David Cameron's government: There's precious little that's Conservative about it
Last updated at 7:29 AM on 14th June 2011
Tipping point: Has the U-turn on the NHS policy - though a bad policy - been bad for David Cameron?
There is a moment in the life of any Government that defines its character for ever afterwards.
That moment may have arrived with the imminent abandonment of much of the Coalition’s NHS reform programme.
The Health and Social Care Bill is in some respects a bad one — badly thought out by Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, and badly explained and communicated by him and other ministers.
But its virtual demolition at the hands of 'independent' experts yesterday means that a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reform the NHS has been lost.
A service that delivers some of the worst patient outcomes among advanced countries will undergo a minor tinkering when, in fact, it should be subjected to a full-scale overhaul, though not necessarily the one proposed by Mr Lansley.
The evisceration of the Bill comes after a flurry of other U-turns by the Coalition, often under pressure from the Lib Dems, who are exultantly claiming victory in thwarting NHS reform.
They were also instrumental in making Tory ministers backtrack on their pledge to cap state welfare handouts at £26,000 a year, though Iain
Duncan Smith, the minister responsible, denied yesterday that the policy has changed. Maybe we have a U-turn of a U-turn.
The Lib Dems claimed another scalp when ministers were forced to accept lax repayment terms over spiralling student loans, which will mean that a large proportion of them may never be paid back, creating a hole in the public finances.
Meanwhile, the Government has broken the Tory election promise to reinstate weekly bin collections, though in this instance recalcitrant Tory local councils rather than the Lib Dems are apparently mostly to blame.
Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, has said that weekly collections are 'a basic right'. This is one basic right which the Coalition is unable or unwilling to deliver.
Lib Dem scalps: Ken Clarke, the Justice Secretary, was forced to roll back his plans for shorter sentencing and Eric Pickles can't get his bins collected weekly
The list of other broken Tory pledges is so long that it would take up the rest of this article to recite them all.
They range from the softer-than-promised line on crime and sentencing taken by the Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, to a series of betrayals over Europe, to unforeseen smash-and-grab raids on the hard-pressed middle classes, of which the withdrawal of child benefit for those earning more than £44,000 a year is the most notorious example.
Many Tory MPs rightly blame the Lib Dems for extracting more concessions than their slight weight in the Coalition justifies.
What is particularly difficult to understand is that the concessions continue — indeed, they seem to multiply — even though the Lib Dems as a party have practically sunk below the waterline, and their shell-shocked leader, Nick Clegg, is pretty well the most unpopular man in Britain.
Their conduct over the Health and Social Care Bill has been despicable.
Realising rather late in the day that Lib Dem activists hated the idea of NHS reform, and anxious to make amends after breaking its promise to abolish tuition fees, the Lib Dem leadership cynically disowned vast chunks of a Bill which it had previously enthusiastically supported.
Now Mr Clegg has the nerve to claim victory for making David Cameron change his mind over NHS reform when he himself should be exposed as an unprincipled and inconsistent charlatan.
All that has happened can be reasonably adduced as proof that coalition politics are intrinsically flawed, inevitably leading to broken promises and innumerable compromises, with the end result that no one is very happy.
Andrew Lansley: His health bill was bad from the start, but now instead of real reform we get only tinkering
But I suggest that it would be a mistake to blame the Lib Dems for every jot and tittle of each U-turn.
The truth is that at least some of the U-turns have suited Mr Cameron rather well.
The Lib Dems serve as a convenient cover for policy retreats which the Prime Minister might anyway want to take.
The Health and Social Care Bill is a case in point. Mr Lansley was allowed to make the running for several months without Mr Cameron showing much interest, though it was clear to many observers that some of the measures, not least putting GPs in sole charge of health commissioning, were impractical, if not actually barmy.
The irony is that Mr Cameron, who has been obsessed in his PR way with 'detoxifying' the Tory Party, allowed Mr Lansley to blunder around so that people began to think that the NHS was not safe with the Tories after all.
Panic set in when No 10's focus groups showed a collapse of faith in Mr Cameron’s custodianship of the NHS.
So, irrespective of what the Lib Dems may want, the Prime Minister — by no means so savvy a PR operator in this case as he is usually cracked up to be — is most relieved to drop a measure that has got too hot to handle.
Is this any way to run a Government?
The tragedy is that, however ill-conceived parts of Mr Lansley's Bill may have been, it represented an honest and much-needed attempt to shake up an inefficient State behemoth.
Despite vowing to proceed with his 'modernisation' programme, Mr Cameron will now be wary of undertaking any other sort of NHS reform for fear of upsetting those dreaded focus groups.
In other words, for all his swashbuckling élan when it comes to bombing Col Gaddafi, or his announcement yesterday of a vaccine programme for the Third World, Mr Cameron becomes strangely timid when important domestic reforms meet entrenched opposition.
That is why the climbdown over the NHS may mark a defining moment for this Government by illuminating its true nature.
What is there left of Tory policy? There are Michael Gove's free schools, though I suppose they are themselves a kind of second-best since Mr Cameron believed that the re-introduction of grammar schools would damage the Tories' image and 'contaminate' the party.
