15 June 2011

Nick Clegg and the Libdems are asking us to believe that they have taken the Tories by the scruff of the neck, shaken the nasty party hard, and rewritten the NHS bill (that is, the Health and social care bill) which they were against all along. This is brazenly rewriting history.

The original NHS bill was introduced with the total support of Nick Clegg who signed it off in the Tory Libdem cabinet. Not a single Libdem MP voted against the original bill at second reading (Hansard 31 January 2011 column 605 ff).

The Spectator of 6 April 2011 ran the wry item ‘Nick Clegg was claiming that the NHS reforms were the Lib Dems’ idea just three months ago,’ a reference to Clegg on the Andrew Marr program on 23 January 2011.

What changed?

The opposition and concern of many health professionals, the local elections, disastrous for the Libdems, and public opposition reflected in the vast NHS petition through the website 38 degrees, along with a fortuitously timed conference of Libdems from outside parliament which hammered the bill. The lemmings stopped at the cliff edge.

It makes sense to listen and change when there is such a confluence of events and people but trying to rewrite history is undignified and unpersuasive. However, the Libdems are desperate to find areas where they may safely and popularly disagree totemically with their Tory allies while remaining in government with them.

Is the Libdem party trying to save the NHS or trying to save its skin? But it is a famous victory … of Clegg over Clegg, of Libdems today over Libdems of 31 January.

Cornwall notes
Andrew George, Libdem MP for St Ives, said in the Commons debate on 31 January 2011 that he would not vote for the second reading of the bill; nor did he. However, he did not vote against it then either but he has been consistent and outspoken in his robust criticism of the bill from the start. Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) voted for second reading. No vote is recorded for Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay).

It was a famous victory: a satirical refrain in the poem Battle of Blenheim by Robert Southey.