Cameron breaks his NHS spending pledge

Spending on the health service was cut by £766m last year.

Earlier this week, I revealed that David Cameron had betrayed his pledge to protect Sure Start, now he's broken another key election promise.

The PM has repeatedly said that spending on the health service will rise in "real terms" in each year of this Parliament. But figures from the Treasury (see Table 1.9) show that the NHS spent £101,985m from April 2010 to April 2011, down from £102,751m the previous year, and a real-terms cut of £766m.

George Osborne's ostensible defence is that the year in question - 2010-11 - was the final year of Labour's 2007 spending review. But as Ed Balls has just pointed out in a letter to the Chancellor, "[U]nder our plans NHS spending was to be £106.6 billion in 2010-11 ... You have actually spent just £102.0 billion."

In fairness, the coalition is on track to meet its pledge this year (see Table 1.9) with spending set to rise in real-terms from £101,985m to £103,026m. However, spending will then fall back to £102,861m the following year (2012-13). David Cameron is fond of boasting that the NHS budget will rise in cash terms by £12.5bn but what he forgets is that much of this increase be swallowed up by inflation. The purchasing power of the NHS will be progressively reduced as the price of drugs and equipment continues to rise.

The real question now is whether the coalition will abandon its pledge or instead raise extra funding for the NHS, either through tax rises or through even greater cuts elsewhere.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.