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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Scottish Labour's defeat to the Tories confirms a political transformation

The defining divide is no longer between left and right but between unionist and nationalist.

It was Scotland where Labour's recovery was supposed to begin. Jeremy Corbyn's allies predicted that his brand of left-wing, anti-austerity politics would dent the SNP's hegemony. After becoming leader, Corbyn pledged that winning north of the border would be one of his greatest priorities. 

But in the first major elections of his leadership, it has proved to be Labour's greatest failure. A result that was long thought unthinkable has come to pass: the Conservatives have finished second (winning 31 seats). For the first time since the 1910 election, Labour has finished third (winning 24). Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale stood on a left-wing platform, outflanking the SNP on tax (pledging to raise the top rate to 50p and increase the basic rate by 1p), promising to spend more on public services and opposing the renewal of Trident. But rather than advancing, the party merely retreated.

Its fate confirms how Scottish politics has been realigned. The defining divide is no longer between left and right but between unionist and nationalist. With the SNP as the only major pro-independence party, the Tories, led by the pugnacious Ruth Davidson, framed themselves as the pro-UK alternative - and prospered. In contrast, Dugdale refused to rule out supporting a second referendum and suggested that MPs and MSPs would be free to campaign for secession. The result was that Scottish Labour was left looking dangerously irrelevant. "Identity politics. Labour doesn't get it," a shadow minister told me. Its socialist pitch counted for little in a country that remains ideologically closer to England than thought. The SNP has lost its majority (denying it a mandate for a second referendum) - an outcome that the electoral system was always designed to make impossible. But its rule remains unthreatened. 

Corbyn's critics will seek to pin the baleful result on him. "We turned left and followed Jeremy's politics in Scotland, which far from solving our problems, pushed us into third," a senior opponent told me. But others will contend that a still more left-wing leader, such as Neil Findlay, is needed. Dugdale is personally supportive of Trident and was critical of Corbyn before his election. Should she be displaced, the party will be forced to elect its sixth leader in less than five years. But no one is so short-sighted as to believe that one person can revive the party's fortunes. Some Corbyn critics believe that a UK-wide recovery is a precondition of recovery north of the border. At this juncture, they say, SNP defectors would look anew at the party as they contemplate the role that Scottish MPs could play in a Westminster government. But under Corbyn, having become the first opposition to lose local election seats since 1985, it is yet further from power. 

In Scotland, the question now haunting Labour is not merely how it recovers - but whether it ever can. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.