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.

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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.