Opposition to the coalition’s NHS reforms spreads

Norman Tebbit and David Owen warn that the plans will allow private firms to “cherry-pick” care.

The coalition's inept health reforms have achieved the rare feat of uniting Norman Tebbit and David Owen. Following the news that Downing Street is attempting to water down Andrew Lansley's bill, the former Conservative chairman and the former SDP leader unleash fusillades against the plans this morning.

Tebbit warns that the reforms will allow private firms to "cherry-pick" care from the NHS. He says: "It's fine for the private sector, which doesn't have responsibility for teaching and bringing on young surgeons, to take the straightforward and easy stuff. But that means the public sector is then left without the base of work to subsidise the more difficult surgery and the teaching of surgeons."

Elsewhere, Owen, who previously wrote in the New Statesman that the Lib Dems would no longer be "the heirs of Beveridge" if they failed to oppose the reforms, warns that the House of Lords will feel free to make significant amendments to the bill because the coalition "lacks a mandate" for many of the policies set out in it. In his new pamphlet, Fatally Flawed, Owen, who supported the introduction of the internal market in the 1980s, warns that the reforms are of "staggering ineptitude" and will create a "destructive external market" in health care.

In addition, Ed Miliband has repeated his call for David Cameron to withdraw the "confused, expensive and reckless plans" and has demanded three key amendments in a letter to the PM:

  1. Measures to protect the NHS "against the full force of UK and EU competition law".
  2. The reintroduction of guaranteed waiting times.
  3. The withdrawal of plans to break up commissioning into hundreds of small GP consortiums.

We're likely to see significant movement from Downing Street on this front over the next two weeks.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why Theresa May won't exclude students from the net migration target

The Prime Minister believes the public would view the move as "a fix". 

In a letter to David Cameron shortly after the last general election, Philip Hammond demanded that students be excluded from the net migration target. The then foreign secretary, who was backed by George Osborne and Sajid Javid, wrote: "From a foreign policy point of view, Britain's role as a world class destination for international students is a highly significant element of our soft power offer. It's an issue that's consistently raised with me by our foreign counterparts." Universities and businesses have long argued that it is economically harmful to limit student numbers. But David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, refused to relent. 

Appearing before the Treasury select committee yesterday, Hammond reignited the issue. "As we approach the challenge of getting net migration figures down, it is in my view essential that we look at how we do this in a way that protects the vital interests of our economy," he said. He added that "It's not whether politicians think one thing or another, it's what the public believe and I think it would be useful to explore that quesrtion." A YouGov poll published earlier this year found that 57 per cent of the public support excluding students from the "tens of thousands" target.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has also pressured May to do so. But the Prime Minister not only rejected the proposal - she demanded a stricter regime. Rudd later announced in her conference speech that there would be "tougher rules for students on lower quality courses". 

The economic case for reform is that students aid growth. The political case is that it would make the net migration target (which has been missed for six years) easier to meet (long-term immigration for study was 164,000 in the most recent period). But in May's view, excluding students from the target would be regarded by the public as a "fix" and would harm the drive to reduce numbers. If an exemption is made for one group, others will inevitably demand similar treatment. 

Universities complain that their lobbying power has been reduced by the decision to transfer ministerial responsibility from the business department to education. Bill Rammell, the former higher education minister and the vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire, said in July: “We shouldn’t assume that Theresa May as prime minister will have the same restrictive view on overseas students that Theresa May the home secretary had”. Some Tory MPs hoped that the net migration target would be abolished altogether in a "Nixon goes to China" moment.

But rather than retreating, May has doubled-down. The Prime Minister regards permanently reduced migration as essential to her vision of a more ordered society. She believes the economic benefits of high immigration are both too negligible and too narrow. 

Her ambition is a forbidding one. Net migration has not been in the "tens of thousands" since 1997: when the EU had just 15 member states and the term "BRICS" had not even been coined. But as prime minister, May is determined to achieve what she could not as home secretary. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.