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Unless living standards improve, Theresa May's Cameron tribute act will continue to fall flat

The Prime Minister's 2.0 operating system looked a lot like David Cameron 1.0.

Meet the new boss, she's just the same as the old boss? The PM tried out the new Theresa May 2.0 operating system against Jeremy Corbyn at PMQs yesterday and it looked a lot like David Cameron 1.0: the cuts are hard but necessary.

It drew muted applause from the right-wing press. “What took you so long?” asks Asa Bennett at the Telegraph. The Spectator's James Forsyth says that she “turned the clock back” to the Cameron-Osborne years.

Things have never been worse; don't let Labour ruin it. It's not on paper an inspiring message but it worked in 2015, didn't it? One of the strengths of the British right is that they burnish rather than tear down their former leaders but they also tend to believe the hype, which is its own problem in a way.

It's worth noting that George Osborne was perfectly happy to borrow money, by cutting taxes faster than he cut spending. He also quietly tore up "Plan A" in 2012 and lavished money on road-building. (In that respect, May really has gone back to the Osborne playbook, by talking tough on austerity in the House while quietly letting the Transport Secretary announce that he'll be spending freely on, you guessed it: roads.)

It certainly didn't help, as I write in my column this week, that the Conservatives abandoned their economic argument. But I can't help feeling that the significant difference between 2015 and 2017 wasn't that George Osborne had more screen time than Philip Hammond, but that in 2015, Britain was experiencing a period of slight deflation, obscuring the fact that wage growth had been fairly stagnant. In 2017, thanks to the fall in the value of the pound, Britain was experiencing a period of inflation, which only highlighted our anaemic wage growth.

And unless the government can find a way to either get wages rising or prices falling, the PM's Cameron tribute act will continue to fall flat. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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The overlooked aspect of patient care: why NHS catering needs a revolution

The NHS performs so many miracles every day – in comparison, feeding the sick should be a doddle. 

A friend recently sent me a photo from her hospital bed – not of her newborn baby, sadly, but her dinner. “Pls come and revolutionise the NHS” the accompanying text read, along with a plaintive image of some praying hands. A second arrived the next morning: “Breakfast: cereal, toast or porridge. I asked for porridge. She said porridge would be ‘later’. Never arrived. (sad face).”

Contrast this with the glee with which another friend showed me his menu at a Marie Curie hospice a few weeks later. He seemed to have ticked every box on it, and had written underneath his order for syrup sponge and custard: “extra custard please”. It wasn’t fancy, but freshly cooked, comforting food that residents looked forward to – “like school dinners”, he sighed, “but nice”.

To be fair, though budgets vary significantly between hospital trusts, a reliable estimate suggests £3.45 per patient per day as an average – only slightly more than in Her Majesty’s prisons, though unlike in prisons or schools, there is no legally enforceable set of minimum standards for hospital catering. As Prue Leith writes in the foreword to a 2017 report by the Campaign for Better Hospital Food, “this means hospital food is uniquely vulnerable to a race to the bottom in terms of food quality, and patient care”.

Plate after plate of disappointment is not only demoralising for people who may already be at a low ebb, but overlooks the part food has to play in the recovery process. Balanced, appetising meals are vital to help weaker patients build up strength during their stay, especially as figures released in February suggest the number of hospital deaths from malnutrition is on the rise. According to Department of Health findings last year, 48 per cent of English hospitals failed to comply with food standards intended to be legally binding, with only half screening every admission for malnutrition.

The Campaign for Better Hospital Food’s report, meanwhile, revealed that only 42 per cent of the London hospitals that responded to its survey cooked fresh food for children – even though the largest single cause of admissions in five-to-nine-year-olds is tooth extraction. Less than a third of respondents cooked fresh food for adults.

Once the means to produce fresh meals are in place, they can save trusts money by allowing kitchens to buy ingredients seasonally, when they are cheaper. Michelin-starred chef Phil Howard, recently tasked by the Love British Food organisation to cook their annual lunch on an NHS budget, explained that this, along with using cheaper cuts and pushing vegetables centre stage, allowed him to produce three courses rather than the two he’d been asked for. Delicious they were, too.

Andy Jones, a chef and former chair of the Hospital Caterers Association, who was there championing British food in the NHS, told me the same principles applied in real healthcare environments: Nottingham City Hospital, which prepares meals from scratch, saves £6m annually by buying fresh local ingredients – “I know with more doing, and voices like my small one shouting out, we will see real sea change.”

Unusually, it’s less a question of money than approach. Serving great hospital food takes a kitchen, skilled cooks and quality ingredients. But getting every hospital to this point requires universal legal quality standards, like those already in place in schools, that are independently monitored.

Nutrition should be taken as seriously as any other aspect of care. The NHS performs so many miracles every day – in comparison, feeding the sick should be a doddle. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 18 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Enoch Powell’s revenge