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Labour accused of breaking rules by using NHS hospital for manifesto launch

Gordon Brown has just launched Labour's 2010 election manifesto at Birmingham's about-to-be-opened new Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.

But how does this fit in with the official Cabinet Office guidelines about holding election events on NHS premises, which state:

"1. Neither Ministers, nor any other Parliamentary candidates, should involve Government establishments or offices (such as Jobcentres) in the General Election campaign by visiting them for electioneering purposes.

2. In the case of NHS property, decisions are for the relevant NHS Trust but should visits be permitted to, for example, hospitals, the Department of Health and the Scottish Executive advise that there should be no disruption to services and the same facilities should be available to other candidates. In any case, it is advised that Election meetings should not be permitted on NHS premises."

Labour claim that since the hospital is a PFI project, it remains a building in the hands of a private firm - yet Brown clearly described it as “a new acute NHS hospital" in his speech and the venue was obviously chosen for that reason.

Andrew Lansley 2010 Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has accused Labour of exploiting a taxpayer-funded buidling for political advantage:

“It is absolutely typical of the Labour Party to abuse the NHS for political advantage.  This is a hospital paid for by the taxpayer, which Gordon Brown described as an NHS hospital and will serve NHS patients in a matter of weeks. Labour have exploited a loophole in the law so that they can exploit the NHS, which is supposed to serve everyone in the country not serve as a prop for Gordon Brown.

“But Labour’s scaremongering won’t work.  The NHS is our number one priority.  It is the Conservative Party – not Labour - which is committed to increasing spending on the NHS.  Labour plan to cut the NHS capital budget by £700 million which will mean fewer hospitals being built if they are re-elected.”

4pm update:

Francis Maude has now written the following letter to Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell:

Dear Sir Gus,

I am writing to complain about a flagrant breach of General Election guidance by the Labour Party over their cynical use of a hospital to launch their manifesto.

You will be aware that Labour today launched their manifesto at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.  As part of this launch, Gordon Brown and Harriet Harman both gave keynote speeches in a new wing of the hospital, decorated with Labour Party branding, and both made political references to it, saying it 'embodies the timeless ideal of compassion in action'.

This completely contravenes the Cabinet Office's General Election guidance which prohibits election meetings from taking place on NHS premises:

'Election meetings should not be permitted on NHS premises' (General Election Guidance 2010, Cabinet Office; emphasis their own)

This breach of the rules is completely unacceptable and I ask you to investigate how this was allowed to happen.  In particular, I would be grateful if you could provide answers to the following questions:

  • What communications took place between the Labour Party and the NHS Trust regarding the use of the hospital?
  • Was the Department of Health aware that the hospital was to be used in this way?
  • What involvement did Sir Albert Bore, the Chairman of the NHS Trust and leader of the Labour group in Birmingham, play in organising this event?
  • Were any services at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital disrupted by the presence of hundreds of party activists, journalists and politicians at the Labour Party's event?

Labour claim that this guidance has not been breached as the new wing is a PFI project, not an opened hospital and is therefore owned by private firm.  However, Gordon Brown described it as a 'new acute NHS hospital that will be open within weeks' in his speech.  He is therefore clearly using the fact that it is an NHS hospital for electoral gain, contrary to your guidance.  Considering the imminence of the General Election, I would also be grateful if you could deal with this request as quickly as possible.

Yours sincerely,

Francis Maude

Jonathan Isaby