Boris Johnson outlines major NHS spending plans in Queen’s Speech

The government pledges an annual spending increase that will leave the health service with £33.9bn more in cash terms within four years. 

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This week’s Queen’s Speech outlined a legislative programme described by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the “most radical in a generation”. Taking advantage of a redrawn post-election political landscape and an 80-seat Conservative majority, the government has made a number of spending commitments and policy announcements designed to straddle the left-right divide and solidify the party’s newfound support among Labour voters in the so-called “red wall” and former heartlands. 
 
The NHS took centre stage, with the government announcing it would enshrine its health spending plans into law for the first time, promising a 3.4 per cent annual increase that will leave the health service with £33.9bn more in cash terms in four years’ time, as well as abolishing hospital parking charges. English schools are set to have their funding increased by £7.1bn by 2022-23, reversing the cuts they have undergone since 2010. The commitments signal a willingness to increase spending and public investment in a serious departure from the balanced budgets and fiscal rectitude championed by Johnson’s predecessors and party colleagues, both under Prime Ministers David Cameron and Theresa May.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is continuing at the helm for the duration of the party's upcoming leadership election, said that Johnson had copied the “language of Labour policy but without the substance,” adding that the pledges were “a very pale imitation”. The chancellor, Sajid Javid, has said that it is time to “turn the page on austerity” with extra spending, public borrowing to fund major infrastructure projects and “a decade of renewal”. Earlier this year, at the height of no deal fears, Javid promised significant fiscal stimulus and state intervention in the event of an economic shock. The Office for Budget Responsibility has warned that the Tories are in breach of fiscal rules. 
 
While the government parks the tanks on Labour’s lawn when it comes to the economy, displaying a commitment to well-funded public services and big government, easing austerity and adopting more elements of tax-and-spend Keynesianism, there has been a shift to the right on immigration, law and order, Brexit and defence. A new bill will detail tougher sentences for violent and sexual offences, with a 14-year minimum for serious terrorist offences. Echoing Conservative election pledges, 20,000 new police officers will be recruited (reversing the 20,000 reduction over the last 9 years). An Australian-style points-based immigration system will be introduced post-Brexit, allowing the government to discriminate between skilled and unskilled potential immigrants. The new Brexit bill has watered down commitments to take unaccompanied refugee children from Europe and has banned the government extending the Brexit transition period beyond 2020. Despite fears from human rights groups, new legislation giving British military veterans immunity from prosecution did not appear in the Queen's Speech.
 
As Britain’s political cultures undergo deep shifts, with the Conservatives establishing themselves as the party of leave-voting post-industrial towns and Labour confined to metropolitan areas, the government’s legislative plans are indicative of Johnson’s general strategy. This week he told his new cohort of MPs that he was to lead “a totally different party” that “cannot go back to being the Tory party of the old days”.

 

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