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Coffee House

The Tories’ intellectual dishonesty over the NHS

8 May 2011

3:18 PM

8 May 2011

3:18 PM

Why should Cameron ditch the Lib Dems? Coalition has made his party more radical, more
electorally successful – and the worst ideas in the Cabinet come from men with blue lapels. Take Andrew Lansley. His press release today would have been shocking had it come from a Lib Dem,
and denounced as dangerous leftist nonsense that renders the government’s overall message incoherent. Ed Balls’ arguments against cuts have routinely been challenged in Coffee House. So we can
hardly be expected to applaud when his arguments are plagiarised by a Tory.

The hapless Lansley, whose needless and complex heath reform bill has stalled, is today trying to win back the initiative by attacking Balls and Miliband from the left. He accuses them of
conspiring to find savings in the bloated NHS budget. His press release speaks best for itself:

Lansley: Ed Miliband and Ed Balls would cut our NHS by almost £30 billion

New analysis of Labour’s NHS spending plans shows that Labour would have cut the NHS by £28 billion over the current Parliament. This is a cut of over £520 for every man,
woman and child in the country.

Labour’s NHS cut would be the equivalent of:
–– 900,000 nurses
–– nearly 26 million cataract operations; or
–– over 4.5 million hip operations.

Really? Or might the cuts just cut out waste, increase productivity and reform the sprawling NHS machine? Lansley keeps alive Balls’ logic, expressing every penny of imagined cuts in
terms of teachers, nurses etc. NHS spending more than doubled under Labour. Did the NHS become twice as good? Of course not – it just became more bloated, more bureaucratic and more wasteful.
Steve Bundred had it right when he was head of the Audit Commission. He said:

"Both political parties have pledged that whatever happens they will protect health and education. I think that’s a big mistake. Health and education are the two services that have
been most generously funded over the past decade but they are among the most inefficient services."

Cameron has recently joined in, saying in PMQs that Labour cut the NHS budget in Wales. In so doing, Cameron keeps alive the central error of the Labour years: to confuse care with cash.
Judging success by intention, not results, is the biggest mistake you can make in politics.

And if Labour’s NHS cuts shows it doesn’t care, what does this say about Tory cuts in policing, universities, transport etc? Cameron is being intellectually dishonest in his approach here. He is
supposed to be supplanting bad Labour thinking with sound Tory thinking. Except there is no discernable thread running through his government: the Health policy utterly contradicts the other
policies. What Cameron says on health cuts undermines what he says about defence, education and police cuts. If health cuts result in apocalypse, why won’t police cuts? We see, in Lansley, a party
still lacking intellectual self-confidence. Still trying to sing someone else’s song.

In my Keith Joseph lecture last year I quoted Lord
Salisbury, who still puts it best:

“The commonest error in politics,” he wrote, “is sticking to the carcasses of dead policies. When a mast falls overboard, you do not try to save a rope here and a spar there
in memory of their former utility. You cut away the hamper altogether. It should be the same with policy, but it is not so. We cling to the shred of an old policy after it has been torn to
pieces, and to the shadow of the shred after the rag itself has been torn away.”

Brownite policies led the country into ruin. Lansley is clinging to the shred of Brownite spending. It doesn’t work, never did.

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