Ukip's message on the NHS is inconsistent. Photo: Getty
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Ukip's high command remains confused about the NHS

To outsource or not to outsource?

As Ukip hoovers up increasing support, and a few MPs along the way, it is starting to face a certain level of scrutiny regarding its policies.

The party's lack of consistency on the NHS is a particularly sore subject, following the revelation around the time of last month's by-election of Nigel Farage's enthusiasm back in 2012 for an insurance-based system run by private companies. As his party is now openly attempting to pick up Labour voters, Farage's former thoughts on NHS funding are damaging. So much so that he had to hastily insist that he would keep the NHS free at the point of use, without handing control over to "faceless private-sector companies".

But it's clear confusion about its approach to the health service endures among Ukip's high command. Writing in a column in the Express, Ukip deputy chairman Neil Hamilton suggests he would like to see more NHS outsourcing. He refers to "hopeless public sector procurement practices" compared to the efficiency of running a business in the private sector, and decries the "bloated budget" of the NHS. He concludes:

Unfortunately every time a private sector company produces money-saving ideas Labour and trade union dinosaurs start shroud-waving about NHS privatisation. We need to fight back because NHS inefficiency costs lives. One of them might be yours.

This approach to running the NHS sounds entirely at odds with Farage's recent defensive insistence against outsourcing. He told LBC in September:

The government aren’t just privatising the National Health Service, the Labour government following up the coalition, are privatising, or shall I say outsourcing, virtually everything . . . I actually think the bits of our life that government departments control should actually be controlled and run properly by government departments and not outsourced. So I am against outsourcing, I think we need a massive rethink about the way we’ve outsourced the National Health Service and much, much of what the state used to be competent to do in this country.

What does Ukip's inconsistency on the NHS mean for the election? First, it's clear from the need for Ukip to clear up its policy that Labour is so far successfully making the NHS a key electoral battleground. It is also good news for Labour because enthusiasm from key Ukip figures for outsourcing can give its "Ukip is more Tory than the Tories" attack line credence.

As for the Tories, although it is difficult for them to make popular statements on the health service, it will help them to some extent to have a party to point towards as less trustworthy on health reforms than they are so often accused of being.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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The dog at the end of the lead may be small, but in fact what I’m walking is a hound of love

There is a new, hairy face in the Hovel.

There is a new, hairy face in the Hovel. I seem to have become a temporary co-owner of an enthusiastic Chorkie. A Chorkie, in case you’re not quite up to speed with your canine crossbreeds, is a mixture of a chihuahua and a Yorkshire Terrier, and while my friend K— busies herself elsewhere I am looking after this hound.

This falls squarely into the category of Things I Never Thought I’d Do. I’m a cat person, taking my cue from their idleness, cruelty and beauty. Dogs, with their loyalty, their enthusiasm and their barking, are all a little too much for me, even after the first drink of the day. But the dog is here, and I am in loco parentis, and it is up to me to make sure that she is looked after and entertained, and that there is no repetition of the unfortunate accident that occurred outside my housemate’s room, and which needed several tissues and a little poo baggie to make good.

As it is, the dog thinks I am the bee’s knees. To give you an idea of how beeskneesian it finds me, it is licking my feet as I write. “All right,” I feel like saying to her, “you don’t have to go that far.”

But it’s quite nice to be worshipped like this, I have decided. She has also fallen in love with the Hovel, and literally writhes with delight at the stinky cushions on the sofa. Named after Trude Fleischmann, the lesbian erotic photographer of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties, she has decided, with admirable open-mindedness, that I am the Leader of the Pack. When I take the lead, K— gets a little vexed.

“She’s walking on a loose lead, with you,” K— says. “She never does that when I’m walking her.” I don’t even know what that means, until I have a think and work it out.

“She’s also walking to heel with you,” K— adds, and once again I have to join a couple of mental dots before the mists part. It would appear that when it comes to dogs, I have a natural competence and authority, qualities I had never, not even in my most deranged flights of self-love, considered myself to possess in any measurable quantity at all.

And golly, does having a dog change the relationship the British urban flâneur has with the rest of society. The British, especially those living south of Watford, and above all those in London, do not recognise other people’s existence unless they want to buy something off them or stop them standing on the left of the sodding escalator, you idiot. This all changes when you have a dog with you. You are now fair game for any dog-fancier to come up to you and ask the most personal questions about the dog’s history and genealogy. They don’t even have to have a dog of their own; but if you do, you are obliged by law to stop and exchange dog facts.

My knowledge of dog facts is scant, extending not much further beyond them having a leg at each corner and chasing squirrels, so I leave the talking to K—, who, being a friendly sort who could probably talk dog all day long if pressed, is quite happy to do that. I look meanwhile in a kind of blank wonder at whichever brand of dog we’ve just encountered, and marvel not only at the incredible diversity of dog that abounds in the world, but at a realisation that had hitherto escaped me: almost half of London seems to have one.

And here’s the really interesting thing. When I have the leash, the city looks at me another way. And, specifically, the young women of the city. Having reached the age when one ceases to be visible to any member of the opposite sex under 30, I find, all of a sudden, that I exist again. Women of improbable beauty look at Trude, who looks far more Yorkie than chihuahua, apart from when she does that thing with the ears, and then look at me, and smile unguardedly and unironically, signalling to me that they have decided I am a Good Thing and would, were their schedules not preventing them, like to chat and get to know me and the dog a bit better.

I wonder at first if I am imagining this. I mention it to K—.

“Oh yes,” she says, “it’s a thing. My friend P-J regularly borrows her when he wants to get laid. He reckons he’s had about 12 shags thanks to her in the last six months. The problems only arise when they come back again and notice the dog isn’t there.”

I do the maths. Twelve in six months! That’s one a fortnight. An idea begins to form in my mind. I suppose you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out what it is. But no. I couldn’t. Could I?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism