By chance I stumbled on an NHS row which intrigues me. It is the sight of Labour ministers and their Tory shadows and wannabe successors joining forces to denounce disgraceful “scaremongering” about a hospital reorganisation.
Come again? Yes. They joined forces to condemn Lib Dem MPs, household names like Vince Cable, Susan Kramer and - in his own household - Ed Davey. Their Richmond and Kingston constituents use Kingston Hospital in prosperous south west London. Both sides are unrepentant.
The row has been rumbling for weeks, with a Facebook campaign and a petition signed by thousands
The row has been rumbling for weeks, with a Facebook campaign and a petition signed by thousands. Tempers flared in a Commons debate. The trust’s chief executive, Kate Grimes, has posted a letter warning staff and patients not to believe claims of “Labour’s secret plan” to savage services.
So far, so what? An election looms. Kramer, driving force behind the “Save Kingston Hospital” campaign, will lose her Richmond Park seat on a 3.7 per cent swing to the Tory green plutocrat, Zac Goldsmith. She is on fighting form.
What drives her anger - genuine, I felt, when we spoke - is that local MPs heard rumours their hospital, rated 15th out of 149 trusts by Dr Foster in 2009, could lose services in NHS London’s review of services.
Shocked, they checked with senior local management. Yes, maternity, paediatrics, accident and emergency, elective surgery could go in a shake-up, which would also involve St George’s (surely safe?), St Helier and Mayday in Croydon.
A familiar story anywhere? Yes, and the MPs complain that promised publication of the primary care trust’s review was delayed, first until January, now until after the likely 6 May election.
Instead a whistleblower leaked the four crucial pages of the draft report, confirming their fears.
Kramer’s case is that voters should know all 18 options and be able to discuss them before the grinding logic of PCT decision making - better for the system than for patients, she says - produces a “rational” package.
That might lead to slow death for their hospital - and for some patients stuck in traffic en route elsewhere. It has happened in other places. Plenty of people in the NHS loop are cheering them on, Kramer tells me.
So why did Tory health spokesman Mike Penning arrange with his whip’s office to get Ms Kramer’s Commons debate extended so that he could intervene to denounce her? After all, he fought a losing battle to stop his local hospital at Hemel Hempstead being downsized.
When I rang, Mr Penning explained he had visited Kingston, where staff are “incandescent” about the Lib Dem campaign.
“You just cannot scare people on the basis of something which is fundamentally fictitious.”
Hence his interruptions, cries of “frightening people” and his support for minister Mike O’Brien, who accused the Lib Dems of frightening clinicians into silence for “cynical political advantage” before any decisions.
For good measure he and Penning both quoted Daily Mirror journalist Kevin Maguire, who overheard a Lib Dem activist boasting on a train how he had “spun” the story to the press. There was a lot of Twitter chatter.
Kramer refrains from making the charge that Penning made in Hertfordshire, that hospitals in Labour seats get protected. What would the Tories do in power?
“Protect frontline services,” Zac Goldsmith tells voters. We can read that as doing what NHS London is doing for Labour. Yes?