The Sketch: Lost without a compass in Lansley's blizzard of drivel

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The Independent Online

Opposition Day. Tories on health. They'll be doing this quite a lot, as the years go by. Labour will win the next election because "they still have the ideas" © Nigel Lawson, Tony Blair.

The Tory strategy seems to be to keep talking while they work out what they want to say. So, Andrew Lansley was voluble, energetic, assertive and never more like himself. Obviously I don't mean any of that in a good way. It takes an unusually potent performance to generate sympathy for Patricia Hewitt. Andrew Lansley is probably the only person in Britain who could do it.

It was a parliamentary first. The poor fellow's like a drunk in a bar, immersed in a world of historic wrongs. "And another thing," he says ("after the scandal of the 2.1 per cent of brokerages caused by elsewhere surpluses because the piloting of user-involvement was sham, yes a sham, damn them! The fools, oh God, the fools!") lurching on to you, an arm round your shoulder so you can't get away.

From his first words ("The um, I want to begin if I may") to his last, it's a blizzard of drivel. You've no idea what his theme is, what his values are, what he wants to happen. Just that it's wrong, it's all terribly wrong. His only offered solution was to get ministers to withdraw from the health service (if that's what he means by "setting the NHS free").

But then how will he get these "hardworking professionals" to do what is wanted? Leave it to them to decide? If this principle is ever applied to sketch writing we will make an eloquent case for permanent job security, twice the salary, a parliamentary-style pension (to understand that which we are sketching), and a far better bar service at question time.

Lansley hates ministers involving themselves in the NHS, but he insists we want more leadership. But not by setting targets. He hates targets, but he hates targets being missed. But he likes efficiency targets. But not at the level they've been "arbitrarily set". Does he want them higher? That'll mean more job cuts? Or lower with larger deficits? He doesn't want hospitals to be "bailed out" and yet he doesn't want their budgets cut. I can't follow him. I'm lost in the blizzard, wiping the drivel from my goggles.

"Health inequalities are increasing!" he cries. You don't know where to start with such a remark when made by a Conservative. Does he think it's a good thing or a bad thing? If it's a bad thing, does he want a national target to reduce health inequalities? A hated target? "Patients who should be treated sooner are waiting nearly six months." Ohh! How can a Tory say such a wimpish thing, in view of their fortitude, stoically bearing the suffering of people on waiting lists for years together.