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Andrew Lansley done up like a kipper

Posted on 2 July 2009 | 10:07am

You won’t have found too many words of praise for journalists on here, so stand by for a rare event.

I refer to a journalist I have never met, named Sally Gainsbury, who works for a magazine I don’t recall ever reading, named the Health Service Journal.

A Facebook friend sent me her latest article, headlined ‘Lansley’s devil is in the detail.’

I remember a former colleague at the Daily Mirror who would exclaim gleefully, whenever an interviewee condemned themselves with their own words – ‘done up like a kipper.’ Tory health spokesman Andrew Lansley, fresh from his opening the door to the idea of  ten per cent cuts in public spending under the Tories, which secured him a rollicking from Dave, did himself up like a kipper in a series of interviews duly set out by Sally Gainsbury in her excellent piece.

She concludes that Mr Lansley, accidentally, got round Dave’s strict policy against having policy. The accident was born in the fact that he was trying to create impressions without committing to clear positions (strategy copyright Dave) but ended up committing to a position that might give him considerable political difficulties.

So here is the step by step guide to Mr Lansley’s lurch to Kipperdom.

Step 1, admit there will have to be cuts.

Step 2, make clear any cuts will not apply to the NHS, but to other departments, about which Dave would like everyone to stay vague.

Step 3, whatever the Health Secretary Andy Burnham says, don’t be seen to agree with it, because you need to be different to feed into the ‘time for a change’ notion at the heart of Dave’s no policy strategy.

Step 4, therefore contradict Burnham’s statement that a new pay deal for health service staff cannot be agreed without an overall NHS spending settlement. For those who have a worry the Tories are not ready for government, feel your worries grow on reading this from Mr Lansley … ‘In truth pay determination shouldn’t be set in line with financial allocations, it should be set in line with what is necessary to recruit, retain and motivate the workforce that you require. It’s a fallacy to say the amount of pay for 2012-13 depends on how much money the government has.’

I shall repeat that last bit. ‘It’s a fallacy to say the amount of pay for 2012-13 depends on how much money the government has.’

It is a self-evidently idiotic statement, which required clarification in the form of Step 5, when his rebuttal made clear he was not talking about pay increases being above the rate of increase in overall NHS spending, expected to be pretty low as it is, but below that rate. Try telling that to the nurses, and all who love them.

I said a few days ago that the skirmishes on public spending are in their early stages, but Mr Kipper, recognising the idiocy of the step 4 statement, was driven to the step 5 admission of real terms cuts to NHS wages.

I have made it as simple as I can, but accept it is quite complicated, which may explain why it has been left to the Health Service Journal to spell it out. But these arguments that bubble away like this all speak to a central problem for the Tories – they have not thought through policy, and they do not have very good frontbenchers ie, the people who will be the Cabinet if the country votes according to the polls as they stand.

I know the media chatterati go on about how clever Michael Gove is, for example, but Fiona tells me that while I was up in Burnley he did a dreadful Newsnight interview, again exposing their inability to bottom down answers on difficult questions.

I don’t know what they discuss at Shadow Cabinet meetings, but they must surely understand that unless they pin down the detail quite soon, they will have a lot more Lansley-Kipper situations on the way. And while this one may have been confined to the Health Service Journal, during the heat of an election campaign, it just takes one of these unbottomed down situations to go ‘whoosh’, and unravelling follows unravelling.

It is frustrating for Labour that these glitches and goofs are not being focussed upon by the national media very much now. But they need to store them away, pocket all the inconsistencies in positions set out by Dave and his team, then unleash them at a time designed to do maximum damage.

  • Jane A

    Intellectually speaking, Andrew Lansley makes Michael Gove look like Stephen Hawking. I read the HSJ, and its clear that the Tories attempt to pitch in on health policy by having him front it up won’t just backfire, it’ll blow the bloody doors off.

    NHS world will be financially more difficult from 2011, but Labour have been open about that, rather than trying to pull the wool until postElection. Any organisation with so many staff, so many sites (and their energy bills to cover) which is charged with raising standards for patients *and* using taxpayers money more efficiently couldn’t help but be affected by the downturn.

    I think Dave and his mates are being massively disingenuous over cuts, but no one at the media management end of their operation seems to have issued the command to “stop digging”.

  • Michael Taylor

    Everyone’s avoiding the subject at the moment. Labour included. Gordon Brown especially. CUTS WILL HAVE TO BE MADE.

    The difficulty politically is that there are three great departments of state that are seemingly untouchable – Health, Education and Defence. For the Tories the latter is a particular Achilles Heel.

    The sooner someone has the courage to tell the ministers: Make 10 per cent cuts across each department – please get back to us when you have a plan, the better.

  • The Therapist

    One of the difficulties is that it is so long since the Tories were in power that people have forgotten how they brought the NHS to its knees. We must empathise with Kipper and his colleagues, though – can you imagine the stress of having a job which is merely to oppose whatever someone else does? Apart from people with some sort of oppositional personality disorder it is hard to imagine how demoralising this must be. When you look at the HSE Stress Management guidelines for the workplace, you wonder how Dave can get away with treating his people this way.

  • mary

    It might be a good idea to cut some NHS spending anyway. Last month I discovered that an outpatient clinic at my local Trust hospital took at least four weeks to inform my GP of the outcome of my tests. As the problem was potentially lethal, I strolled round to the clinic and offered to type the letter myself. Funnily enough, I was handed a sheaf of rather beautiful brochures informing me of my ‘rights’ in several languages and was told that if I complained in a particular way, my letter would be typed that afternoon. I complained politely as advised by the friendly ladies on Reception, and put the brochures in the recycling bin on the way out. The letter arrived the following day by snail mail. Now, why would otherwise sensible people organise their comms systems that way? Hmmmmmmm? In cases like this, As always weask ‘who benefits? Certainly not me,either as patient or taxpayer. I am beginning to think: ‘Go Dave’! Sorry Alastair.

