Election spiked-geist: Day Four

NHS investment - a 'crucial' choice or a tiny difference?; Northern Ireland - 'the right to be policed'.

NHS investment - a ‘crucial’ choice or a tiny difference?

Labour repeatedly emphasises the ‘clear choice’ that the electorate has between them and the Tories. Yesterday it was the economy: ‘Stability, not Tory boom-and-bust.’ Today, it is the National Health Service (NHS): ‘Investment, not Tory cuts.’ Perhaps the man protests too much.

In practice, a big deal is being made out of nitpicking differences. Take the debate about investment in public services. UK prime minister Tony Blair told a press conference this morning that, although the Tory tax cuts of £8billion only represents two percent of national spending, it is ‘all too glib to say - a little bit here, a little bit there’. Because of fixed costs in services, ‘at the margins, the issue is crucial’. ‘What may seem like a small reduction in cost is actually crucial.’

Blair appealed: How do you get millions of pounds off single parents, or out of the health service? ‘I really don’t know.’ If Tory cuts in investment went through, he hints, society as we know it would collapse. Single parents would be in the street, the hospital queues would stretch out of the doors.

But tiny differences aren’t really crucial - they are tiny. They are being talked up because the Labour Party is acutely aware that a hair’s breadth separates them from their rivals - and who could be bothered to vote on the basis of a hair’s breadth?

The Tory Party election manifesto, for example, shows that, despite the rhetoric, a Conservative government would follow the majority of Labour’s spending programmes on health, education and crime. ‘Tory cuts’, if they happened at all, would be very minor.

And although Labour promises to increase investment in the NHS, for both parties investment plans are contingent on the performance of the economy. UK chancellor Gordon Brown told this morning’s press conference that ‘decisions in 2004 will not breach our fiscal rules’. If the economy slows, is the implication, rather than increase tax, Labour will choose to cut health spending.

And given that the economy has largely passed out of the realm of government, into the hands of the Bank of England, the performance of the economy is not something either party would have significant control over. The ‘choice’ we are being given, then, amounts to a choice between slightly different models for dividing up a limited, and pre-determined, National Wealth. JA

Policing rights

What is the latest right being demanded by Sinn Fein for its nationalist voters in Northern Ireland? ‘The right to be policed.’

Having spent many years campaigning against over-keen policing courtesy of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Sinn Fein now worries that there are not enough bobbies on the beat in nationalist areas. Party leader Gerry Adams wants to hurry through the reform of the RUC towards a more Catholic-friendly Northern Ireland Police Service - arguing that ‘when we get that, Sinn Fein will not be reticent about going to our broad base and arguing about the need to take ownership of the service. You have to get the basics right. People have a right to be policed.’

What’s next in Sinn Fein’s manifesto? The right to be partitioned? BON

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