Peter Hoskin

Will the Tories regret their NHS spending bravado when it comes to government?

Will the Tories regret their NHS spending bravado when it comes to government?
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I wrote in my last post that Cameron's reponses to the Alan Duncan gaffe and NHS Twitter campaign have been "well-judged" – by which I meant that the Tory leader had stepped in swiftly enough and delivered exactly the kind of quotes to defuse the situation.  But there's an element to the Tory response which as frustrating as ever: namely, the emphasis on real-terms spending increases for the health service.  The Tories' Head of Press, Henry Macrory, makes the point bluntly in – what else? – a tweet:

"Someone should ask Andy Burnham if he will match the Conservative commitment to real-term increases in the NHS budget?"

Now, I know this is current Tory policy – so why shouldn't they shout it out from the rooftops? – and it has a certain kick-Labour-where-it-hurts appeal.  But that doesn't prevent it from being a crude Brownite position which seems to equate more and more spending with better outcomes.  And it doesn't prevent it from undermining the Tories' recent strategic gains in the "cuts vs investment" battle.

Fact is, a Tory government may find it essential to cut health spending to properly deal with Brown's debt crisis.  So, normally, it's just Andrew Lansley who goes big on the spending commitments – and then we hear how the Tory leadership are increasingly frustrated with him.  But when the Tories emphasise these commitments en masse, they risk forcing themselves into a position from which they can't retreat.