £1.6 billion spent on Andrew Lansley’s vanity-prompted, ideologically-based top-down reorganisation that brought private companies into the NHS with disastrous results.

(I think my own opinions may have intruded into the narrative of the last paragraph, but since these conclusion will be obvious to anyone who reads what follows, I feel justified in drawing attention to them here)

I hope we all know what the promises were. The 2010 Conservative Manifesto stated: “We will increase health spending in real terms every year”; the Coalition Agreement said “We will guarantee that health spending increases in real terms in each year of this Parliament”. And week after week, ministers from the Prime Minister downwards have claimed that is exactly what they have delivered. Until recently, the Conservative Party website prominently stated: “We have increased the NHS budget in real terms in each of the last two years”. And on October 23, from the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to the House of Commons: “Real-terms spending on the NHS has increased across the country.”

But there’s a mismatch here, said Mr Burnham. People have heard that spending is increasing, but what they have seen is an ever-increasing list of cuts to funding and services. Along with other Labour MPs, he delivered a devastating list of these cuts in support of his claims. These included:

  • 750 jobs cut at Salford Royal Hospital, with a total of 3,100 job losses across hospitals in that area, and two walk-in centres closed.
  • Cuts to the mental health budget.
  • A broken pre-election promise not to close accident and emergency at Queen Mary’s, Sidcup; it closed after the general election.
  • A plan to close accident and emergency at Lewisham Hospital.
  • Cuts to cancer networks.
  • £1 billion spent on managerial redundancies when patients are seeing treatment restricted and nurses laid off in their thousands.
  • 7,134 nursing posts have been lost since the Coalition came in, 943 in the last month alone.
  • Training places are being cut by 4.6 per cent this year, after a 9.4 per cent cut in 2011-12.
  • 125 separate treatments have been restricted or stopped altogether since 2010.
  • More than 50,000 patients have been denied treatments, kept off waiting lists, and there have been big falls in operations for cataracts, varicose veins, and carpal tunnel syndrome. “We have heard claims about reducing waiting lists but that is because people can’t get on the waiting list in the first place,” said Mr Burnham.
  • West Midlands Ambulance Service advised on Tuesday that there are about half a dozen hospitals in the West Midlands whose A&E staffing situation is so critical that it is having a knock-on effect to turnaround time of ambulances.
  • In Bolton, South Tees, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells, large numbers of staff have been given 90-day redundancy notices.

The consequences were clear, according to the shadow Health Secretary:

74 per cent of NHS leaders described the current financial position as the worst they had ever experienced or very serious, he said. “The reason the government’s cuts feel much deeper is because they are contending with the added effects of a reorganisation that nobody wanted and that they pleaded with the former Secretary of State to stop. Cuts and reorganisation – it’s a toxic mix. As trusts start to panic about the future, increasingly drastic cuts are being offered up that could have serious consequences for patient care.”

Leading on from this, he said the Care Quality Commission found that 16 per cent of hospitals in England did not have adequate staffing levels. “I am surprised a warning of this seriousness hasn’t received more attention,” Mr Burnham said.

“The Prime Minister has cut the NHS – fact,” said Mr Burnham. “But just as he airbrushed his poster, he has tried to airbrush the statistics and has been found out.

“What I find most troubling about all of this, and most revealing about the style of this government and the way it works, is that even when they are warned by an official watchdog, they just carry on as if nothing has happened. When they admitted cutting the NHS in 2011-12 by amending their website, what was the excuse that they offered to Sir Andrew? ‘Labour left plans for a cut.’ Simply untrue.

“According to Treasury statistics, Labour left plans for a 0.7 per cent real-terms increase in the NHS in 2011-12. From then on, we had a spending settlement giving real-terms protection to the NHS budget. It was this government that slowed spending in 2010-11, which allowed the resulting £1.9 billion underspend to be swiped back by the Treasury, contrary to the promise that all savings would be reinvested, and it was this government that still has published plans, issued by HM Treasury, for a further 0.3 per cent cut to the NHS in 2013 and 2014-15 – contrary to the new statement that they have just put up on their website.”

He said the Coalition parties’ arrogance “seems to give them a feeling that they can claim black is white and expect everyone to believe it“. (Would it be in poor taste to hope that, in this case, Douglas Adams is proven correct and they all have terminal experiences the next time they venture onto a zebra crossing?)

“The lethal mix of cuts and reorganisation is destabilising our hospitals,” said Mr Burnham. “They are the first to feel the full effects of the free-market ideology that they have unleashed on the NHS. No longer a ‘One NHS’ approach, where spending is managed across the system, but now a broken-down, market-based NHS. The message to Britain’s hospitals, from this government, is this: ‘You’re on your own. No bailouts. Sink or swim. Oh, but if it helps, you can devote half your beds to treating private patients.’

