The Sketch: The man who has the talent to go anywhere and say anything

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The Independent Online

Rosie used to be dental, then she was mental and now she's dental again. Stephen Ladyman is mental now. I told you to watch Stephen Ladyman, he has the talent to go anywhere. And there are suggestions, many suggestions. He has the sort of ability the NHS hierarchy find invaluable but his skills are portable; the arc of his career can encompass any number of great departments, and we'll be seeing a lot more of him.

Rosie used to be dental, then she was mental and now she's dental again. Stephen Ladyman is mental now. I told you to watch Stephen Ladyman, he has the talent to go anywhere. And there are suggestions, many suggestions. He has the sort of ability the NHS hierarchy find invaluable but his skills are portable; the arc of his career can encompass any number of great departments, and we'll be seeing a lot more of him.

I mean all this in the worst possible way, naturally. Just before he was given a government job (those with high blood pressure should look away now) he suggested abolishing private schools because they were depriving their students of a superior state education.

Recently he explained to care workers why they were cutting £650m out of the budget. "It's not about cuts but about investment in high quality, front-line services." Yesterday he responded to the charge that thousands of chiropody patients were being forced out of the NHS with the explanation: "We are focusing on areas of most need."

He's not as bad as Hazel Blears, obviously, but if he acquires her chirpiness we'll never be able to listen to health questions again.

The Health Secretary's hour of glory seems a little faded. John Reid's victory over John Humphrys went to his head, perhaps. He now believes that the person who talks most, wins. Even the Speaker couldn't take any more. "For ***'s sake man, put a stop down your blether-hole, your drooling is driving us mad!" he said, to the surprise of those present. The phrasing was subtly different, but we knew what he meant. Nimbleness, that's what Dr Reid needs, and more of that twinkling he used to do. His calm, considered attitude is deeply patronising: Andrew Lansley deserves it but we get caught in the fallout.

But now you want some substance, and I don't blame you. There was a backbench call to bring private dentists back into the NHS. There is moral force to this argument - the state paid for their training, the state expects repayment in bonded labour. The Health Minister Rosie Winterton's response neatly encapsulated the evil inherent in the NHS (no letters, please).

The state can justify any expansion into the lives of its citizens by reference to the NHS. The state can oblige you to wear a seatbelt (or eat an approved diet, or take an approved exercise regime) because it pays for your treatment if you suffer the consequences. The NHS entitles the state to put a commissar into every nook and cranny of your life.

Thus John Reid can present the "The Sloppy Slipper programme" to Parliament. He said it was "laughed at by ass-thetes" (not just by assthetes). "Faulty footwear", he went on, was a contributory factor in many domestic accidents involving old people.

Every nook, every cranny of life, you see, including the way old people put their slippers on.

Simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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