No pay rise – not quite

David Cameron announced that ministers in his government will have their pay frozen for the duration of the parliament as part of his “One nation” approach.  Admirably, the government is showing us plebs that they too are hurting in the attempt to cut the deficit.

However, when you consider how ministers are paid you’ll soon realise that their ministerial salary forms part of their income. All ministers (apart from Lords) are MPs and so receive a salary for being a member of the Commons. Of course with all MPs, these courageous and selfless ministers who will be facing a 5 year freeze in pay will enjoy an inflation smashing 9% increase in their pay for their Parliamentary work. With many public sector workers facing a mere 1% pay increase, the “One Nation” spin explanation for the freeze seems a little diluted.

Although the government disagrees with the 9% rise, the question is, how many of David Cameron’s cabinet will be refusing the 9% increase in the spirit of “One Nation” Conservatism?

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The National Health Service in Wales

Before I begin I must state that I have 100% confidence in my doctor and the service i get from the GP’s surgery, as does 95% of people in Wales.

I’m sure you’ve all heard about the problems with the NHS in Wales, and I’m sure some of you have read about it in the British press (warning this is a link to the Daily Mail!).  It would seem that the Daily Mail has “discovered”, “uncovered”, “exposed”, (and other adjectives) the failings of the Welsh NHS.  Since the spring David Cameron has consistently talked of how Welsh patients are getting a ‘second rate’ health service.  He even went as far as to say that “Offa’s Dyke was the line between life and death”.  I would love to say that finally the British press has woken to Welsh politics, and that some attention is being turned to devolved politics; however I cannot. On the face of it this is about the failings of the Labour Government in Cardiff in relation of their handling of the Welsh NHS, however lets not forget there is a general election coming up in just over a year.

Political Point Scoring

To avoid repeating points raised many times online and in the media, I’ll cut straight to the point. This is nothing more than political point scoring with the Tory party and the right wing media attempting to highlight how the British Labour party will govern – “Want to see how Labour will run the NHS, then look at what’s happening in Wales”.

Before you think I’m trying to defend the Labour party and how it is running the NHS in Wales, I am not.  There are problems with the NHS in Wales, however I am not supporting the selective evidence provided by the Tories and the Daily Mail either. For example, one criticism aften raised is the waiting times patients have to face.

Waiting times and refugees

The Daily Mail refers to patients who go to England for treatment as Refugees of the Welsh NHS. This, according to the paper is especially true in the counties on along the Welsh/English border.  This is something I’ve found particularly puzzling. I live in Powys, an area where there are many ‘Health Refugees’, apparently. An area where there is no general hospital.  For many in my county the nearest hospital is one in England, this is a matter of logistics, not preference.  To suggest people from Powys are choosing to go to a hospital in England because of the waiting times is also an unfair assertion.  By August this year Powys Teaching Health Board had met both the high targets set by the Welsh Government – 95% of patients waiting for treatment waited less than 26 weeks, and 100% of those not getting treatment within 26 weeks get it before 36 weeks. Of course this isn’t the case everywhere in Wales as the paper outlines, there are areas that are in dire need of improvement when it comes to waiting times. To suggest, however, that there are health refugees going to England is truly an insult to the hard-working staff of our NHS.

Funding

In a recent Report the Nuffield Trust stated that by 2025/26 the NHS in Wales will be facing a shortfall of £2.5bn – This will be the case if current efficiency savings are maintained and funding is held flat in cash terms. It is clearly going to be something that will be discussed over many elections to come, a stark choice will have to be made between funding the NHS in Wales and other public services. The Nuffield trust also state that although Wales faces tough decisions it isn’t vastly different in other parts of the UK.  So why all the attention to Wales?

  1. Political point scoring – As I’ve already mentioned, this is an ideal way for the Tories to score points against Labour in the run up to the general election on a topic Labour consistently out perform them on in the polls.
  2. Right wing free marketeerism – There is a wider neo-liberal agenda at play here a view the tories and right wing paper such as the Daily Mail subscribe to. Let’s face it, by painting the NHS under Labour control as a basket case then it makes the argument for privatization much easier to sell to the public in England.

There needs to be proper scrutiny of Labour’s mismanagement of the NHS in wales, however the Punch and Judy show given by Cameron and Hunt in the Commons and the ridiculous ‘Exclusives’ published by the Daily mail are nothing more than cheap electioneering.

Coulson and his security clearance

Is it credible that the director of communications for the Prime Minister didn’t have high security clearance?  This, to me, is incredible.  It was only a few months ago it was reported that Coulsin was a part of Cameron’s inner circle (reported here, here, and here).  This one comes from conservativehome blogs, “And whilst several “outsiders” such as Michael Gove, William Hague and Andy Coulson have penetrated David Cameron’s inner circle…”    If you have someone in your “inner circle” , as it were, it is implicit that you have trust in that person, and would wish them to be party to all vital information.  For a communications director not to have security clearance would make his job impossible.

Of course Mr Cameron could have deliberately made the decision not to seek high clearance for Mr. Coulson.  Why is this though?  Did Mr. Cameron know that the vetting process would dig up information that would seriously damage the Government?  Did the Prime Minister know about the hacking scandal prior to appointing Mr. Coulson and wanted to avoid it coming to the surface?

There are many questions left unanswered, which the Prime Minister must address openly.