PMQs sketch: Lansley still with us -- just

Health Secretary lives to fight another day as Cameron's temper flares again.

Health Secretary lives to fight another day as Cameron's temper flares again.{C}

It is axiomatic in football that once the chairman declares total confidence in the manager he is on is way out. Today David Cameron declared his trust in Health Secretary Andrew Lansley.

Just yesterday, Prime Ministerial advisors let it be known that Mr Lansley should be "taken out and shot" because he had managed to turn his plans for top-down reform of the National Health Service into the biggest disaster since Dave promised there would be no top-down reform.

So it was with some surprise for MPs, not to mention Mr Lansley, that his body, with no obviously visible signs of gunshot wounds, appeared on the Government front bench for Prime Ministers Questions.

To be fair there are often bodies on those benches who show little signs of life and so it was only when the Health Secretary seemed to involuntary spasm as the Prime Minister pledged his support, that onlookers could confirm that he was still with us. As someone who was apparently born prematurely grey it was hard to work out if his hair had gone a whiter shade of pale in the 24 hours since the hit was suggested but it is thought Mr Lansley has been on the run from friend and foe for at least the last month .

Tory MPs have been left confused about the view they are supposed to take about the Health Secretary since many of them have been getting a locally produced thick ear about the changes to the NHS.

Those who had just caught up with yesterday's news that Lansley was heading for the knackers yard turned up looking forward to a bit of blood sport only to get the late word from colleagues that bumping him off had been put on hold. His departure so soon after that of Chris Huhne last Friday could be seen as a mite careless by a Government only 19 months in power and already three Ministers adrift.

First to welcome the Health Secretary back from the dead was Labour leader Ed Miliband who noted that he had positioned himself down the bench at some distance from the Prime Minister. Mr Lansley smiled in a way that allowed students of the English language to fully understand the use of the word "wanly".

Mr Miliband has now been on a roll which may soon be measured in weeks and is connected in part with the realization by his side that the Tories are failing in their plan to de-toxify their brand by leaving the NHS alone.

Dave certainly had few plans to fiddle with it and with his normal inattention to detail seems to have been blind-sided by Lansley's ability to use three sentences where one would do.

All Ed has to do these days is stand up and speak reasonably and Dave will be off on one. Remind him of his pre-election pledge that there would be no top-down re-organisation of the NHS on his watch and stand by for sparks.

Deputy PM Nick Clegg looked positively fearful as his boss swayed in the wind finger pointing downwards as his voice soared upwards. Even Chancellor George, who traditionally helps hold him up during PMQs, had moved down the bench as if out of harms way. The career prospects of the Health Secretary are a lot better than those of the Labour leader said the Prime Minister with all the passion of someone who realized his advisors threatened to shoot the wrong person.

As Dave's famous flush spread northwards out of his collar alarmed aides must have wondered would the ambulance turn up if summoned and if it did what would happen when they got to the hospital. Luckily Ed sat down.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.