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24 January 2018

PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn gets the better of Theresa May on NHS funding

As long as the Prime Minister refuses to provide more money, the Tories' health problems will endure. 

By George Eaton

Jeremy Corbyn wisely accepted the gift presented to him by Boris Johnson at today’s PMQs. “Does the Prime Minister agree with the Foreign Secretary that the NHS needs an extra £5bn?” was the Labour leader’s succinct opener. 

When Theresa May retorted that the health service received £6bn at the last Budget, Corbyn replied that the real figure was £2.8bn “spread like thin gruel” over several years. Indeed, NHS leaders warned that they needed a minimum of £4bn more this year and received just £1.6bn. 

Though Corbyn did not mention Johnson again (the Foreign Secretary was conveniently travelling), he turned May’s boast that the NHS had never been “better prepared” for winter against her. “Who should the public believe? The Prime Minister or A&E doctors?”

It was not long before May, as is traditional, cited the state of the Labour-run Welsh health service. “The Prime Minister is responsible for the underfunding of the Welsh government,” Corbyn replied and May took him up on the point: “The only answer he ever comes up with is the question of money.”

Labour’s spendthrift image remains a potential weakness for the party. But after the longest period of austerity in the NHS’s 70-year history, May is on vulnerable ground. The reality is that, as an increasing number of Tories recognise, more money may not be sufficient but it is necessary. As long as May denies the NHS a significant funding increase, the Tories’ health problems will endure. 

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Surprisingly, the Prime Minister made no mention of today’s record employment figures in her exchanges with Corbyn (though average wages have fallen for the ninth consecutive month) and did not seek to turn debate from the NHS (Labour’s strongest suit) to the economy. 

Also of note was Damian Green’s first question since his sacking from the cabinet last year. Green, who lied over the possession of pornography, was greeted with cheers from Tory MPs (“it’s a lot easier asking than answering them,” Green quipped). He asked May to commit to “an early start on the lower Thames crossing between Kent and Essex” (observing, in reference to Boris Johnson, that proposals for new bridges are currently fashionable). May answered Green politely but, perhaps wisely, expressed no warmth to her old ally. 

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