The Sketch: Hail David, the 42-day wonder

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The Independent Online

Today David Davis takes the Chiltern Hundreds. We'll miss him. He's a very fine fellow. Great asset to his party in or out of Parliament. He's not a libertarian, by the way, and certainly not a liberal. He's a Constitutional Conservative. Likes history. Maybe he is history. But then who isn't, sooner or later, so good luck to him.

The mood on his campaign has shifted with some of Fleet Street's larger guns opening up in his favour. And success changes everything. If he can halve public support for 42-day detention without charge, he'll be a hero (the lustre of which will make David Cameron shine the brighter). It will all be worth it, if only to see Gordon's one popular policy turn to ashes in his hands.

The PM stood in front of the flag and gave a speech on liberty again, yesterday. I didn't fancy it, any more than David Irving on the Holocaust.

No, health. Co-payments. Should patients be allowed to top up their medication with private drugs? Or would that, as Clive Efford argued, create "a lottery" in cancer care? Alan Johnson said yes. He'd set up a review to examine these questions but essentially it was a yes. A masterly answer. His review would take into account patient choice and patient empowerment while ignoring ability to pay. A yes to everyone. It's a tough, long-term decision.

Question time isn't the place for questions like that. The state is very hard pressed to answer personal questions. Look: You have a terminal disease. Certain expensive drugs may extend your life. Do you impoverish your family to buy the time, or do you go out with the tide and leave them behind in comfort? Every family, every individual approaches that question differently.

With relief then, we can turn to polyclinics. Andrew Lansley threw us a slop bucket of claims and statistics, it's always welcome. London was going to have 150 of these clinics, each with 25 GPs serving 50,000 citizens, which meant 75 per cent of London surgeries would close.

If they were genuinely additional to the current GP roster the plan would cost £1.6bn but the Government had only allocated a whippet and a packet of Player's to the scheme.

Alan Johnson replied that these BMA-type arguments against his glorious one-stop, drive-in, press'n'play, 24/7 health centres (with surround sound and added highlights) were ludicrous. "They say we're trying to privatise GPs and nationalise them at the same time!" It was a contradiction in terms, he suggested. As if that meant it wasn't Government policy.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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