Published on 8 Feb 2012

Lansley dilemma for Cameron

David Cameron delivered the support for Andrew Lansley that was advertised ahead of Prime Minister’s Questions – he has “better career prospects” than Ed Miliband, the PM said. Maybe he could’ve found something slightly more supportive, given by his measurements that’s a pretty low bar. But I don’t think it was meant as anything other than a signal of support.

What David Cameron discovered today, will be reminded of next week (as he campaigns on the NHS) and in the weeks ahead is something that I’ve heard aides say for months behind the scenes: if Andrew Lansley stays in his job, David Cameron will have to be “his own health secretary.” Andrew Lansley, they say, will get on with the adminstrative stuff but he can’t do the politics. Ditching him while the Bill is still going through Parliament would be an unthinkable admission of poor judgement and look chaotic.

Ditching him immediately afterwards wouldn’t look that much better – remember, Andrew Lansley was one of the very few shadow ministers David Cameron insisted would keep their portfolio in government. It would put a giant question mark next to David Cameron’s judgement in entrusting the NHS to Andrew Lansley in the first place if he turns round and effectively admits that was a gross error by whipping it away from him.

So the No 10 aides wince and anguish, try to write speeches in English for the health secretary … but the moment when David Cameron can stop being his own health secretary is not yet nigh (or Nye, if you prefer).

And having tangled with the NHS so publicly in a grandly announced major reform bill (Andrew Lansley’s biggest mistake in George Osborne’s view and David Cameron’s) the reform programme “so large it can be seen from outer space” (as the NHS Chief Executive Sir David Nicholson described it) will pepper PMQs and political debate all the way to the General Election.

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15 reader comments

  1. Saltaire Sam says:

    So we are stuck with a disastrous policy, badly implemented, just so Cameron doesn’t lose face?

    Not to mention a policy that is condemned by most of the NHS staff it is supposed to please.

    Not to mention a policy that flies in the face of the promise of no top down reform.

    Cameron should stop hiding. We know his judgement is poor – look no further than Coulson – so why doesn’t he just do the right thing for once and stop forcing the NHS into the hands of companies whose only aim is to make a profit out of people’s illness?

  2. Mudplugger says:

    I still fail to understand the need to invoke a Parliamentary Bill merely to reconfigure the NHS – maybe I’ve missed something.

    Whatever your politics, it is obvious that the vast sums spent recently in the NHS have not delivered. But that should only be a management challenge, not a political one. By choosing such a political route as a formal Bill, it was obvious that it would stir up the predictable hornets’ nest of vested-interest objections to any change, however well-structured or intentioned it may or may not be.

    Maybe it was naivity or the arrogance of new power, but whatever the cause, the result may be that a one-off opportunity to refocus a very expensive and failing service may be lost for another generation. Not the coalition’s finest hour (but then Lansley’s not the coalition’s finest Minister, by a long chalk).

  3. sue_m says:

    What a pity that UK politics has been reduced to doing what makes the PM or the party look good instead of making the right decisions for the good of the country.
    But then I guess that’s what happens when you put a bunch of upper middle class PR men in charge. How it will appear in the media is all that matters, they have no sense of duty to the people of the country. They are too shallow to see beyond what makes them and their chums richer and how to spin it so the masses think it’s good too. Unfortunately for the Tory boys, no one is fooled by what they are doing to the NHS.

  4. Sputax says:

    I sort of agree with the above. If people in Westminster are talking about when Andrew Lansley will go, or how long he will stay on in an “administrative” capacity then it already looks chaotic. Trying to pretend there isnt a problem or a mistake hasnt been made is what makes a person looks weak and their judgement looks questionable. It all sounds a little emporers new clothes to me.

  5. Philip Edwards says:


    Under the Tories, New Labour and the Cleggies, the NHS has no career prospects at all. Lansley is merely the latest apparatchik employed to deliver a Yank style privatised profiteering health scam.

    If Lansley is replaced it will be just another spiv glove puppet in his place.

    If Milliband and his hangers on had any sense of decency they would reinstate all of the socialist principles lost under Blair and the other neocon political traitors. They would too campaign for the NHS on the basis of Aneurin Bevan’s founding charter. But don’t hold your breath.

