Peter Hoskin

The Lansley commitment

The Lansley commitment
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ConHome's Tim Montgomerie - instrumental in getting the Cameroons to ditch their pledge to match overall Labour spending plans - has launched his most acerbic attack  yet on the Tories' commitment to hefty real terms spending increases in health, as reiterated by Andrew Lansley on Today this morning. His points deserve repeating:

"There is indeed something incredible about the Conservative position on health spending.  It's a leftover from George Osborne's 2007 pledge to match all Labour spending.  It's the wrong policy for at least three reasons;

-- At a time when Britain's debt mountain is causing international rating agencies to reconsider Britain's credit status it is unaffordable.  Public sector spending is set to soar to 53.4% of national income according to the IEA.  FIFTY-THREE POINT FOUR PER CENT!  That's more than in the aftermath of WWI.  On Platform last week, Andrew Lilico warned that higher spending is damaging Britain's economic performance and called for an emergency budget to scrap Labour's discretionary spending increases.

-- As Andrew Lansley acknowledged on Today, NHS resources have trebled since Labour came to power but productivity has declined.  Taxpayers aren't getting value for money from what has already been splurged.  Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps we should promise to protect NHS expenditure in real terms but that should be the absolute upper limit of our commitment.  Promising inflation-busting increases in the current environment is not prudent.

-- Protecting the NHS (and international development) spending will mean an even tougher squeeze on other departments' budgets.  Mr Lansley spoke of "very powerful spending constraint" elsewhere and mentioned 10% reductions over three years in the budgets for other departments after 2011. Many of these departments - unlike the NHS - have already been squeezed by Labour.  The Times carries a report today of how the Treasury is "crippling" the British Army in Afghanistan." There is one thing that I would add.  Sure, there's the argument (which I don't especially subscribe to) that the Tories can't reveal the full extent of their austerity agenda yet - especially in emotive areas such as health - for fear of provoking Gordon Brown's "cuts" attack.  But 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.  At the very least, this will embarrass the Tory leadership should they decide to row back on the commitment; as they will surely have to if they're to deal with Brown's debt crisis.  At worst, it will prevent them from doing so.

P.S. Extrapolating from the money he's commmited to the health service, Lansley also presented Fraser's calculation that other departments would have 10 percent cuts under the Tories as party policy:

" We are going to increase the resources for the NHS, we are going to increase resources for international development aid, we are going to increase resources for schools ... But that does mean over three years after 2011, a 10 per cent reduction in the departmental expenditure limits for other departments."

As Paul Waugh says, you can expect Brown to pick up on this in PMQs today - even though the 10 percent figure is based on the cuts hidden away in Budget 2009.