Wednesday, 17 July 2013

NHS blame game continues..

Good morning. The NHS dominates the headlines this morning, after yesterday's release of the Keogh review and the heated Commons debate. The immediate result was 11 NHS trusts put into "special measures"; the longer-term one could be the further eroding of the public's trust in Labour's management of the NHS on what the Mail call "Labour's day of shame". Inevitably, the Commons debate soon turned nakedly political, with both the Conservatives and Labour blaming each other for this turn of events. While David Cameron accused Labour of "covering up" NHS failings and Jeremy Hunt said the investigation was Labour's "darkest moment", Andy Burnham accused the Government of making the health situation worse. It was all very political for the non-political; encapsulated in the headline to Michael Deacon's sketch: "It was no time for point-scoring by the cynical, partisan MP opposite." PerhapsThe Times (£) have it right in labelling the Commons debate "an unedifying spat". 
But, of course, there is a more serious point: how can we fix the NHS? We argue that "This should not be a party-political point: witness the improvements achieved by Tony Blair and Alan Milburn’s tentative embrace of choice and competition." The Mail says that an NHS which is free at the point of use "can no longer be treated as a sacred cow". Simon Jenkins writes in The Guardian that the NHS is "trapped in an emotional 1940s time-warp. For it really to improve, foreign experience should be studied and smaller independent units used". Mary Riddell takes a step back from the raucous to look at what the future may hold, and believes that Mr Burnham's idea for integrated health and social care "might just save the health service", if only Ed Miliband would back it. 
The NHS row will go on: expect it to dominate PMQs today. The uproar confirms the remarkable turnaround in perceptions of the NHS. A year ago it remained immune to criticism, a Labour fortress impervious to any Tory critique. Jeremy Hunt has achieved what Conservatives either thought impossible, or hadn't thought of trying: instead of persuading the public that the Tories can be trusted with the health service, he has convinced us that Labour can't be - and that the NHS is fallible. Quite a turnaround for a minister who a year ago was in intensive care.
As Lynton Crosby remains in the news, with The Times (£) reporting that the tobacco company linked to him blocked the release of details of a meeting in which plans to impose plain packaging were discussed, it is an opportune moment to assess his impact on the Conservative Party. There is little doubt that Mr Crosby's razor-like focus on a few key areas has helped revive Conservative fortunes. Iain Martin explains how Mr Crosby has transformed the party with "a simple message" and "iron discipline" and argues that it's inevitable that he will go full-time before the election. For a man officially only contracted for a day a week, Mr Crosby is having quite an impact. 
Primary schools have been relatively unaffected by the Coalition's education reforms, but that is about to change. It will today be announced that children will be ranked in national performance in English and maths at the age of 11 as part of reforms to SATs tests. Other measures include a new "baseline" assessment of pupils at the age of five, more stretching targets for schools and an increase in the "pupil premium" from £900 to £1,300 a year. While Michael Gove has driven the previous education reforms, these have been designed by Nick Clegg and David Laws.  
Labour are considering supporting reducing the size of Britain's nuclear submarine fleet from four to three, The Times (£) reports. Labour plan to use a defence review after the next election to examine whether the continuous-at-sea deterrent could be maintained with one fewer submarine. The position places them between the Conservatives, who want to maintain all four submarines, and the Lib Dems, who are keen to reduce them to two. That would end the continuous-at-sea deterrent.The FT (£) thinks that the Lib Dems "have embraced a weak, differentiated position at the cost of credibility", while The Times (£) describes their stance as lacking strategic or financial sense.
The CBI will today launch a wide-ranging attack on the Government. John Cridland, Director-General of the CBI, will join those who have challenged the consensus on HS2 by suggesting alternative ways to spend the money, as The Times (£) reports: "The savings achieved from scrapping the scheme could be used to fund more railways lines from north to south, and on extending motorways to Newcastle and across South Wales." He will also criticise the Government for the signals they have sent to businesses through their comments criticising tax avoidance. 
Labour were guilty of "astonishing arrogance and short-sighted stupidity". That's the verdict of William Hague on Labour's decision to enshrine the Lisbon Treaty into British law. The comments, to Open Europe, may also have been aimed at Tories concerned that the Government seem committed to campaigning to stay within the Europe Union even before the renegotiations.
Jim Murphy has no intention of stopping the NHS blame game: 
@jimmurphymp: Despite disagreeing with Jeremy Hunt I thought he may be decent & talented. But after his horrible smear on Andy Burnham I know I was wrong. 
In the Telegraph 
Best of the rest 
Daniel Finkelstein in The Times (£) - Arab Spring? No, more of a temper
Nigel Crisp in The Financial Times (£) - Patients need to be given more power
Matthew Norman in The Independent - IDS politically motivated? God forbid!
0930 London: Bank of England publishes minutes of Governor Mark Carney's first monetary policy committee meeting on July 4. 
0930: Unemployment figures. Latest unemployment figures from Office for National Statistics. 
1050 London: Nick Clegg and schools minister David Laws announcement on funding for the pupil premium. St Joseph's Primary School, Macklin Street, Holborn.
1200 London: Prime Minister's Questions. House of Commons.