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Editor's blog 25th October 2008: Manufacturing consent - top ups OK'd

Good morning. After a very below-par performance at the NHS Alliance conference in Bournemouth, Health Secretary Alan Johnson is back closer to his normal good form in an interview in today's Telegraph.

Asked whether he has been invited onto billionaires' yachts, the MP for Hull West and Hessle jokes that no, the limit of his exposure to the high life on the ocean waves has been invitations abroad fishing trawers.

The interview explicitly outlines something we already know - that consent has been manufactured for top-ups to be permitted in the NHS. There are some other interesting aspects as well.

The first is the choice of media: the use of the Daily Telegraph is an intriguing choice. The policy leak-venue of choice for New Labour has until very recently been The Times. Why has New Labour chosen to go to the Telegraph - not traditionally a very pro-Labour paper?

One possibility is that they sense Rupert Murdoch's support ebbing away and flowing towards David Cameron. Political bellweather The Sun wrote approvingly of Cameron's party conference performance.

Labour's polling has improved due to Gordon 'Financial Master Of The Universe' Brown;'s handling of the financial crisis, but thy remain a steady nine points behind the Conservatives in most polls. This would lift the perceived constraint to give all the juicy policy leaks to and Sunday Times.

Anoither possibility is that this is part of a specific media strategy to drive a wedge between the Notting Hill modernisers leading the Tories - David 'Dave' Cameron and George 'rich kid, rich mates' Osbourne - and Telegraph political editor and columnist Simon Heffer. Heffer is strongly unsupportive of the Notting Hill faction leading the Conservative Party, and for all editor Will Lewis' changes to reach out to a younger audience, the Telegraph remains a house journal to traditional Conservatives. New Labour may dislike Heffer - a mutual feeling - but they know he has 'reach' with core Conservatives and irritates the party hierarchy.

In his interview, Johnson is also disarmingly candid about the internal strife within New Labour over the sumer and early autumn. Of the leadership speculation, Johnson says, "The media was only reflecting what was happening in the party … The culture of betrayal is ingrained in our party."

Reculer pour mieux sauter?
Elsewhere, Johnson is politically explicit that being behind in the polls makes it "a huge, huge task to win a fourth consecutive election." This looks very smart politics. Johnson is a grass-roots man, and a clever politician. He is quite aware of the recessionary mountain New Labour face electorally, so part of this is pure candour; equally, talking the party's chances down does no harm to the prospect of selling a new narrative about them as plucky underdogs, fighting back in the face of a resurgent Conservative Party.

And as George Osbourne has found out the hard way, with the return of Lord Mandelson of Spin, New Labour have restored an experienced and dirty streetfighter to the Cabinet.