10/02/2012 Newsnight


Three cabinet ministers brief against the health minister. Who are they? Paul Mason is in Athens. Is being lonely more unhealthy than smoking? With Gavin Esler.

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Tonight, how sick is the health bill? The big changes the


Government is planning for the NHS are being eaten away by opposition


from within the Conservative Party. Go, go, go.


At least Tory cabinet ministers have apparently lost faith in


either the bill or the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley. It is


not about me, it is about us as a Government. Would you be prepared


to resign and get the bill through that way?


Who are the Lansley three, we will ask the Health Minister, Simon


Burns, if he has any idea. Government resignations in Greece


as the eurozone tightens the screws even more, Paul Mason is in Athens.


Greece signs an austerity package, the EU throws it back and asks for


more. Are the Germans trying to push this country into chaos.


Also tonight, is being lonely a threat to your health?


On one of the coldest days of the year, the Government says


loneliness is a big killer for old people. Worse than smoking.


But is it just a ruse to get the elderly out of their big houses and


back to work? We will discuss the differences


between loneliness and being alone, Good evening, anyone who looks at


the National Health Service knows that something has to change. The


ageing population, health inflation at 7% and the problems of running


Europe's biggest bureaucracy mean the NHS does have to adapt or die.


Against that background it is astonishing how lonely it must be


to be Andrew Lansley tonight. The Health Secretary has been told by


the popular website, Conservative Home, that three Tory cabinet


ministers have come to them, expressing deep reservation about


the bill. An unnamed Downing Street source suggests Mr Lansley should


be taken out and shot. The big question tonight is if Mr Lansley


cannot persuade serious people in his own party, how on earth can he


persuade the country? After 136 changes, already made to


a flagship bill, the Government, it seems, still hasn't got it right.


That's what at least part of the Government itself thinks.


Earlier this week an unnamed Number Ten adviser was quoted as saying


that Health Secretary Andrew Lansley should be taken out and


shot, for alienating doctors and nurses. Now three anonymous cabinet


ministers have allegedly chimed in too. Disloyally telling an


influential Tory website that the bill, or the Health Secretary,


should be dropped. But who were they? The editor of the site wasn't


letting on. I'm not giving any clues to the identity of these


cabinet ministers, I'm just focusing today on what they told me


about the National Health Service. So Newsnight set out to try to


wihittle down the list of suspects, by a process of lodge kaldeduction,


based on the responses we could kol -- logical deduction based on the


responses we could get today. Nine clearly told us they weren't among


the three, among them, Ken Clark, Michael Gove and Baroness Warsi,


that is apparently nine eliminated. A further eight said they supported


the bill in general, but refused to tell Newsnight directly whether or


not they had spoken to the website. They include Oliver Letwin, David


Willetts, and Andrew Mitchell. We can fairly safely eliminate George


Osborne, Chancellor and head of Tory strategy, along with the Chief


Whip, these six remain as question marks, along with the final group


of ministers who didn't answer. Two of those, we can confidently say


would have been most unlikely to have briefed Conservative Home,


William Hague, and Theresa May. So that deduction leaves us with seven


Conservative cabinet attendees, who may have picked up the phone to


brief against their colleague, Andrew Lansley. That's assuming


that everyone has been open and honest in their responses.


In addition to that, Philip Hammond has contacted Newsnight in the last


hour to say he didn't speak to the Conservative Home side about the


bill. The road to the bill for the health


service has been long and ever more controversial, with many in the


medical profession insisting that more competition won't help the NHS.


The Government has had to make concessions to the Liberal


Democrats, but the main concern of some Conservatives, is not that the


bill is wrong, but that it is unnecessary, and politically


dangerous. There was still hope and belief of the possibility of a u-


turn. From your contacts since with Downing Street, how are they


reacting to this? There is unanimity that this is a terrible


pickle, if we had the time again the Conservative Party, the


coalition, wouldn't have embarked upon these reforms. I can't find


anybody who believes in these reforms enthusiastically, who is


willing to go out and argue with gusto.


