The Lib Dems and Tories have similar plans for the NHS. Photo: Getty
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What does the Lib Dems' NHS funding pledge mean for the general election?

£8bn by 2020.

As Labour hammers its opponents on the NHS, and the government attempts to play down the drastic effect of pressures on emergency departments, the Lib Dems enter the electoral fray with their funding promise for the health service: £8bn extra in real terms a year by 2020.

It is a direct response to NHS England and other health bodies' warning that health spending will need to increase by £8bn annually as part of a five-year plan: the Five Year Forward View published by the chief executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens.

This is a clever move by the Lib Dems, as it positions them as the only party directly promising what the NHS claims it needs to carry on. On top of this, the Lib Dems appear to be the only party promising to expand the health service's horizons and focus, with their proposals for mental health to be approached with the same gravity as physical health is treated. Its "red line" manifesto pledge is to equalise waiting times and implement funding especially for mental healthcare.

However, where Nick Clegg falls down is in how he will pay for this proposed increase in health spending. Here are the Lib Dems' plans:

   - We will baseline into the budget of the NHS, the additional £2bn
   that the Liberal Democrats successfully secured in the Autumn Statement for
   2015/16.

   - In addition to this funding, as we set out at our autumn
   conference, we will invest a further £1bn in real terms in 2016/17, which
   will then also be baselined. This will be paid for by capping pensions tax
   relief for the very wealthiest (saving £500m); aligning dividend tax with
   income tax for those earning over £150,000 (saving £400m); and scrapping
   the Conservative shares for rights scheme (saving £100m).

   - Once we have finished the job of tackling the deficit in 2017/18,
   we will increase health spending in line with growth in the economy.

These are hardly new, positive measures for raising funds, and the idea of scrapping a Tory scheme doesn't quite wash, considering the likelihood of the party going back into coalition with the Conservatives. It also opens the Lib Dems up for criticism from Labour, which is ever vigilant in its condemnation of other parties' plans to fund the NHS. The shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham, responded to Nick Clegg's plans with the same criticism he levelled at the Tories: 

Nick Clegg has copied the Tories at reannouncing money from within the NHS. Labour's fully funded plan will invest an extra £2.5bn each year in the NHS to recruit a new workforce, including 20,000 more nurses and 8,000 GPs.

You can’t trust a word the Lib Dems say and more empty promises from Nick Clegg are the last thing the NHS needs. After backing David Cameron’s NHS reorganisation and privatisation plans to the hilt, the public will not believe a word of this unfunded policy.

And indeed, the Lib Dems' plan is more similar to that of the Tories than of Labour, in spite of Labour planning to use an originally Lib Dem policy – the mansion tax – to boost the health budget. This is another example of why another Conservative/Lib Dem coalition could be more workable than if the Lib Dems come to having to work with Labour. It is also useful for Labour, which can gain political capital from lumping the Lib Dems in with the Tories on their attitude to the NHS.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.