David Blackburn

Less listening, more talking

There was an exchange on Question Time last night that may go some way to explaining why the government’s health plans are so mired. One panellist, media lawyer Charlotte Harris, said that she was very worried by the substantial cuts being made to the NHS’ budget. Large sections of audience greeted this with rapture. (From 44 mins.)

Immediately, Tory Louise Bagshawe and Lib Dem Jeremy Browne tried to grab David Dimbleby’s attention. It fell to Bagshawe to correct Harris, pointing out that the government has increased spending on the NHS when Labour would cut. The audience responded with boos – more in disbelief than disagreement, incredulous that the Tories would do anything other than cut the NHS. Labour’s Hilary Benn sat in knowing silence, unwilling to correct the audience’s extremely useful misconception. Sure enough, the latest polls suggest that voters don’t trust the Tories with the NHS:


The government is currently submerged in the complexities of the ‘NHS listening exercise’. But last night’s episode suggests that, beyond the confines of Westminster, the broad failure remains one of basic communication.      

PS: Bagshawe said that the government was raising NHS spending by £11bn to 2015. That is the cash figure; in real terms, NHS spending to 2015 is likely to remain flat at around in £102.9bn per annum in today’s money. However, that is immaterial because Labour has said it would cut outright. 

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