Saving the NHS is easy if you don’t need to say where the money’s from

Do polls show that voters have the minds of Dr Pavlov’s dogs, drooling the moment they hear 'extra £8bn for health'?

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The Independent Online

If Jeremy Hunt is looking for consolation from his latest Today programme fiasco, at least this time nobody mispronounced his surname. Then again, perhaps the Health Secretary made the point for himself on Saturday when discussing the £8bn in extra NHS spending. This, he informed Mishal Husain, was “a very significant announcement in the history of the NHS”.

In the sense that it would be a very significant announcement in English football history if Roy Hodgson declared that England will win the 2018 World Cup, so it was. Yet, only when Husain asked after the source of that £8bn did Hunt unveil his uncanny mastery of detail. “Well,” he replied, “it’s the right question to ask.” That stroke of forensic brilliance sent the mind on a detour to imagine Hunt in the dock. “Mr Hunt, I ask you this. Did you murder your wife by subjecting her to three uninterrupted hours of the blethering vacuities that have been your political calling card for so long?” “You ask an excellent question.” “You’re very kind. But did you, or did you not, wilfully bore your wife to death?” “The question you put to me is exactly the right one…”

With the phantasmal £8bn, which he asks us to take on trust, his refusal to specify the source raised other good questions. When Hunt likened it to Labour’s promise in 2000 to raise NHS spending to the European average, did he not know this was predicated on raising National Insurance, or was he intentionally hinting that George Osborne lied by expressly ruling this out? Are the Tories trying to lose this election by treating us as imbeciles, or do polls show that voters have the minds of Dr Pavlov’s dogs, drooling the moment they hear “extra £8bn for health”? And how did this anaesthetic in human form survive his exposure as chief cheerleader for Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB when the cabinet minister responsible for media?

Later on Saturday, when the lummox’s whirlwind tour took to him to the BBC’s breakfast sofa, a presenter of quasi-Huntian professional blandness suffered a rare attack of Paxoitis. “Are you just making this stuff up as you go along?” asked Charlie Stayt. For once, Hunt did not admire the question, which he found “disrespectful”, though you may feel the answer spoke for itself.


George defends family values

George Osborne fared no better than Hunt when asked about the NHS funding by Andrew Marr yesterday. Yet, while the Chancellor, who in January identified unfunded campaign promises as the road to “chaos”, declined 15 opportunities to cost them, he was admirably straight elsewhere. “Of course, it’s backstabbing,” said George, supporting Michael Fallon’s claim that Ed Miliband will hand Mr Putin the nuclear codes because he challenged his brother in a leadership election. However idiotic that might seem, you have to appreciate the importance of primogeniture to the heir to a baronetcy. The idea of being usurped by a younger brother is excruciating for Osborne, which explains his touching empathy for David Miliband.

His own younger brother, Mohammed “Adam” Osborne, who converted to Islam on marrying a Muslim, could explain the psychological niceties. Mohammed is a psychiatrist, though not practising at present after suspension for alleged malpractice. So many families have their black sheep, of course, and our sympathies to Mohammed for being lumbered with such an embarrassing brother.


Mr T’s rock’n’roll A-team

Any reference to psychiatry leads naturally to Mr Tony Blair and an interview he gave Newsweek while going about his business sprinkling peace across the Middle East. Mr Tony hints at favouring benign dictatorship over democracy. He now hopes to increase his global role by forming a “cadre” of ex-leaders to travel the planet to tutor heads of government in statesmanship. There already is such an entity called The Elders (Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, Mary Robinson, Kofi Annan, etc), who devote themselves to problem-solving. But his version of the A-team doubtless involves a cooler, more rock’n’roll gathering. Here’s hoping Mr T’s plan comes together, because who wouldn’t love a political supergroup modelled on the Traveling Wilburys? God willing, his grandiose ambitions never come to the end of the line.


The PM’s imaginary friend

What a relief to learn that David Cameron, far from being tired and disengaged, has “a yeti in the tank”. Whether this lurch into Himalayan legend was more or less inspired than his rationale for the inheritance tax bribe is a tough call. Identifying the “instinct to pass something on” as “about the most basic, human, natural instinct there is” takes some beating, considering the rival instincts to eat and breathe. On balance, however, the nod goes to his yeti. What with Iain Duncan Smith’s unexplained £12bn welfare cut, and all the mystical extra cash for the NHS, rail fare freezes and volunteering breaks, the one thing the Tory campaign needed was a prime ministerial reference to an imaginary being.


Red Ed, sex magnet

Seldom has the Daily Mail found itself as bewildered by romance than last week. One minute, the discovery that Ed Miliband had had sex with several unattached women when single himself had the paper’s chastity belt in a frightful twist. Still reeling from that, the paper was then staggered afresh by gay wedlock. “Shocked at the news that Barry Manilow married a man?” asked a headline. Not really. Not if you knew that Mandy was originally entitled Randy, or ever saw a photo of the guy. The young, single Ed, on the other hand, sleeping with young, unmarried women? After that bombshell, matron, the smelling salts, if you please.