27 APRIL 2002, Page 7


The polls show that the majority of Tory voters approve of Gordon Brown's tax increases to pay for improvements to the National Health Service. The Tory party should ignore the polls, and attack both increases in tax and expenditure. It should do so because they are wrong, both in theory and in practice,

Half a century is long enough for a healthcare system to prove itself, The NHS, far from being the envy of the world, is now the laughing-stock of Europe; for no other country of comparable wealth needs to export its patients to its neighbours so that they may have their hernias repaired. By increasing the funds for the NHS, and continuing to treat it as holy, the government is acting like an alcoholic who blames everything but his consumption of alcohol for his woes, There is absolutely no doubt about the ability of a state-run monopoly to absorb huge quantities of funds without producing any improvement whatever in the service offered, We now spend four times as much per child on education as we did in 1950: but the level of basic literacy and numeracy has fallen rather than risen. The nurses have already indicated that they will demand a large share of Mr Brown's pot of gold, and no doubt other sectors of the workforce will follow suit in the sacred name of parity. The first fruit of Mr Brown's 'generosity' with our money will therefore be strikes and industrial upheaval, as the workers struggle nobly to get their hands on the loot.

The second fruit of Mr Brown's generosity will be increased bureaucracy, because ostensibly he wants to ensure that the increased funds are not wasted. He has already proposed yet more structures to monitor and audit the use of these extra funds. In a state monopoly such as the NHS, however, all attempts to reduce waste and inefficiency increase them, because bureaucracies do not abolish themselves but seek to increase their size and power — a fact by now so sufficiently clear that even Mr Brown must know it. In effect, therefore, his tax increases represent a transfer of resources from the productive part of the economy to the state bureaucracy, a sector of society that has the great advantage, from Mr Brown's point of view, of supporting the Labour party at elections. In the name of trying to bring our cancer treatment up to the level of Greece's, he is practising the politics of patronage, just as surely as any corrupt Latin American dictator.

To give bureaucrats charge of large sums of money is in itself an open invitation to waste, because modern bureaucrats and their political masters do not understand that to give away other people's money without their consent is not so much generosity as a combination of theft and profligacy.

Successive reforms of the NHS have failed to produce a healthcare system able meet the needs of the population and to keep pace with technical progress. On the contrary, it is a system so rigid that every technical advance is at best a financial headache, at worst a financial disaster, for it. It is a system devised by a supposedly beneficent government for a population of paupers, apparently without the means or the ability to make their own arrangements. It is arrogant of the present government to assume that it can do what all previous governments have been unable to do.

It would therefore be extremely foolish for the Tory party to hitch itself to Mr Brown's NHS wagon merely because the latest opinion poll shows that even Tory voters approve of Mr Brown's plans. When the increased expenditure on the NHS proves to be money torn up and thrown into the sea, as surely it will, the Tories will not be able to capitalise on the debacle if they have not foreseen and warned against it. Even if, as is vanishingly unlikely, Mr Brown's attempt to revive the NHS were successful, the glory would go to him, and not to the Tories who supinely supported him. The Tories should not abandon their beliefs: they should abandon the pollsters.

Some readers may have noticed that this magazine is being taken to the Press Complaints Commission by Alastair Campbell. He alleges that we traduced the Prime Minister by suggesting that Downing Street envisaged a bigger role for Mr Blair, at the Queen Mother's lying-in-state, than the one he eventually had. Now is not the time to prejudge the findings of the PCC. Suffice it to say that we believe we are 100 per cent in the right.

Mr Campbell's real target is Peter Oborne, our political editor, who broke the story, and who is compiling an anthology of Labour lies. Mr Campbell also hopes to inflict collateral damage on various innocent officials, whom he suspects of providing the story. It is sad that Mr Campbell has chosen to waste the money and time of so many lawyers and public servants, when this magazine acted without any malice towards the Prime Minister, but merely sought to bring new and interesting facts into the public domain. That is the purpose of journalism — a purpose Mr Campbell would seem to want to frustrate.