3 min read

Editorial Thursday 14 February 2013: A Valentine for Comrade Sir David - grip, heroism and talking Bellocs

Roses are red,
Stalin is too.
Love the NHS?
Comrade Sir David's watching you!

With a romantic's sense of timing, former chief executive of United Lincoln Hospitals Trust Gary Walker, whose confidentiality agreement and half-a-million-pound pay-off were covered by Dr Phil Hammond in November 2011's Private Eye has popped out of his legally-enforced Trappist silence on Valentine's Day and spoken out against Comrade Sir David Nicholson in today's Daily Mail and on the Today programme.

The ULHT issues were also addressed by the Sunday Telegraph in 2009 and again in 2010.

Happy Valentine's Day, Comrade Sir David!


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New Labour's chief spin-medic Alastair Campbell had the theory that no minister could survive being on the front page of newspapers for over a week.

The Comrade-In-Chief has now been in the media firing line for a week, and this one looks as if it may snowball.

If anyone else shows some courage and speaks out despite a gagging clause, then Comrade Sir David will be yesterday's Supreme Soviet Leader.

Why are they hanging on to him?
There is a school of thought that I have never understood: namely that the NHS needs to be gripped in turbulent times, and Nicholson is the über-gripper. I've heard otherwise sane people articulate this.

It's total nonsense. The Francis Report utterly exposed the rotten nature of the particular culture associated with this version of command-and-control that led the NHS to deliver only good news up to the Supreme Soviet about its glorious success in producing as many tractors as required by the Five-Year Plan.

The perverse incentives that a culture and a strategy of delivering blinkered, inhumane targetry have brought us could not be any more evident if they danced down Whitehall to a marching band performing The Simon Burns 4 SOS Song, stopping to do an interpretative flashmob performance art piece about the workers' struggle outside Richmond House.

Comrade Sir David's departure seems like a necessary but not sufficient condition for changes in the NHS's internal culture, of the kind mentioned by health select committee chair Stephen Dorrell on the Today programme this morning.

So why are Jeremy Hunt and David Cameron both saying they retain confidence in the Comrade-In-Chief?

Because they're talking Bellocs
The short answer is that Mr Hunt and Mr Cameron are talking Bellocs - Hilaire Belloc, whose poem 'Jim' pays off with the line "always keep a-hold of Nurse / For fear of finding something worse".

Comrade Sir David is a reassuring figure to them - which is a disturbing thought. The Conservative Party spent much of 2005-10 detoxifying itself on the NHS to get near to parity with Labour on the issue, only to comprehensively blow that advantage with the least well-received reorganisation since Chairman Mao's Great Leap Forwards.

Jeremy Hunt has been brought in to 'do a Johnson' (as in Alan) - to get the NHS off the news pages, ideally have his speeches reported as a news in brief item on page nine. He's not doing it too badly.

But while we're on the subject of famous Communists, we need to remember our Bertolt Brecht, in whose play 'Life Of Galileo', the titular hero admonishes another character "unhappy is the land that needs a hero".

If you don't really know very much about the NHS's internal culture, then you could cast Comrade Sir David as your hero. (This is essentially the same argument which used to say that Arab nations could only be ruled by a strong man with a moustache.) Gripping, gripping, gripping. And then gripping some more.

There is a problem with grip. The things we need most to survive are oxygen and water. Try and grip them - have a go. The oxygen you need is displaced by the grip; the water trickles through your fingers, the tighter you grip.

If you want to hold water, you do not grip it: you make a cradle of your hands and support it as you carefully and gently lift it up. There is a lesson for leadership in the NHS there, if the system chooses to learn it.