IT was supposed to be the Brexit election. But, in line with the finest British traditions, dire warnings about the future of the NHS are dominating the campaign instead.

Christmas is, after all, a time for TV repeats.

So that means we get a Labour leader claiming the Tories are going to privatise the NHS when they’ve had years in power to do precisely that and never actually have.

It means we get a Tory leader claiming the Conservatives are building new hospitals when they’re not.

And it means we get an SNP leader claiming that only leaving the UK can save Scotland’s NHS, when the SNP already controls Scotland’s NHS.

Not to forget the Jo Swinson Party, which presumably argues that only Jo Swinson can save the NHS.

The political tactics are no surprise. The NHS dominates polls which ask the question: what is your priority in this election?

The Tories might be right about Labour’s unrealistic spending plans, but arguments about cold, hard numbers will never resonate in the same way as a human story about the NHS.

That’s what Jeremy Corbyn did in the ITV leaders’ debate this week. He paid tribute to Jayne Rae, a patient with terminal breast cancer who died just days after describing being left in hospital without treatment for hours.

Viewers will have noted that Boris Johnson failed to have the grace to address her upsetting story.

But it remains to be seen whether Labour’s NHS attack lines will convince voters to choose Mr Corbyn as the next Prime Minister.

The biggest cheer he receives at events is when he accuses Mr Johnson of plotting to sell off the NHS.

“Not for sale, not for sale” the audience bellows, in the kind of repetitive chanting first introduced at Trump rallies – "lock her up, lock her up".

The US President has declared he wants the NHS on the table in post-Brexit trade talks, gifting Labour its attack line.

US negotiators may well demand that higher prices are paid to American pharmaceutical companies, adding extra costs to already-stretched NHS finances.

But why would the Tories – or any UK Government – agree to something which would add billions of pounds to public spending?

Still, it’s a classic scare story and one that’s likely to work quite well for Labour.

Tony Blair similarly weaponised the NHS in the run up to his 1997 landslide victory.

Waiting lists at the time were incredibly long and the health service was in serious trouble.

Mr Blair vowed to dismantle the internal market the Conservative government had introduced.

But, as opposition parties always find, being in power isn’t as easy as it looks.

New Labour ended up moving towards a more market-orientated strategy – something which continued under the Tories, and has now come full circle to hand Corbyn’s Labour a fresh argument to attack "privatisation" all over again.

Yet Boris Johnson can have no complaints that Labour is using the NHS as a key campaign tactic.

He is, after all, the man who drove around in that big red bus with the wild claim that Brexit would mean an extra £350million a week for the NHS.

It was a disgraceful attempt to mislead voters, not least because it failed to take into account the UK’s budget rebate.

The Tories’ own NHS pledges in this particular campaign are also highly questionable.

“Over the next decade we will build, not ten, not 20, but 40 new state of the art hospitals,” said English Health Secretary Matt Hancock this autumn.

The reality is there is only enough money to upgrade six hospitals south of the border. Cash has been allocated for these projects up to 2025, and while 38 other hospitals will receive money to develop plans for upgrades over the following five years, there is no funding to undertake any building work.

As the health think-tank the King’s Fund said: “On the face of it, the various schemes being pledged by the Government certainly sound like substantial investment, but these piecemeal announcements are not the same as having a proper, multi-year capital funding plan.”

North of the border, the health service has also risen to the top of the campaign agenda.

In a keynote speech this week, Nicola Sturgeon said: “Make no mistake, it is now crystal clear that continued Westminster control means multiple threats to Scotland – to our economy and our living standards, and to our NHS and other public services.”

But the SNP will be incredibly grateful this is a Westminster election and not a Holyrood contest, given the scandal and tragic deaths that have come to light at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital linked to contaminated water.

Yet even though health is a devolved affair, the NHS will still have an impact in this election, just as it did in 2017.

A key moment in that campaign was when nurse Claire Austin told Nicola Sturgeon during a TV debate that NHS staff were being forced to use foodbanks, and working in the health service was "demoralising".

The SNP’s Joanna Cherry sought to discredit the nurse by falsely claiming she was the wife of a Tory councillor.

It was a turning point in the campaign, with opposition parties capitalising on anger towards Ms Sturgeon and the SNP’s handling of public services.

Ms Cherry’s ill-judged remarks were not the first time a senior Nationalist got their facts wrong when discussing the NHS.

In the run up to the 2014 referendum, Dr Philippa Whitford – later to become an MP – spread bogus claims that a privatisation agenda was forcing a hospital in Newcastle to consider cancelling cancer operations.

Much is made today of the Twitter post from Better Together during that campaign which posited, "what is [the] process for removing our EU citizenship? Voting yes". True at the time, but it clearly hasn’t aged well.

Much less, however, is made of the Yes campaign’s scaremongering over the NHS, and the claim that only a vote for independence would avoid "wholesale privatisation".

Better Together insiders believe this may have added as much as 10 per cent to the Yes vote. If it was true, the NHS would have been sold off by now.

This general election is one of the most unpredictable in years.

But, entirely predictably, the result could once again be decided by politicians’ lies about the NHS.