Peter Hoskin

Would Labour cut by 10 percent (again)?

Would Labour cut by 10 percent (again)?
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One important story which has been rather obscured by all the expenses revalations today is Andy Burnham's claim that the health Budget would never be cut under a Labour government.  It's a position that he stated last week, but quickly retracted after realising that it impled, yep, 10 percent cuts for other departments.  Anyway, he's hinted at it again, in interview with the Mirror:

"[Burnham] said seeing the dedication of NHS staff will guide him in his new role as Health Secretary.

And he backed up his claim by boldly announcing there will NEVER be any cuts to the NHS as long as Labour is in power.

Mr Burnham said: 'The NHS is our priority. We are absolutely not talking about cuts. That is not part of our lexicon. We do not think in that way.'

It is the first time there has been an explicit commitment that despite spending cuts ahead, the NHS will be protected. His declaration may provoke fury in the Treasury, but Mr Burnham insisted the loyalty he saw that day in Manchester proved the NHS is worth fighting for." Now, to my mind this sets up four scenarios:

1) If this is sanctioned by Downing St then it just highlights the depths of disingenousness that Brown is willing to mine.  After all, a ringfenced health service implies - by the framework of Labour's own Budget - 10 percent cuts for other departmental budgets.  Yet you suspect Brown will still keep throwing the "Mr 10 percent" tag at Cameron.

2) Burnham is telling a Brownie: referring, as the Dear Leader does, to only one component of total spending (e.g. current spending), while other components of health spending will be cut.

3) Burnham's spinning without making a firm commitment.  Notice how in the actual quote the Mirror have he doesn't say - unambiguously - that there won't ever be health cuts.

4) Burnham is completely off message, which will drive Downing St mad.

Either way, the Government continues to tie itself in knots over the public finances.