David Cameron will come out fighting on health today as he seeks to reassure voters that the National Health Service would be safe in his hands if he became prime minister.
The Tory leader will make an unscheduled speech on health in an attempt to end the controversy over last week's description of the NHS as a "60-year mistake" by Daniel Hannan, a Tory MEP. Mr Hannan's outspoken remarks handed Labour some unexpected ammunition with which to attack the Conservatives' credentials on health.
Mr Cameron, who has worked hard to win voters' trust on the issue and made it his number-one priority, will dismiss the row as "not real", because any doubts about his party's commitment to the NHS have been settled – and "more about political point-scoring than a serious discussion of an extremely serious subject".
Speaking in Bolton, he will concede that Labour has "the best intentions" and has "done some good" on the NHS but will claim its target-based approach has reached the end of the line. He will insist: "We are the party of the NHS today because we not only back the values of the NHS, we have a vision for the future of the NHS."
Conservative MEP speaking on Fox News, 8 August
Mr Cameron will argue that his party's pledge to boost the £100bn-a-year health budget in real terms each year will not be enough to safeguard the NHS. It will also require sweeping reform to both the supply of and demand for health care, he will add.
He will say: "The debt crisis means we need a new approach to public spending, to make sure we get more for less. But in the NHS, even that won't do. The pressures on healthcare spending – from an ageing population, from medical advances and from rising expectations – are simply too great." The Tory leader will add that the "supply" of health will require reforms about choice, competition and a focus on outcomes not targets, while "demand" will have to be controlled by improving public health.
He will say: "The end of top-down targets and the introduction of transparency – the collection and publication of health outcome information – will give people the power to hold the professionals to account. The power of competition and the opening up of the NHS to new providers will bring innovation and investment. And the power of choice will lead to better quality care. These reforms will create a more user-friendly and efficient NHS that both meets patient expectations and restores professional responsibility."
Yesterday Mr Cameron faced another challenge to his authority when a senior Tory backbencher called for MPs' pay to be doubled to £130,000 a year. Sir Patrick Cormack, 70, was slapped down by the Tory leader, who has promised to cut the cost of politics by reducing the number of MPs by 10 per cent and has hinted at salary cuts for ministers.
In evidence to the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which is reviewing MPs' pay and expenses, Sir Patrick called for the allowances system to be replaced by a pay hike. He admitted the move may be "politically unacceptable" and so also proposed alternative reforms to MPs' allowances. He said: "While I believe that [the pay rise] would be the best, fairest and cleanest solution, I accept that the economic conditions of the times and implications for things like pensions are such that it would be difficult to persuade the great British public that this was the best way forward."
A Tory spokesman said: "These are the views of an individual Conservative MP, not the Conservative Party. David Cameron has repeatedly made it clear that we need to reduce the overall cost of politics and that MPs should no longer vote on their pay."
Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrats' foreign affairs spokesman, said of Sir Patrick: "He must be living on Planet Zog to think that doubling MPs' salaries would restore public faith in Parliament. While many people are struggling to make ends meet, it's outrageous and offensive for such a senior Conservative to propose doubling MPs' pay."
Mike Foster, the International Development Minister, said: "David Cameron tries to talk tough on expenses for the cameras while behind the scenes his out of touch MPs are secretly trying to double their salaries. In these difficult economic times the public are not going to take kindly to MPs awarding themselves a huge pay rise."
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