EVERY election must have its sob story and this one (the one on May 5, or whenever) has got its in early. The plight of Margaret Dixon, a 69-year-old Warrington grandmother who has had her operation for shoulder surgery cancelled seven times was tear-inducing enough but add to it the fact that every time she packed her bag for the hospital she had to say a provisional final farewell to her family in the knowledge that she had only a 30 per cent chance of survival, and you have a story that the weepiest soap opera could not dream up.

We have to assume that the whole of the Conservative Party research department had been engaged on checking Mrs Dixon's story before Michael Howard raised it with Tony Blair at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday. The last case of this kind that Mr Howard raised in the House of Commons blew up in his face when it was discovered that he had got his facts wrong and we all remember the muddle that followed Jennifer's Ear and Mrs Rose what's-her-name in earlier elections. However, even if every last fact is as stated by Mr Howard it is unlikely that her dilemma will shift public opinion on the state of the National Health Service. The Prime Minister was absolutely right to say that if Mrs Dixon had been treated in the way alleged by Mr Howard it was unacceptable but also exceptional.

The spectacle of ministers rushing to the Warrington hospital to see what is going on, of John Reid drumming up public support, of Mrs Dixon's family dropping off a letter at Downing Street and of the media going mad over the story is not a good advetisement for the maturity of British politics.


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