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. 

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Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era