Ukip leader Paul Nuttall today insisted he has changed his mind over privatisation in the NHS as he seeks to win the Stoke by-election.
Speaking to The Huffington Post UK from a café next to Ukip’s HQ on a cold and wet day in the Potteries, Nuttall called for money to be diverted from the UK’s foreign aid budget and ploughed into the health service.
The Ukip leader admitted that he did once support introducing more privatisation into the “monolithic” NHS, but the recurring winter health crises have convinced him that is not the answer.
During a visit to a pharmacy in Stoke this afternoon, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth claimed voters were worried about Nuttall’s previous support for privatisation.
When asked directly by the HuffPost UK if he wants to see more private involvement in the NHS, Nuttall replied: “No, and it goes back to a comment I made in Janaury 2011 at a hustings and then I think I wrote a letter to the Daily Telegraph Firstly, at the hustings - I’m going to be open and honest about it - I called the NHS monolithic and I said it stifles competition because I believe that competition drives quality. It doesn’t in the health sector - it’s proven.”
When asked what made him change his mind, Nuttall replied: “Because we have groundhog day every year. I could write next January’s headlines regarding the NHS.
“It will be ‘NHS in crisis, not enough beds, people waiting over 12 hours for people to be put in a bed’.
“The fact is we haven’t got enough doctors, we haven’t got enough nurses, we haven’t got enough midwives and we as a party will put money into the NHS by cutting the foreign aid budget: £3billion into the NHS, £1.2billion into social care and we’ll take that money from the bloated foreign aid budget.”
As well as Nuttall’s hustings speech – in which he called for “more free market introduced into the health service” – the MEP also posted a blog on his website in which he wrote: “I would argue that the very existence of the NHS stifles competition, and as competition drives quality and choice, innovation and improvements are restricted.”
The blog has since been deleted.
Labour are keen to highlight Nuttall’s previous position, and speaking to the Huff Post UK today, the Shadow Health Secretary said: “I know when I was talking to people on the streets of Stoke last time I was here people don’t want a candidate who has apparently supported the privatisation of the NHS in the past.
“That’s something that’s coming up on the doorstep.”
Another area of controversy which has dogged Nuttall is whether he was living in the Stoke house he put down as his address when he submitted his nomination papers.
Channel 4’s Political Editor Michael Crick confronted Nuttall over the issue after it seemed the house was empty during a visit to the constituency last week.
Nuttall confirmed last Wednesday he had not actually been to the house, but since then has posted a picture of himself in a bedroom of the home.
When asked to clarify the situation today, Nuttall said: “We’d signed the lease the day before. I’m signed on the electoral roll. The bed was already moved in. Just the fact I hadn’t had the chance to sleep there doesn’t mean that I’m not a resident there.
“The lease is a month long with the option to extend to six months.”
Stoke has been dubbed the Brexit capital of the UK, with 70% of voters backing Leave in the EU referendum. Stoke Central is thought to have voted 65% in favour of Brexit.
Ukip came second in the seat in the 2015 General Election, just 5,179 votes behind Labour’s Tristram Hunt despite running a skeleton campaigning operation.
Despite the strong Leave support in the constituency, there is a danger that Ukip will struggle to motivate voters to get out to the ballot box on February 23rd – especially with Theresa May’s hardline on Brexit.
Nuttall dismissed the notion that Ukip’s raison d’etre had vanished.
He said: “There’s a number of working class constituencies where there are things that we say, and indeed that Theresa May says, which are music to their ears, but they will never vote Conservative – ever.
“Beyond that, the one thing about Theresa May is she’s always been very good at talking the talk, but when it comes to walking the walk she’s generally always failed, whether it’s dealing with Islamic fundamentalism when she was Home Secretary, or getting the immigration figures down to the tens of thousands.
“She’s failed on both accounts so I’m sorry, I’m not sure if we trust Theresa May on this, we’ll just see how this one plays out.”