    Of course the Tories will do what they always do on the NHS – lie through their teeth.

  6. Yorkshire Lass says:

    So Lansley has the PM’s ‘full support’. We all know what that means.

  7. Saltaire Sam says:

    Be fair, at least they have solved the unemployment problem – tax breaks for the rich so they can hire more domestic servants.

    I’m off to learn how to buttle.

    Now, which way does the port have to go?

    1. Mudplugger says:

      But the hidden trick in that nonsensical ‘policy’ is that, in order for the rich employer to claim their tax allowance, they’ll have to ‘shop’ the skivvy, thus preventing poor Cinderella earning a few quid untaxed ‘on the black’ (if we’re allowed to say that now).

      When the financial world’s going to Hell in a handcart, it ill behoves Cameron to launch that sort of trifling idiocy. Despair I do, sometimes.

  8. Yorkshire Lass says:

    Why would you do that, Sam? Is your pension being eroded like mine? I think port goes to the left (but what would I know?) I don’t think the butler is involved. It’s just the hooray henries getting plastered by themselves.

  9. Saltaire Sam says:

    Thinking about this, I came to the astonishing conclusion that the problem is – wait for it – democracy.

    I know. But stay with me for a while.

    First, I present the House of Lords. Most of the commonsense statements on current politics come from cross-bench members of the Lords. Unelected, but experienced in their field and able to cut through political spin.

    Next, and most convincing, I give you government. Not just this government but practically all of them for decades.

    Policians, it seems, are incapable of taking something like the NHS or education and doing what is necessary to improve it, without imposing a massive structural change, usually detrimental.

    In the 50s, instead of saying that grammar schools were working for one section of children, but secondary moderns were failing, therefore changing the sec mods, labour threw it all up in the air.

    Lansley is doing the same with the NHS today.

    And these radical upheavals are imposed by people who less and less have experience of the real world.

    The alternative to democracy is unthinkable but how are we going to create a system where politicians don’t feel they have to change the world every 5 years?

    1. sue_m says:

      Interesting thought Sam! But is it democracy to blame or indoctrinated party politics – whether ‘left’ or ‘right’. Aside from the few who clearly want to leave their mark (scar?) on society for the sake of their own egos, most politicians just seem to want to adhere to some dogmatic view that whatever an opposing party has supported when in power, has to be destroyed by the other party when they come in.
      You only have to take employment rights and minimum wage – improved and/or reintroduced by Labour but the Tories are doing their level best to remove by trying to pretend that it is good for the UK. We all know it is only good for the 1% of the UK who have control most of the money, but that is Tory party doctrine. Help your rich friends first, even if the rest have to suffer for it.
      Perhaps if MPs were only required to vote with their party on bills that related directly to manifesto pledges and all other votes were free then the system might work better. As you say, the cross benchers in the Lords – who vote as they see fit – seem to be the only ones with any commonsense.

    2. Saltaire Sam says:

      Sue, I love that idea. If bills had to be designated manifesto or non manifesto – and it would have to be strictly policed – we would not only free up politicians to vote according to their conscience and their constituents’ wishes, we would also see how little of what passes through parliament was actually proposed during an election.

      Maybe we should have a third category of bill, that of anti manifesto. For instance when a manifesto says no top down reform of the NHS, the current bill would be designated an anti manifesto bill.

      I think you’ve come up with a winner!

    3. sue_m says:

      A winner for the likes of you and me Sam, which no doubt means no party politician currently in existence will implement it. So how does the ordinary man and woman in the street get ideas for change forward? We have seen how the govt ignores it’s own e-petition site when it doesn’t like the likely outcome of a debate! So that’s just a PR exercise to placate the masses.

      I like your anti-manfesto addition…as long as govt’s bringing in anti-manifesto bills could be prosecuted for such an act of deceit! If that were in place we would never have this appalling NHS bill in the first place.

  10. Saltaire Sam says:

    Sue, perhaps several of us should stand at the next election as the ‘none of you until you listen to the voters more than the whips’ party.

    I was going for the catchier ‘None of the Above’ party but what happens if a candidate’s name starts with A and (s)he’s at the top of the ballot paper?

    1. sue_m says:

      Let’s get fundraising – only 3 years to go :)

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