McTernan on politics

The summer is over, schools are back, parliament is starting up
and party conferences are just around the corner. The political –
and journalistic – world remains transfixed by the Hutton Inquiry.
The reasons are obvious. Putting aside the eventual verdict – most
likely a “score draw” with Blair and Campbell vindicated on the
charge of “sexing up” the infamous Iraq dossier but with Labour
damaged in the eyes of the public – for anyone with the remotest
interest in politics this has been a feast. The painstaking
interrogation of witnesses combined with the unprecedented
disclosure of internal memos and e-mails has offered an
extraordinarily detailed insight into how the current government
operates. Only a fraction of the documentation has reached the
broader public gaze through the pages of the newspapers, but what a
rich haul that has been. We have seen the briefing that Alastair
Campbell provides for Tony Blair for Prime Minister’s
Questions – and it amounts to a script, complete with soundbites.
And we have seen exactly how dominant the prime minister’s
office is in Whitehall – at no stage in Geoff Hoon’s
evidence, for example, did we get the impression that as Her
Majesty’s secretary of state for defence he had any real
autonomy. Students and political scientists will mine the data on
the Hutton Inquiry’s website, not for the disclosure of
secrets but because here is revealed the fine grain of an

However, as autumn advances normal service will resume. The
focus will return to the hard grind of government. So what will we
see in the new term? First, there will be increasing optimism about
the National Health Service. The chancellor’s generous
increase in funding combined with the massive capital improvement
programme initiated in Labour’s first term is now delivering
tangible improvement on the ground. Though headlines are still
dominated by horror stories we are close to a tipping point. For
some time now NHS chief executives have been telling me that
services are being vastly improved – their stories are now being
echoed by anecdotal evidence from friends and acquaintances. When
word-of-mouth reaches critical mass then we will realise that our
NHS is once more world-class – after all, unlike France we did not
have 10,000 excess deaths because of the heat-wave. Second, the
city agenda will continue to gain in importance. City leadership is
undergoing a real renaissance. From Ken Livingstone in London
through Howard Bernstein in Manchester to Donald Anderson in
Edinburgh we have politicians and chief executives with real vision
and the skills to deliver. And the big challenges – from race and
immigration to productivity – will only be met if our cities
succeed. Interesting times indeed.

John McTernan is a political analyst.

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