Today the Health Secretary himself was heckled by protestors, as he


visited The Royal College of Surgeries in Edinburgh. But is such


opposition caused by the nature of the reforms themselves, or a fill


your to communicate their benefits. That is what Mr Lansley was


challenged over by a BBC colleague. This legislation has been supported


by the House of Commons, supported by the House of Lords, the bill has


been amended to take account of many changes. Aren't you the


problem here minister, aren't you the problem? Let me just tell you,


that we as a Government are committed, not just to this


legislation, it is not about the bill as such, it is about what the


bill enables the NHS to achieve in the future. That is not about me,


but us as a Government. Would you be prepared to resign and get the


bill through that way. Something some think the Health


Secretary will be gone after the next cabinet reshuffle in the


summer, his bill will probably survive, but it will face


opposition in the House of Lords and the Lib Dem spring conference.


The Lords can make amendments to the bill but they can't stop it. We


had a vote in the House of Commons on the third reading of the bill


and it got through. The likelihood is this bill will become law,


unless, of course, at a senior political level, the cabinet level,


it is recognised that they can see ahead and realise that this is


going to cause such catastrophy throughout the NHS, it is going to


cause political kas at that time trophy for the coalition as well --


catastrophy for the coalition as well. As a politician he's widely


regarded as a minister of integrity, many enthused about him in the


early days of Government. Many now think it is adding to the


coalition's ills. The Health Minister, Simon Burns, is here,


welcome again. Do you have any idea who the three are, who was been


briefing the website? That is the froth of a question that


journalists and the Westminster village. You don't care, you think


it is froth if three cabinet ministers are taking to task the


Health Secretary on a central plank of our Government? It is froth


trying to find out. They were in an article, unnamed, what is important


is that the Prime Minister fully supports the modernisation


legislation, the cabinet supports it, the House of Commons has voted


it through, and the House of Lords has given it a second reading and


will consider it, amendment wise. Presumably you don't know who the


12 cabinet members the Spectator says might want the bill killed?


I'm more interested in moving the bill forward because it is needed


for modernising the NHS. That is curious, you were a listening


minister, working to a listening Health Secretary who says he's


listening to people, and you are not listening to any of these


cabinet colleagues who have serious reservations and prepared to talk


to other people about it? certainly are listening, and will


continue to listen. What I have not heard from colleagues is, that the


bill should be withdrawn or changed even more. What I have heard from


colleagues is that they realise that the NHS has got to modernise,


to meet the challenges facing it, that you mentioned in your


introduction, and that they do not want it watered down to diminish


the main focus of the bill, which is concentrating on patients.


they are on your side and they agree with all that, why have you


so singularly failed to persuade them, so they are talking to


Conservative Home, highly regarded in your party, you highly regard


the website. The Spectator, which supports your party in broad terms,


why are they briefing these people and you are not hearing about it?


don't know who they are, I can't answer for them. Why wouldn't they


talk to you? I don't even know the context of conversations they had


with the seb website. It is rather difficult to answer it. What I can


tell you, from what I know, is what colleagues say to me in the House


of Commons, which is they fully understand that we need the


legislation to modernise the health service, because they believe that


it is the right way forward for GPs to commission their care. The bill


will survive, and Andrew Lansley will survive? I'm confident the


bill will survive, because what we have done over the last 15 months,


we created the independent future forum last April, May, so they, a


group of clinicians, and NHS people, went out to consult with the NHS,


to find out how we could improve and strengthen the fill. Andrew


Lansley will survive? Yes because he's doing a great job. He's said


to be the most knowledgeable person about the NHS, he knows it inside


and out, and he has a vision to modernise it, to meet the


challenges. That is the puzzle, isn't it, if you can't bring people


within the Conservative Party along with him, he's certainly not going


to bring a lot of Lib Dems. keep saying that, but the fact is,


the bill got a majority in the House of Commons and then passed to


the House of Lords. Because we have been able to listen, we have had


cross-party talks with Liberal Democrats, crossbenchers, and some


Labour peers in the House of Lords, we have got improvements that have


strengthened things like the comprehensive nature of the health


service, the issue dealing with inequalities. It is not becoming


your poll tax, a bill where Mrs Thatcher was told there is real


trouble if you force it through, she had to do a huge damaging u-


turn? I tell you why I don't think it is. When you have modernisation,


particularly in areas that are controversial, like the health


service, which arouses strong passions, you get a number of


forces that will fight it. You have political forces, in the form of


the opposition, you then have the bodies within the NHS, many of them


consider considered trade unions, who will fight change because they


are Conservative with a - conservative with a small "c", if


you had the BMA you wouldn't have had it in the first place.


