Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, a commentator with CNN and the author/editor of over 30 books.
I’m not a great fan of unfunded spending promises. I am, after all, a fiscal conservative. So, I had thought, were leading members of the Government. Philip Hammond likes to remind us of his fiscal rectitude – so Christ alone knows what Jeremy Hunt has on him. Somehow, the Chancellor was persuaded to go along with a £20 billion promise for the NHS.
Now first, imagine this scenario. Just imagine that Jeremy Corbyn had told us that he wanted to spend £20 billion on something, but wouldn’t tell us how he would fund it for another five months. We’d laugh in his face, and utter inanities about a magic money tree.
Second, what about the timing of this announcement? Why do it in the middle of June, when the 70th birthday of the NHS isn’t until the beginning of July? Was it a diversionary tactic to take the Sunday papers’ attention away from the Brexit meaningful vote amendment debate? Surely things haven’t got that bad?
Third, since when did the NHS ever get better just by having money thrown at it? Admittedly, the Government has asked Simon Stevens to produce a ten year plan, but he’ll no doubt say he needs even more money for it. Given the failures of the NHS under his stewardship, I’d rather someone else was in charge of producing this plan.
Here’s a radical idea. How about an actual politician taking responsibility for this plan rather than an official? I know that the modern trend is to sub-contract this sort of things to officials – just look at what Theresa May has done with the Brexit negotiations. In theory, David Davis is in charge of them, but you could be forgiven for thinking that Olly Robbins was. Even now.
The whole NHS announcement was slightly dominated by the Prime Minister’s insistence that it will be funded in part by a Brexit dividend. It is true that there will indeed be such a dividend, but that’s not going to become apparent until after the transition period, and let’s face it, the £9-10 billion we gain will have many competing bids for it.
What all this has also meant is that Hammond has been able to rather over-gleefully inform his Cabinet colleagues that there is no spare money for anything else. Nothing for education. Nothing for defence. Nothing for anyone.
The next few months are going to be dominated by speculation about how the Chancellor will raise the extra money that has been promised to the NHS. A blanket income tax rise is out of the question. I suspect that it is the better-off that are going to cop it again. The most likely measure will be to slam more on national insurance. It will be employers who end up paying the largest share, mark my words. In addition, I suspect the upper earnings limit on national insurance will be extended or abolished. In the 1970s and 1980s, we used to talk about ‘incentives’. Some people in government need reminding about the true meaning of that word.
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Something deeply distasteful happened in the Commons on Wednesday. There is a Commons convention that on tight votes, if the party whips need a hospitalised MP to come to vote, they can be nodded through without going into the voting lobby as long as they spend ten minutes on the parliamentary estate.
Naz Shah, the Labour MP for Bradford West, has been in hospital during the last few days for an operation. She left hospital at lunchtime on Wednesday expecting to be able to vote in that way, but the Conservative whips apparently refused to go along with the convention, and insisted that she stay for the debate and vote at the end
So she had to be wheelchaired into the chamber for the debate, sit there, presumably in some discomfort, and then vote at around 4pm. Kevin Maguire said on Twitter: “This is really nasty by Tory High Command. Most Con MPs will be sickened by it.” Assuming this is indeed what happened, you’d have to say that Maguire has got a point. Parliament only works when ‘the usual channels’ co-operate and can trust one another. What goes around, often comes around.
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Julian Assange has now spent six years languishing in the Equadorian embassy. And even they are now getting tired of him. Apparently, he whiffs a bit, and his internet has been switched off in a bid to encourage the ageing lothario to leave.
So far it hasn’t worked. But one day, he will decide to go. One day, he’ll have to face up to the fact that he jumped bail – a very serious offence in this country. If I jumped bail I’d expect to suffer the consequences.
He fears being extradited to the US. If I were Home Secretary I’d have the extradition warrant already signed and tucked away ready for immediate use. I suspect most of us would happily pay his airfare. He’s an utter sleazebag who thought nothing of publishing information which put many innocent lives at risk.