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Labour must not let Lansley get away with burying good news on the NHS – and other media double standards

Posted on 20 March 2011 | 12:03pm

It’s fascinating to watch liberal commentators say how blindingly obvious it is that military action should be taken to deal with a fascist dictator killing his own people (aka Gaddafi) … in many instances the same liberal commentators who remain so angry at the action taken to deal with a fascist dictator who had been killing his own people, and threatening many more, for far longer, and to a far greater scale, than Gaddafi has been, aka Saddam Hussein.

But it is another double standard I wish to point out today, namely the difference between the full-blown furore unleashed by a Labour spin doctor who foolishly emailed round her department to say September 11 was a ‘good day to bury bad news’, and the mild cough of concern over the Tory government doing something of a reverse of this, namely burying good news in case it gets in the way of their ideological crusade to change the NHS into a healthcare version of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

I have pointed out before that in addition to the NHS reforms being pushed through without a mandate for either governing party, or in the coalition agreement between them, they are also being pushed through at a time of record satisfaction with the service provided. That explains why it barely figured as an issue at the last election.

The Observer reports today that the government has in its possession polling date by Ipsos MORI which confirms that satisfaction with the NHS has never been higher than when they surveyed opinion last autumn. But of course that does not fit with the Tories’ vision of the NHS as a failing service in dire need of the reforms Andrew Lansley has been dreaming up for the last decade or two.

I assume Freedom of Information requests will be going in to have this polling published, and that the Public Accounts Committee will take a look not just at the cost-effectiveness but also the ethics of spending public money to assess public opinion, but then refusing to publish it when the public opinion fails to conform to the opinion David Cameron and Andrew Lansley wanted the public to have.

The afore-mentioned Labour spin doctor eventually paid with her job and her political career. She did so because of a foolish thought and a foolish action – the sending of her email, still remembered by many almost a decade on. This despite the fact there is no evidence that any wrongdoing followed. Yet in withholding information relevant to the formulation of a policy that nobody has been asking for, that there is no mandate for, and which virtually all of the professional bodies involved in the NHS do not want, Lansley is being not just sneaky, but dishonest in his portrayal of the need for these reforms.

  • Sienna Marla

    Was going to Tweet this but then I read the introduction. You have to admit Alastair that the two wars are very different.

  • Gary

    Alastair, Alastair

    If the point of the Iraq war and this new misadventure was to “to deal with a fascist dictator who had been killing his own people, and threatening many more” then why didn’t we “deal with” Robert Mugabe, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Charles to name but a few in a long list of despicable despots?

    I don’t agree with “the West” being the World Police but would have a modicum more sympathy for the position if it was consistent. It seems to me that this latest action is more driven by the needs of some leaders (Sarkozy, Obama and Cameron) to look strong and decisive and, of course, vested interested. I don’t believe that vested interests is a strong moral position and should not attempt to dress it up as one.

    I look forward to hearing what you advocate if this mess spreads to Saudi?


  • I work alongside the NHS, my line manager is a senior NHS manager – I have a best friend who is a recently retired GP, and have recently had my wife emergency admitted and nearly die – I see all sides.

    There are still many things wrong with the NHS – arrogant and anti- public service ethos attitudes amongst doctors and nurses being a major portion of that.
    All the things that are wrong – will not have a chance of being made better, by nominally putting commissioning choices in the hands of the GPs…

    Idolatry of consultants so they could get paid twice for working privately and playing golf abroad was bad enough – Idolatry of GPs, whilst making sure that their only top down motivation is money, is worse. The GPs who entered the NHS because they believed in it (including my friend) are retiring or dying – leaving the field to the lovers of power and money, they want no part of this.

    the PCT employees will be working for the GPs instead of with them – so their accumulated wisdom can be more easily thrown aside but the bureacracy will remain. Now though – there will be more of a war between GPs and Consultants – whose income sources will be under threat from GPs decision making –
    war, where we needed to bring partnership and peace.

    divide and rule was always the background Tory doctrine.

  • Ian

    Dispiriting opening paragraph Alistair – Both incursions into Iraq and Libya are wrong.

    Sad to see, in these desperate times, when our welfare, health and civic services are being dismantled and the economy decimated, you and the party hierarchy are throwing your support behind an incompetent reckless government in their foreign adventure. Is it not obviously convenient for Cameron to pick a fight with a pantomime villain in the desert to distract from the havoc being wreaked on his own population here in the UK? Furthermore it always amazes that funds can be found without a moments notice to start another bloody war but not to improve our schools, maintain our health service and care for the elderly and vulnerable in our society. Isn’t that what we should be highlighting at this point and and not sanctioning the cadet core mentality of Cameron and his gung-ho supporters?

