Health secretary says Liberal Democrats instrumental in making reforms ‘stronger’
Lansley insisted his cabinet colleagues were on board with the massive shakeup – despite claims that three fellow Tories had deep concerns about the plans – and praised the input of his party’s coalition partners.
“If there had been a Conservative government, we would have started out in a different place,” he told BBC2’s Newsnight. “The bill is better as a result of the coalition coming together to shape it.”
He admitted he had always known there would be uproar over the bill, noting that all previous health secretaries who had attempted to push through changes had faced the same response.
“There’s always noise,” he said. “The NHS matters so people make a lot of passionate remarks about it. Ken Clarke, who is a fabulous communicator, far better than I am, he tried reform in the early 1990s and the BMA [British Medical Association] said that it was the end of the NHS as we know it.
“There is no way of undertaking major reform imagining that you’re not going to be misrepresented and distorted … We’ve reached the stage where quite a lot of the disinformation out there is a problem, because people are saying things that are literally not true.”
What do you think those determined to save the NHS can do at this stage?
The important thing is not to let up. Everyone should just intensify what they are already doing. The time between now and the end of the parliamentary session is critical. People are tired, but so are the government. They are badly rattled. A good illustration of this was the ill-judged so-called summit with representatives of the medical professions called by Cameron on 20 February, to which only representatives of the few who support the bill were invited. This was so obvious that as a public relations exercise it proved seriously counter-productive. Government spokespeople were left lamely claiming that there would be other summits to which (they implied) those who had been excluded would be invited. The more people show that their opposition is deep and will be long-lasting, the more rattled the government will become.
The charade of the report stage in the Lords, which is about to begin, needs to be exposed. The media are already describing the new amendments as important when they are not. Pressure needs to be kept on the media, and not least the BBC, to show some objectivity and balance their coverage by inviting genuine expert critics of the bill to take part in their panel discussions of it.
It is important to focus on the Lib Dems. Lansley’s ham-fistedness has attracted most of the flak but the Lib Dem MPs and peers are providing him with cover by going through the motions of obtaining ‘concessions’ while in reality enabling the bill to be passed. The Lib Dem President, Tim Farron, has already blinked, calling for the competition chapter of the bill to be removed, while acknowledging that this may not go far enough for Lib Dem activists (it won’t). Delegates to the Lib Dem conference, and Lib Dem councillors standing in the forthcoming local elections, need to be heavily lobbied. Everyone should also write a letter to as many Lib Dem MPs and peers as they can, and get others to do the same.
The bill wasn’t in the Conservatives’ election manifesto, let alone in the Lib Dems’, nor was it in the coalition agreement. It has no electoral mandate. It is a private sector ramp, masterminded by McKinsey. Lib Dems must be left under no illusions. They need to understand that if they allow the Conservatives’ bill to become law they are morally and electorally finished.