Editor's blog Saturday 2 April 2011: A rumour starts the rounds, as the 'Tebbit test' casts Lansley as Falstaff
Rumour's a funny dame, with her characteristic little echo-chamber of Chinese whispers, mischief and wish-fulfilment.
In the startling insularity of NHSLand, Dame Rumour acts as a pressure-valve, bush telegraph and light entertainment. All of which NHSLand seriously needs - now perhaps more than ever,
Last night, two different sources contacted me about a rumour, which both insisted had come from senior figures in DH - that Our Saviour And Liberator Andrew Lansley would be gone by the end of this weekend.
The reason I mention this rumour is two-fold.
The first is that one of these two sources has a very strong track record of getting rumours and gossip that turn out to be correct.
The second reason is that I had not heard that rumour before now - not even from some of the more charmingly speculative chaps who add to the gaiety of the health policy nation.
Click here for details of 'Andrew Lansley's Millwall Tendency', via subscription-based Health Policy Intelligence.
Indeed, the absence of "Lansley's leaving" rumours is a bit of a 'dog that didn't bark', when you consider the extent to which OSAL's reforms have been widely viewed as underwhelming and unappealing.
Clearly, I don't know if it's true. Would I be surprised? Well, I'd be able to be a bit surprised - that is, if my surprise glands were not currently undergoing spa treatment for exhaustion in an exclusive Swiss resort.
What is true is that there is a definite sense of panic in the DH. The Friday afternoon announcement of Wave Four pathfinder consortia was a 'shock and awe' job.
The Tebbit test
Meanwhile, Mr Lansley will have been aware of his former boss Lord Tebbit's startling intervention in Friday's Mirrorslating the reform plans.
Tebbit's comments as conveyed by the Mirror warn of the potential of Mr Lansley's NHS reforms to do “considerable” damage to NHS hospitals, bringing “unfair” competition, and allowing private firms to cherry-pick. Baroness Thatcher's former enforcer is reported to have said: “It’s fine for the private sector, which doesn’t have responsibility for teaching and bringing on young surgeons, to take the straightforward and easy stuff.
“But that means the public sector is then left without the base of work to subsidise the more difficult surgery and the teaching of surgeons.”
This one is going to bruise Mr Lansley. Not only was Tebbit was his boss when OSAL was a civil servant, in 2001 Lansley told BBC News that Norman Tebbit was his political hero.
Lansley feels he has been misunderstood by many critics, and even seems to have gained an Alex-Ferguson-esque bunker mentality.
It would certainly be interesting to know how it would feel to be misunderstood by one's political hero and former boss. It is unlikely to feel good.
Lansley's new role - Sir John Falstaff
The dynamic makes me think of the end of Henry IV Part 2, when the newly-minted King Henry V very publicly, very politically betrays his former drinking partner-in-crime Sir John Falstaff. It is one of Shakespeare's very greatest scenes:
"I know the not old man; fall to thy prayers.
How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!".
Res ipsa loquitur.
UPDATED: The Sunday Telegraph and Independent On Sunday are both going on a major NHS policy U-turn, led by David Cameron.
So. How do you like your duck, Mr Lansley?