Will Lansley be "taken out and shot"?

Speculation about the Health Secretary's future continues to grow.

Speculation that Andrew Lansley will be sacked has been growing for weeks and this morning's papers will do nothing to diminish it.

In her Times column (£), entitled "Is Lansley the exception to the no-sacking policy?", Rachel Sylvester quotes one Downing Street source as saying that the Health Secretary "should be taken out and shot. He's messed up both the communication and the substance of the policy."

Sylvester reports on an "intriguing idea" circulating in No 10: that Alan Milburn should be offered a seat in the Lords and his old job as Health Secretary. It's not hard to see why Cameron, who, by his account, picked up the baton of reform from Blair, might be tempted by this option.

But as Sylvester notes in a less conspicuous passage:

Both Mr Cameron and George Osborne are remarkably loyal to Mr Lansley, who was their boss at the Conservative Research Department.

Elsewhere, today's Daily Mirror reports on comments by James O'Shaughnessy, formerly one of David Cameron's No 10 advisers and now a lobbyist. "Actually, if you look at where we got to on the Health Bill, the fundamentals of what we were trying to do are still there," he said. This isn't news. Indeed, Lansley himself has boasted that the "fundamental principles" of the bill remain. But more damaging is O'Shaughnessy's admission that last summer's legislative "pause" was merely a "tactic" to get the bill through.

However, it's precisely because the "fundamentals" of the bill remain that it's hard to see Cameron either sacking Lansley or abandoning the reforms. He missed his chance to do that last summer. As the bill re-enters the Lords, the likelihood is that Lansley will live to fight another day.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

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