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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