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.