A court has just made a major ruling against the Conservative Party. And in doing so, it could expose the Tories’ stealth privatisation of the NHS.
An astonishing judgement
On Wednesday 24 May, three court judges ruled that former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley must publish all of his ministerial diaries from 2010 to 2011. This is the period of time when the controversial Health and Social Care Act 2012 was being written. The legislation is often viewed as a ‘backdoor’ means of slowly privatising the NHS.
The decision came after a long campaign by a journalist to gain access to Lansley’s most private of political notes.
Journalist Simon Lewis originally asked for access to Lansley’s diaries nearly six years ago. At the time, he was only given a heavily redacted version of the notes. But in 2013, the Information Commissioner’s Office said that Lewis must be given the majority of the withheld information. Ever since, however, the Conservatives and Whitehall officials have been blocking Lewis from obtaining the information. Until now.
The judges rejected claims from government officials that publishing Lansley’s diaries “would not assist the understanding of the processes of government and would be liable to mislead and misinform the public as to the efficiency and extent of the work of the minister”. One of the judges, Sir Terence Etherton, said:
In particular it seems to me clear that it remained relevant or potentially relevant to the department to know, as a matter of historical record, where Mr Lansley had been and with whom on particular occasions, should there be a political, journalistic or historical interest raised with the department in relation to those matters.
The government even tried to argue that Lansley’s diaries were not there “for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act”. But the judges also rejected this claim.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said:
We are considering the judgment, and we will make a decision in due course.
But this will not be until after the general election, due to purdah rules.
Revealing the Tories’ privatisation plans?
So what can we expect to see in the diaries?
Well, as openDemocracy reported, current Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was having private meetings with the likes of KPMG auditors in the run-up to the production of the controversial junior doctors contract. The Department of Health was also in discussions with private healthcare human resources executives. And the right-wing thinktank Reform was also heavily involved.
And as openDemocracy also reported in 2016:
Key individuals from the private sector have been moved into public office: Simon Stevens – formerly a president of American healthcare firm UnitedHealth, now CEO of NHS England; Nick Seddon – former director of Reform think-tank, now Cameron’s personal advisor on health; Stuart Rose – board member of Bridgepoint Capital who own Care UK, drafted in by Cameron as an NHS consultant; the list goes on.
Opening the floodgates
This is all just information available in the public domain. What Lansley’s diaries may reveal are the details of meetings he may have had with private healthcare companies, executives, and anyone else with a vested interest in the privatisation of the NHS. They may also reveal his private thoughts and ideas over the Health and Social Care Act.
Alternatively, his diaries could reveal nothing. But what this court judgement shows is that even the government can’t always stop the truth being revealed. And it sets an important precedent in relation to political transparency; potentially opening the floodgates for even more requests for the inner-most details of the workings of the Conservative Party.
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