When he first put it on the side of the Brexit bus, Boris Johnson’s claim that leaving the EU would save Britain £350 million a week that could be spent on the National Health Service was almost universally derided as ‘fake’. Other ministers were quick to disown it as soon as they returned to government. It became, indeed, the main exhibit in the Remainers’ case that the Brexit referendum victory was based on black propaganda and lies, strengthening their argument for a second vote. Boris became a figure of (even more) ridicule.
Which may make it surprising that he has now resurrected his claim, and indeed upped it; admitting last week that ‘There was an error on the side of the bus’ – but in the other direction. In fact, he goes on, ‘we grossly underestimated the sum over which we would be able to take back control’. (See https://inews.co.uk/news/politics/boris-johnson-vote-leaves-350m-week-nhs-pledge-low/.) So, even more money for the NHS. This comes at a moment when public concern over the government’s underfunding of the NHS is at an unprecedented peak, with almost daily press and TV exposés of the difficulties being faced by doctors and nurses (and of course patients) at over-full and understaffed hospitals, and the impression being given that the system is breaking down. On the Left they think this is a deliberate Tory plot: let the NHS fail and people might accept private enterprise’s stepping in.
Except they won’t. The NHS (together with the BBC) is one of Britons’ proudest and most prized institutions, whether that reputation is merited or not (I’ve experienced the Swedish system, so am not all that impressed); so that ‘privatisation’ on the American pattern – and probably benefitting American health companies, as a part of the ‘free trade’ deal Britain would need to negotiate with the USA in order to replace her lost European trade – would be regarded by many as akin to treason. Boris realises this, and so is pushing for greater State support for the NHS; conveniently linking it with the case for Brexit, and with his own personal political ambitions – three birds with one stone! It’s the move of a maverick; but a bold one.
And mavericks seem to be doing well these days, with conventional democratic politics wilting under the impact of late-stage capitalism, leaving gaps for the Trumps and Farages and Johnsons to bluster their ways to the surface. And hopefully for a democratic socialist to creep through sometime. If, that is, we can find one with a similar panache; or if Jeremy and Bernie can persuade voters that their very different kinds of panache are more reliable.