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First prize for effrontery

THERESA MAY’S response to Jeremy Corbyn’s condemnation of her government’s lack of preparedness for the NHS winter crisis was as jaded as it was dishonest.

Tory prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major used to accuse Labour MPs of “talking the country down” when they berated the Tories’ economic shambles, while May pretends that Corbyn’s justified criticism shows lack of respect for NHS staff.

May insisted that “our NHS is something we should be proud of and that's why it's a first-class NHS.”

For sheer effrontery, she takes first prize, since, as Corbyn pointed out, May recognised the scale of crisis last week by trying to sack Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt but lacking the strength to do so.

It is easy to pay tribute in the warmest of words to doctors, nurses, firefighters, police, ambulance paramedics, safety-critical rail workers — any sector of working people who go the extra mile to serve the public — but the real measure of respect is shown by how government treats them.

Since 2010, the Tories and their Liberal Democrat allies have treated the public sector, including health workers, with contempt.

While handing over billions of pounds in tax handouts to big business and the wealthy elite, governments led by David Cameron and May have squeezed funds for public services, operated pay restraint, imposed new employment contracts and caused difficulties for all who rely on the services.

Pointing this out, as Corbyn did, doesn’t belittle NHS staff. He echoed their own complaints, indicating that the next Labour government will do things differently.

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth pointed out that 14,000 hospital beds have been cut since the Cameron-led coalition took office in 2010, while social care provision has been slashed.

The Tories’ answer to shortages, queues and assorted NHS problems is to privatise community health services and facilitate private-sector penetration, which is, and will increasingly be, disastrous for our public service.

It is instructive that Tory MPs were ordered to abstain on Labour’s NHS resolution moved by Ashworth, which instructed the government to report to the House of Commons by February 1 on the steps it proposes to meet the resolution demand to invest more in hospitals.

Speaker John Bercow has previously told the PM that abandoning the field doesn’t invalidate the decision taken. Watch this space.


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