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19 September 2019updated 20 Sep 2019 10:34am

Boris Johnson’s hospital visit shows the Conservatives’ problem with a winter general election

A general election held in late November or early December would coincide with period in which the NHS tends to struggle most.

By Stephen Bush

Boris Johnson’s election tour was once again derailed, this time by Omar Salem, the father of a sick child who lambasted the Prime Minister over his use of the hospital as a campaign stop. In a somewhat bizarre scene, cameras caught Johnson telling Salem, a Labour activist, that there was no press at the hospital.

Personally, as I explain in greater detail on my blog, I think that the father in question happens to be a Labour activist is a secondary issue. In the so-called War of Jennifer’s Ear, a 1992 row over a Labour party election broadcast featuring a young girl with glue ear, the fact that Jennifer’s mother and grandmother were Conservatives was secondary to the fact that Labour was bang to rights: parts of the party’s broadcast didn’t add up. And Johnson is now similarly bang to rights: he was using the hospital as a campaign prop and the hospital was providing inadequate healthcare and has a number of difficulties.

And those difficulties – and the wider condition of the NHS – may ultimately vex the government more than what is really just a one-day story about a bad campaign stop for the Prime Minister. The most important thing about Jeremy Corbyn’s big Brexit intervention yesterday was his public statement of a view that is essentially universal in his inner circle, that once the extension request has been honoured there cannot be any more delays before going back to the country.

That means an election in late November or early December, a period in which the NHS tends to struggle due to the pressures of winter. Downing Street’s big gamble is that the promise of more money to come has neutralised that big vulnerability – but they’ve done that at the cost of putting aside the political argument for further cuts. If a winter election becomes about the present state of the health service, the promise that there is more money to come may not be an adequate firebreak.

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