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Lansley’s health problems return

19 January 2012

9:18 AM

19 January 2012

9:18 AM

Another day, another exercise in obstructionism from the unions. Only this time it’s not
Ed Miliband that they’re complaining about. It’s Andrew Lansley and the government’s health reforms. The Royal College of Nursing and the
Royal College of Midwives have said that the entire Health Bill should be dropped. They have shifted, as they put it rather dramatically, to ‘outright opposition’.

Which must be annoying for Lansley, given how he took time to ‘pause, listen and engage’ last summer, and adjusted his Bill accordingly. That whole process was meant to anaethetise this
sort of disagreement, but the tensions clearly persist and could indeed get worse from here. It’s telling that a Lib Dem MP urged David Cameron to shelve the health reforms in PMQs yesterday
— even if the Lib Dem MP in question, Andrew George, doesn’t really adhere to the coalition creed at the best of times.

Lansley does have several advantages that he didn’t have a year ago. Foremost among them is actually that period of pausing, listening, soul-searching, etc. That has bound certain people —
say, Nick Clegg — more tightly into the current reforms. And it allows the Health Secretary to portray any fresh opposition as that little bit more unreasonable. That’s certainly what he’s
done this morning with these unions. Speaking on Radio 5Live earlier, he said that ‘they want to have a go at the government because
nurses are unhappy about pay and pensions.’

The government still isn’t helping itself, however, when it comes to communicating their reforms. It’s the same old problem: they’ve got the ‘why?’ down pat (rising costs, ageing
population, etc), but they’re still struggling on the ‘why these particular reforms?’ and the ‘just what the Hell are these particular reforms anyway?’ Unless Lansley wants
whatever support there is for his plan to erode and crumble, then he ought to correct that quick.

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