Who benefits from the recently leaked information about Simon Stevens being made personally responsible for NHS’s winter performance, ponders Andy Cowper

The winter adverts are out. (No, obviously I don’t mean those of the big retailers: I’m going to assume that HSJ readers treat that particular genre with the Olympian disdain which it so richly deserves.)

No: the winter advert which is of interest to us this week is the leak to The Guardian of details of a meeting between comedy Prime Minister Theresa May and the Sun King of Skipton House, NHS Commissioning Board boss Simon Stevens.

A source indicates to The Guardian’s Denis Campbell that Mrs May reportedly told Le Roi Soleil of the NHS that “he was personally responsible for and accountable for the NHS’s performance this winter”.

This source continued, “There was a long pause, as the enormity of this sunk in. He had to accept it because she was making it clear that he was in charge of winter. He couldn’t say no.” 

Beware the man who wasn’t there

“As I was going down the stair,

I met a man who wasn’t there.

He wasn’t there again today.

Oh how I wish he’d go away!”

Antagonish

 At one level, as my smart HSJ colleague David Williams noted on Twitter, this is a wonderfully ironic riff on the central theme of the Lansley reforms:

Theresa May: “The chief executive of the NHS isn’t independent!”

Simon Stevens: “Oh, yes I am!”

Theresa May: “Oh no you’re not!”

Simon Stevens: “Oh yes I am!”

(etc, etc, ad nauseam)

But let’s be as fair as we can: expecting political consistency or even logic from this hopeless mess of a government may be on the wildly optimistic side of the spectrum. (You know the side: it where the national waiting time targets are all found.)

An opposition that wasn’t fundamentally incapable and which had a relateable, retail-able vision would be 20 points ahead in the opinion polls just now. Labour are not.

Pantomime season

The antipathy between Mrs May’s team and Simon Stevens is not what we would call new news.

So how has this Guardian story come about? And cui bono: who benefits?

Let us start with the wildly obvious: it comes about in the context of The Sun King’s speech to the NHS Providers conference, putting the issue of NHS funding well and truly back into the government’s court. 

So does that mean that Team TM (remix) leaked it? Not to The Guardian. Mrs May is a vicar’s daughter through and through, and The Guardian is not her parish.

So does that mean that Team TM (remix) leaked it?

Erm, no. Not to The Guardian. Mrs May is a vicar’s daughter through and through, and The Guardian is not her parish.

If this had turned up as a sign of taking back control in the Daily Mail, you’d think “Ah, a modestly shrewd move, Mrs May: well done!” But as you were: we have no need to think such a counter intuitive thought as that.

A leaking Sun King?

Did erstwhile messiah Simon Stevens leak it?

Erm, no. Simon’s quite the Machiavel at politics, but something this blatant is simply not his style. His NHS Providers speech was a big set piece. He does set piece interventions rarely: consequently, they have impact and people pay attention.

As they have.

Among the many things Simon Stevens is not, he is not a stupid man. The person who leaked this may not exactly be a stupid man; neither are they a wise man.

That doesn’t leave very many people whom The Guardian article reports were in the room. And it’s not in any of those named in the article’s best interests to have leaked this directly to The Guardian.

Who leaked this, then? Someone in confidence of those named, who perceived a benefit in giving Mrs May a little leg up and Simon Stevens a little dress down.

Who leaked this, then? Someone in confidence of those named, who perceived a benefit in giving Mrs May a little leg up and Simon Stevens a little dress down.

I wonder who that could be?

In a week where over four hour waits in accident and emergency have increased by 557 per cent, according to official data

In a week where Brexit is going so well that one of its main intellectual advocates, John Redwood, uses his guest editorial in the Financial Times to advise people to invest outside of the UK because of the clear and negative economic consequences.

Interesting times. Send lawyers, guns and money.

And watch your backs.