Conservative Diary

« Channel 4 plans autumn docu-drama on David Cameron's Bullingdon Club days | Main | Tories will NOT introduce co-payments for NHS »

The Tories should make their NHS spending U-turn quickly and move to a position of protecting frontline services only

CleggGoodies In today's Independent Nick Clegg abandons Liberal Democrat commitments on tuition fees, long-term care and pensions.  I agree with Coffee House's Pete Hoskin.  Clegg is right to do so.  The debt situation is truly awful.  Britain is now borrowing £5,000 every second.  Many commitments made in good times are no longer affordable.  The electorate won't punish a political party that says, as Clegg does, that "the circumstances are utterly different from anything in the last 15 years."  "Our shopping list," the Liberal Democrat leader continues, "of commitments will be far, far, far, far, far shorter."

The Tories are still hanging on to the pledge to maintain real NHS spending. It's a crazy pledge (reasons here) and it's going to be politically harder to reverse the longer they hold to it.  Osborne and Cameron need to find the moment (and soon) to say why it is no longer affordable.  There is plenty of data upon which they can hang their justification.  There are many other ways of showing that compassionate conservatism is alive and well (some were rolled out last week) than sticking with an unaffordable pledge.

I would change to the position advocated by James Forsyth of The Spectator.  He thinks the Conservatives should pledge to protect frontline NHS services but not the whole NHS budget.  Exactly right.

PS Danny Finkelstein and I have been having a somewhat confusing exchange of blogs on the timing of spending cuts and tax rises.  His latest post is here.  Let me try one more attempt to clarify my position.  I want to see the Tory Treasury team preparing to make large savings from day one.  The British state is on the edge of a precipice and international creditors/ rating agencies need reassuring that the party is serious about spending restraint.  The existing carry-on-splurging-on-the-NHS pledge and the fact that some Tory frontbenchers are not having serious talks with the Treasury team about public spending cuts worries me a lot.  Less important than delivering every cut immediately - as far as markets are concerned - is a strategy that credibly will deliver them.  That's what is still lacking.  The readiness of some Tory politicians to talk about tax rises (which may produce a double dip recession and more business flight) is worrying when the tough jugments are spending are still being ducked.  That's my main point.


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.