Last June, I wrote this about what Lib Dems could achieve with our disagreement with the Tories over the NHS. Unfortunately we let Labour back into the debate.
But after last weekend’s events, have we squandered another opportunity to show our liberal muscles? The leadership failed on strategy on the motion. In my opinion, they would have been better to let the Drop the Bill motion be chosen. Then to make matters worse, they made it personal and tried to play on the support for Shirley at Sheffield come back at NewcastleGateshead. It was cynical. And it doesn’t help that Shirley saw the motion 15 minutes before it was published. Caron Lindsay covers it very well in more depth here.
But what did the motion achieve? Has it, as Cllr Matthew Hulbert has suggested, give cover for peers to vote down the NHS Bill later this week, or as one member of party staff said to me it gives peers political cover to squeeze more concessions out of the Tories? Well, the amendment, passing 317-270, took out lines 32 & 33, removing the explicit instruction for peers to support the Bill’s third reading (motions to conference can’t mandate how parliamentarians vote).
In my personal opinion, I hope to see large rebellion in the House of Lords by Lib Dem peers – the bill itself is large, incomprehensible & has lost professional support. Politically, it makes no sense to keep it unless you’re being too proud to see that it is too toxic.
However, I don’t think the emergency motion passed at Conference calls for peers to vote in any particular way – more to let them have a free vote on the bill.