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22 January 2015

Labour’s Jon Trickett challenges Farage over NHS as he takes on new anti-Ukip role

Shadow cabinet minister writes to Ukip leader demanding that he come clean on his party's health policy. 

By George Eaton

What is Ukip’s policy on the NHS? That question has become harder than ever to answer in recent days. Having previously insisted that he had abandoned his support for an insurance-based system, Nigel Farage told the BBC that it was “a debate that we’re all going to have to return to”. This led the party’s health spokesman, Louise Bours, to rebuke him, claiming that the “vast majority of Ukip members” favour a “state-funded NHS”. 

But confusion remains over the party’s stance, not least how it would fund the increase in spending now promised by Farage. Labour has seized on the ambiguity, with shadow cabinet minister and senior adviser to Ed Miliband, Jon Trickett, writing to the Ukip leader demanding that he come clean on his position.

Trickett’s intervention shows how he’s taking the attack to Ukip on behalf of Labour. The Yorkshireman is regarded by the party as someone with the qualities necessary to successfully challenge Farage. Before entering elected politics, the left-winger worked as a builder and a plumber for 12 years, making him one of the few senior politicians with experience of manual labour. His plain style of speaking allows him to connect with the kind of working class voters alienated by the main parties. It will be impossible for Ukip to dismiss him as someone who has “never had a proper job” or who lacks experience of the world outside of Westminster.

In his letter to Farage, Trickett contrasts Labour’s pledge to spend £2.5bn more a year on the NHS through the introduction of a mansion tax, a levy on tobacco firms and a crackdown on tax avoidance by hedge funds with Ukip’s unfunded promises. He writes: “I today challenge you to match this this policy, funded through these specific funding streams, or allow people to conclude that you will increase NHS funding through the other means your party has proposed: privatisation and charging. Both you and your deputy have recently reiterated and confirmed that increased privatisation is your real belief and agenda.” Trickett also warns that the job cuts planned by Ukip would “compound a crisis given the staffing shortages arising from five years of Tory mismanagement.”

Here’s the letter in full. 

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Letter to Nigel Farage from Jon Trickett MP, Shadow Minister Without Portfolio

 

Dear Nigel,

 

I am writing to ask you to clarify your position on NHS funding. 

You have said that “health spending is going to go up over the next few years”, but you have failed to provide any detail on UKIP policy as to how this will be achieved.

Given the proximity to the election, it is in the public interest that you clarify your position.

As independent experts have identified, the NHS requires a long-term, above-inflation increase in funding. The only positions your party have taken on how this could be achieved is through GP charging or moving to a US-style ‘insurance-based system of healthcare’. 

New evidence shows that the countries UKIP model themselves on have higher proportions of private healthcare funding than the UK.

By contrast, Labour has pledged a £2.5bn Time to Care Fund which would invest in frontline staffing. This is funded from clamping down on tax avoidance schemes; raising tax on high-value properties worth more than £2 million; and introducing fees on tobacco companies. 

I today challenge you to match this this policy, funded through these specific funding streams, or allow people to conclude that you will increase NHS funding through the other means your party has proposed: privatisation and charging. 

Both you and your deputy have recently reiterated and confirmed that increased privatisation is your real belief and agenda.

If you reject the Time to Care Fund, this represents a £2.5bn blackhole in your NHS funding plans. If GP charging were to cover this, this would amount to a per-patient charge of £8 per visit.

You have also repeatedly suggested that you would be prepared to see NHS staffing cuts, which would compound a crisis given the staffing shortages arising from five years of Tory mismanagement.

The convergence of your and the Tories’ NHS policy is perhaps unsurprising given that on 4th January both you and David Cameron declined to rule out a future pact between your parties, but charging would represent an unacceptable step towards excluding working people from experiencing healthcare free at the point of use. 

You have a clear choice: match Labour’s Time to Care Fund; charge people to see their GP; back the Tories to increase privatisation and allow the frontline to suffer.

I look forward to your response.

 

Jon Trickett MP, Shadow Minister Without Portfolio