So we hear that Dr Evan Harris will propose a motion on the NHS at the Lib Dem spring conference tomorrow. What a pathetic action that is. Not that I think the amendments that Dr Harris is suggesting are wrong. It is the disingenuous way that he is showing how much he "cares" for the NHS. he is proposing this motion at a time when he knows damned well the amendments will not be made. He has been quiet on the Health Bill (and White Paper) for 7 months, the fact that he is speaking up now is more to do with putting some life into his political career than to protect our NHS.
The Health Bill is substantially the same as the NHS White Paper. As anyone who has read Lansley's response to the "consultation" will tell you, his reply to any criticism was "tough, I will have my way regardless". And this will be his response to Dr Harris. Either Lib Dem MPs are extremely dim (a possibility*) or they are in favour of this Bill. Why do I say this? Well, we have already had two votes in the Commons and a lengthy debate when Lib Dem after Lib Dem stood up and supported the Bill. If the Bill violates their "values" why did they vote for it in the Second Reading? Either they are very dim or they support the Bill. Simple as that.
It has been clear since the end of July last year what Lansley was proposing, so why is it now, seven months later, that the Lib Dems are standing up to oppose the Bill? The right time would have been in their September conference (and I would have gladly volunteered to have given a talk at their conference explaining why they should have rejected the White Paper). All of the things that Dr Harris is whining about were in the White Paper, and a motion at the September Lib Dem conference would have had far more effect than a motion at this conference.
So why didn't it happen? Well, let's assume that the Lib Dems aren't all dim (I know, it is hard to do*), if they had presented, and voted in favour of a motion similar to the one Dr Harris is promoting now, then there would have been a clear message to Lansley that the Lib Dems would not support his Bill. Lansley would have said "all or nothing" (and he would be right, because Dr Harris' amendments will destroy the foundations to Lansley's Bill). The result would most likely have put so much strain on the coalition that we would now be going into another general election. The central core of Lib Dem ministers, lovin' their new cars and flunkies (regardless of the loss of their Short Money) had to keep the coalition alive past such a delicate time. So people like Dr Harris who could have killed this Bill in September deliberately sat on their hands.
We have even heard from Dr Sarah Wollaston - a Conservative MP! - that she was told that the only amendments that would be accepted during the Committee stage would be those from the Government. For any other amendments - even those from Dr Wollaston - the government would whip its MPs on the Committee to vote down the amendment. So does Dr Harris really think that his motion will have any effect at all?
I expect the Harris motion to be passed and Lansley to say to Clegg "deal with your little local difficulty". The Bill will pass largely unscathed and Dr Harris will be seen as having tried to amend the Bill. The only winner will be Dr Harris.
[*] The first time I had a deep discussion with a politician who was in favour of a bill like the one being pushed by Lansley was about 2003. I was at a BBQ at my brother's and a guest there (his kids went to the same school as my brother's) turned out to have almost been the MP for Brent East. In the Lib Dem selection meeting to choose their candidate for the seat this guy came second to Sarah Teather, Teather won the seat and is now in government. The thing that was most striking about this guy was that he looked, sounded and had the same intellectual ability of Harry Enfield's Tim-nice-but-dim. I spent a couple of hours with him and he described to me a healthcare market just like Lansley's. Nothing I could say would change his mind. After that encounter I have never trusted Lib Dems: in public they say they support the NHS, but when you get them a bit tipsy at a BBQ they are more radical privatisers than the Tories.