Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
30 May 2011

How much does Cameron want to keep Lansley in the cabinet?

Downing Street has issued a statement of support for the Health Secretary – but the PM has a difficu

By Samira Shackle

Downing Street has moved to refute speculation that Andrew Lansley will quit if wholesale changes are made to his NHS reform bill.

In a statement of support for the Health Secretary, Downing Street said: “The speculation in the papers is nonsense. Andrew Lansley is doing an excellent job.”

This follows reports at the weekend that Lansley had told David Cameron to “back me or sack me“. So for now, the Ptrime Minister is standing by his Health Secretary, publicly at least.

Soon after this month’s local elections, when Nick Clegg stepped up his vociferous attacks on NHS reform, it was speculated that Cameron might be glad of the Lib Dem excuse to rein in the bill. Yesterday, the Daily Mail‘s lipreader purportedly detected Cameron telling Clegg that the reform has “nothing to do with [Lansley] now”, which appears to support the theory that he is being marginalised.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

When the “listening exercise” on the bill draws to a close next month, Cameron will be faced with the difficult situation of having to show that he has actually listened to public and professional concerns, while also striving to keep Lansley in the cabinet.

The Health Secretary and his supporters believe that much of the public discomfort with the bill comes from misunderstanding, and that the necessary reassurance can be provided without making fundamental changes. The main cornerstone of the proposed law, GP commissioning, is highly likely to survive, but the debate rages over levels of competition and the involvement of private service providers.

Yet, in addition to the question of how much change Lansley is willing to take before he walks out of his role, there is the matter of how much Cameron wants to keep him in the cabinet. Lansley is certainly very knowledgeable: he spent five years in opposition preparing for this role. But is he indispensable?

Cameron is likely to continue holding his own views on the NHS bill close to his chest, but, given the huge support for Lansley among Tory backbenchers, he has a difficult path to tread.