Thursday 19 February 2009

Alan Johnson hits the right target

While Harriet Harman appears to have been engaged in bizarre manoeuvres over the leadership of the Labour Party - I have little to add to Luke Akehurst's take on the subject - Alan Johnson has been showing what the chair and deputy leader of the Party should be doing.

Johnson is an effective health secretary - when was the last NHS 'crisis'? - presiding over a credible reform programme that puts patients first, unlike the the Tories' BMA-dictated approach. And today, he offers just the sort of critique of Cameron on the public services that the party chairman should be providing, were she not so distracted.

In today's Guardian, Johnson writes rightly that Cameron has thought little about the delivery of his reforms:

It has been interesting to watch David Cameron try to hug us close on public services. I've been impressed with his ability not to sound Tory.....On schools and hospitals, he seems to understand what the public want to hear....But while his language is nearly pitch-perfect, his party's policies still strike an entirely different note.....

In my own area, health, shadow minister Andrew Lansley has backed him away from Labour's key reforms. So despite the conciliatory rhetoric, Cameron has now said he would dismantle minimum standards such as the two-week maximum wait to see a cancer specialist or a wait of no more than four hours in A&E. That makes no sense to me nor, I suspect, the patients who will suffer......

So while I applaud a great deal of the sentiment in what Cameron says, it is clear he has spent far more time thinking about careful delivery of speeches than fair delivery of public services. I've pushed through some difficult reforms myself, for example on higher education - a policy Cameron once opposed but now supports - and learned that real policy change requires a lot more than just a few vague sentiments.

Spot on. Let's hope there's more where that came from.

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