I use an acid test when judging cabinet ministers. Would they have served in Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet? Margaret Thatcher always surrounded herself with competent ministers, and those who were found wanting didn’t remain in office for very long. She hated sycophancy, and she would not have tolerated a cabinet colleague pleading for their job for an hour and a half during a ministerial reshuffle.
Although I do not believe that Margaret Thatcher would have wanted to move Jeremy Hunt from his position. He has faced down the unions and defends the NHS to the hilt. He may not be a card carrying Freedom Association member, but he’s not a Remoaner; he’s not trying to derail Brexit and he is a highly intelligent man. A cabinet full of Jeremy Hunt’s would not be my cup of tea, but compared to the current batch, it would be an improvement.
This current cabinet is one of the worst I have seen in many years. There are some notable exceptions, but in general, the cabinet is packed full of nonentities - people who haven’t had an original thought in their lives, and, to misquote Churchill, if they did stumble over an original idea, would quickly get back up and walk away as if nothing had happened.
Boris Johnson, for all his faults, is imaginative and is brimming with ideas. I know that building a bridge over the English Channel is farcical, but his suggestion that the NHS should receive an additional £100 million a week, is not.
I wrote last week about the root causes of the current problems in the NHS, and they are not new problems. We have a winter crisis in the NHS almost every year - even through mild winters, but there is no doubt that some additional funding would help. It won’t solve the underlying problems, but it’s bound to have some positive effect.
It’s good politics to advocate more NHS spending. I am reminded of this quote from the fictional Sir Humphrey Appleby in an episode of Yes, Minister. He was replying to Jim Hacker who said that health spending was voted for in Parliament solely to make sick people better:
“No, no, no, no, no. It is to make everybody better. Better for having shown the extent of their care and compassion. You see, Minister, when money is allocated to health or social services, Parliament and the country feel cleansed; purified; absolved. It is a sacrifice”.
Hacker replied by saying what a load of claptrap, and in many ways it is. But good parody works because their is an element of truth, and there is certainly an element of truth in Sir Humphrey’s words.
There are those on the Left who constantly complain about the so-called chronic underfunding of the NHS. Real terms funding of the NHS has doubled in the last 18 years, but that doesn’t stop opposition parties and assorted left wing groups from banging the extra funding drum. When the Government provides additional taxpayer funding, to a certain extent we do all feel cleansed. We feel that our taxes are going to heal more sick people. The truth may be the opposite, but that isn’t the perception. More money = better cancer survival rates, etc.
Back to the title. Do May and Hammond not want to give more money to the NHS? You'd have to ask them that question, however the perception is that Boris does, and May and Hammond do not. Boris’ position plays well with voters - especially in marginal constituencies. May and Hammond’s position does not. Listening to May at Prime Minister’s Questions today, I don’t think the voters will be convinced.
And if you would like to watch the Yes, Minister episode I have quoted from, click here. It is very funny!
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