  • Elis

    both the bloody wars are wrong, confused and unwise…Cameron will soon learn how fast the conventional wisdom changes

  • Olli Issakainen

    Why does the west not also intervene in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Syria?
    If what is happening in Libya would be taking place in some small African country without oil, would anything happen?
    Donald Rumsfeld told Piers Morgan on CNN that the Iraq war was about regime change. According to his memoir president Bush made decision to go after Saddam Hussein as early as January 2003. What happened at the UN was a sham.
    In fact, the US policy on Iraq was fixed already in 2002. There was no imminent threat from Iraq, and the intelligence was doubtful.
    But there was a humanitarian case to invade Iraq as because of sanctions lives of 300,000 people were in danger. So the sanctions were not working and something had to be done. That is why I supported the invasion.
    Why Labour did not fight the last election on health and education? Why Gordon Brown made a deliberate decision not to start talking about the causes of the financial meltdown?
    Mervyn King has said that banks are to blame for the cuts. I am personally happy to notice that the majority of Britons now do not blame Labour for the “mess”.
    The private sector is not in shape to fill the hole left by the public sector cuts. Time for a plan B, Mr Osborne!

  • Gary

    Charles=Charles Taylor

  • Elis

    the Arab league now condemns the attack on Libya. Reuters reports “Arab League chief says air strikes on Libya differ from the no-fly zone which was called for; aim was to protect civilians not bombard them”…

  • I agree that Labour must not allow the conservatives to get away with this but one other thing that angers me is the fact Labour have remained very quite over the cuts to the welfare budget and I personally think they are hiding away from their moral duties.

    I know New Labour introduced the welfare reform programme but surely even Ed Milliband can see that the new measures will unjustly hurt more and more disabled and sick people, what’s your opinion on their position on welfare and the cuts coming in in a few days?

    What do you think about the private company Atos Health Care who are attacking disabled people by using unscrupulous assessment methods?, Why has hardly any Labopur MPs spoken up against Atos Health Care or is the reason too many MPs have private shares in the company?

    Thanks DearEngland..

  • Gilliebc

    @ Gary – Charles Taylor, who’s he?

  • Janete

    We have seen Tories use this strategy many times before. They have an agenda which they know large swathes of the British public would not support if they declared their intentions openly. They use their considerable influence in the media to publish negative stories (or as in this case, also hide positive information) to rubbish whichever public service they want to attack. They then use this ‘evidence’ to justify their plan for so called reform. By the time their policies are implemented, the public have been conditioned to accept the need for change.

    Much of the privatisation agenda of the 1980’s followed this pattern. But do we now get the promised, better, cheaper services in gas, electricity, railways, buses and water? For that matter, are our hospitals cleaned to a higher standard now they are mostly cleaned by private sector contractors?

    Tories don’t want facts to reach the public, as these can’t easily be manipulated. Labour’s policy of measuring, counting and evidencing achievements in public services is a real thorn in their side. Inconvenient truths are there for all to see, hence their attempts to rubbish and remove the target culture, which generated factual information showing Labour’s achievements. I expect them to try to remove requirements to count NHS waiting times soon, to hide what will be pretty damning evidence of the damage being done to the service.

    Now is the time for a major onslaught on this extremely dangerous policy. We have to get facts and figures into the public domain to show that sweeping away the very essence of the NHS is not about addressing inherent problems or improving patient experience. Tories have history here, and the Labour Party and many others have to try to help the public see this for what it is, typical Tory ideology, public money in private sector pockets: the privatisation of the NHS.

  • Ehtch

    Iraq under Saddam was a boil that was needed to be lanced – he did invade Kuwait in the first Gulf War after all. Saddam just could not be trusted to behave himself. Lord knows what he would have got up to next, but we will never now know.

    Gaddafi’s time is up, things culturally in his country have moved on.

  • Cornish by inclination

    Satisfaction, smatistisfaction….What really matters is clinical outcomes and what Labour is losing out on is that they are not using the evidence that is available on increasing survivability rates. They have been climbing following the curve of the extra investment put in by Labour and in many key cases will exceed those of comparative health systems for less overall investment. That is what Labour should really be shouting about, not greater satisfaction or choice which are at best a poor second to better clinical outcomes! Lets not pander to popular opinion but concentrate on doing what it right, becuse it is the right thing to do.

  • Richard Brittain

    I have some quite strong views on the Libyan situation. I must confess, I think it’s wrong to intervene, and I think the general population do not want to intervene in Libya. I honestly believe that it is a gaffe for Cameron, Obama and Sarkozy, and it will turn public opinion against them (the latter two were already in weak positions). While I can empathise with the mentality of wanting to avenge a crazed dictator who ordered terrorist attacks, what concerns me is that we are presenting factually incorrect reasons. The reality is this: Libyan rebels staged an aggressive take-over of the country. They have weapons, tanks, jets, and they are not afraid to use them. We know very little about these rebels, but what is certain is that they are much more than simple ‘peaceful protesters’. They took over a lot of cities, knowing that no unarmed civilian could oppose them. Gaddafi, being the ruling governor, naturally tried to take them back. Honestly, what would anyone expect a leader to do in such situations? The fact that he is a crazed dictator with a bad past reputation is, in my opinion, irrelevant to this situation. If a group of armed rebels started taking over British cities, regardless of their motives, the military would try to stop them, with force, and then take those cities back under governmental control. In such cases, the ruling government is perfectly entitled to fight aggression with aggression. What is clear, to me, is that this is a civil war. There seem to be many, many pro-Gaddafi people in Libya. What we are doing, as some news reporters have pointed out, is taking sides in a civil war – a war which was started by the rebels.

