Shadow health minister Liz Kendall during the party's NHS week in the election campaign. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Five things we learned from Liz Kendall at the Press Gallery

Labour leadership candidate backs the 2 per cent defence spending target and free schools. 

Labour leadership contender Liz Kendall, one of three likely to make the ballot (the others being Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper), appeared before a Parliamentary Press Gallery lunch this afternoon, feeding the hacks plenty of newslines. Here are the five main ones. 

She backs the 2 per cent defence spending target

The Tories have repeatedly refused to pledge to meet the Nato target of spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence (despite David Cameron urging other member states to do so). But Kendall today declared her support for the commitment. "Under this government we have seen a quiet diminishing of Britain's role in the world, which we did too little to challenge because we were paralysed by the past," the shadow health minister said. "Under my leadership, Labour will no longer stand by while the Prime Minister weakens our country and allows the world to become less secure. That means insisting the UK maintains our basic Nato commitment to continue spending 2 per cent on defence. As leader of the opposition I will hold David Cameron to account for Britain's promise to our allies and I will oppose him if he breaks it." 

But while her stance allows Labour to outflank the Tories in a novel area, it will make it harder for her to achieve fiscal credibility unless she outlines how the expensive pledge would be paid for. 

She supports free schools

Labour went into the election opposing the establishment of free schools in areas with surplus places - a stance that Burnham has promised to maintain. But Kendall declared that she would support institutions of all kinds provided that they were "providing a great education".  

"As leader, I'm not going to waste time obsessing about school structures. If a school is providing a great education, whether it's a local authority, academy or free school, we will back it. What's more, if someone wants to help run their school, they deserve credit, not criticism." 

Kendall's stance is designed to show that Labour is open to public service reform (one of her greatest political passions) and takes a non-ideological approach to education. But it will not help her cause among the trade union members and party activists she will need the support of to win the leadership (the majority of whom are opposed to free schools). 

She would not cut tuition fees and instead focus on early years 

One of Labour's signature election pledges was to reduce university tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000. But Kendall disowned this policy, instead promising to focus on early years education. 

"When kids in my constituency start school 15 months behind where they should be in terms of their development and 20 months behind in some areas, they play catch-up for the rest of ther lives. They struggle to even get basic GCSEs, let alone have a chance of going to college, university or getting a job. That's why children's early years will be my priority as leader, not cutting university tuition fees."

She expected the Tories to win the most seats 

Asked by NS editor Jason Cowley why she and her shadow cabinet colleagues failed to remove Miliband if they believed his approach was failing, Kendall replied: "You don't know what goes on behind closed doors and the conversations people have. But he was elected leader, he deserved our loyalty and support. He took the decisions and we backed that because that's what happens when you elect a leader, I believe in collective responsibility. 

Kendall did admit, though, that she expected the Tories "to get most seats" at the election, recalling that "When you have so many undecided voters in our key marginals, you know something is fundamentally wrong. Because it's either that our Labour party members aren't canvassing properly, which isn't the case because they're fantastic, it's because people aren't telling you the truth: either they're going Tory or they're going to vote Ukip. I thought they'd get the most seats but I didn't predict the scale of it.

She is open to the Labour leader facing re-election  

Asked by the Spectator's Isabel Hardman whether she supported the next leader submitting themselves to re-election before the next election (as proposed by Labour peer Jan Royall), Kendall made it clear that she was open to the idea. 

"I think the idea that people are asked to make sure that you're up the job that you're doing is an interesting one, actually, those three years or whatever. We have to do it as MPs, I think it's an interesting idea." Asked whether she wouldn't object to a second leadership contest, she replied: "If people think you're not up the job, then yes." 

***

Now listen to George discussing the Labour leadership contest on the NS podcast:

 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.