The price of a Labour marginal? £81 million

Earlier this year Professor Tim Briggs, medical director of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital at Stanmore, threatened to challenge local MP Tony McNulty and stand as an independent candidate for Harrow East. Professor Briggs was angry that after a 15 year campaign for funding to rebuild the hospital and a decision to fund essential repairs two years ago, the hospital remains in a state of disrepair, with rainwater seeping through ceilings and a maintenance backlog estimated at £54 million. The situation had worsened further, when a row between the hospital and NHS London intensified, leading to fears that the hospital could be split up as part of a restructuring process to save money.

Within four days of Professor Briggs announcement, Andy Burnham, the Secretary of State for Health had agreed an emergency meeting to discuss funding for the hospital. And on the last full business day before the General Election, an £81 million package to rebuild the hospital was announced. Professor Briggs expressed his delight at the decision, but not his surprise. Andy Burnham expressed similar thoughts when the Professor later announced that he would not now seek to join Dr Richard Taylor on the green benches. Making the announcement, Andy Burnham said, “Tony [McNulty] brought me here in 2006 and made the case for the hospital and for his constituency, and for me it was unfinished business.” One wonders why it took four years for the business to be finished?

Last week, before the RNOH decision was announced, the Financial Times had commented on the £7 billion of spending pledges to boost the UK’s regional economies made by Ministers in the past two months. The opposition claimed that the Government are engaged in a pre-election binge at taxpayers’ expense, with much of the extra funding pledged to projects directly affecting Labour-held marginal seats, or areas bordering them. Whilst the RNOH serves patients from across the country, it is also the biggest employer in McNulty’s Harrow East constituency. And whilst the hospital fully deserves the funding, surely the chequebook could have been opened sooner in the 13 years since Labour came to power?

The funding pledges are difficult for opposition politicians to oppose, even when they realise the damage that is being done to the future economy of the country. The trouble is that the population now have no fear of large numbers. Billions, trillions, whatever; we’ve become desensitised to huge sums and now money doesn’t seem to matter anymore. What’s a few more billions added to the National Debt? If the country is going bankrupt, it seems everyone wants their piece of the money before it finally runs out.

Whilst there is nothing wrong with MPs lobbying for their constituencies, such spending should not be used as a form of political patronage. In this case, it’s the MPs from the current government that get the electoral benefit, whilst the new government will have to pick up the bill. Who’d have thought 44 years ago that the Humber Bridge would reach all the way to north London?

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5 Comments

  • Tony Greaves 2nd Apr '10 - 8:34pm

    The country is not “going bankrupt” (whatever problems we have) and it’s daft for a Liberal Democrat to say it is.

    However, this kind of l;argesse to Labour marginals is a legitimate cause for comment. Pity they don’t have the same regard for their marginal seats in Burnley and Pendle in relation to Burnley General hospital!

    Tony Greaves

  • Harrow East is not far long way down the Tory target list and is not natural territory for Labour.  If the Lib Dems are ever to secure second place there, and thus a chance of winning it, it is likely to be by displacing Labour.  So, the LDs should be gunning for Labour wards and voters.  In some other London seats, like Tooting, the reverse is true, so the Lib Dems should be after Tory votes there. 

  • I would vote LibDem in Tooting if I thought it would do any good.
    There must be many others like me. I have always voted labour but am looking for an alternative that isn’t a “wasted vote”.
    Everyone I speak to says similar things.
    Must I really spoil my ballot paper?

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