    The main problem that I see is that we are presenting false reasons. George Osborne spoke to Andrew Marr on Sunday, and he talked as though we were doing this in revenge for Gaddafi’s terrorist acts. He came across really badly, in my opinion, and quite arrogant.

    We should give clear reasons why we’re doing it: a) Because of Gaddafi’s past record. b) Because we want to spread democracy.

    Or is it for oil? I’m not sure what to make of that particular theory, but people are right to point out the inconsistencies – There are worse dictators around than Gaddafi. Why are we not invading them? Despite his indefensible record on terrorism, Gaddafi has certainly mellowed in the past 10 years. He must have been doing something right, because Libya possesses one of the strongest economies in Africa.

    I really do believe it is the wrong decision, and I believe that the majority of people in Britain believe the same. You are right to point out that Hussein was far, far worse, domestically, than Gaddafi.

    It is the US and the UK trying to police the world, meddling in other country’s affairs, and the worst bit is, they are all trying to pass the blame on to someone else: America – “The US aren’t leading this operation!” (while they send endless tomahawk missiles at Libya)… Britain and France – “No, we’re not leading this operation.” (despite the fact that they pushed for it, and it would not have happened otherwise). “We’re doing it for the Arab League!”

    No-one seems to want to take responsibility for it, and that is perhaps the most worrying thing. A sign of guilt?

    The rapid developments have been alarming, to say the least. First it was just a no-fly-zone. Military intervention was out of the question, they said. Yet, now we see hundreds of heavy missiles hurtling towards Libya. There is no such thing as a safe missile. Civilian deaths seem more than likely.

    The whole episode has really turned me off Cameron. I really believe that he has made a huge mistake. Obama and Sarkozy were already unpopular, but this is potentially Cameron’s first catastrophic mistake (depending on how public reaction goes).

    Apologies that this post hasn’t been pertinent to the whole of your blog post, Alastair, but I felt that this was a good place to give my views on this situation.

  • Richard Brittain

    Oh and this really angers me ( ):

    “The head of the Arab League, who supported the idea of a no-fly zone, has criticised the severity of the bombardment.

    “What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians,” said Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa.

    Arab League support was a key factor in getting UN Security Council backing for the resolution authorising the move.”

    Because David Cameron, George Osborne, Barack Obama, Sarkozy, all said that they are doing it because the Arab League wants it. Lies, more lies. Again, sorry to use Alastair Campbell’s article to ‘vent’ my views. Stuff like this makes me want to go out and protest against the government.

    This is how extremism in the Middle East forms. Unnecessarily over-the-top military actions, led by the US who are well known for over-the-top and merciless brutality. We can be reasonably certain of now seeing more brutality from Gaddafi’s forces against civilian rebels, firing with machine guns and other small arms.

  • Alex

    I agree with Dear England. Labour should be much more visible in opposing these changes.

    And a place to start is FOIs on the information. Ed could also raise it at PMQs “… where is the report Prime Minister…?”

  • Gary
  • Elis

    who are the rebels anyway? it is mind boggling that Cameron has gone to war on behalf of a movement he know nothing about. simply mind boggling. where do these politicians come from? am also sorry to vent here.

  • marymot

    I previously rather flippantly commented that although we know that Col. Gaddafi is the ‘baddy’ we do not know who the ‘goodie’ is in the Libyan conflict. It is not enough to say it is the Libyan People because they are divided and people do not act like a flock of starlings wheeling and turning as one. They must have a common aim and so far no-one has provided one for them to follow apart from getting rid of the Gaddafi leadership.
    Since he seems to be determined to cling to power what we seem to be doing is equalising the arms between the opponents or even to giving the armed rebels the upperhand. Will we then try to stop ‘the people’ from turning on the supporters of Gaddafi with the possible loss of civilian life on the opposite side.
    ‘I forward look and fear’

  • Gilliebc

    @ Gary – Thanks for the link!

  • Edna

    The second Iraq War – a rather late response to the cries of Iraqis for help to get rid of Saddam in 1991 which, when ignored, resulted in as many deaths in a few months as the second Iraq war did in a number of years. A tragic betrayal.

    The current war in Libya – a slightly late response to the cries of Libyans for help to get rid of Gaddafi which may lead to far fewer deaths than if their cries had been ignored.

    Is this the difference you mean?

  • TJG

    John Healey’s media silence on the proposed healthcare reforms is at best embarassing, at worst totally negligent. It’s nice to see that there’s no paternal sentiment regarding the NHS in the Labour party. What the healthcare system needs is a collective and single campaign against the cuts, rather than seperate groups of professionals voicing occasional concern. Why isn’t Healey holding consultations with PCTs, the GMC and other collective professional bodies to form a coherent and strong representation against what can only be described as the reckless destruction of the healthcare service. Aneurin must be spinning in his grave etc…

    Maybe there’s a job for Mr Campbell at Mr Healey’s office? Clearly some direction is necessary.