A Few Reminders about Labour and NHS Spending

Today the Tories have made my previous blog post on the NHS slightly obsolete, by officially pledging to find the extra £8 billion per year the NHS says is required to safeguard the service by 2020. Obviously there are some problems with the practicalities of that pledge. You can read about those anywhere you like: here, for example.

It’s clear to me that Labour should really have nothing to say on this though. There are several reasons for that:

1. Labour still hasn’t taken responsibility for the party’s contribution to the state of the UK’s economy in 2010. That doesn’t mean I buy into the narrative the Tories (and the Lib Dems to an extent) have painted, that says “forget the enormous global financial crisis- it was all Gordon Brown’s fault”. But it is true to say that the Labour government was running deficits before the crash, and stimulating unsustainable levels of consumer debt (particularly around the property market), and it’s also true to say they were warned – many times – by people who foresaw what was to come. Here’s an example, from 2003:

On the housing market, is not the brutal truth that with investment, exports and manufacturing output stagnating or falling, the growth of the British economy is sustained by consumer spending pinned against record levels of personal debt, which is secured, if at all, against house prices that the Bank of England describes as well above equilibrium level?

In case you’re wondering who asked that – it was Vince Cable, in the House of Commons, asking the then Chancellor, Gordon Brown.

2. Labour planned not to protect NHS funding in 2010. This is a key point, and something that is seemingly entirely forgotten. The Lib Dems took the same view, in fact; it was only the Tories that committed to real-terms increases in NHS funding – something that has been delivered.

It is therefore entirely disingenuous and wrong of Labour to scaremonger about the level of funding the NHS is likely to receive under a Tory-led government. To scaremonger, for example, by putting up posters like the one below. Bear in mind that this is the party that has been so keen to take the moral high ground over “negative campaigning”. The hypocrisy is staggering.

3. Labour still hasn’t committed to giving the NHS the funding it needs to survive. Under Labour’s plans the NHS would get only an extra £2.5 billion a year, well short of what the NHS itself says it needs. Today they are decrying the Tories’ pledge as “fantasy funding”. Yet only a couple of weeks ago, their main political goal was to get the Prime Minister to rule out various tax increases – something that rather blew up in Ed Miliband’s face at the final PMQs of the Parliament, and meant Ed Balls had to rule out NI increases similarly hastily.

If you want to talk about fantasy funding, maybe don’t waste time on tactical manoeuvres that will narrow down the options available to any government to raise revenue – revenue that needs to be put into vital public services such as the NHS.

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