I, along with what I thought were most people, assumed that last Saturday morning Jeremy Hunt made a big mistake. The main item on the news and the front page of the Times’ magazine were full of the reporting of his belief that abortions should be restricted to 12 weeks after conception.
That same day his boss David Cameron was opening the Conservative conference PR by going around his local hospital in Oxford and promising new money for new technology to enable better nursing. This was a good story to start off the conference and it would demonstrate to the world that the Conservatives were not completely ducking the policy issue of the NHS, but were dealing with it on day one. And, despite these difficult economic times, were investing in it.
Instead David Cameron’s headline was blown out of the water by Jeremy Hunt’s belief about changing the law on abortion. I, together with most other commentators, believed that the new Shadow Secretary of State had made a gaffe. After a few weeks of silence he had opened his mouth for his first interview and rather than once more ducking the difficult abortion question, he had jumped in and grabbed the headline with his suggested change.
This meant that his boss was not being asked about the new money being put into new technology and given the opportunity to say how this was an example of how the Government was committed to the NHS. No, he was being asked whether his new Secretary of State was changing Government policy on abortion.
The Prime Minister answered and tried to calm this down, but inevitably we then had two pretty solid days of rows about abortion.
So the Conservative relaunch conference gets off to a very sticky start and loses a couple of days of lift off.
Result would be a severe telling off for new Secretary of State.
To my surprise most of the people I talk to in and around the NHS think this is a naive reading of what went on. They believe that the last thing the Conservatives want is any press coverage at all of the NHS and especially any coverage of their reform programme.
So when at the end of the first interview he has given the new Secretary of State raises the issue of limiting abortion, this was a deliberate torpedoing of all of the coverage about the NHS. In this reading of events 2 solid days of rows about abortion covers up any discussion about the NHS and is therefore seen as a success.
We should expect similar diversions whenever there is likely to be any coverage about the Conservatives and NHS reform.
When I first heard this explanation on Saturday evening, I was taken by surprise by it. But within 48 further hours five or six people had repeated it and were looking at me as I was a shockingly naive chap to have thought any different.
I still think I was correct but, as I say, we live in cynical times.