Liz Truss personally supported cuts to the NHS, arguing the service “cannot be put on a pedestal” in an article in which she also criticised the “inexorable” rise in doctors’ pay.
The newly emerged opinion piece was written by Truss to support a thinktank report she co-authored that called for patients to be charged for GP appointments and doctors’ pay to be slashed by 10%.
When details of this radical paper surfaced on Thursday, Truss’s campaign insisted that “co-authoring a document does not mean that someone supports every proposal put forward”.
However, the emergence of the accompanying article is likely to embarrass the Tory leadership frontrunner, showing she was actually fully supportive of the ideas set out in the 2009 report, which was called Back to Black.
Labour said Truss “can’t be trusted to protect an NHS she doesn’t believe in or doctors she doesn’t value” after the appearance of her views when she was deputy director of the Reform thinktank, the year before she became an MP.
In the Spectator article, Truss said the NHS cannot be a “no go area” when it comes to stripping out costs, adding that doctors’ pay had “risen inexorably” and “needs to be restrained”.
She wrote: “In our new report ‘Back to Black’, Reform argues that politicians will have to go beyond waste to achieve necessary reductions; tackling programmes and entitlements in the major spending areas to achieve change. We have identified £30bn cuts across the ‘big five’; defence, health, work & pensions, communities and education.
“No department can be a no go area. This means the NHS, accounting for a sixth of government expenditure, cannot be put on a pedestal. Doctors’ pay which has risen inexorably needs to be restrained. Superfluous bodies such as Strategic Health Authorities, and health campaigns exhorting the public to stop ‘vegging out’, should be abandoned.”
She also called for reductions to “pension gimmicks for the well-off” – the universal winter fuel payment of more than £250 for older people, which still exists, and free television licences for over-75s, which are now funded only for those on pension credit.
Although David Cameron went on to bring in swingeing cuts to the state during the austerity years, his slogan was “cut the deficit, not the NHS”. During his election campaigns, he promised to ringfence health spending because openly cutting it would be so controversial with the public, although NHS spending did end up being squeezed as well because it was not keeping pace with demand.
Truss worked for Reform in 2008-09 before she became a Tory MP. In the Back to Black: Budget 2009 paper, the Tory and her co-authors also called for a review of the Trident nuclear deterrent.
“The future of Trident should also be considered,” they wrote, on account of its £15-£20bn price tag. Truss recently committed to renewing Trident at a hustings in Scotland.
The report also called for the abolition of universal child benefit, and the axing of several major military procurement projects including the Royal Navy’s planned aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, which were described as “inappropriate defence projects”.
It came days after the Guardian revealed a leaked recording of Truss saying that British workers needed “more graft” and suggesting they lacked the “skill and application” of foreign rivals.
Asked about the article supporting the Back to Black paper written 13 years ago, a Truss campaign spokesperson said: “This is a nearly two-decade-old document written against the backdrop of Labour bankrupting the economy.
“Liz is focused on her bold economic plan to boost growth, cut taxes and put money back into hardworking people’s pockets.”
Polls have consistently put Truss as clear favourite to win the race for No 10, with polling expert Sir John Curtice saying he would be “extraordinarily surprised” if she does not take office.
Labour said Truss’s report revealed that “the reality of her agenda is devastating cuts” and that her track record “shows her true colours”.
Angela Rayner, the Labour deputy leader, said: “No public service would be safe with Liz Truss in charge. She simply can’t be trusted to protect an NHS she doesn’t believe in or doctors she doesn’t value. The more people discover about Liz Truss, the more her true destructive agenda to slash frontline services and drag Britain backwards become clear.
“Liz Truss is a fantasist, totally out of touch and out of step with the public.”
Truss and her rival, Rishi Sunak, will take part in a hustings in Manchester on Friday evening, as the pair continue to crisscross the country to try to shore up the support of Tory members.
In another attempt to reach out to party members, Sunak on Friday pledged he would “end the war on motorists”, including a possible clampdown on so-called low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs), which use filters to aim to boost walking and cycling by stopping motor vehicles from using smaller residential streets as rat runs.
Sunak said there were concerns that LTNs, which are strongly backed by Johnson’s No 10, could delay emergency services. Emergency services have said they support the idea of LTNs.