John Woodcock: A lacklustre vote of confidence

Forget what I wrote the other week about Andrew Lansley's health reforms being a shambles - he is apparently doing an excellent job as health secretary.

John Woodcock: A lacklustre vote of confidence
John Woodcock: A lacklustre vote of confidence

How do I know? Because Downing Street has released an official statement saying so.

Uh oh. It may be time for the hopefuls among the junior ranks of the cabinet to begin discreetly measuring up the curtains at the Department of Health's building in Whitehall.

Not every vote of confidence from the board immediately precedes the end of a football manager's career. But it is not exactly the kind of thing that makes you sit comfortably.

To be clear, the hasty thumbs-up for Lansley was not the usual brush-off to a journalist's question at the Number Ten daily lobby briefing. It was a hurriedly despatched denial attempting - but failing - to counter vicious off-the-record briefings against a man who has now let it be known he would quit rather than accept any other cabinet job.

And if the necessity to issue the statement at all were not bad enough, the wording from Number 10 left enough wriggle room for a particularly agitated caterpillar to pass through. While David Cameron as leader of the opposition made Lansley the only politician whose job and position was guaranteed if the Tories won the election, he is now prepared to comment on his performance only in the present tense.

Not great news if you are a taxpayer wanting to know if your government has got a grip on what is needed for the National Health Service. Or a nurse wondering what on earth the future will hold.

The prime minister seems unable to accept that his health reform problem is not a failure of presentation, but the fact the plan is misconceived and misdirected.

Labour's shadow health secretary John Healey summed it up perfectly last week when he said that Cameron was 'PR man looking for a PR answer'.

But having worked so hard to detoxify the Tory brand on the NHS before the election, no amount of spin is going to get him back on track now.

John Woodcock is Labour MP for Barrow and Furness, and a former spokesman for ex-prime minister Gordon Brown

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