Did you catch that row over the NHS at prime minister’s question time? No, I thought not. What with the royal nuptial and the killing of Osama bin Laden we have all had a lot on our media plate.
Never underestimate the beneficial impact of good news (all that Easter sunshine too) on our politics, health – and health politics.
In any case the row was overshadowed by the outrage generated by David Cameron’s use of the catchphrase “calm down, dear” because it was directed at a woman Labour MP, not (as it was last time) at Ed Miliband.
Oh dear. I know such language offends some sensitive souls and that MPs always get excited when there’s an election looming. But Cameron is unlikely to be a closet sexist. He’s got a bullying streak when he’s cornered and Gentleman Dave turns into Flashman, but it’s not gender specific. He also likes making jokes.
Never mind. Labour’s Angela Eagle had provoked Cameron by pointing out that Howard Stoate, the former GP/MP for Dartford whose support for GP commissioning Cameron was trying to cite, hadn’t been defeated in 2010. He’d stood down before the election.
It was a modest point on two counts. One is that Dartford is a key UK marginal – a “bellwether” as Americans say – which has reliably swung between Labour and Tory with the overall election winner since 1964. Last year it needed a less than 1 per cent swing to go Tory so Dr Stoate must have decided to jump before he was pushed.
Fair enough, although the MP had also complained to The Daily Telegraph that the new post-expenses rules on part time jobs might cramp his work as a local GP. He’s also a bit of a DIY specialist who’d claimed £55,000 over four years to do up his London second home, just 15 miles from Dartford. Along with boundary changes, that might account for the 11 per cent swing Dartford’s new MP, Gareth Johnson, actually got last 6 May.
More important, Howard Stoate later accused Cameron of misquoting him and insisted that he doesn’t “glibly accept every aspect of the Health Bill”.
But the PM was basically correct: Stoate does favour consortium commissioning.
That’s why he was elected chair of the Bexley Commissioning Cabinet by fellow medics in an area which has been “pathfinding” what is emerging as the Lansley model for four years now.
Do spats of this kind matter? Yes, a little.
Cameron thinks Tony Blair wasted chances for public service reform in his first term and has pushed his own schools and university, pensions and NHS reforms hard, too hard for most of us.
“It’s clear we are not carrying the centre ground of the NHS with us,” he recently told historian Anthony Seldon.
But he clearly believes that staff and patients adjust to unpopular reforms – most reforms are resisted – over time and that time is on his side as well as Dr Stoate.
Hence the famous “pause” which had MPs on all sides demanding after Easter exactly what ministers mean. Will you amend the Health Bill? Yes. How? Wait and see.
Will MPs get a chance to vet the changes before the bill goes to the Lords? Yes, at report and third reading, Andrew Lansley told his Labour shadow, John Healey.
Healey remains suspicious for several good reasons as well as the usual tribal one that he wants the Tories to screw up.
Whatever ministers say, nine out of 10 hospitals face cuts of 4 per cent or more this year, one in seven over 8 per cent.
Staff and services are being cut, voters know it.
Who will they blame? Certainly not cuts maestro David Nicholson, of whom few have heard.