Fraser Nelson

Lansley’s historic debacle

Lansley's historic debacle
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I've just come back from a Health Service Journal conference of medics, where all manner of subjects came up. One audience member asked what historical event stood comparison to Lansley's mishandling of the Health Bill. What else has caused so much controversy, to such little purpose? No one knew.

Many of those present — senior doctors, NHS executives, etc — knew Lansley, and everyone seemed to agree that he is a policy wonk fatally miscast as Health Secretary. Politics is about making and winning arguments; whereas Lansley wanted to work on details so complex that, even now, almost no one in government can explain what is being done. The Bill may have made progress in the Lords, but it's too late: the enemies of reform have already defined Lansley's policy for him. If passed, it will be blamed for everything that goes wrong in the NHS from now. It will blacken the name of reform for years.

During his infamous "pause" speech, Lansley admitted that the Bill is not needed to enact the reforms. So why do it? I fear the answer lies in vanity. Rather than say he'd build on the work of his reforming predecessors (as Gove did) Lansley wanted Year Zero, and he wanted to mark it with the largest health bill since the NHS's inception. It is an utter debacle, and I really can't think of a comparison in postwar domestic history.

One final thing, though. I met an official from the Quality Care Commission which produced today's wonderful but devastating report exposing the appalling treatment of the elderly in hospitals. This report, I was told, was all Lansley's idea. He didn't want to take credit, he just wanted the right policy. For this, if nothing else, he deserves admiration.

Written byFraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson is the editor of The Spectator. He is also a columnist with The Daily Telegraph, a member of the advisory board of the Centre for Social Justice and the Centre for Policy Studies.

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