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Richard Ingrams

Richard Ingrams: Didn't Cameron promise not to cut the NHS?


Early on in last year's election campaign, the Tory party put up posters all over the country showing an obviously airbrushed picture of David Cameron alongside the slogan "I'll cut the deficit, not the NHS".

Cameron had previously told the Tory party conference that the NHS was one of the 20th century's greatest achievements. "Tony Blair explained his priorities in three words: education, education, education. I can do it in three letters: NHS." If, as he hoped, he was elected, there would be "no more pointless and disruptive reorganisations" and any change would be driven by the needs of doctors and patients.

It was probably Cameron's most successful piece of campaigning. People who had previously entertained doubts about his intentions felt reassured that, whatever else might happen if the Tories were elected, the NHS would be left untouched.

Cameron underlined this impression by referring on more than one occasion to his brain-damaged son Ivan (who has since died). "When your family relies on the NHS all of the time," he said, "day after day, night after night, you know how precious it is." It would have needed someone even more cynical than myself to cast doubt on what looked like his obvious sincerity at this point.

Yet today, when the NHS is in a state of turmoil and facing a massive reorganisation with hundreds of health workers laid off, what do we make of all those Cameron promises? There will be quite a few, not only the cynics, who might claim not to have heard such barefaced lies from a senior politician since Blair launched his disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003.

If it's on the web, then it must be true

A special website is being provided to allow celebrities to correct false statements of fact being continuously made about them. One who has taken advantage of the new facility already is the actor Sir Michael Caine, who tells the world that he never ever uttered his now famous catchphrase "Not many people know that". He has explained: "Peter Sellers said it when he impersonated my voice on his telephone answering machine. His impersonation was: 'This is Michael Caine, Peter Sellers is out. Not many people know that.'" Caine added: "I do not mind something clever being attributed to me, but I do mind something stupid that I did not say or do."

But there are plenty of people who never said their most famous sayings. Edmund Burke never said that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. G K Chesterton never said that when people cease to believe in God they believe, not in nothing, but in anything.

But today, when the internet is regarded as the one and only source of all information, it has become extremely difficult to correct false facts once they have got into the system. I don't wish to swank but this week I was the correct answer to a TV quiz question "Who was the founder of Private Eye?". But I was never the founder of Private Eye. There was a group of people involved of whom I was only one. I was not even the founder editor. That was Christopher Booker. But it's too late to change things now. If it says so on the internet, then that's that.

Sir Fred has done us all a favour

As soon as the privacy law began to take effect in the courts – to some extent replacing libel as a way of stifling press comment – it was pointed out by critics that it would be used only by the rich and famous to stop us finding out nasty things about them. And everything that has happened since has proved the critics right.

Millionaire footballers, TV personalities and a motley gang of celebrities have invoked the law, or sought its protection, in the form of an injunction, gagging the press in some cases from even mentioning the fact that they have been to law.

For those of us who would like to see the end of this business – and there are now even a few judges who realise it doesn't reflect much credit on the legal system – Sir Fred Goodwin, former Chief Executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, has performed a valuable service. Because if someone in his position, a discredited pariah rightly held responsible for many of our current woes, can protect his privacy with the help of the law, then the law, as Mr Bumble said, "is a ass".