The paper’s revelations about excessive pay and perk packages for trust chief executives were represented ingeniously with remuneration maximised and tax liabilities apparently diminished.

The Daily Mail unleashed a well timed and prolonged assault on the “greed of the NHS fat cats” this week.

You might have expected Ed Miliband and Andy Burnham to have been upset by the public’s attention being distracted from Labour’s own parallel effort to highlight the threat it traditionally warns is poised to the service: the prospect of another Tory led government.

You would be wrong.

Excessive pay packages

Speaking for myself, I was mightily offended by the Mail’s revelations about excessive pay and perk packages for trust chief executives whose hospitals seem to be underperforming one way or another. Not to mention the ingenious ways in which remuneration, including pensions, was maximised and tax liabilities apparently diminished.

Let us hope similar creativity was devoted to taming those soaring budget deficits.

I say “apparently” because you have to be careful reading this stuff. Not content with uncovering substantial evidence that senior management pay is underregulated in much of the public service (aping habits in city boardrooms), the Mail gilds its lily with gratuitous, perhaps misleading, detail.

‘I was offended by the Mail’s revelations about trust chief executives’ excessive perks’

Thus, we are all entitled to take tax free lump sums from our pension pots, though the “resign one day, re-hired the next” device used to unlock the cash looks dodgy.
Nor is it yet illegal for well paid professionals to drink champagne with lobster or take expensive holidays abroad, then boast about it on Facebook, vulgar though it all might be (foolish, too, because the tabloids trawl Facebook).

I expect Daily Mail executives - better paid to do lesser work - share such weaknesses.

And gosh, among the eminent rent-a-quotes lined up to condemn the fat cat scams was Jane Dacre, president of the Royal College of Physicians, but also the editor’s sister in law. Small world, eh?

Burnham was among the rent-a-quotes too, promising, alongside Jeremy Hunt, to tackle abuses if elected. You would think that pair had never been health secretaries. But was he upset? No.

Misleading priorities

It helps Labour’s campaign, by showing just how wrong the government’s priorities have been. Burnham told me: “It failed to invest in nurses, but allowed excesses at the top.” Not sure he’s right about this. David Cameron’s low NHS profile may be shrewder than it looks.

As regular readers know, I am uncomfortable with much of Labour’s NHS campaign; it’s a stick for its own back, as the Scottish National Party has shown in Scotland and will show again if - it’s a bigger if than she thinks - Holyrood’s ex-health minister Nicola Sturgeon gets the post-election leverage she expects over Miliband, even if she is sounding more conciliatory this week.

The idea that repealing the Lansley act will be one of its five early priorities also fills me with dread. Not alone either, am I? Scarce wonder, then, that natural Labour NHS allies such as Sir David Nicholson, Nigel Edwards and Paul Corrigan have now joined the chorus of experts condemning all parties for failing to address fundamental challenges to the health economy.

‘Labour NHS allies have condemned all parties for failing to address health economy challenges’

I don’t blame Burnham for not wanting to be pinned down to Simon Stevens’s “extra £8bn by 2020” target. It’s all funny money anyway, as are things like nurse numbers and “secret” Tory plans to cut them. It all depends on reversing flagging UK productivity, in services like banking and IT as well as the NHS, which is crucial to sustaining renewed growth.

In policy it’s the broad direction of travel that matters more than dodgy detail. Labour is right to stress integration (optimistic as it is about early savings and tax revenues), wrong to sound so hostile to non-NHS providers and wrong to threaten more top-down upheaval while promising not to.

Michael White writes about politics for The Guardian