[A blog of two halfs]

Suffice to say I’m not a fan of Eoin Clarke. It’s not that he’s Labour, in the time honoured tradition of many an inadvertent comment, I have many Labour friends. It’s more the fact that he is so often incredibly wrong.

Lets take one of his tweets by way of example – He said yesterday that Today would be the last time MPs vote on the NHS. It won’t be. Today there is a Labour opposition motion with a backbench Lib Dem Amendment, the bill will, however, return from the Lords to the Commons next week for the latest round of Ping Pong (Or in Parliamentary speak, consideration of Lords amendments) . As this handy graphic illustrates. The bill will not progress until the Commons and Lords agree, 2 years go by or the Government invokes the Parliament act

By pretending that today is the last Commons Vote, Eoin is, presumably, trying to get as many people as possible to email Lib Dem MPs using his ‘one click kit’ There are two problems with this tactic however.

First. Whether you find the term offensive or not, it is a spam campaign. Lib Dem MPs have been deluged with emails, the vast majority of which are not from constituents, clogging up their systems, preventing them from receiving emails from their office and constituents, in short preventing them from doing their jobs.

Clicking the email button as an individual may seem a simple act of opposition. You may feel that an MP who doesn’t represent your area should nonetheless listen to your view but look at it from the other side.

If you were getting thousands of identical emails clogging up your work email what would you do? Ignore them? Delete them? Set up a spam filter? You might be polite but stopping people from doing their job – representing constituents – is only going to annoy people, switch them off from your argument and prove counterproductive to what you’re trying to achieve.

The second problem with the campaign is that it has no hope of working. Even if all 57 Lib Dem MPs decided to drop the bill you would still be short of a majority in a commons vote by 269 votes. There are in total 256 whipped Labour MPs. That leaves you short of a majority by 13.

A majority could be obtained by getting minority party MPs to vote, there are 23, but of them, only 5 voted in the last NHS debate. Leaving you short by 8 if they all voted to drop the bill. This is of course compounded by the fact that 17 Labour MPs didn’t bother to turn up last time.

What I’m trying to get across is, even with every last Lib Dem and Labour MP voting against the Tories you still wouldn’t have a majority and the likelihood is some Labour MPs might not bother to turn up as they did last time.

So wheres the lobby campaign to make sure every Labour MP turns up? What about the SNP and Plaid, Alliance, DUP and SDLP MPs all of whom represent parts of the country unaffected by an English NHS bill and probably won’t turn up? Who’s asking the Tories? Surely there must be some out of the 306 who are uneasy with the reforms? After all there are Tories who want the bill dead.

You can’t win a vote in a hung parliament without trying to get MPs of all parties to vote with you and you’re never going to convince a Tory Prime Minister and Tory Health secretary to drop their bill unless there is vocal opposition from the Tory Party.

By concentrating only on the Lib Dems the lobby will fail. Unless those wanting the bill dropped direct fire at the Tories, but also Labour and minority party no shows, they cannot win any vote. That is both the fault of a poorly designed and run lobby campaign, and a shame.

*If you have a local Conservative MP and want to get in touch you can use this tool  to do so


On the merits of the bill, The Lib Dems have done a lot to amend and remove much of the Tory Ethos and roll back some of the Labour privatisation in the last government – its worth remembering that under Labour, Private Companies were paid £250 million for operations they didn’t carry out, the toxic legacy of Private Finance Initiatives and the way Labour entered into private contracts, based solely on price, to undermine NHS services.

Lib Dem amendments close that chapter of the NHS but with the Tories wanting to drive it through the best Liberals in government can do is mitigate the damage and slow down the march, started by Labour, toward privatisation.

But whilst I argued over on Total Politics that the party should trumpet what it has done to make a bad bill better there is no hiding the fact that the bill still makes Lib Dems uncomfortable, lacks Government Enthusiasm and both popular and practice support.

Even then, the most ardent opposition, from the Royal Colleges, acknowledge there are good parts to the bill. Addressing health inequalities, empowering patients and encouraging public-private partnership, not my words, those of Clare Gerada of the Royal College of GPs.

And Public Private partnership isn’t inherently a bad thing, don’t take my word for it, listen to Andy Burnham who tabled a motion two months ago saying that this House believes there is an important role for the private sector in supporting the delivery of NHS care – Listen to Polly Tonybee, who, despite railing against privatisation in her latest outbursts, still acknowledged in 2009 that private competition (note; not partnership) was beneficial to the NHS “There is no doubt that putting some services out to tender has vastly improved certain standards over the years, broken the power of vested interests and brought in competition that has sharpened up results”

There has to be a way forward and as much as I dislike Labours politicking on Health, the service is not being privatised and despite Eoin Clarke best efforts to persuade otherwise, it will still be free at the point of use.

All parties want the best for the NHS. It’s not Milibands NHS, it’s not Cameron’s NHS and, as much as I love her, it’s not Shirley Williams NHS. It belongs to us all.

Crafted by a Liberal, implemented by Labour and thus far sustained by the Conservatives there is broad agreement that public private partnership has its place and can be beneficial and there has to be room to find tri party agreement on how it can be reformed for the better.

I put it to the Conservatives and my party, that whilst localism and a health service directed by clinicians, not managers, is worthy, the bill has been badly communicated and unless we take everyone with us, even if the reforms work, the narrative will be against the Coalition.

I put it to Labour that the reforms aren’t that far away from what Labour advocated in government, that, as Andy Burnham argued in government, the NHS needs reform to secure its long term future and setting your face against reform now for short term gain would make any needed reform under a future government involving Labour almost impossible.

Whilst politicians can be very partisan, and I’m as guilty of that as anyone else who engages in the daily cut and thrust, it is, perhaps, time for the coalition to make a – big open offer – to Labour to sit down with the coalition parties as three equals and thrash out what the NHS needs, what level of public private partnership is desirable and how to achieve the best fit between government direction and accountability, and local autonomy and responsiveness.

Too much politics has been played with health. It is time for everyone to put down the ball, put party politics aside, be honest with each other and see if we can work something out for the benefit of the NHS.