Peter Hoskin

The day of the Lib Dem’s greatest ever triumph

The day of the Lib Dem's greatest ever triumph
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Or so they will try to claim. For today is the day when Steve Field, the GP doing the listening part of the NHS listening exercise, will release his report into the government's reforms. Judging from the convulsions of the grapvine, his recommendations will go something like this: more involvement for nurses and local officials, less private sector involvement and competitiveness, and a more relaxed timescale for introducing the changes. Although there are questions of degree hidden in that checklist, it is enough to have the Lib Dems heralding their "victory" for now. Paddy Ashdown was tapdancing across the airwaves yesterday, saying that Nick Clegg had "played a blinder". "Am I celebrating today?" he added, "Yes, I am, and I think the Liberal Democrats will be as well."

I'd advise CoffeeHousers to treat that with bucketloads of salt, at least for the time being. There is, no doubt, some element of post-AV political choreography to all of this, whereby Lib Dem successes are overplayed, and so on. And it should be said that the government will release its own take on the recommendations tomorrow, endorsing them and jettisoning them as it chooses. What emerges could, in theory, be a mildy tweaked version of the Lansley plan, with the Lib Dems crowing about the tweaks.

That said, however, the Tories do appear to be on the defensive today. Backbenchers are countering less the Lib Dems' claim to success, and more the way it is being made. As Peter Bone put it yesterday, "Any other Cabinet minister who behaved in the way the Deputy Prime Minister has would have been fired by now. He should support the Prime Minister and the Government rather than play party politics by claiming victory." Then there's David Cameron's meeting with last year's intake of Tory MPs, later today. Downing Street is claiming that it has been scheduled for some time; Westminster observers regard it as an opportunity for the PM to bring the new kids on-side with the health changes.  

And all that is before we get onto the implications for the NHS itself, and how its workers will respond. The coalition will be hoping that, after this week, the backbiting and backtracking will drift out of memory, into the half-forgotten past. But there's certainly the possibility of a scenario such as this: Tory disgruntlement at how the Lib Dems have behaved and the concessions they have forced; Lib Dem disappointment that the changes aren't "substantive" enough; continued unhappiness from the health service bureaucracy; and an NHS that still isn't being properly reformed. My guess is that it will take some time for the coalition to claw back the ground it has already lost.