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Editorial Tuesday 4 September 2012: The Hunting and downfall of Andrew Lansley

Publish Date/Time: 
09/04/2012 - 09:44

In the words of Glenn Hoddle, "I've never made predictions and I never will".

Well, earlier today I had a go at suggesting why I thought Andrew Lansley would not be moved in the reshuffle.

More fool me?

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Click here for details of The red ties that bind Comrade Sir David: postmodern NHSCB to commission itself (oh yeah, and what cowboy drafted this mandate?), the new issue of subscription-based Health Policy Intelligence.

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This is more than just a sizeable move; it is a seismic one.

As I wrote in the above-linked piece, Mr Cameron expended considerable political capital in seeking to sell the Lansley NHS reforms.

In consequence, the PM saw the NHS retoxified as an issue for the Conservative Party when he had made it a policy priority in opposition.

By dumping the architect and sole true believer in the Health And Social Care Act at this late stage, Mr Cameron has undermined the creation of the new NHS system that is not yet born. He has withdrawn his support in a U-turn of epic scale.

Labour will use his quotes in support of the NHS reforms mercilessly.

A warm welcome for Jeremy Hunt
The new Health Secretary is Jeremy 'Spoonerism' Hunt, also known as the Minister for Murdoch for his pro-News Corp lobbying before and during the time he replaced Vincent Cable over the BSkyB takeover bid.

Hunt infamously texted Mr James Murdoch his congratulations over aspects of the BSkyB bid.

Mr Cameron cleared Jeremy Hunt of wrongdoing at culture in just 25 minutes of the Leveson Inquiry disclosure of new text messages Mr Hunt had sent to Mr James Murdoch of BSkyB.

Mr Hunt's special adviser at DCMS (later pushed out) Adam Smith had what can only be described as a startling relationship with Fred Michel of News Corm.

There is some nice footage of Mr Hunt and James' father Mr Rupert Murdoch having a chat at the Olympics here.

There is a fascinating account of a former employee of Mr Hunt's at his 'Hotcourses' business here, offering glimpses of Mr Hunt's personality.

Mr Hunt replaced former Conservative health secretary Virginia 'M&S' Bottomley in the ultra-safe seat of South-West Surrey in 2005. His father was an admiral, and he attended Charterhouse public school.

Wikipedia states that he worked as a management consultant, a failed marmalade exporter, in PR (inevitably), and a teacher of English as a foreign language (which will ensure some policy-speak continuity with Mr Lansley).

He breached the rules on parliamentary expenses, although was not judged to have done so deliberately and repaid the money.

Mr Hunt's sensitivity to non-Tory, non-south-eastern concerns might be questioned following his abysmal remarks about the Hillsborough tragedy being partly caused by hooliganism. Which he retracted, with a classic PR non-apology if anyone had been offended. Of course.

In May 2008, Mr Hunt voted to reduce the time limit on abortion from 24 weeks to 12 weeks.

He worries about the impact of the Health Act on guaranteed commissioning of services at his local hospital. And he signed a 2006 Early Day Motion by Anne Milton which congratulated Surrey PCT on sacking McKinseys for recommending service rationalisation approved by the strategic health authority (closures, in English) at the Royal Surrey.

Controversy was caused by Mr Hunt's appointment of his former researcher ('Hotcourses' director Lord Chadlington's daughter - and burger-appreciating John Selwyn Gummer's niece) to the DCMS, from which civil servants were being sacked in 2010.

The Telegraph reports that he avoided £100,000 in tax for his 'Hotcourses' company just weeks before the 2010 general election.

The same paper points out that Mr Hunt believes in homeopathy, which is an early result for NHS Alliance chair Dr Michael Dixon.

And the Daily Mail reports him as quoting Winston Churchill's famous line "success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm".

Despite his attempt to create the new Olympic sport of bell-harming, under Jeremy "I can't say there won't be hitches" Hunt, the Olympics did not fail - indeed, could not be allowed to have failed. (Although it did quadruple the original budget, and the legacy of the buildings is far from assured.)

Oh, and Politics Home recalls Rachel Sylvester's Times column noting that Hunt asked Danny Boyle whether the NHS section in the Olympics opening ceremony was "really necessary".

Will failure be allowed in the NHS under Mr Hunt? Most specifically, will he allow closures that seem like cuts to a public unprepared for the case for reconfiguring service provision?

Because we should remember that Mr Hunt is still the old-school, pre-liberated Secretary Of State For Health for at least the next four weeks, and arguably until 1 April 2013 (although the NHSCB starts to become more real on 1 October).

He could do a lot with that, if he intends to.

Mr Hunt will find health an interesting brief.

A couple of prominent landmines lie ahead, in the shape of public Inquiry reports: Leveson's, which will deal with his role at Culture, Media and Sport over News Corp / BSkyB; and Francis's into Mid-Staffordshire.

A farewell to OSAL
Nick Timmins' book 'Never Again?' mildly increased my sympathy for Andrew Lansley. His plans remain in my view over-ambitious and wrongly-timed; but the worst aspect of them was the lack of candour with which the country was prepared for them. It was democratically dishonest. Nick makes clear in his book that Lansley was keen to display his radicalism pre-election, but was over-ruled.

He will be remembered as the first viral-prone Health Secretary for the Andrew Lansley Rap and the Downfall spoof.

He told BBC Newsnight's Gavin Esler just after the pause "I'm not in this for the politics; I'm in the for the NHS". Which makes no sense moving him to Leader of the House, particularly in a divided coalition government.

Andrew Lansley was a truly dreadful communicator who had great micro-level knowledge of the NHS, but practically no wisdom. The best case he ever mustered to support his reforms amounted to no more than the politician's syllogism from Yes, Minister: 'something must be done - this is something - therefore this must be done'.

The Prime Minister has shown a spectacularly deficient sense of political timing in removing Mr Lansley at this stage of NHs reform.

The allegation that David Cameron is nothing more than an effective PR man looks stronger than ever, in the light of his utterly bizarre decision to remove Mr Lansley now - and to replace him with a spectacularly tarnished Mr Hunt.