Joining me is Isobel Oakeshott, political editor of the Sunday


Times, and Tim Collins, a former adviser to Tony Blair, and a


columnist with The Times. How much trouble is the bill in? If we were


to call it a patient, it would be sickly but not dying. I think there


is absolutely no question whatsoever of the Government


dropping this bill. David Cameron is actually his staunch, the


staunchest defenders of the bill, alongside Andrew Lansley. --


defender of the bill, alongside Andrew Lansley. They have gone too


far to uark turn, if they u-turned on this, it would make all the


others look like a swerve around a pothole. Is it something that David


Cameron's own prestige and gut feeling is we have to do this, this


is really important? When you have got this far you have to go through


with it. He has been conspicuous by his absence over the last few days.


He needs to make the argument and come forward and make the argument


for competition. The bill should have been dropped long before now,


given he has got to this point, you can't possibly drop it now. The


other thing it would do to drop the bill now, would be to send out a


signal to the opposition to the bill in the professions, that we


blinked first. That any time we come back for any further health


reform, we are not going to do this. Simon Burns makes the fair point


that people are saying one thing perhaps privately to Conservative


Home and others, and they are saying something publicly, which is


different, in the way they are voting at least, so far?


Interestingly, I have spoken to two cabinet ministers today, who are


quite sympathetic with Andrew Lansley. What you do find is that


everybody in the cabinet is fed up with the mess this has got them


into. What they will say also, those that are trying to push


forward major reforms in their departments, understand that any


big changes like this always attract a great deal of noise, and


you know, you get machine gunned and you just have to get through it.


You went through this in your previous role, when people brief


against each other in cabinet is a problem? It is a prob embl. This is


a political fiasco of -- Problem. This is a political fiasco of a


huge kind. When Bevan was asked how did he get them on side, he said he


stuffed them with gold. Andrew Lansley is stuffing GPs with not


just gold but power, and they are still against him. He hasn't


brought the GPs over to his side eventhough they have the gold and


power. The The other problem we have, the Liberal Democrat party


machine is getting worried about this. They have kept their people


relatively disciplined about it over the last few weeks. Their


concern is now we are seeing Tories coming out against it, how will


they keep their people, grudging about the whole thing any way, how


will they keep them coming out over the next few weeks? Is the


implication they won't? We have another few weeks of this, running


up to the Lib Dem spring conference, where you will get people sticking


their necks out over it. interesting point made earlier


today, was that David Cameron, he said that extremely -- he did


extremely well in the run up to general election by neutralising


the NHS, and now having it as such a central poll I is, whether it is


right or wrong, it puts that right on the political map, that is


difficult for him? That is exactly what the plan was with the NHS,


simply to demonstrate that the NHS was safe in Conservative hands.


Everybody took that to mean that it would essentially do nothing. This


are a lot of reforms in the system that the previous Labour Government


had started. If the Conservatives had put their foot down hard on the


reforms, and said they wouldn't do another reorganisation, everybody


would have expected that. This change came really out of nowhere.


If you look in the appendices of Conservative Party policy documents


from eight years ago, you can find most of these things. I suspect


most people don't read those things. I suspect you might be right on


that? I do, obviously. What do you think about Andrew Lansley, you


said there is quite a bit of a sympathy, some ministers know how


big this is, can he survive? He can and will. It is always dangerous to


predict reshuffles, I think he is very strongly supported by David


Cameron. I think Number Ten is conscious, Phil you were saying


that Cameron, the Prime Minister, needs to come out over the next few


days and be more vociferous about this, I understand that the Prime


Minister was concerned after prime ministers questions earlier this


week, that he hadn't actual low given Andrew Lansley a ringing


enough endorsement. What we will see over the next few days is the


Prime Minister getting out and defending this policy. I think he


can't survive and won't. Reform doesn't begin until after the thing


goes through the House. You will find over the next two years the


reform starts to happen, I don't think Andrew Lansley can sell this


reform out there in the country, I think another Health Secretary will


have to do that. There have been resignations are


from the grok Government today, despite yesterday's reports that


the latest austerity plan appeared to have been agreed. It comes as


the eurozone is demanding tougher cuts beyond those accepted by the


Greek Government, amid more trouble on the streets.


