Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Top of His Still-to-Do List Is Sort out Mess in Nhs Funds

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Top of His Still-to-Do List Is Sort out Mess in Nhs Funds

Article excerpt

Byline: JOE MURPHY

FINALLY, the PM is beginning to open up about the subject that has gripped British politics for the past year and a half. Not Iraq, education, or pensions, but his retirement.

While his entourage insist on the polite fiction that he will go on and on until just before the next general election, the Prime Minister is becoming more candid. In an Australian radio interview today, he admitted it may have been "a mistake" to preannounce his departure.

He now has a date for his retirement in mind - though he is not sharing it.

With friends, he is also ruminating about a checklist of things to achieve before he can finally say "enough" and hand over.

Priority No 1 is to sort out the wretched NHS finances, which have been hopelessly mismanaged by local trusts despite all the extra money poured in.

The interesting question is: Why him?

Why not hire a good accountant? Or leave it to Gordon Brown?

Answering this brings us close, I think, to what Mr Blair himself sees as his primary task. He believes that unpleasant decisions must be taken early in each parliament and that one of

his mistakes was to fail to recognise this in Labour's first and second terms. Had student loans been enacted straight after the 2001 election instead of in midterm, he calculates that five or six more Labour seats could have been saved last year - enough to make a real difference to his majority.

So, in his mindset, the NHS woes are not a loose thread to be sewn up for the sake of neatness; they are a nasty nettle that needs to be grasped as fast as possible. Mr Blair sees his job as being to take the stings and clear the path for a fourth term.

This will raise a hollow laugh from some of Mr Brown's supporters, who may suspect the Prime Minister is painting his old reluctance to go in heroic new colours. …

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