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Andrew Lansley MP

Position: Secretary of State for Health 2010-

Last Updated: Friday, March 18th, 2011

As Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley currently has the job of taking through Parliament the Government’s Health and Social Care Bill, which is coming up against opposition from a number of quarters.

Using the mantra “there must be no decision about me, without me”, he is aiming to give patients more choice and information about their healthcare, such as which provider offers the best outcomes, as well as passing over control to them of their own care records.

But the most controversial aspect of the Bill surrounds giving GPs control of 80% of NHS spending on commissioning, which was condemned by the Liberal Democrats at their spring conference earlier this month. The BMA has joined in the attack, and only just stopped short of no-confidencing Lansley at a special meeting earlier this week. There is now even a clutch of worried Conservative MPs who have signalled that they too have concerns about the legislation and some are even expected to vote against it a Third Reading.

In looking at Lansley doing the job of Health Secretary, what should not be forgotten is that he prepared for the role by shadowing the job for nearly seven years in opposition under both Michael Howard and David Cameron, seeing off opposite numbers John Reid, Patricia Hewitt, Alan Johnson and finally Andy Burnham – his immediate predecessor as Secretary of State.

His deep experience of the health portfolio was even shouted from the rooftops by the current shadow health secretary, John Healey, who told a meeting in January: “No-one in the House of Commons knows more about the NHS than Andrew Lansley… Andrew Lansley spent six years in Opposition as shadow health secretary. No-one has visited more of the NHS. No-one has talked to more people who work in the NHS than Andrew Lansley.”  

It was a move which was intended to butter up Liberal Democrats – laying the blame for the Government’s plans at the door of the Tories and not the junior Coalition partners – but it rather backfired when the words were quoted by David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions.

As someone who had a stroke in the early 1990s, he has championed the NHS with verve and is one of just two Cabinet Ministers (the other being Andrew Mitchell) with the luxury of his budget being protected from cuts.

The son of an eminent NHS pathologist, he was born in Essex in 1956 and educated at Brentwood School and then Exeter University, where he read Politics and served as President of the Guild of Students.

After university, he went to Whitehall to work at the Department of (Trade and) Industry, finding himself by 1984 working as Private Secretary to the then Secretary of State, Norman Tebbit. He remained working for him in the capacity of a civil servant until 1987, when he left to take up a job at the British Chambers of Commerce, before being headhunted by Conservative Party Chairman, Ken Baker, to become director of the highly-regarded Conservative Research Department.

It was during his five-year stint in that role that he first encountered two bright young things called Cameron and Osborne, to whom he recalls once joking that he wanted them to make him Governor of Bermuda when one day they were running the country…

He was credited with helping devise the successful 1992 general election campaign and was awarded the CBE for his efforts after he left Central Office to work at the Public Policy Unit. But he was there for a mere 18 months, since by then he had been selected to contest the safe South Cambridgeshire seat at the 1997 general election.

Lansley was on the backbenches for just a year after his election to Parliament (during which his future specialism was honed on the health select committee), since he was appointed by William Hague as party vice-chairman responsible for policy renewal in the summer of 1998. Just a year later he was promoted to be a fully blown member of the shadow cabinet, again looking after policy with the Cabinet Office portfolio and helping on strategy for the 2001 general election. The only other member of the Class of 1997 to have reached the top table as quickly was Theresa May.   

Politically, despite the connection with Norman Tebbit and the fact that he publicly backed Michael Howard at the 1997 leadership contest, Lansley is something of a centrist moderniser in Tory terms. He was reportedly a member of the SDP in the 1980s and was an enthusiastic backer of Ken Clarke in the final stages of the 2001 leadership contest – which helps explain why he sat out Iain Duncan Smith’s leadership on the backbenches.

During that time he did, however, campaign for a more diverse pool of candidates and even talked about renaming the party as the Reform Conservatives.  He was also one of those alongside the likes of Francis Maude, Michael Portillo and Ken Clarke who defied the three line whip opposing gay adoption in November 2002.

Although he was briefly talked about as a possible candidate for the leadership in advance of the 2005 contest, he ended up backing Clarke again, then Cameron in the later rounds.

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