Could the future of the coalition be on the line?
My strong sense from all that has come out in the past 24 hours from the Lib Dem conference in Sheffield is that the partnership between the blues and the yellows is about to face its biggest test over the Andrew Lansley NHS changes.
From the amendments that the Lib Dem leadership had to accept yesterday the party’s contingent of MPs is going to find it almost impossible to go along with the proposals except in a watered down way.
If the blue team is insistent that the Lansley plan goes through then we could see the resignation of LD health minister, Paul Burstow, and the yellows being ready to vote with the reds.
That in turn could lead to a fracture in the coalition which could leave Cameron with no option but to go to the country.
MY guess is that on this occasion it will be the blue team that gives and we’ve already had strong hints of that from Danny Finkelstein of the Times and former flat-mate and close colleague of Number 10’s new strategy director, Andrew Cooper.
Last week “The Fink” wrote that Cooper’s number one priority was “devising a strategy for changes in the NHS so that a critical political battle isnâ€™t lost disastrouslyâ€™. As the Speccie’s James Forsyth observed: “This is yet another indication of how nervous Osborne and co are about Lansleyâ€™s reforms and reopening the NHS as a political issue.”
If it does work out this way on such a totemic issue then Clegg’s party would have a major victory to point to of what their presence in the government has achieved.
Tim Montgomerie and ConservativeHome won’t be happy but that’s the problem with coalitions – even the senior partner cannot get its own all the time.