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Matthew Barrett: There is room to cut the health budget, but we must still embrace the NHS

Matthew Barrett blogs as Working Class Tory at

The proposed ring-fencing of the NHS budget by David Cameron has come under some criticism on this website, and many others. It seems apparent to me that in this economic climate we cannot possibly hope to keep every departmental budget at current levels, and to suggest that certain departments, ie Health and International Development, are somehow more deserving than others, is not conducive to running a good, effective government.

Indeed, having one departmental budget protected will inevitably cause a culture of complacency and arrogance, a reluctance to cut down when the times are tough. Is this a precedent? Will we ever be able to cut the NHS budget again, thanks to this decision? These are questions that will need to be asked as time goes.

But what strikes me most is the fact that we don’t need to ring-fence the NHS budget. We could have cut it in the good times, so we can cut it in the bad times.

That’s not to suggest that we go in, mercilessly slashing and making sure the poor are worse off. It is to say that we can save billions of pounds in efficiency savings, and make sure the frontline services don’t suffer a bit. We can cut out various levels of bureaucracy and save money, and still not affect frontline services.

However, what is absolutely vital about the message David Cameron and Andrew Lansley put across in the run-up to the election is that we return to the core message of the NHS.

Now, we on the Right may not like Nye Bevan, the Beveridge Report, or in fact any of Labour’s ideas and policies from 1945-51, but that government’s pursuit of a social policy which provided care from the “cradle to the grave” was a noble endeavour, and one which should never be undermined by allowing the NHS to become unfit for purpose, or aiming at providing something other than what it was set up for.

As such, what is more important than funding, is returning to the core principles. Everyone, regardless of creed or class ought to be able to see a doctor. Forget the bureaucracy of postcode lotteries and forget ridiculous cases of boob-jobs on the NHS.

A return to core principles can only cost less. They are, according to the NHS website:

  • That it meet the needs of everyone
  • That it be free at the point of delivery
  • That it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay

So cut out the rest, and deliver on these three fronts, which is not being done at present.

However, almost as importantly as actually delivering, is getting this to the voter. The Conservative frontbench team ought to emphasise that we are, and must be, committed to the NHS, as committed as Nye Bevan himself. We should also not be afraid to call it a socialist project, which it is. It is necessary socialism, and a deeply popular institution. Daniel Hannan rubbished the NHS on Fox News, which played right into the hands of the Left, who saw one of our biggest figures condemn Labour’s greatest achievement. So let’s embrace that socialist organisation for the good of the country. I have no doubt this will be another example of where we are more progressive than Labour.

If we can frame the NHS debate as Labour bureaucracy versus Tory progressive solidarity with the poor and needy, we can win Labour votes, we can win LibDem votes, we can win working class votes, we can win Essex man, Holby woman and the swing seats. We can win with the NHS.


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