By Tim Hardy
The last parliamentary hope of defeating the Health and Social Care bill lies in Lord Owen’s amendment this afternoon to pause the bill until the risk register is published:
Lord Owen to move, as an amendment to the motion that the bill be now read a third time, to leave out from “that” to the end and insert “the bill be not read a third time until the House has had an opportunity to consider the detailed reasons for the first-tier tribunal decision that the transition risk register be disclosed and the Government’s response thereto, or until the last practical opportunity which would allow the bill to receive Royal Assent before prorogation.”
If this fails, we need to ask ourselves what next.
Massive demonstrations planned for the weekend and other direct action before the 20th will send a loud and necessary message but they will not in themselves stop the bill.
It wasn’t the marches or even the riots that stopped the poll tax – it was 17 million people refusing to pay that did it.
Sadly we cannot pledge to be in perfect health for the next few years.
Jonathan Paige has warned repeatedly that companies will start to compete to offer healthcare whether or not the health and social care bill is passed.
Whether the bill passes or not, from next April it is a certainty that we will see companies competing to offer services. And there’s the rub. The bill only greases the wheels. Private sector involvement can be massively increased whether the bill passes or not. The NHS in England is no longer one integrated service. How that affects healthcare remains to be seen.
It is not enough for us to reverse the bill. We also need to defeat the dominance of those loudly promoting their failed model that everything must be left to the markets since, in fact, markets deliver only for the rich.
As Professor Ian Greener notes, the Health and Social care bills “represents a comprehensive failure of democracy.”
Perhaps a first step in taking back democracy is to use the limited options open to us to punish each and every MP who voted for the bill, starting with the local elections in May.
The Liberal Democrat message is now that this is a Tory bill, not theirs. That is yet another Clegg lie. The bill cannot pass without their votes therefore it is a Liberal Democrat bill.
And any who are thinking that they can demonstrate their moral values while lacking the courage to vote against are as guilty as those who vote for it.
They will be named and shamed. It is up to us to make sure nobody who is tempted to vote for them in future does so in ignorance of their acts.
Just as campaigners for the NHS have bit their tongues trying not to scare cowardly Liberals who hold the decisive vote, many have bit their tongues on Labour’s own toxic past with introducing markets into the NHS.
The coalition however have had no qualms about using this as a debating point.
If Labour want to gain votes on the back of the unpopularity of the coalition then they are going to have to start showing real opposition to it from the top. In spite of sterling work from Andy Burnham and untiring campaigning from local activists like the team put together by Dr Éoin Clarke, with Ed “Sick Note” Miliband failing to commit to reversing the bill, Labour have shown they have little right to be taken seriously on this issue.
My own preference is for the Green Party but for those unwilling to support the only progressive force left in mainstream politics, perhaps the answer is in a nationally coordinated campaign of independent, pro-NHS candidates.
In 1997, war correspondent Martin Bell left the BBC to stand as an independent candidate in Tatton against Neil Hamilton. His signature white suit became a symbol of purity in a campaign that targeted “Tory sleaze”. He won the seat by more than 11,000 votes.
Could we collectively crowdfund and organise a similar campaign against prominent Conservative and Liberal Democrat backers of the NHS reform bill at the next election?