“So we see increasing signs of panic as they struggle to survive in this harsh new world. And we see half-baked plans coming forward to reconfigure services, with an effort to short-circuit public consultation. Will the Secretary of State today remove the immediate threat to Lewisham A&E by stating clearly that it is a straightforward breach of the rules of the administration process to solve the problems in one trust by the backdoor reconfiguration of another? In Greater Manchester, will he ensure that the future of all A&E provision is considered in the round, in a citywide review, rather than allowing the A&E at Trafford to be picked off in advance? And in St Helens and Mosley, will he reverse the previous SoS’s comments when he told the CCGs they had no obligation to honour financial commitments to the hospital, entered into by the previous PCTs?

“It’s chaos out there, and [the Health Secretary] urgently needs – in fact, they all need to get a grip, not just the Secretary of State; all of them.

“Cuts and reorganisation are resulting in a crude drive to privatise services, prioritising cost over clinical quality. Across England, deals have been signed to open up 396 community services to open tender under ‘any qualified provider’. But these deals are not subject to proper public scrutiny as the deals are held back under commercial confidentiality. In Greater Manchester, plans are advanced to hand over patient transport services to Arriva, despite the fact that an in-house bid scored higher on quality, and despite the fact that the CQC recently found serious shortcomings with the same provider in Leicestershire. Nobody has asked the patients who rely on this service whether they want this change.

“‘Any qualified provider’ is turning into the NHS version of compulsory competitive tendering, a race to the bottom and a rush to go for the cheapest bid, regardless of the effect on patients and services. What clearer symbol could their be of a privatised, cut-price, Coalition NHS than the decision in Greater Manchester to award patient transport to a bus company.”

In the NHS constitution, patients and staff “have the right to be involved, directly or through representatives, in the planning of healthcare services, the development and consideration of proposals for changes in the way those services are provided, and in decisions to be made affecting the operation of those services”. So Mr Burnham asked: “Why doesn’t he just press the pause button now, and ask people if they want their ambulance services run by a bus company? ‘The NHS belongs to the people,’ says the first line of the NHS constitution – not when this government has finished with it, it won’t!

“People will remember the personal promises this Prime Minister made on the NHS to win office. Promises it now seems had more to do with his desire to de-toxify the Tory brand than with any genuine regard for the NHS.

“No top-down reorganisation of the NHS – broken.

“A moratorium on hospital changes – broken.

“And real-terms increases in every year of this Parliament – broken.

“They can now see the chaos that the breaking of these promises is visiting on the NHS: Nurse numbers – cut.

“Health visitors – cut.

“Mental health – cut.

“Cancer networks – cut.

“Cataract operations – cut.

“The man who cut the NHS, not the deficit.”

How did the Coalition combat these assertions? First with an attempt to divert the debate onto the NHS in Wales, overseen by a Labour Assembly Government, where spending has been cut. This was a matter that has exercised David Cameron very much during recent Prime Minister’s Questions, and it was welcome to see Mr Burnham set the record straight as thoroughly as he did yesterday.

He said the Coalition has given to the Welsh Assembly Government a real-terms funding cut of £2.1 billion – and this is the truth of it. I remember discussing the matter with Assembly members last year and it seems that even funding, which had been set aside to cushion the expected blow of cuts from Westminster, had been clawed back by the UK Treasury, with no regard for the consequences to Welsh NHS patients.

“They have done their best to protect health spending in that context,” Mr Burnham said. “Since 2010 there has been no reduction in frontline staff, particularly nurses, unlike [the UK] government. The Welsh Assembly are doing the best they can with the awful hand of cards which [this] government dealt them.”

Next, Mr Burnham was asked if he regretted “removing and reducing health spending to old people and rural areas, which happened under his watch”. It appears that this was a fabrication, dreamed up by the questioner, as Mr Burnham said it bore no relation to reality: “There was no reduction in health spending on my watch. I left plans for an increase. He illustrates my point.”

We heard that the chief economist of the King’s Fund, John Appleby, said that before the general election, the former chancellor had left plans for 2011-12, 2012-13 that would see a cut in real terms.

“I did the deal,” said Mr Burnham, “just months before the general election, protecting the NHS in real terms.

“At the election I was arguing for real-terms protection. I said it would be irresponsible, yes, to give real-terms increases over and above real-terms protection because the only way [to] pay for that would be taking it off councils, hollowing out the social care budget.”

