Will the NHS turn the tide decisively against the government?
Day dot of the government crisis over the NHS Reform bill dawns and it’s the day of the open Conservative rebellion. Cabinet dissent is out in the open and Tim Montgomerie has launched a quite astounding broadside against the bill. Could this bill cost the Conservatives the next election as Montgomerie fears? Well, when your only notable friend is Sayeeda Warsi then its tempting to conclude you’re in very big trouble indeed. Frankly, also, if it doesn’t then it ruddy well should. Not only is Cameron breaking a big election promise but he is putting the health and well-being of literally millions on the line just to satisfy his wealthy backers.
In his post Montgomerie links his critique of the bill to his support of other reforms in education in welfare. The unspoken fear on his part is that the toxicity seeping from the Department of Health could infect other government departments and opposition to this bill could heighten opposition to others. However, for Cameron, that is equally a problem when it comes to retreat – if the Bill is killed it will embolden opponents currently taking on the government in other arenas. This government is inherently unstable and you get the distinct impression its only one good spark away from free-fall and total implosion. Given that Labour has yet to take a commanding lead in the polls and to really grip the national mood, I guess its possible for the Montgomerie best case to be played out, the Bill is dropped, Lansley reshuffled and the fall-out contained. However, if other significant defeats were to follow then this could rapidly change.
David Cameron is thus caught between the devil and the deep blue sea politically and he looks dammed either way. He staked his entire ‘nice-n-cuddly New Conservatives’ pitch on his committment to the NHS and now that looks like it will be indelibly tarnished. For Labour, this is a real opportunity to connect the Party and the leader to the national mood on a big issue. It will only capitalise on this though if it can turn the tide successfully on other issues and create real anti-government and anti-Cameron momentum. It will need to be much more coherent than it previously has been and offer real alternatives. If we can do that as a Party then we could make Montgomeries nightmare a painful reality for the government and start making a real difference as a credible opposition.