15 Jul 2014

Why I feel a bit sorry for Andrew Lansley…

It’s not often that I feel sorry for a politician.  It is a pretty ruthless world and they must surely know what they are getting into when they enter those historic doors.

But today I do feel a wee bit sorry for Andrew Lansley.  First he was ousted from the job he loved beyond reason – that is, as health secretary. Then he hinted (very strongly) and on public television that he would become Britain’s next European Commissioner, only to find out on Tuesday that it has gone to someone else.


So much for all the talk of David Cameron‘s fierce loyalty to his former boss (from the days when the future prime minister worked in the Conservative research department).  When push comes to shove, Mr Lansley was well and truly shoved.

The truth, of course, is that he never wanted to give up being health secretary.  He didn’t survive to see his plans put into place. Instead, he had to sit as leader of the house and watch them being instituted by his more suave colleague Jeremy Hunt. And boy did he look grumpy about it.

It was often tempting to send him message saying “cheer up, love, it might never happen”.  But that would have been cruel, too, because it did happen.

For six years he had toiled in opposition as the shadow health secretary.  Like the civil servant he had once been, he had a flair beyond comparison for the detail of the health service. It was both admirable and exhausting.

I was chairing the NHS confederation annual conference when he and his (former?) pal David Cameron appeared on stage to talk about their plans for the NHS should they get into power.  Mr Cameron was broad brush “it will be safe in our hands”.  Andrew Lansley was full of words like “stakeholders”, “fund holders”, “specialist commissioning”.

Interestingly, as history has now shown, what he did not mention was that he had plans for the a shakeup of the NHS so big you could (as the former NHS chief executive David Nicholson said), see it from the moon.

And that was the beginning of the end. Because the sheer scale and complexity of his plans took even Downing Street by surprise.  What’s more, when asked to explain it to the electorate, nobody from the PM himself to every beleaguered backbench MP knew what the hell was going on about.

So after just two years in his beloved, longed-for post he was out.  And now he is out again.  But I suppose that is, after all, just politics.

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4 reader comments

  1. Susan Galea says:

    Andrew Lansley had a clear conflict of interest from the beginning of his role as top-down re-organiser of the NHS. This influence and financial support of health privateers extends to his wife. This is documented in wikipedia and elsewhere. Any sympathy for him as result, is absolutely misplaced, surely!

    If you consult those at the sharp end of his meddling, it becomes clear that the changes were over-complicated sometimes to the point of seemingly deliberate opacity, and too many self-interested and profiteering actors were being given far too much power to arrange things to their own benefit. This isn’t honest brokerage or planning for long term health in the service, but rather opportunity for profit underwritten by the tax payer who is left with a diminished service, and utter alienation as the ethos became tainted.

  2. Duncan livingstone says:

    Sorry for Lansley? Are you a relative?? This man has done more damage to healthcare provision in England than anyone since the NHS was founded. He promised no large top-down reorganisation of the NHS pre-election and post election did a policy change even Nick Clegg couldn’t contemplate. He has been a disaster as a minister. A smug, self-satisfied fool

  3. Andrew Robertson says:

    Although you’re sympathy for Andrew Lansley might mark you out as a nice person, it might at least explain the lack of challenge on the challenge as to why changes are taking place.

    At no point as any health journalist for a mainstream media organisation mentioned reports written by the Adam Smith Institute (The Health of a Nation) or Oliver Letwin’s (Britain’s Biggest Enterprise) to offer context to the reorganisation.

    The former, which was commissioned by the Conservatives when Oliver Letwin was policy adviser and head of Rothschild’s privatisation unit offers the structure that has taken place over the years to lead us to this point.

    Lansley’s interpretation of the Adam Smith report and the structures that reflect those in the U.S. have now slit open the NHS to an external market.

    The market forces that are now chomping on the intentionally underfunded corpse of the NHS contain multiple companies that have either donated to political parties or employed individual MPs.

    Whilst parliament slept, Lansley met with market trade groups who helped design the White Paper. Management consultancy companies with private health clients designed Monitor, wrote their job descriptions and offered information on the new legislation to their clients (McKinsey).

    Despite evidence that open markets do not work in healthcare (U.S) this legislation went through anyway. The refusal of Lansley to release the risks register of his changes. The fact that there was no mention of introducing legislation to change the structure of the NHS in either of the coalition’s manifesto was simply outrageous.

    Rather that feeling sorry for a politician who chose to go into that world, who actively produced legislation that now threatens the very existence of the NHS – perhaps you could rather spend your time actively not trusting a single word anyone in power says or does.

  4. CB says:

    The Health and Social Care Bill that entered the Department of Health in January 2011 was a piece of elegant, ideologically coherent public policy (whether you agreed with that ideology was another matter). The Health and Social Care Act that emerged from the Department of Health 18 months later was a dogs’ dinner of doing one thing and calling it another, quietly killing the original concept with a thousand tweaks, constraints and uncertainties. But this was inevitable when the people who really ‘got it’ could have fitted in a medium-sized meeting room and didn’t include the SpAds, DH comms or any of the NHS Management Board. The number of people who ‘got it’ and were prepared to advocate its benefits, publicly and on record, was in the single figures.

    The H&SC Bill is a sad story of brilliant policy and dreadful politics.

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