The polling that explains why Andrew Lansley is safe

by Atul Hatwal

Dead man walking. That is one of the more polite descriptions of Andrew Lansley’s current state of political health.

His bill is an unmitigated disaster. This mish mash of compromises and quangos is trapped in the quicksand of parliamentary process, generating ever worse headlines for Lansley and the government.

Yesterday he suffered perhaps the greatest indignity to date: Simon Hughes ventilating on the right time to shift the health secretary.

Setting aside the nonsense at the heart of what the Liberal Democrat party president was saying – that Lansley should be moved only after the damage has been done when a bill that Hughes himself describes as not the one “we wanted”, has been passed – even hard Labour hearts will have felt a little sympathy for Andrew Lansley having his career dissected by Hughes at his most sanctimonious.

So the conventional wisdom is clear. Lansley is finished.

In one sense, this is right. The secretary of state for health will be moved, but then in the long run so will most of the cabinet. Where many commentators will be wrong is on timing.

For all the pressure, Andrew Lansley is still safe in his job. Yesterday’s Sunday Times YouGov poll held the key to why.

One of the questions asked was “which of the main party leaders do you trust most with the NHS”. Ed Miliband led, but only barely. 26% trusted him the most, 22% opted for David Cameron, 5% trusted Nick Clegg and 37% chose “none of them”.

Three points are striking about these results.

First, despite all of the terrible publicity associated with the health bill, Ed Miliband is not particularly trusted on the NHS. Part of that maybe because of the public’s general view of politicians, but it does show how much work the party has to do to convince voters that Labour has a better plan.

For David Cameron, it suggests the risks of seeming weak by caving in to pressure and axing Lansely are greater than the potential benefits for the Tory position on health. Ed Miliband hasn’t turned Tory discomfort into positive Labour advantage and there is no clamour for a specific alternative.

Second, Nick Clegg is ignored on a topic where he has tried to establish a distinct Liberal Democrat position within the government. Despite Clegg’s attempts to use health as a defining issue that demonstrates how they improve policy, this poll result is damning.

The prime minister and his advisers will look at Nick Clegg’s 5% and question why they need to be seen to react to someone who is held in such low public regard, by removing the health secretary.

Third, and most importantly, David Cameron himself remains largely unscathed by the health bill chaos. Yes, Ed Miliband is ahead on the NHS, but by so little.

The reason is his health secretary.

Part lightning rod, part human shield, the full fury of criticism has been channelled through Andrew Lansley, protecting the prime minister from personal culpability in one of his government’s biggest disasters.

For these three reasons – mistrust of Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg and David Cameron’s intact personal reputation – the prime minister will be inclined to keep Andrew Lansley right where he is, in the firing line, demonstrating the prime minister’s steely determination to drive through reform, taking bullets that might otherwise wound David Cameron.

Atul Hatwal is associate editor of Labour Uncut.

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3 Responses to “The polling that explains why Andrew Lansley is safe”

  1. figurewizard says:

    ‘…. taking bullets that might otherwise wound David Cameron’

    You may have a point but has anyone considered that given the history of the consistently rising cost of the NHS usually followed by equally consistent demands for yet more cash, the public are beginning to wake up to the fact that reform is something that needs to happen.

  2. Ralph Baldwin says:

    Lol the low level of trust is simple, people in the main have a very good idea of the cash cow the NHS has become for MPs across Parliament. It will be this legitimate breach in trust that no feeble SPAD spawned strategy will be able to address that will cost Labour more than just the next General Election. The wiilingness of the Leadership to continue supporting corruption, promoting it even above electoral success and not giving a fig about the Labour Party Membership is staggering.

  3. luke says:

    What happened in the end to this prediction from Mr Hatwal that Andrew Lansley was safe and the Tories would remain largely unscathed by the health bill?

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