Good news of a sort for Andrew Lansley as he faces twin pressures: wholly predictable pressure from the Tory right (plus that nudge from Andy Burnham) to include the NHS in George Osborne’s Budget strategy for public spending cuts, and pressure from the chancellor himself not to let feckless GPs manage so much NHS money.
Good news amid such deepening gloom? Why, yes. He has acquired a handy rival to become No 1 Tory NHS Hate Figure 2010. Step forward Nadine Dorries, MP for Mid Bedfordshire, who has been bitterly attacked by bloggers for daring to become a member of the new Parliament’s health select committee.
Strictly speaking, it is premature. As I type there is still no select committee, only a chair, elected by MPs of all parties: sensible Stephen Dorrell, ex-health secretary. Colleagues have been nominated, but not confirmed. It looks like being a clean sweep of new health faces too with Labour’s nominees including ex-minister Fiona MacTaggart, Valerie (sister of Keith) Vaz, Graham Morris and Rosie Cooper.
The Tory wannabes include Dorries and David Tredinnick. Ah, pause, yes, that David Tredinnick, the one who turns almost every issue into one about alternative medicines (“did you discuss the curative powers of St John’s Wort at the G20 summit, prime minister?”) and believes some surgeons hesitate to operate when certain phases of the moon inhibit clotting.
He has been attacked too, for being the daffy Prince Charles of politics, helping to waste valuable NHS cash on homeopathy. You saw what happened to those property developers whose plans for Chelsea Barracks upset Charlie W. Senior NHS managers don’t want to cross him either.
But ex-nurse Dorries, formidable self-publicist and populist, easily outstrips Tredinnick as a potential hate figure. She not only contradicts science (“no friend of rational thought”, says one blogger) but takes aggressively hostile views on policies like abortion: she wants a lower limit.
It alarms the easily alarmed that MPs like this pair might influence health policy via the committee. It is like electing the Daily Mail. What I say is that, if they are confirmed, we should wait and see how they behave - the Mail’s world view is not always wrong - and meanwhile take comfort from the likelihood chair Dorrell is smart enough to handle them.
Dorries is already getting into her stride. On Sunday’s BBC1 Politics Show she joined ex-chancellor Nigel (father of Nigella) Lawson, to call for NHS cuts. He said the Tories would just have to renege on their election pledge: “It’s understandable to see why they said it (to avoid losing votes) but I think it won’t wash, it won’t work.”
She said: “I think we need to find the political courage to accept that there is excessive waste in the NHS and that it’s unfair to expect the other departments to take all the hits.”
Not short of confidence is she?
Barely a day now passes without renewed shroud waving about NHS funding as the implications of Mr Lansley’s new operating framework - targets abolished, management budgets slashed - sink in and everyone awaits the white paper, delayed by Treasury doubts about the wisdom of handing control over £60bn-
£80bn (figures vary) worth of spending to a bunch of anarchists and social misfits, trading as GPs.
If I were a Treasury official reading the health secretary’s HSJ interview last week I would have been a bit skittish too. He says all the right things about unit costs and evidential policy, but GP consortia are as big and theoretical a gamble as foundation trusts were. The Treasury opposed giving them their own chequebook too, if you recall. That is what the Treasury is for.