There is Iain Duncan Smith’s thorough-going welfare reform. After remarks on Sunday by Lord Freud, the Tory Welfare reform minister, suggesting that the £26,000 upper limit for state handouts for a single family might be raised, there may have been a change of heart.
Swashbuckling? On the world stage he at least attempts to look that way, but at home he is looking decidedly less than that
Subject to change: Iain Duncan Smith's thorough Welfare reform programme has already altered, but may change again
But I wouldn’t be surprised if further aspects of Mr Duncan Smith's reforms were watered down over the coming months.
And there is George Osborne's deficit reduction programme, allegedly draconian, though at the end of it all in 2015 public spending is projected to be the same as it was in real terms in 2008, after more than a decade of growth.
There are, as yet, no signs of any weakening on this front, but it would be foolish to rule out some backsliding if the Lib Dems lost their nerve.
Which Cabinet Minister will now bring forward radical proposals if he or she fears that the Prime Minister will one day pull the rug?
I’m afraid that what has happened over the NHS will act as an antidote to bold and imaginative government.
David Cameron is, of course, doubly blessed because he has no formidable rivals on his own benches, and Labour has an almost comically ineffectual leader.
If this were not so, a succession of U-turns which reveal an alarming absence of consistent principle, most damagingly in the case of the NHS, would be represented as a major crisis.
As it is, the show goes on.
David Cameron looks on top of the world while Labour's leading lights are at one another’s throats.
The fact remains that there is precious little about this Government that is visibly Tory.
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The British public is being played for fools not just by our ever ungrateful EU 'dictators' and our all-conquering 'essential' US 'friends' (doesn't it feel great to be invaded and taken over without even a declaration of war?) but also by our totally unpatriotic politicians. Take me back to the Thatcher days when our Prime Minister was not afraid to speak her mind, stood up to Europe (though she did NOT tell the US spy base in North Yorkshire to GET LOST) and simply got on with the job of doing what she considered to be 'right'. Not everyone agreed with her but more did than did not, as even those initially put out of work later realised opportunities for a better life were made possible. YES, many people actually realised that they could achieve more than just following their fathers down the mines etc. Now, the great target is to get everyone eating out of the State coffers on benefits and who benefits from that except the monopolists, who want all the riches for themselves?
- British public being taken for a very expensive ride, No true political alternatives, UK, 14/6/2011 12:21
I think the main problem is that there is anarchy at the heart of the government. Government Ministers are each following their own agendas and pushing as much reform as they can through without ever making the case for them. So Ken Clarke is halving prison sentences, Michael Gove is setting up free schools and Andrew Lansley is reorganising the NHS. No case is ever made for the reforms and Cameron is letting it all happen. Maybe he is in charge of them all, but he appears to want to be set himself apart from it all, so that he can deny he has anything to do with it when it goes wrong. There is an underlying vision - cutting back state involvement - but its haphazard and never publicly stated because actually no-one voted for it. It is curious that we have gone from control freakery to anarchy within a year.
- Bryan, Luton, 14/6/2011 12:18
So what precisely made you think that Cameron was a conservative? It has been clear for years that Call-Me-Dave is some kind of namby-pamby left-of-centre christian social democrat with no real views, values or convictions. The only party having anything like true conservative values at the last election was UKIP and unfortunately they remain a waste of space. Cameron didn't even have the guts to form a government without bringing in the LIbs and even a few Labs for good measure. What on earth did you expect?
- Steve Goodwin, Leeds, UK, 14/6/2011 10:50
Mr Glover, you say: "A service that delivers some of the worst patient outcomes among advanced countries will undergo a minor tinkering when, in fact, it should be subjected to a full-scale overhaul, though not necessarily the one proposed by Mr Lansley." I wish sometimes I had the privilege to write in a national newspaper and tell a few truths, much needed within a sea of lies coming from practically all the media. You have this privilege and are using it to misinformed the readers. The NHS is not perfect but it certainly doesn't deliver the worst outcomes among advanced countries. And whatever Cameron says, these reforms will weaken the NHS and before long we will be paying top up insurance just to get what we are getting now. This reform is not what the NHS need and Cameron is simply allowing its demise. We will pay more for it with no improvement. Maybe you should for once start reporting the truth.
- Elen, London, 14/6/2011 10:46
Nothing Conservative about the current Government, it's a continuation of the 13 years of Labour in it's distruction of a British Britain now being compounded by Cameron and Co. God Help the Kids whose parents haven't and don't get them out of here.
- Mike, Northumberland - England, 14/6/2011 10:27
///Mr Clegg has the nerve to claim victory for making David Cameron change his mind over NHS reform when he himself should be exposed as an unprincipled and inconsistent charlatan/// So what doesn't Glover understand about coalition government and cabinet unity? Clegg would have had to support government policy on the NHS to begin with, whether he agreed with it or not,. because that's the deal when in government. Who is naive enough to believe that every government minister is wedded to every government policy? ALL government ministers are to some extent liars - or unprincipled charlatans as Glover puts it. On the NHS, the government has changed its position and Clegg has been allowed the opportunity to claim some credit for that. That's the nature of the deals done in government - and not only in coalitions.
- teresa , London, 14/6/2011 10:24
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