There was a fascinating discussion on Newsnight of the latest twist in the tale of David Cameron and the NHS last night.
On one side of Jeremy Paxman sat Nick Clegg’s chief of staff, Norman Lamb, and a Tory MP I had never seen before but who was clearly on the right of his Party. And on the other sat a BMA representative and a consultant keen on the private sector being more involved in healthcare.
The two politicians, from totally different political perspectives, said that they were now happy with the position as set out by the Prime Minister yesterday. The two professionals, from their totally different perspectives, said they were now more confused than ever about what the Prime Minister’s position was. Cue Paxo’s sneery-faced, arms-folded, tongue-lolling, eyebrow-raising,what-the-hell-is-a-Nick-Clegg-chief-of-staff-anyway? look!
The discussion brought home the realities of the situation now that the coalition is well through the Rose Garden honeymoon period. The politicians seemed to see everything in terms of whether their own political view had been properly expressed – so Lamb was claiming the policy had shifted in a Lib Dem direction, and the Tory was claiming all the proper Tory principles had been protected. Paxman always does a good bemused look, but so did his healthcare guests.
David Cameron is said to have taken charge of sentencing policy as well as NHS policy. I wonder on both issues whether deep down he wonders why – and how – he started out on the road the coalition has taken.
On the NHS there is the particular problem of Cameron having been so clearly on the record that there would be ‘no more top-down reorganisations of the NHS’, that it was in neither manifesto not the coalition agreement. There is the problem too of Andrew Lansley’s credibility as Health Secretary now that Mr Cameron appears to have taken over much of his job.
Cameron has gone through the pain of the ridicule which greeted the ‘pause’ in the Parliamentary process. He has gone through the additional grief of a listening process which showed most parts of the NHS did not support the policy. And he has further pain ahead when the new position is fleshed out in detail.
Is it really too late to go the whole hog, say that actually much of what they wish to do could be done without legislation, and drop the Bill?
As for sentencing, as I have said before, I hope Ken Clarke does manage to get a changed approach on prisons and sentencing. He looked like he had swallowed the PM’s medicine for the time being. But I don’t think he will let Mr Cameron take over the whole process in the way he has seemingly done with Mr Lansley.