Lansley, Blair and the normalisation myth

Will the health reforms play out as the ex-PM describes? Unlikely.

Well known students of the Tony Blair playbook, David Cameron and his inner circle doubtless have committed the following passages to memory. Taken from the former prime minister's autobiography, A Journey, it recalls an earlier battle with domestic legislation, this time the introduction of university top-up fees in 2003-04.

Blair wrote of those difficulties:

It is an object lesson in the progress of reform; the change is proposed; it is denounced as a disaster; it proceeds with vast chipping away and opposition; it is unpopular; it comes about; within a short space of time, it is as if it had always been so.

He went on:

Rereading the daily news about the changes, I am struck by how fevered each story was at the time, and how forgotten each story is today.

Blair's take is this: a. change can be unpopular but, hey, that's leadership; b. the media obsesses about the minutiae of a revolt but, in time, can barely remember what all the fuss was about; and c. reform, once brought about, becomes the new status quo, the new normality.

All of which should provide some comfort to the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley and his boss. After all, the passage of the Health and Social Care Bill appears -- so far at least -- to have followed the script.

Almost daily, it has been the subject of bad headlines. Take the last week: the uninvited Downing Street guests; the Lansley ambush by a protestor; the inevitable intervention from Tim Farron; and, today, a letter in the Sunday Telegraph that's at once both fawning and a deliberate snub to the Health Secretary.

The bill has led to unpopularity. Having worked hard to repair the Conservatives reputation on health prior to the election, Cameron now finds his party trailing Labour by 15 points as the one that has the "the best approach to the NHS". Moreover, just 20 per cent of voters believe that the health service is "safe in David Cameron's hands". (It is now difficult to believe that in late April 2010, on the eve of the General Election, the Tories led on the management of the NHS).

But if we stick with the Blair diagnosis, Cameron and Lansley need only plough on and the bill will become an act; and life will move on.

This presupposes, however, that the narrative reflects reality.

For every example that seems to bear it out -- such as Margaret Thatcher's council house sell off, hugely contentious at the time but part of the political consensus by the beginning of the 1990s -- there are others that do not, such as the disastrous introduction of the poll tax by the same prime minister.

Or how about the subject Blair writes about, university funding?

Blair's own troubles with tuition fees were not just about hostility towards the policy, they stemmed from an apparent abandonment of a manifesto pledge to do nothing of the kind. There are echoes here of Nick Clegg's own tuition fees U-turn but, more pertinently, of Cameron's promise of "no more top down reorganisations" of the NHS.

Blair's bill passed, thanks to the largesse of his plotting chancellor, and he went on to win a third election in 2005. Yet, nobody can seriously suggest that university funding stopped being a politically contentious issue in 2004.

Meanwhile, Cameron always knew Lansley's bill would be problematic -- declaring "we're fucked" on being briefed on it in May 2010. He'll hope that Blair's narrative plays out and that changes to the NHS will seem as if they had "always been so".

Just don't bet on it.

 

Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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Daniel Hannan harks back to the days of empire - the Angevin Empire

Did the benign rule of some 12th century English kings make western France vote Macron over Le Pen?

I know a fair amount about British politics; I know a passable amount about American politics, too. But, as with so many of my fellow Britons, in the world beyond that, I’m lost.

So how are we, the monolingual Anglophone opinionators of the world, meant to interpret a presidential election in a country where everyone is rude enough to conduct all their politics in French?

Luckily, here’s Daniel Hannan to help us:

I suppose we always knew Dan still got a bit misty eyed at the notion of the empire. I just always thought it was the British Empire, not the Angevin one, that tugged his heartstrings so.

So what exactly are we to make of this po-faced, historically illiterate, geographically illiterate, quite fantastically stupid, most Hannan-y Hannan tweet of all time?

One possibility is that this was meant as a serious observation. Dan is genuinely saying that the parts of western France ruled by Henry II and sons in the 12th century – Brittany, Normandy, Anjou, Poitou, Aquitaine – remain more moderate than those to the east, which were never graced with the touch of English greatness. This, he is suggesting, is why they generally voted for Emmanuel Macron over Marine Le Pen.

There are a number of problems with this theory. The first is that it’s bollocks. Western France was never part of England – it remained, indeed, a part of a weakened kingdom of France. In some ways it would be more accurate to say that what really happened in 1154 was that some mid-ranking French nobles happened to inherit the English Crown.

Even if you buy the idea that England is the source of all ancient liberties (no), western France is unlikely to share its political culture, because it was never a part of the same polity: the two lands just happened to share a landlord for a while.

As it happens, they didn’t even share it for very long. By 1215, Henry’s youngest son John had done a pretty good job of losing all his territories in France, so that was the end of the Angevins. The English crown reconquered  various bits of France over the next couple of centuries, but, as you may have noticed, it hasn’t been much of a force there for some time now.

At any rate: while I know very little of French politics, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess the similarities between yesterday's electoral map and the Angevin Empire were a coincidence. I'm fairly confident that there have been other factors which have probably done more to shape the French political map than a personal empire that survived for the length of one not particularly long human life time 800 years ago. Some wars. Industrialisation. The odd revolution. You know the sort of thing.

If Daniel Hannan sucks at history, though, he also sucks at geography, since chunks of territory which owed fealty to the English crown actually voted Le Pen. These include western Normandy; they also include Calais, which remained English territory for much longer than any other part of France. This seems rather to knacker Hannan’s thesis.

So: that’s one possibility, that all this was an attempt to make serious point; but, Hannan being Hannan, it just happened to be a quite fantastically stupid one.

The other possibility is that he’s taking the piss. It’s genuinely difficult to know.

Either way, he instantly deleted the tweet. Because he realised we didn’t get the joke? Because he got two words the wrong way round? Because he realised he didn’t know where Calais was?

We’ll never know for sure. I’d ask him but, y’know, blocked.

UPDATE: Breaking news from the frontline of the internet: 

It. Was. A. Joke.

My god. He jokes. He makes light. He has a sense of fun.

This changes everything. I need to rethink my entire world view. What if... what if I've been wrong, all this time? What if Daniel Hannan is in fact one of the great, unappreciated comic voices of our time? What if I'm simply not in on the joke?

What if... what if Brexit is actually... good?

Daniel, if you're reading this – and let's be honest, you are definitely reading this – I am so sorry. I've been misunderstanding you all this time.

I owe you a pint (568.26 millilitres).

Serious offer, by the way.

 

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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