Brian Montieth: May is showing a healthy political savvy – at last

Theresa May's promise of a 'Brexit Bonus' for the NHS was a political masterstroke. Picture: Getty
Theresa May's promise of a 'Brexit Bonus' for the NHS was a political masterstroke. Picture: Getty
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You do not have to agree with something people say or do to admire and ­respect the thinking ­behind it or the execution in delivering it. Understanding the skill and craft, the cunning even, of an opponent is an important aspect of gaining some humility.

As Scottish author and playwright JM Barrie once said, “Life is a long lesson in humility” and it’s such a pity our contemporary politicians don’t understand that.

Which is why I thought I should write about Theresa May’s announcement of an £20 billion increase in spending on England’s NHS by 2024. Typically, she has taken a great deal of criticism from opponents who have been clamouring for more money for the NHS.

Personally I have been greatly ­disappointed by Theresa May. I was expecting and hoping for more from her. I thought she showed humility (and a fair degree of savvy political reality) when she recognised she had been on the losing side of the EU referendum but announced she would work to deliver the people’s vote.

I cheered her Lancaster House speech on how we should seek a new vision of a Global Britain now outside the EU; still open, internationalist and optimistic.

Since then her weak conduct of the Brexit negotiations, her botched reshuffle, questionable choice of advisors and repeated virtue signalling has left me believing the Conservatives would be better changing their leader as soon as possible.

Then on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the NHS, she announced the UK government intended to increase the NHS healthcare budget in England by £20 billion. It was a political ­masterclass on so many levels; just consider these points.

The sum of £20 billion equates to £600 million a week in cash terms and in real terms (allowing for inflation by 2024) is £384 million – at a stroke she has more than delivered on that Red Bus suggestion (it was never a promise) we should spend £350 million a week on the NHS instead of sending it to Brussels. It completely wrong-footed Labour; all ­Corbyn and McDonnell could do was question the money. But it’s a commitment and the government is now duty bound to deliver it. We should have no doubts it will, for its political existence will depend on it.

Her announcement put the term Brexit Bonus into the everyday lexicon and for years now we shall be debating just what bonus there has or has not been – but Theresa May started it and is at last being positive again. She has killed off the truly bad idea of a special NHS tax – as we should all contribute through our taxes. She has slayed the SNP lie that staying in the Union would mean the privatisation of the NHS – indeed Scotland will get its own £2 billion Brexit Bonus to spend on our NHS.

None of what she has done means there should not be reforms, efficiencies and modernisation of the NHS, but it can be done in the context of improving patient care, not making cuts.

Every general election Labour claims the Tories will privatise the NHS. It never happens, and at a stroke Theresa May has demonstrated the NHS is safer in her hands than in Jeremy Corbyn’s.

Indeed it is worth remembering the NHS was conceived by Tory Health Minister in 1944, Henry Willink – a name you’ve probably never heard of.

He produced the original White Paper, A National Health Service, proposing a universal and comprehensive healthcare system, free of charge and available to all irrespective of means. Of the 70 years of the NHS, 43 have been under Tory ­management, and guess what, it’s still with us and pretty much like Willink envisaged.

Theresa May has done the right thing and her critics should applaud her and show some humility.