Do you buy it? Drugs on sale at the politics show

IS Andrew Lansley a dead politician walking? Or has the health secretary managed to wriggle out of a humiliation with face somehow intact?

Or, as his boss David Cameron cunningly spun it, is a series of apparent climbdowns a sign not of weakness but of strength?

I say “apparent” climbdowns because we haven’t actually seen the detail yet. All we’ve had so far is speeches – from Cameron, from his sidekick Nick Clegg, and from Lansley.

They want us to think things have changed for the better. That they’ve been listening to all our concerns.

That we can trust them with our lives. Maybe literally.

And you know what? All I’ve named so far is people. Three blokes in suits and ties.

Two or three inches in and I still haven’t identified my subject as the butchery – sorry, “reform” – of our National Health Service.

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And isn’t that the root trouble with politics?

In a democracy, it’s supposed to be “the people” who decide what happens about crucially important things such as the NHS.

But there a couple of problems with this. Well, quite a lot of problems actually, but just a couple I want to mention now.

One is that there isn’t really any such thing as “the people”.

I’m one person with one set of thoughts and opinions. You’re another person with another set.

Are we likely to agree?

On some things, maybe. On everything… not a chance.

And that’s just two of us among millions.

Anyone who tries to tell you what “the people” thinks is trying to put over a particular view – probably their own.

The other big problem is information, or the lack of it.

For democracy to have a chance of working well, even in a perfect world (which this is far from being), “the people” needs to be well informed.

That, in theory, is what the press – papers, magazines, TV, radio, and now the internet – is supposed to provide.

And do we? Er, no, not very well.

After all, you don’t really know how the NHS (for example) works in all its detail, do you? Or the banking system. Or education. Or all the things the government is supposed to be in charge of on our behalf.

There’s more there than you or I could keep tabs on even if it was all we did.

And I don’t know about you, but I sometimes have difficulty deciding whether I fancy Marmite or marmalade on my toast in the morning.

In fact, when you stop to consider all the reasons why “the press” fails to keep “the people” fully informed on important matters all the time, the real surprise is that we do it as well as we do.

After all, there’s Ryan Giggs’s sex life, Wayne Rooney’s hair and the off-screen lives of every soap star or talent-show wannabe to keep on top of too.

After which politics can look a bit dry to many people. And difficult – not just for “the people” but for journalists too.

Which is why we usually end up treating it like another soap.

As if it was the cast – Lansley, Cameron and Clegg this week, with walk-on parts for the brothers Miliband – that mattered.

Rather than the really important stuff of policy.

Does the question of Andrew Lansley’s political future, with which I began this column, actually matter?

Not a jot, except to the Lansley family. And probably not a great deal to them either – I’m sure he’ll never go short of wonga.

Does the future of the NHS matter? Very much indeed.

Which is why the most interesting thing about Lansley’s big speech on Wednesday wasn’t anything he said. That was just another speech, another political platform.

It wasn’t even the reaction of his audience, made up of hundreds of GPs.

No, the interesting thing was where it took place – the 2011 Commissioning Show at the Kensington Olympia conference centre in West London.

And that right outside the main hall was a sea of stalls with all the big names represented – AstraZeneca, Bayer, Boots, Bosch, Capita, GlaxoSmithKline, Roche, Specsavers, UnitedHealth and dozens of others you might or might not have heard of. Banks and lawyers as well as drug companies.

Proof, if any more were needed, that our national health is already about business as much as service.

It would take a far bigger politician than Lansley to put that genie back in the bottle.

OH the joy of getting a bit of real rain on the garden at last.

It’ll take a lot more before we shrug off all talk of drought, of course. Everywhere is still looking pretty parched.

But there are surprises and delights out there too.

Right now in Fen Meadow in Woodbridge, in a patch the council has deliberately and properly left unmown, is the finest crop of wild marsh orchids I’ve ever seen in Britain.