Why is there such a mess and sense of crisis tonight, when last night


it seemed as if they had done it? You have to look at the entire


thing, the process was they put the agreed austerity plan to the


European Union Finance Ministers, they said, no, they want more cuts


this year, they hadn't quite delivered that. They want the


parties in the coalition here to sign up more or less in person tut


to this austerity plan. -- perpituity, to this austerity plan.


One of the parties resigned, and said they wouldn't support the


austerity plan. In the last you foo minutes it was signed off by the


remained -- few minutes it was signed off by the remained ing


cabinet, and those others saying they are under the heel of Germany.


Where does it go from here, from the eurozone leaders and on the


streets? Today there has been clashes, as there nearly always are,


on Syntagma Square. There have been more than 20 Town Halls seized by


protesters. There is going to be a big strike today and tomorrow. A


massive demo on Sunday, which will ring the parliament and try to


prevent the MPs from getting in. I don't think it will be about, in


the future, social unrest, such as the complete disconnect between now


the majority of Greek voters and their parties. They have signed up


to something that manifestly most people here don't agree with. What


that is doing is corroding, not just the famous trust in politics


we see all too well in Britain and other countries, but actual


connection between people and their parties. We know what will happen


now if this just doesn't work. There will be a default. They will


have to leave the euro if it doesn't work, they will have to do


so under far more extreme parties than they have in power today.


Are you watching Newsnight alone, are you lonely? Loneliness


according to a senior adviser in Number Ten might be worse for your


old age than smoking. He made the comments in a speech about


encouraging speak to retire later. It came after Grant Shapps said the


elderly mighting encouraged to downsize in housing.


You get to retirement age and then they want you to take on a new job.


Number Ten won't interfere in Redknapp led red -- Harry


Redknapp's future, but they are saying some of the other 65 plus


could spare themselves loneliness if they take on jobs. Harry has


plenty of food, but they say Lenliness is worse than smoking for


I'm going to see Maude Hazel, who has lived in this block of flats in


South-East London since 1939, when she moved in with her parents.


She's 86 now. Hello, I'm Stephen, how are you.


She lives on her own since the death of her long time companion


Marjorie five years ago. We went everywhere together, because I


suffered with agraphobia, a fear of open spaces. Because when Marjorie


died, I thought how will I get out. I thought to myself I have to eat


and buy food. I have got to make myself do it. It was very hard. But


I done it. Number Ten Downing Street, they are


saying loneliness could be a bigger killer amongst old people than


smoking, what do you think about that? I agree with them. Yes,


definitely. To suggest that loneliness is, social isolation is


more of a problem than smoking isn't particularly helpful, if it


distracts attention from things that Government can do in terms of


action around tobacco, things around the price of cigarettes,


restricting young people's access to cigarettes, reducing advertising


and so on, that would be a concern. I think it is interesting for us


looking at revolutions, because obvious low the political


revolutions are you don't have to be Marxists, and often linked up to


economic revolutions and instability. These, shall we say,


mature students, at the University of the Third Age, have been


studying revolutions at their regular get togethers in North


London. How do they feel about the sudden change that the Government


seems to favour. Why not just stay in and watch Countdown of an


afternoon? I found that U3A has given me an enormous opportunity to


fill in all the gaps. Studying for ourselves isn't the only thing our


age group does. There is a whole army of retired people who are out


there doing voluntary work for the society. If you put us to work, to


gainful employment. Paid employment? Yeah, you would have to


pay people to do the other jobs that we are doing voluntarily.


