IS IT TURNING into UKIP? Tory Party members must be wondering whether they have woken up in another party, as leading Tories in the Government are squabbling with each other in a way we usually only see in UKIP.
The current row centres on the NHS. In a nutshell, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has called for the NHS to receive an extra £100 million a week – to be paid from the profit Boris expects to see from Brexit. It is by no means proven that there will be this kind of profit – or after how many years Brexiters hope it will kick in.
On the face of it, Boris has made this call because he is worried that Theresa May is not taking the NHS seriously, and its problems are a gift for opposition parties. Underneath that is likely to be a wider frustration with the way the Government is struggling – and an ambition to become Leader of the Tory Party.
Chancellor Philip Hammond has publicly rebuffed Boris’s suggestion – really quite rudely. He told reporters that Boris was “the Foreign Secretary” – implying he should stick to his own brief and butt out of domestic issues. He added that the NHS had received an extra £6 billion in last November’s budget and it would be best to look at its overall financial position during the Government’s next scheduled departmental review.
That was the riposte of a man who is determined to protect Theresa May in order to safeguard his own job (and possibly position himself to make his own leadership challenge in due course).
Boris says he is responding to public concern about how the NHS is functioning. Bunkum. He is a populist and defends the private sector, with its profit motives, to the hilt. The world already has Donald Trump – we don’t need his British mini-me to get a look in.
•In the meantime, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth MP, is taking the Health Service very seriously. He has discovered that there have been changes to the method used to record how hospital Accident and Emergency (A&S) departments are performing.
Ashworth has written to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt asking why the change was made in secret – and requesting that he reveals whether the change in how data is recorded means that the current crisis is actually worse than it seems.