The Tories are waking up to the fact that no one trusts them on the NHS. Photo: Getty
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Why David Cameron's political point-scoring on the Welsh NHS won't wash

The Daily Mail and Prime Minister peddling myths about the Welsh NHS won't work in their favour.

Even by its own historically shameless standards, the Daily Mail has had a week to forget.

The paper’s week-long “exposé” of the Welsh NHS has actually managed to expose just two things, both of which we already knew. One, they print what the Tories ask them to print and, two, David Cameron is running scared of his record on the NHS in England. 

Today was down in the Daily Mail’s diary as the climax to their Crosby-inspired campaign. Day five of five, the killer blow, another front-page splash to peddle Tory lies about the Welsh NHS and divert attention from the crisis facing the health service in England.

Except, something’s not quite right: a quick glance at the Mail’s front page and Wales is nowhere to be seen. Dig deeper (if you can stomach it) – through the nonsense, the scare-mongering and another abhorrent attack on Ed Miliband’s dad – and you’ll see we haven’t just been knocked off the front-page, we’ve been relegated as far down as page 21.

So, why such a flat finale to this orchestration of Tory spin?

I’d suggest two simple reasons: the effective rebuttal from the Welsh government – fully armed with statistics and data to unmask Mail myths – and the Tories in Westminster waking up to the fact no one trusts them on the NHS – and the more they talk about it, the less still they’re trusted.

At every turn, Wales’ health minister Mark Drakeford has been one step ahead of the Daily Mail, in some cases batting back charges from the Tory rag before they’ve even been thrown.

On today’s offensive – cancer care – Mark and I, and numerous others, have already let it be known that Wales outperforms England (90 per cent start treatment within 62 days in Wales; just 84 per cent in England do), so the paper’s lie was put to bed before it was even put to print.

But, suffice to say, the truth has never got in the way of a good story for the Daily Mail, which would suggest there’s a second, more strategic, reason the paper has wound its neck in.

Namely, that when David Cameron runs down the Welsh NHS to political point-score, who exactly does he think his audience is? 

People in Wales certainly aren’t going to listen to a Tory on the NHS: they remember all too vividly the destruction and decay the Thatcher and Major governments left our public services in.

Meanwhile, voters in England rightly want the Prime Minister to talk about the English health service; they know all too well, that when Cameron obfuscates and talks about Wales, he’s avoiding the question and running away from his own record.

So I hope that when Lynton Crosby considers the fate of his and the Mail’s failed campaign, his advice to the Prime Minister is along the following lines:   

Keep talking about the Welsh NHS, keep reminding people in Wales how far we’ve come from the days of Tory neglect where patients were waiting over two years for straightforward operations.

And keep shying away from your record in England too: your wasteful top-down re-organisation, a million English patients waiting over 4 hours and the worst year in A&E for over a decade.

Lastly, I’ve lost track of the exact number of times you’ve mentioned the Welsh NHS at PMQs – it’s around 40, give or take a slander or two – but try reaching 100 before the election comes and see how voters in both England and Wales feel about it.

Owen Smith MP is shadow secretary of state for Wales

Owen Smith is a Labour leadership candidate and MP for Pontypridd. 

Getty.
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On civil liberties, David Davis has become a complete hypocrite – and I'm not sure he even knows it

The Brexit minster's stance shows a man not overly burdened with self-awareness.

In 2005, David Davis ran for the Tory leadership. He was widely assumed to be the front-runner and, as frontrunners in Tory leadership campaigns have done so enthusiastically throughout modern history, he lost.

The reason I bring up this ancient history is because it gives me an excuse to remind you of this spectacularly ill-judged photoshoot:


“And you're sure this doesn't make me look a bit sexist?”
Image: Getty

Obviously it’s distressing to learn that, as recently as October 2005, an ostensibly serious politician could have thought that drawing attention to someone else’s boobs was a viable electoral strategy. (Going, one assumes, for that all important teenage boy vote.)

But what really strikes me about that photo is quite how pleased with himself Davis looks. Not only is he not thinking to himself, “Is it possible that this whole thing was a bad idea?” You get the distinct impression that he’s never had that thought in his life.

This impression is not dispelled by the interview he gave to the Telegraph‘s Alice Thompson and Rachel Sylvester three months earlier. (Hat tip to Tom Hamilton for bringing it to my attention.) It’s an amazing piece of work – I’ve read it twice, and I’m still not sure if the interviewers are in on the joke – so worth reading in its entirety. But to give you a flavour, here are some highlights:

He has a climbing wall in his barn and an ice-axe leaning against his desk. Next to a drinks tray in his office there is a picture of him jumping out of a helicopter. Although his nose has been broken five times, he still somehow manages to look debonair. (...)

To an aide, he shouts: “Call X - he’ll be at MI5,” then tells us: “You didn’t hear that. I know lots of spooks.” (...)

At 56, he comes – as he puts it – from “an older generation”. He did not change nappies, opting instead to teach his children to ski and scuba-dive to make them brave. (...)

“I make all the important decisions about World War Three, she makes the unimportant ones about where we’re going to live.”

And my personal favourite:

When he was demoted by IDS, he hit back, saying darkly: “If you’re hunting big game, you must make sure you kill with the first shot.”

All this, I think, tells us two things. One is that David Davis is not a man who is overly burdened with self-doubt. The other is that he probably should be once in a while, because bloody hell, he looks ridiculous, and it’s clear no one around him has the heart to tell him.

Which brings us to this week’s mess. On Monday, we learned that those EU citizens who choose to remain in Britain will need to apply for a listing on a new – this is in no way creepy – “settled status” register. The proposals, as reported the Guardian, “could entail an identity card backed up by entry on a Home Office central database or register”. As Brexit secretary, David Davis is the man tasked with negotiating and delivering this exciting new list of the foreign.

This is odd, because Davis has historically been a resolute opponent of this sort of nonsense. Back in June 2008, he resigned from the Tory front bench and forced a by-election in his Haltemprice & Howden constituency, in protest against the Labour government’s creeping authoritarianism.

Three months later, when Labour was pushing ID cards of its own, he warned that the party was creating a database state. Here’s the killer quote:

“It is typical of this government to kickstart their misguided and intrusive ID scheme with students and foreigners – those who have no choice but to accept the cards – and it marks the start of the introduction of compulsory ID cards for all by stealth.”

The David Davis of 2017 better hope that the David Davis of 2008 doesn’t find out what he’s up to, otherwise he’s really for it.

The Brexit secretary has denied, of course, that the government’s plan this week has anything in common with the Labour version he so despised. “It’s not an ID card,” he told the Commons. “What we are talking about here is documentation to prove you have got a right to a job, a right to residence, the rest of it.” To put it another way, this new scheme involves neither an ID card nor the rise of a database state. It’s simply a card, which proves your identity, as registered on a database. Maintained by the state.

Does he realise what he’s doing? Does the man who once quit the front bench to defend the principle of civil liberties not see that he’s now become what he hates the most? That if he continues with this policy – a seemingly inevitable result of the Brexit for which he so enthusiastically campaigned – then he’ll go down in history not as a campaigner for civil liberties, but as a bloody hypocrite?

I doubt he does, somehow. Remember that photoshoot; remember the interview. With any other politician, I’d assume a certain degree of inner turmoil must be underway. But Davis does not strike me as one who is overly prone to that, either.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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