While the Prime Minister continues to ask the electorate to “strenghten her hand” for the Brexit negotiations by voting Conservative at the 8 June General Election, the Labour Party and it’s leader Jeremy Corbyn continue to attempt to hold the Government to account on its record on delivering public services, today focusing on the National Health Service (NHS). With pledges to give “overworked” nurses a pay rise and to “end Tory privatising” aspects of the NHS. These policies are bound to go down well with the electorate – with the NHS traditionally seen as Labour’s strongest policy front.
Jomathan Ashworth, the Labour shadow Health Secretary said NHS staff had been undervalued and that NHS workers have been “ignored and insulted” by the Conservative Government. A “big” pay rise for staff in the NHS, he said, would be paid for by raising corporation tax. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the Tories, under George Osborne as Chancellor of the Exchequer, had repeatedly cut corporation tax for businesses and that the rises he proposes would end years of NHS staff being undervalued, overworked and underpaid. Not wanting to pre-empt the upcoming Labour election manifesto, he did not specify by how much the pay rise would be or by how much corporation tax would rise. He did say that the pay rise would take into account the cost of living and that the situation in the NHS was “getting worse” as a result of pay levels and inadequate staffing levels. Ashworth argued that Theresa May’s claims on how much the Government is giving the NHS is a lie and that Labour “will give the NHS the funding it needs.”
Labour will lift the 1% pay cap on NHS rises and will base wages on the results of collective bargaining and the findings of independent pay review bodies. Speaking at a Unison conference in Liverpool, Mr Ashworth said:
“Our NHS staff are the very pride of Britain. Yet they are ignored, insulted, undervalued, overworked and underpaid by this Tory government. Not any more. Enough is enough.
“NHS staff have been taken for granted for too long by the Conservatives. Cuts to pay and training mean hard-working staff are being forced from NHS professions and young people are being put off before they have even started. Now Brexit threatens the ability of health employers to recruit from overseas.”
Mr Ashworth also promised that Labour would “end Tory privatisation” of the NHS by reversing all Conservative attempts to allow private providers into the NHS. He also said that a Labour Government would introduce legislation that would make it necessary for staffing levels in the NHS to take account of patient safety and will examine whether staffing levels in some areas of the NHS need to have legally-binding patient to staff ratios. He argued that “Tory mismanagement” had left parts of the NHS “dangerously understaffed.”
According to the Independent, the Labour plan will be a three-point one:
1. Increase NHS pay to a “sustainable level”, with awards made through “collective bargaining and the evidence of independent pay review bodies”.
2. Legislate for safe staffing – to “ensure that patient safety always takes priority over financial considerations when staffing levels are being set”.
3. Fully fund education for health professions – by reversing cuts to funding and other support for students taking health-related degrees.
Also speaking on Today, the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt argued that it was too expensive to pay NHS staff more: “I would certainly agree NHS staff do a brilliant job and we would certainly like to pay them more than we are able to at the moment but we have had to face a very difficult period financially.” When challenged about his own pay rise as an MP – which, of course, MPs themselves vote on raising, he argued that as a Minister he had taken a pay cut:
“Ministers have actually given themselves a pay cut – that’s the only pay we have control over. I have accepted my pay rise as an MP and my pay cut as a minister and that’s the point: all ministers have done because we recognise we have to set an example.”
Mr Hunt then tried to deflect the debate back to what the Government wants to focus on – Brexit – arguing that the NHS would only be ‘’strong” if Theresa May is elected again to implement Brexit. Yet again the Government is trying to keep the issue of this election focused on Brexit, and not let the electorate dwell on the fact that 1.3 million NHS workers are to receive a pay rise of just 1%, which in many cases is barely a rise of £5.00 per week. This means that for six consecutive years under the Conservatives and previously a Conservative-led Coalition, NHS pay rises have been well below the cost of living, with inflation currently at 3.2%.
Meanwhile, a Conservative health minister Philip Dunne said that the Conservatives had “protected and increased the NHS budget and got thousands more staff in hospitals,” and continued: “That’s at risk with Jeremy Corbyn’s nonsensical economic policies that would mean less money for the NHS,”
The Lib Dem health spokesman agreed with the Labour plan to lift the 1% pay cap on NHS pay, arguing:
“In effect we are asking very many staff across the NHS to just, year on year, take a pay cut in real terms in order to sustain our NHS. And I don’t think that’s acceptable. I think ultimately it’s dangerous. We are seeing widespread vacancies … Actually people will vote with their feet and leave if you don’t maintain wages at least in real terms.”
He said that their manifesto would explain how they would do the same, but said that reversing corporation tax cuts to pay for it was not credible:
“The problem with the Labour position is their proposal just isn’t credible … The money from corporation tax increase has been spent about 10 times over.”
This is an age-old political problem – or tactic if you like – where parties working out their funding pledges for election manifestos are prone to use the same source more than once. Mr Lamb is claiming that Labour has pledge to raise corporation tax for ten separate uses:
1. Bringing back the education maintenance allowance and university maintenance grants;
2. Paying for additional teachers, nurses and police;
3. Funding social care;
4. Extending pension credit to support women affected by the change to the state pension;
5. Paying for an efficient post office, good public transport, and fast and comprehensive broadband for small businesses;
6. Supporting the pensions triple lock and investing in social care;
7. Funding public sector pay rises;
8. Investing in the UK steel sector;
9. Reversing cuts to disability benefits; and
10. Reversing the cuts to the adult skills budget.
I guess we will have to wait for the Labour manifesto to be published to see just which, if any, of these are funded by a rise in corporation tax.
Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn face off at the final PMQs of this Parliament
Possibly for the last time, the Prime Minister Theresa May faced the leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn across the dispatch boxes in the House of Commons. This was the last Prime Minister’s Questions of this Parliament, with the Parliament dissolution next week. With the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, giving retiring MPs the chance to answer a final question, it was also thought to be the longest PMQs at nearly one hour long. Naturally it was a chance for opposing MPs to sling insults back and forth ahead of the snap election six weeks from tomorrow.
Jeremy Corbyn said of the impending election: “The election on 8 June is a choice…between a Conservative government for the few and a Labour government that will stand up for all of our people.” He also said that a Tory victory would lead to a “chaotic Brexit” and said the Tories were “strong against the weak and weak against the strong”.
Meanwhile the Prime Minister repeated her “strong and stable” claim her leadership would bring to the Government and the country and took the opportunity to attack Mr Corbyn, speaking of what she says is his: “refusal to say he would strike against terrorism, to commit to our nuclear deterrent and to control our borders […] Every vote for him is a vote to weaken our economy. Every vote for me is a vote for a strong economy with the benefits felt by everyone across the country.”
Tim Farron, the Lib Dem leader, used his opportunity presented by the Speaker to say of Theresa May: “20 years ago she berated the Conservative Party for being the nasty party, but her party has never been nastier”. He also said that the Labour Party was the most incompetent opposition in history.
The biggest issue raised at PMQs was pensions and, in particular, the so-called triple-lock that was introduced by the Coalition Government in 2010 and guarantees that pensions rise by the same as average earnings, the consumer price index, or 2.5%, whichever is the highest. Many opposed this during the last seven years because it was protecting pensioners from austerity, and as a consequence the rest of us suffered even more. Others, including many MPs simply feel it is unaffordable or unsustainable to keep the triple lock. Jeremy Corbyn has already pledged to keep the triple lock but the Prime Minister has repeatedly refused to confirm or deny it will be retained. When asked by SNP MP Angus Robertson at PMQs today: “Will the PM give a clear and unambiguous commitment to maintaining the triple lock on the state pension?” she again refused to guarantee the triple lock and simply said that “pensioners’ incomes” would continue to increase under a Conservative Government. Mr Robertson bemoaned that she couldn’t answer a “simple question,” and “the only reason they will not guarantee it is because they want to cut pensions”.
Debates seem even more unlikely as Jeremy Corbyn refuses to take part without the PM
Also at today’s PMQs Jeremy Corbyn confirmed that unless Mrs May takes part in a televised leaders’ debate he won’t take part either. A spokesman for Mr Corbyn said it was extraordinary that Mrs May wouldn’t debate the leader of the “only other possible government.” Like the Prime Minister, Mr Corbyn is willing to appear individually on other shows if the debates don’t take place, but his spokesman explained:
“If you’re talking about a debate about the possible outcomes of the general election, you’re talking about Labour and the Conservatives first and foremost, so to have a debate among the opposition parties doesn’t meet that objective at all.
“We’ve made clear that this election is a choice between a Conservative government or a Labour government; there is no other possible outcome, and it’s extraordinary that the prime minister feels unable to face a television debate with the leader of the only other possible government that could come out of this election.
“It’s a sign of weakness, not of strength, and we are continuing to press to have those debates, and to have a head-to-head with Theresa May, and we are confident that if the British public gets to see that debate, with Theresa May having to face Jeremy Corbyn in a direct debate, they would respond to Labour’s message, and that’s one of the reasons they’re running scared.”
I feel this is a mistake by Mr Corbyn as it takes the pressure off the Prime Minister to appear. I think he should have kept up the pressure till the end and appeared on the debates himself, even if Mrs May doesn’t. I agree that the Prime Minister is running scared from debating in person Mr Corbyn as she realises that if she does he will bring up domestic issues such as the NHS, public services, schools, and the economy which the Prime Minister wishes to avoid. It is in Labour’s interest to get their message across “in our own voice” as the party says itself. Being so far behind in the polls it is essential that people hear what Labour has to offer. Many of their policies are popular but the electorate need to be convinced and debates were an ideal way for this to happen. On this issue, the Labour spokesman said:
“We are confident that we can win this election, and we’re fighting for every seat, and we’re confident that once Labour’s message is clearly heard and there is a chance for the public to hear policies that many of them won’t have heard before, but which are extremely popular, and we know to be so, that will have cut-through, and Labour support will increase.”
“The politics and the polling is actually quite complex and quite varied across different countries, and I don’t think it’s just a technical issue to do with the polling companies that we’re in; I think it’s to do with the volatile and fluid political situation, with much more fragmentation.”
As for the Prime Minister, she can now continue to ignore the debates and carry on with keeping on message – i.e. to talk about Brexit and how a Tory Government after 8 June will ensure that Brexit is carried through – at least how she wants it to be carried through. Her oft-repeated election slogan of a “strong and stable” Government got plenty of airing by the Prime Minister at PMQs today.
- If ever there was a time to vote Labour, it is now – READ MORE (Guardian.com)
- Labour promises to abolish NHS staff pay cap – READ MORE (Independent.co.uk)
- Tim Farron sacks Lib Dem candidate for ‘offensive and antisemitic’ remarks – READ MORE (Guardian.com)
- David Cameron: Brexit vote ended a ‘poisoning’ of UK politics – READ MORE (Guardian.com)
- The Guardian view on the last PMQs: now the unnecessary election – READ MORE (Guardian.com)