Douglas Carswell and Nigel Farage have differing views on NHS spending. Photo: Getty
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Ukip confusion over the NHS budget as Douglas Carswell supports more spending

The Ukip MP backs a funding boost for the health service, but that's not his party's line.

On the BBC's Daily Politics this afternoon , the Tory-turned-Ukip MP for Clacton, Douglas Carswell, backed the idea of increasing spending on the NHS.

He said:

We are going to have to spend more as a society, for the simple reason that people are living longer, technology means that we can spend more, invest more in health. We’re going to have to do it . . . I think we are going to have to increase spending because the fact is that people are living longer, people expect better health care and they are not getting it. And they are going to have to have, I think more of our resources as a country spent on health care.

Carswell also admitted on the programme that he had "got it wrong" by voting in favour of the government's NHS reforms in 2012.

On the surface, Carswell's comments are unsurprising, considering all the other main Westminster parties have made pledges on health spending, and that A&E departments are suffering their worst period in a decade. However, it is telling that the MP's comments do not toe Ukip's party line.

Nigel Farage has in the past called it "ridiculous" to protect the NHS budget from spending cuts. In January last year, he told the Telegraph:

We take the view that the greatest boom in Britain has been the growth in the cost of the public sector. The growth of the public sector has placed a massive cost on this country. We will come up with a plan, a fairly radical plan, about how government spending should be cut.

He said the ringfencing of certain budgets, such as on the NHS, is based on "ridiculous arguments". And he would not support protecting the NHS budget when speaking on BBC News later last year, because, "I want to see us get better value for money". Recently, in an interview on Sky News' Murnaghan programme, he dismissed "all this nonsense about ringfencing" the NHS, saying the service could be "more efficient" and that money can be saved on it, "without any shadow of a doubt".

This is just the latest development in Ukip's protracted confusion over its stance on the health service. Spreading its wings to envelope former Labour supporters, it has had to come up with a more left-friendly stance on health spending, and this new direction has caused key party figures to contradict one another. It is also another instance of Carswell swerving away from the party line, a recent example being his call for Ukip not to tolerate "pejorative comments about people’s heritage" and for the party to start showing it has a "serious internationalist agenda".

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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