society certainly makes it easy to be isolated, as you get older and


more house bound. But I don't think you can legislate or advise about


what people should do. Of -- I have no idea if loneliness


is a bigger killer than smoking, it is a statistic from Number Ten. I


know loneliness is a big killer of people, and the Number Ten cure of


returning to be a wage slave back to work, people should be allowed


to do that if they wish, less ageism in the work place. If that


is not what they want, they should be enabled as older people to do


whatever they wish to do. Maud isn't by herself so much these


days, thanks to neighbours and a local charity. God willing,


loneliness won't claim her. As for smoking, she quit last year, aged


Esther Rantzen has written about loneliness, and is working on


setting up a charity aimed at those who are lonely, and Carol Morley,


who made the documentary about a woman who lay dead on her sofa for


three years before being found. What do you think? The World Health


Organisation came out with this first, they said loneliness was


worse for your health than smoking and or obesity. The reason is, if


you are lonely you lose the desire to live, that means you may go out


less, you may not eat properly, and lose the capacity for speech. I


watched my mother, when she was bereaved, when she reached a stage


in her life when she wasn't regularly meeting and talking to


people, when I could hear her speech deteriorate. That is why I


want to set up a helpline, I'm calling it, working title, Silver


Line, a befriending line but also an information line for older


people. Your own experience, you work, you are outgoing, and yet you


are lonely? To work the connection doesn't quite make it, does it,


just working doesn't do it? Working gives you teams of people to meet


during the day, at the end of the day, you open the door to a dark


room, a dark flat, a dark house, and the phrase is, you have got


plenty of people to do something with, but you have nobody to do


nothing with. It is that emotional gap that you need to fill. There is


a lot of provision out there, the trouble is people don't know where


to find it. It can fill that emotional gap in people's lives.


What do you make about this gap, whether loneliness is part of it?


In making the film I made. I discovered through the fodback,


that loneliness isn't about -- feedback, that loneliness isn't


about who you are with, people with can go to work and still -- people


can go to work and still be loneliness. There is a real shame


about it, being alone and being lonely are different things. The


old cliche, people can be lonely in a crowd. I think it is all very


confused what I have been reading about, this sense that you have to


go to work in order to have company, but actually when you are older you


also have to downsize, so you couldn't have room to have people


over. I find it very odd. I don't really trust what's being said.


that because while Governments are in the business of social policy


and so on, is it because the social arrangesments have changed, and


families don't go to church any more? I think they are making


social policy on fear. The way older people are treated in society,


everybody fears getting older. I think also that people, you know,


essentially, it is looking at the wrong things. I really don't think


getting old people to go to work is necessarily the way forward to


combat loneliness. I think it is very important that people continue


to feel needed, continue to feel valued. It doesn't necessarily mean


paid work, but voluntary work, if you have your health and strength,


puts you into company, and at the end of the day you feel a sense of


achievement. The centre for social justice did a study that showed


400,000 people, they did this at Christmas, 400,000 people regularly


spend days in which they don't talk to anyone. That is a new loneliness,


these are people who, perhaps like me, have spent all their lives with


friends, families, working teams, and sudden low they have to spend


whole days by themselves. That is a bit different from what you are


decribing, which is the young loneliness, which somebody linked


with depression. This is enforced loneliness. I just think loneliness


is not just necessarily to do with being older. Obviously as you get


older and you are not in work, the only solution, if the only solution


is seen as going out to work, I think it is a very poor rational. I


think actually we shutd be looking, I love -- should be looking, I


think the thing about getting a degree when you are older, make


sure the library is working, make sure there is infrastructure to


your day. Everything I'm hearing sounds like all the working people,


they will end up raising the pension, the age you can retire


because they will say, actually, it will keep you healthy. I think it


really is a problematic thing. haven't much time left, is the fact


that people are talking about it, we are certainly talking about it.


Yet it is very there is this stigma, is that a change? It is a change,


and it is very important we start to talk about it. Someone wrote to


me when I first mentioned the fact that I feel lonely now. It is a bit


like in empty restaurants, if you admit you are lonely, people think


you are sad and socially isolated and avoid you like an empty


restaurant. That's all tonight. Now we have the


review show, Charles Dickens themed. This is something we have been


Three cabinet ministers brief Conservative Home against both the health bill and the health minister. Who are they? Paul Mason is in Greece as the deal starts to fray. And is being lonely really more unhealthy than smoking? With Gavin Esler.

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