The Sketch: Clarity is the enemy of the new political class

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The Independent Online

Unless he's the cleverest. That's how the brilliant detective swings in his evaluation of a suspect. "He must be the stupidest criminal in the country... unless he's the cleverest."

I'm trying to make this formulation work for Andrew Lansley, but it's harder than I thought.

It is possible that his multidimensional deficiencies are deployed to confuse and irritate us so that we just won't know what the Conservative policy on health is. Maybe Cameron has cunningly discerned that saying anything we could a) understand and b) remember would only leave hostages to fortune.

Hence "And Another Thing" Lansley. I find him impossible to follow. My notes record him saying during the Loyal Address debate yesterday: "The demand management incentivising primary care was destroyed by centrally imposed upheaval. The tariff was got wrong. Purchasing parity adjustment tore up their business planning."

He didn't actually say this, but what he did say was no more intelligible. And he did use all those words. And in more or less that order. But you have to know what he is trying to say before you know what he's saying.

When he finds something to disagree with in the cancer statistics, he'll scoff: "The Government's figures are all predicated on early mortality, not on morbidity." That may well be true, and he may well be right, but it's just another example of the political class talking to itself.

This lack of clarity is essential, incidentally, to sustain the Tory charge that 20,000 health workers are facing the sack. Remember, in point of fact, they don't actually say that. It's what they want us to take away in our heads, and they will agree sotto voce, at speed and in brackets that it's only 1,000 (out of 1.3 million workers) who are facing compulsory redundancy. But clarity is the enemy of conservatism. And did he say, "Where is the legislation to combat obesity?" He might have. If he did, the Tory party has become so unrecognisable that people might be able to vote for them again.

Steve Webb deconstructed the fiasco of foundation hospitals. This was Alan Milburn's big idea to take hospitals out of the state bureaucracy and make them locally accountable. It's been entirely futile. The candidates standing for election are very rarely opposed (no contest of ideas); they are not elected to the executive board but to the board of governors (often resulting in local authority places being withdrawn from the executive board); and nobody votes. The Sketch predicted a turnout of 1 per cent. It's "one-third of 1 per cent", Mr Webb said.

Actually, it seems clarity is the enemy of the modern political class.

NB: The European Scrutiny Committee is publishing its report on Joan Ryan today. She was so far out of her depth when she faced the committee a month ago that they're publishing an analysis of her answers. It may be the last word on her.