Well, it’s not going to be dull, is it? At a stretch you could even say that one of the dullest things about the new Lib-Con government is that Andrew Lansley was appointed health secretary.
David Cameron said he’d do it. Much of the media said: “Oh no you won’t”. They said it again last week when the coalition deal meant the new PM had to find space for 20 Lib Dems. But he did. We never doubted it here, did we?
What’s less immediately clear is whether or not his predecessor, Andy Burnham, will run for the vacant Labour leadership. I am assured that he seriously intends to try. That surprises me. Is he tough enough, I ask myself?
Lansley promptly gave an interview to the Daily Mail, always a prudent defensive move (like feeding steak to an Alsatian), warning that GPs will again be responsible for out of hours cover; that there will be more £££ for cancer; fewer “forced” (whatever that means) ward closures; a curb on cheap supermarket booze.
Not much new there; it probably tells us more about the Mail’s agenda than Lansley’s. On Radio 4’s Today he warned that £20bn of promised NHS “efficiency” savings may not be enough - although it is actually scary. Let’s wait and see.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Lansley health team proved less durable. Stephen O’Brien went off to international development: I suspect he and the boss did not get on. Mike Penning was transported to transport, where the ex-fireman will be happy to get his hands on emergency services.
Who have health managers and civil servants got instead? Simon Burns, new minister of state, is a retread. He was an under-secretary at the department in the tail end of the Major era. First elected in Chelmsford in 1987 and now 57, he is probably grateful for a job. Somebody up there likes him: he’s likeable.
His equal is Paul Burstow (48), the department’s not-token-at-all Lib Dem minister who hails from the south London suburbs. A secondary-modern-and-poly graduate from a family of Savile Row tailors (a weakness for striped, diagonal ties) he was party health spokesman (2001-05).
Burstow has specialised in care of the elderly - a significant detail given that the new regime must seek a consensus on this potentially fraught issue.
Anne Milton (54), elected in highly marginal Guildford at her second bid in 2005, is a health team survivor. An ex-nurse (like defeated Ann Keen), she takes over Keen’s portfolio, the DH’s “woman’s job”.
The touch of exotic in the Lansley team is provided by the new parliamentary under-secretary in the Lords, the seventh Earl Howe, who has been shadowing health for some years.
Though the son of an actor, George Curzon, he is the scion of the illustrious Curzon-Howe family whose complicated peerages date back to 1701. I do not know him, but he is popular, 59, a farmer and not daft. No, he didn’t go to Eton (Rugby actually) and illustrates the much noted “Restoration of the Whig Grandee” side of the Cleggeroon administration, truer than I would wish.
As such Essex-man Lansley is definitely not part of the inner circle. He takes Jenny Parson, loyal Tory HQ veteran, with him as a special adviser, plus Bill Morgan, recently a lobbyist with mandate, and Oxford professor David Kerr.
But everyone is interesting: I learned this weekend that Lansley suffered a minor stroke while playing cricket in 1996 - aged 39. Nasty. Stressful cuts or no, the
NHS must look after him. Good luck all.