Is the government about to lose a major reform?
This has not been a good week for the government. The ongoing difficulties of Secretary of State for Defence, Liam Fox, are far from over as the investigation into both his own and his friend Adam Werrityâ€™s conduct continues. This alone will make for a difficult Prime Ministerâ€™s Questions. It could be about to get worse.
The Conservatives went into the last election with plans to empower local providers of many services to enable the providers and clients to shape those services according to local and individual needs, free of the controlling hand of Whitehall. For the NHS, the Health and Social Care bill was the result of that objective.
It has not had a happy passage through parliament. First there was a revolt among Lib Dem activists at their partyâ€™s Spring Conference, filtering up to MPâ€™s at Westminster, which prompted a â€˜listening exerciseâ€™ and substantial rewriting and watering down of the proposals. Then the government tabled a huge number of further amendments as the bill reached the Lords, prompting accusations of inadequate drafting and giving opponents a fine stick with which to beat it.
Those opponents (and perhaps some who agree with it in principle but believe that no bill is better than a badly written bill), will today seek to send it to a special select committee, where progress would be likely to be delayed so long that it would fail. If it does, Lansley and the Tories are unlikely to try for major reform again this parliament – it simply would not be worth the effort for what could be passed.
It is rare for any government to lose a piece of legislation, never mind such a major one, but then it is unusual for Britain to have a hung parliament and if one consequence of that is that proposed legislation will in future need to be better written and subject to more scrutiny, thatâ€™s no bad thing. For Lansley, the only consolation if the bill does fall is that thereâ€™s plenty else in the news to drown out the (for him) bad news. On the other hand, if Fox does leave the cabinet one way or another, it would leave him vulnerable in the reshuffle that would ensue.
Mentioning Fox, Ladbrokes’Â market asking whether heâ€™ll still be in post at the turn of the year is 4/6 that he will and 11/10 not.Â Itâ€™s really a bet on the nature of what else there is to be revealed, and for how long it will go on, which is too muchÂ of a blindÂ guess for my liking.Â Â However,Â if he does go, it’s more likely to be within the next week than after it.