  • Harry Pritchard

    I am around your age and I can remember when Maggie was in power, the Shadow Cabinet were almost as well known as the Cabinet. Not just Kinnock, but Hattersley, Smith, Gould, Kaufman, Meacher, Beckett, Cunningham, Dewar, Lots and lots of them were pretty much household names. Apart from Cameron and Hague, I don’t think any of the Tories would be recognised by most members of the public. It is also the case ministers are less igh profile than they used to be, but this shadow lot are barely visible at all. Yet they could be running the country. it is a bit scary

  • Maria Sharpe

    I saw the Gove interview too. Dreadful. But the minister on wss pretty poor too. I don’t know what has happened to politicians generally. They do not seem to be on top of the answers like they were

  • AC

    I am grateful to Paul Waugh of the Evening Standard for pointing out the latest chapter in the unravelling of the Kipper. According to Paul’s blog, he has been told by Lansley’s office that when he told Sky News that future NHS allocations will not be able to accomodate ‘inflationary staff costs’, such ‘inflationary staff costs’ should not be taken as meaning ‘above inflation pay rises.’ Ok??? He was simply saying that a Tory government would not be able to afford ‘massive’ pay rises. Alles klar? No, I didn’t think so.
    Anyway, that is step 6 dealt with. Stay tuned for the next episode of this make it up as you go along NHS policy.

  • Em

    I’ve been seeing allusions to Dave Cameron’s shortcomings popping up here and there lately and I’m glad Gove and Lansley are making a fool of himself publicly, especially the latter on health care. Health is an issue parents and ageing people really pay attention too, despite the issue not being sexy with politicos (or so I’m guessing).

    Is there a link to Gainsbury’s article?

    I’m sure you know Disraeli’s quote: “A Tory government in as exercise in hypocrisy” and I think the media know very well how elusive, not to say slippery, the current Tory party is. I simply think they want new material and that is why they are so kind to Cameron and its dunces.

  • gary Enefer

    It does seem to be Gordon brown and Alastair Darling that have been ‘ done up like kippers’ this week. Someone has cleverly turned the Tories’ 10% slip to
    accuse the Labour Party of not being honest about it’s intentions.

  • Alina Palimaru

    I am not surprised at all by the Lansley “policy revelations”. He seems to hint at the pro-market Tory agenda, at which other British conservative voices (e.g. the likes of Daniel Hannan) have been hinting for a while now… mind you, in conservative U.S. media outlets! “Leave it all to the market! Market knows best!”

    What these little Friedmans don’t know is that in the U.S. case (which the Tories hope to replicate in the UK) the market opened the health system up for abuse and greed, to the extent that it increased health spending (and waste on un-necessary medical procedures).
    The Tory mantra is that “government shouldn’t ‘meddle in’ or ‘interfere with’ the market”. Well, my question to them is: what is the difference between government ‘interfering with’ the market and government ‘helping’ the market operate better? The answer is: conservative obfuscation!

    Alastair, excellent job catching and exposing this.

  • Jonathan Turner

    Being a former NHS employee I still get emails from the HSJ and saw this article. Whilst Lansley’s comments a few weeks ago about 10% cuts were hardly surprising, I remember being shocked at the apparent lack of discipline when he made that announcement – a highly significant policy point seemingly made without any prior planning. But the strange thing is that the debate actually seems to have played out fairly well for the Tories since then, with most of the media offering the conclusion that both parties will cut anyway, and allowing the Tories to put Brown on the defensive re cuts.

    It appears to me that much of the media has decided it is going to go easy on the Tories at the moment, it isn’t focussing on the glitches or the lack of substance in their policy on public services – post-bureacratic age et al. But you never know, they might decide it’s getting boring and go in for the kill, and if they do I agree that they are vulnerable if they continue to adopt this ad hoc approach.

    Andrew Lansley looks like a major liability from what I have seen thus far.

    I would, however, disagree with Alastair’s recent assertions that New Labour had it all planned out by this stage pre-1997. There may have been more consistency in the political strategy, but this did not necessarily translate into a workable policy. I seem to recall that at the time the theme was “cut the waiting lists and end the market madness”. The waiting lists bit has largely been achieved because of all the extra money pumped in, but Blair did a complete u-turn on the market aspect. Not only did he revive the internal market, but in his later years as premier he expanded it to private sector healthcare providers too. I can only conclude that Blair felt the initial strategy wasn’t working.

  • Katharine T.

    I am a little bit hesitant to post a comment right now because I think I am going to sound stupid, but I just don’t understand: How can a major party (regardless of who they are) not have a clear and precise position on any important issue (ie: fiscal, health, education, military, taxes, etc)? Are people just supposed to take their word that if they vote for them they’ll be really, really good at anything they want?

    Maybe I’m missing something because I feel pretty stupid a lot of the time reading this blog.

  • Praguetory

    > An irrelevance. Brown’s 0% rise is what will be remembered from this week in politics.

  • Jane A

    Interesting comment from the HSJ website:

    “The Conservatives have contested HSJ’s interpretation of Mr Lansley’s comments. Read their response to our story and Mr Lansley’s original comments in full as part of Sally Gainsbury’s blog.”

    Step 7, you think?