Today’s health election debate on the BBC just now was one of the feistiest we have seen in this campaign. Andy Burnham, Jeremy Hunt and Norman Lamb clashed repeatedly — and passionately — over Mid Staffs and the appropriate role for the private sector in the NHS.
Burnham was on hectoring form throughout the debate. But he struggled so badly to answer Andrew Neil’s questions about Mid Staffs that one was left feeling he’ll never be able to win a Labour leadership contest until he has a proper answer to these questions.
Jeremy Hunt admitted that the Health and Social Act, Andrew Lansley’s reform bill, wouldn’t win any prizes for being the most popular health policy in history. He even hesitated when asked by Andrew Neil if he would have introduced it. But he turned in a robust performance, pointing out that what mattered was the quality of care being provided in NHS not who was providing it.
But perhaps the most impressive of those on the stage was Norman Lamb. The Lib Dems’ health spokesman mildly took down Andy Burnham for his more agitprop statements while making the Lib Dem case on mental health. For those in the party establishment wanting a rival to Tim Farron if Clegg departs after the election, Lamb increasingly looks like their best bet.
One moment of levity in the debate came when the Ukip health spokesman came out in favour of banning smoking in parks while allowing smoking in pubs. His logic: there are more children in parks than pubs.