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Editorial Monday 13 October 2014: Tory NHS reform mea culpa - 'what Lynton entertainment the players shall receive'

Today's Times leads with a well-briefed story about how senior Tories (no names, obviously) now regard having gone ahead with their NHS reforms.

The piece is unambiguous that the chaotic, hugely disruptive nature of the reforms was understood before the party's MPs supported what became the 2012 Act in vote after vote after vote.

It is, however, silent on why they went ahead with them regardless.

Folly or knavery?
"Hey, we knew our NHS reforms were going to cause chaos, and we went ahead anyway. Vote for us!"

Quite a message, isn't it?

If you interrogate the thought process behind this, you have to wonder why these un-named senior Tories are opting to be thought of as fools, rather than as knaves.

The Talleyrand question
It is alleged that the great diplomat/cynic/political player Talleyrand, on hearing of the death of a Turkish ambassador, mused "I wonder what he meant by that?" A wonderful line, isn't it? If not necessarily true.

What, then, do anonymous senior Tories mean by this?

The first point is that the anonymous nature of this corporate mea culpa for going ahead with the NHS reforms might be seen to offer a Johnsonesque 'pro-having cake, pro-eating it' outcome.

If successful, the result would be that people have seen that senior Tories admitted to the paper of record that they know they screwed up by going ahead with the NHS reforms, and are by implication, talking about it because they are sorry.

The media and the message
This media strategy is relying on people remembering this message, and forgetting that there is no name attached to the apology. (These are good journalists, by the way, who have clearly not made these quotes up: this story has been carefully briefed.)

It's an artful attempt at a non-apology apology.

But why the kitchen sink?
Why are senior Tories kitchen-sinking this now? (To 'kitchen-sink' is the media art of throwing said furniture: getting a large quantity of bad news out in one go, on the basis that you undergo a short period of intense pain rather than taking a more protracted and cumulatively damaging series of hits.)

This is pretty simple: because things are not going so well in the NHS.

Mr Hunt's electoral resilience fund has not turned the waiting time problem around as hoped. There seems to be a £2 billion gap in the NHS budget for 2015-16. And nobody has got a clue how to make the budget work beyond that.

Who's behind this?
The anonymous non-apology apology has the distinctive stamp of the Tories' hired polling gun Lynton Crosby.

He is better aware than almost anyone that psephologically, the NHS is a dangerous area for the Conservative Party.

In the Economist/Ipsos MORI Issues Index, the NHS is consistently rated as the third most important issue facing the country after immigration and the economy.

The money is running out
The NHS is heading towards a crisis at quite some speed.

We can hope that people will carry on being sensible, and the crisis will merely be an economic one, fixable with the inevitable significant increase in funding that will have to come (and which will not be the inevitable, inevitably-too-small minor squirt in the Chancellor's autumn statement which is going to arrive too late and too little to do much good).

Because if it isn't an economic NHS crisis, then it's going to be a quality crisis.

In a winter that has not stopped all year.

Just before a general election.

As Rosencrantz so nearly said to Hamlet, "what Lynton entertainment the players shall receive".