Covid, a struggling NHS, social care reform – Sajid Javid has a full in-box as the new Health Secretary.
A weekend is a long time in politics. Matt Hancock wriggled and squirmed on the hook, but even he, of the Teflon mould of politics, could not slip off this time. He exits stage left, hopefully for a prolonged period of political obscurity, and Sajid Javid is back at the top table.
The move is inspired. It avoids a complete Cabinet reshuffle, brings a political heavy-weight back onto the team for the second half of the match, and addresses the fact that Javid was a brooding presence on the back-benches, deprived as he clearly felt he was, of the authority he had held as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The move also pushes Dominic Cummings further to the side-lines since it was he who undermined Javid’s authority by insisting that he sack his team of Treasury advisors as a condition of continuing in office. The irony that Javid is back, and it’s Cummings who got the sack, will not be lost on Conservative backbenchers and local activists from whom Javid has earned considerable respect.
The push against the pandemic isn’t over. It has a long way to go, and further waves of covid may yet come crashing in. Javid will have to hit the ground running on that one. He will, no doubt, appoint Special Advisors from his trusted former team, but it’s unlikely he’ll immediately want to part company with existing Ministers at the department, not least become some, like Nadhim Zahawi with the vaccination programme, have been delivering under great pressure.
He has the chance, with his former Home Office and Local Government Cabinet level experience, and his demonstrable command of his brief when Chancellor of the Exchequer, to get a real grip on the future of social care, about which announcements are necessary, but not before the parliamentary Summer Recess on 22nd July.
Pause for thought
For the NHS reform legislation, there must, as a minimum, be pause for thought and reflection. It was very much a Matt Hancock project, with other ministers and their advisors wondering to what problem it offered a solution. Yes, there were things in there that Sir Simon Stevens wanted for the NHS, but there is much in there that is actually unnecessary, for example the rush to get the ICSs on a statutory footing by April 2022.
Yes, it’s good to have a target, and Hancock certainly loved twisting the figures on track and trace and vaccination targets, but it’s an artificial, political target that the NHS itself can probably do without as it tries to sort out how best to clear up the chaos left behind by the pandemic, while it can probably also do without the need to deliver net zero plans for carbon emission over the next few months.
Might Sir Simon even be persuaded to delay his departure a little to help the incoming Health Secretary identify in the charred rubble of Hancock’s burnt-out building of a ministerial career the proposals that are sensible and salvageable?
Until Javid has time to get fully across his new brief, and decides how to prioritise his own investment of personal political capital, both the NHS and social care, as well as the body politic, are in policy limbo-land; but once Javid has objectives, he knows how to achieve them. Those of us who follow every twist and turn in the roller-coaster of health and care policy are in for an exciting ride!
by Chris Whitehouse, Chair