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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The Autumn Statement proved it – we need a real alternative to austerity, now

Theresa May’s Tories have missed their chance to rescue the British economy.

After six wasted years of failed Conservative austerity measures, Philip Hammond had the opportunity last month in the Autumn Statement to change course and put in place the economic policies that would deliver greater prosperity, and make sure it was fairly shared.

Instead, he chose to continue with cuts to public services and in-work benefits while failing to deliver the scale of investment needed to secure future prosperity. The sense of betrayal is palpable.

The headline figures are grim. An analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that real wages will not recover their 2008 levels even after 2020. The Tories are overseeing a lost decade in earnings that is, in the words Paul Johnson, the director of the IFS, “dreadful” and unprecedented in modern British history.

Meanwhile, the Treasury’s own analysis shows the cuts falling hardest on the poorest 30 per cent of the population. The Office for Budget Responsibility has reported that it expects a £122bn worsening in the public finances over the next five years. Of this, less than half – £59bn – is due to the Tories’ shambolic handling of Brexit. Most of the rest is thanks to their mishandling of the domestic economy.

 

Time to invest

The Tories may think that those people who are “just about managing” are an electoral demographic, but for Labour they are our friends, neighbours and the people we represent. People in all walks of life needed something better from this government, but the Autumn Statement was a betrayal of the hopes that they tried to raise beforehand.

Because the Tories cut when they should have invested, we now have a fundamentally weak economy that is unprepared for the challenges of Brexit. Low investment has meant that instead of installing new machinery, or building the new infrastructure that would support productive high-wage jobs, we have an economy that is more and more dependent on low-productivity, low-paid work. Every hour worked in the US, Germany or France produces on average a third more than an hour of work here.

Labour has different priorities. We will deliver the necessary investment in infrastructure and research funding, and back it up with an industrial strategy that can sustain well-paid, secure jobs in the industries of the future such as renewables. We will fight for Britain’s continued tariff-free access to the single market. We will reverse the tax giveaways to the mega-rich and the giant companies, instead using the money to make sure the NHS and our education system are properly funded. In 2020 we will introduce a real living wage, expected to be £10 an hour, to make sure every job pays a wage you can actually live on. And we will rebuild and transform our economy so no one and no community is left behind.

 

May’s missing alternative

This week, the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, gave an important speech in which he hit the proverbial nail on the head. He was completely right to point out that societies need to redistribute the gains from trade and technology, and to educate and empower their citizens. We are going through a lost decade of earnings growth, as Carney highlights, and the crisis of productivity will not be solved without major government investment, backed up by an industrial strategy that can deliver growth.

Labour in government is committed to tackling the challenges of rising inequality, low wage growth, and driving up Britain’s productivity growth. But it is becoming clearer each day since Theresa May became Prime Minister that she, like her predecessor, has no credible solutions to the challenges our economy faces.

 

Crisis in Italy

The Italian people have decisively rejected the changes to their constitution proposed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, with nearly 60 per cent voting No. The Italian economy has not grown for close to two decades. A succession of governments has attempted to introduce free-market policies, including slashing pensions and undermining rights at work, but these have had little impact.

Renzi wanted extra powers to push through more free-market reforms, but he has now resigned after encountering opposition from across the Italian political spectrum. The absence of growth has left Italian banks with €360bn of loans that are not being repaid. Usually, these debts would be written off, but Italian banks lack the reserves to be able to absorb the losses. They need outside assistance to survive.

 

Bail in or bail out

The oldest bank in the world, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, needs €5bn before the end of the year if it is to avoid collapse. Renzi had arranged a financing deal but this is now under threat. Under new EU rules, governments are not allowed to bail out banks, like in the 2008 crisis. This is intended to protect taxpayers. Instead, bank investors are supposed to take a loss through a “bail-in”.

Unusually, however, Italian bank investors are not only big financial institutions such as insurance companies, but ordinary households. One-third of all Italian bank bonds are held by households, so a bail-in would hit them hard. And should Italy’s banks fail, the danger is that investors will pull money out of banks across Europe, causing further failures. British banks have been reducing their investments in Italy, but concerned UK regulators have asked recently for details of their exposure.

John McDonnell is the shadow chancellor


John McDonnell is Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington and has been shadow chancellor since September 2015. 

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump