Coming to a hospital near you: Andrew Lansley TV

Patients must watch loop of Health Secretary unless they register with £5-a day TV system.

Should you have the misfortune to be hospitalised you will now be greeted by a never-ending video of Andrew Lansley. The Health Secretary's face appears on bedside screens on a permanent North Korea-style loop, welcoming patients to hospital and asking them to thank NHS staff for looking after them.

To turn Lansley off, patients must register under a pay-as-you-go system which sees them charged £5 a day to access television, email and phone services. Those who do not register are continuously greeted by the Health Secretary saying:

Hello, I'm Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary.

I just want to take a few moments to say that your care while you're here in hospital really matters to me. I hope it's as good quality care as we can possibly make it and I do hope you'll join me in thanking all the staff who are looking after you while you're here.

The Independent reported that "In some wards with multiple beds, the screens have the effect of a television showroom, with dozens of Lansleys staring down on the ill." One man who visited an elderly relative said: "It was eerie. Everywhere you looked there was Andrew Lansley. My mother-in-law had to keep topping up the machine just to escape him."

Lansley defends hospital video loop (mp3)

Lansley gamely appeared on the Today programme this morning to defend himself (you can listen to his appearance above) but his response was hilariously inept. He said that he wanted patients to have "as comfortable and as high quality a stay as possible" (a pledge that sits uncomfortably with Lansley TV) and to ensure that they thanked NHS staff. But shouldn't praise be voluntary? And what of those patients who suffer inadequate care?

He pointed out that his predecessor, Andy Burnham, had appeared in a similar video but failed to explain why the government hadn't simply abandoned Secretary of State TV. In the meantime, ensure you avoid the fate of one of Lansley's constituents who lamented that his baby's "first experience of life" was to see the Health Secretary's face on a monitor.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Something is missing from the Brexit debate

Inside Westminster, few seem to have noticed or care about the biggest question mark in the Brexit talks. 

What do we know about the government’s Brexit strategy that we didn’t before? Not much, to be honest.

Theresa May has now said explicitly what her red lines on European law and free movement of labour said implicitly: that Britain is leaving the single market. She hasn’t ruled out continuing payments from Britain to Brussels, but she has said that they won’t be “vast”. (Much of the detail of Britain’s final arrangement is going to depend on what exactly “vast” means.)  We know that security co-operation will, as expected, continue after Brexit.

What is new? It’s Theresa May’s threat to the EU27 that Britain will walk away from a bad deal and exit without one that dominates the British newspapers.

“It's May Way or the Highway” quips City AM“No deal is better than a bad deal” is the Telegraph’s splash, “Give us a deal… or we walk” is the Mirror’s. The Guardian opts for “May’s Brexit threat to Europe”,  and “May to EU: give us fair deal or you’ll be crushed” is the Times’ splash.

The Mail decides to turn the jingoism up to 11 with “Steel of the new Iron Lady” and a cartoon of Theresa May on the white cliffs of Dover stamping on an EU flag. No, really.  The FT goes for the more sedate approach: “May eases Brexit fears but warns UK will walk away from 'bad deal’” is their splash.

There’s a lot to unpack here. The government is coming under fire for David Davis’ remark that even if Parliament rejects the Brexit deal, we will leave anyway. But as far as the Article 50 process is concerned, that is how it works. You either take the deal that emerges from the Article 50 process or have a disorderly exit. There is no process within exiting the European Union for a do-over.  

The government’s threat to Brussels makes sense from a negotiating perspective. It helps the United Kingdom get a better deal if the EU is convinced that the government is willing to suffer damage if the deal isn’t to its liking. But the risk is that the damage is seen as so asymmetric – and while the direct risk for the EU27 is bad, the knock-on effects for the UK are worse – that the threat looks like a bad bluff. Although European leaders have welcomed the greater clarity, Michel Barnier, the lead negotiator, has reiterated that their order of priority is to settle the terms of divorce first, agree a transition and move to a wider deal after that, rather than the trade deal with a phased transition that May favours.

That the frontpage of the Irish edition of the Daily Mail says “May is wrong, any deal is better than no deal” should give you an idea of how far the “do what I want or I shoot myself” approach is going to take the UK with the EU27. Even a centre-right newspaper in Britain's closest ally isn't buying that Britain will really walk away from a bad deal. 

Speaking of the Irish papers, there’s a big element to yesterday’s speech that has eluded the British ones: May’s de facto abandonment of the customs union and what that means for the border between the North and the South. “May’s speech indicates Border customs controls likely to return” is the Irish Times’ splash, “Brexit open border plan “an illusion”” is the Irish Independent’s, while “Fears for jobs as ‘hard Brexit’ looms” is the Irish Examiner’s.

There is widespread agreement in Westminster, on both sides of the Irish border and in the European Union that no-one wants a return to the borders of the past. The appetite to find a solution is high on all sides. But as one diplomat reflected to me recently, just because everyone wants to find a solution, doesn’t mean there is one to be found. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.