One Tory who seemed particularly keen to assert his superiority said she was “very disappointed” to hear Mr Burnham “talking down the NHS”. She claimed that, before the election, the NHS knew it was facing an “unprecedented efficiency challenge”. And she said that, under Labour, productivity in the NHS fell continuously. Would the shadow health secretary acknowledge the achievements of the NHS in achieving a productivity gain?

This member got what she deserved – a three-word dismissal: “Productivity hadn’t fallen.” It’s a classic Tory ploy, criticising the opposition’s previous record to take the heat off their own current policies. But it doesn’t work when it’s based on a falsehood.

All of these were interjections from backbenchers. We could expect more high-quality responses from the Health Secretary himself, couldn’t we?

Judge for yourself.

“This government is spending more on the NHS than Labour would have, and because that money has moved from the back office to the front line, the NHS is performing better now than it ever did under Labour,” said Jeremy Hunt, the well-known misprint, providing no proof to support his claims.

“In 2011-12, spending went up by £2.5 billion in cash terms, 0.1 per cent in real terms, on 2010-11. And this year, 2012-13, it will go up again, as it will in every year of the Parliament.” But this did not address Andrew Dilnot’s assertion – that spending had dropped from 2009-10 levels. He was being selective with his statistics, and one can only conclude that he was trying to avoid dealing with an inconvenient fact. This was the point at which I knew Labour had won the argument.

“He [Andy Burnham] can hardly come to us, criticising our plans for NHS spending, if his own plans would have led to not higher, but lower NHS spending.” Note that it had already been stated that this was not what Mr Burnham had been doing. He made it clear that he would have protected levels of spending.

Mr Hunt joined the attack on the Welsh Government by stating that Labour has announced plans to cut the NHS budget by eight per cent in real terms, “despite an overall settlement protected by Barnett” (the Barnett settlement is a funding plan for devolved governments. Note that Mr Hunt did not say what the settlement was, and we are therefore deprived of the ability to determine whether this settlement is fair). Mr Hunt went on to ask of his Labour counterpart, “Will he condemn the choice that Labour made in Wales? If he doesn’t want to condemn that, let me tell him what the BMA says is happening in Wales. They talk of a ‘slash and burn’ situation. They talk about ‘panic on the wards’. Would he want that to be repeated in England?” He seemed not to have noticed Mr Burnham stating this is exactly what is already happening.

On a personal note, I use hospitals in Wales – a lot. My girlfriend is disabled and I myself have had occasion to seek hospital treatment. It has always been timely, professional, conducted in a calm, warm, welcoming atmosphere. I have seen no signs of panic on the wards, and if any aspect of the service is being slashed and burned, I haven’t experienced it myself. I have absolutely no complaints about the health service in Wales; if I were to level criticism anywhere, it would be across the border in England.

The final shot in the Wales mini-debate came from a Labour member, who wondered if the cut in Welsh health funding “has got anything to do with the cuts in capital spending from the Westminster government?”

This member added: “And has he any comment to make on National Audit Office figures that show spending on health in Wales is higher than that in England? Or does that not fit with his fictitious version of events?”

Fictitious. That’s exactly right. Now contrast Mr Hunt’s approach to questions from the opposition with the style already displayed by Mr Burnham – who, as evidenced above, tackled his critics head-on, answering them directly with the required facts.

The question was: Will he confirm just how many nurses have been cut under this government’s watch? The answer? “The nurse to bed ratio has gone up. The average bed is getting an extra two hours of nursing care, per week, than under Labour.”

That’s not an answer, and the Labour backbenchers knew it. Smelling blood in the water, another asked: “Why won’t he answer the question put to him – how many nurses have lost their job on his watch? Don’t tell me about nurse-to-bed ratio – answer the question.”

Fat chance! The response, again avoiding a direct answer, was: “The number of clinical staff in the NHS has gone up and not down. I don’t want to micro-manage every hospital in the country and tell them how many doctors and how many nurses.”

Mr Hunt returned to the Coalition line on NHS spending: “”We are increasing spending by £12.5 billion; he [Andy Burnham] thinks that is irresponsible.”

He was, of course, shot down – by two separate comments. One female Labour member stated: “My understanding of that english is that things had not changed much, in any circumstances, but the Secretary of State has said, consistently, he and the government were pledged to an increase. There is nothing in that letter [by Andrew Dilnot] to suggest that any increase has occurred.

And I believe it was Dame Joan Ruddock who said: “I find it impossible to find a record of this extra spending. It seems the reality is cuts and reductions to services.”

No point in listening beyond that. Coalition demolished.

Note: I apologise for the lack of information on who said what, other than the Health Secretary and his Shadow. I’m afraid I was too busy taking down what people were saying to catch their names, as they flashed up on my computer screen. It is not my intention to cause offence.