Conservative Diary

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63% of voters say Tory line on increasing NHS spending is wrong

Fleet Street continues to reject Gordon Brown's dishonest attempts to frame the next election as a choice between Labour investment and Tory cuts.  A very good piece by the IFS' Robert Chote in The Telegraph exposes the reality of Labour's planned cuts.

None of the cuts discussed over the last 48 hours will actually reduce Britain's debt burden.  Most are associated with simply meeting the fast-rising burden of paying off the interest on Gordon Brown's borrowings.

On Wednesday morning I noted three reasons why the Tories were wrong to promise inflation-busting increases in NHS spending:

  1. Public spending is set to hit 53.4% of GDP and needs to be brought under control.
  2. NHS productivity is declining despite the massive increase in NHS resources - suggesting an inefficient use of existing investment.
  3. Increasing NHS funding will require even deeper cuts in the funding for budgets that haven't enjoyed the largesse that Labour has lavished on the NHS (eg defence).

Pete Hoskin added a fourth reason: "Lansley's comments are so consistently weighted towards the cash the Tories will lavish on the NHS, that the overriding message is: judge our health policy on the amount of money we spend - the more, the better."  If Labour has proved anything over the last 12 years it's that money alone doesn't produce improvement and, yet, on health we are suggesting that more money is still a big part of the answer rather than better value for money.

6333 Today we get a fifth reason why the Tories are wrong.  Public opinion, as measured in a new PoliticsHome survey, appears to be supportive of the proposition that the NHS should share the burden of the debt crisis.  The Tories would, of course, argue that they are looking for savings in the NHS but it's certainly not true that the NHS will be asked to make a fair share of savings.  Only a third of voters support the Tory line that the NHS should be protected from major cuts and the cost should fall disproportionately in other areas.  When only Tory voters are polled the split widens from 63%/33% to 80%/19%.

Following yesterday's U-turn by new Health Secretary Andy Burnham the Tories are actually promising a more extravagant policy on the NHS than Labour.  If the Tories are not willing to get a grip on public spending (and shadow ministers tell me that the much-talked about attempt to get them to find savings hasn't actually reached them) then I worry that an incoming Conservative government will impose hefty tax rises as the only way of appeasing international credit agencies.  

Tim Montgomerie


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