Coalition tension over NHS reform escalates

Tory backbenchers set out “red lines” on reform and accuse Clegg of using Health Bill as a “politica

The row over NHS reform has intensified, with Conservative backbenchers expressing anger that their coalition partners are being given too much ground.

This follows weeks of anger at the pause in the legislation for the so-called listening exercise, and at increased Liberal Democrat vociferousness on the subject of NHS reform. Tim Montgomerie tweeted last week that Tories were referring to the Lib Dems as "yellow bastards".

So, perhaps it is not surprising that Nick de Bois, MP for Enfield North, sent out an email yesterday criticising comments made by Nick Clegg and calling for the Tories to set out "red lines" on reform.

The offending comments by Clegg came during a Q&A session after a speech. He said that he thought it would be wrong to rush the Health and Social Care Bill through parliament after the "listening exercise" ends next month.

"I think we will need to send the bill back to committee," he said – a process that could lead to a delay of six months. The speech had been approved by Downing Street – but there had been no discussion of sending the bill back to the committee stage.

De Bois's email accused Clegg of using the reform as a "political tool":

These are premature and inappropriate comments. We are still in the listening exercise. Our coalition partners have had the loudest voices in this debate and I am keen that the Conservative backbenchers have their voice heard so we can highlight our red lines that come from our manifesto.

But it was a smart move by Clegg. "It is best to take our time to get it right rather than move too fast and risk getting the details wrong," he said. If the government does offer the substantive changes it has promised, it will be difficult to argue with this sentiment.

Playing for time is all very well. However, as I pointed out yesterday, what this boils down to is a central disagreement over the principle of competition. The Liberal Democrats want to see it curtailed, while Tory right-wingers believe it is vital to the reform. This is a serious division, and one from which both sides will find difficult to back down.

Indeed, while many in the press have speculated that Lansley's career may be over, he is reportedly being hailed as a "hero" among the Tory right. He was even cheered at a meeting of the influential 1922 Committee last month. Expect the battle over NHS reform to get worse, not better.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Donald Trump's inauguration signals the start of a new and more unstable era

A century in which the world's hegemonic power was a rational actor is about to give way to a more terrifying reality. 

For close to a century, the United States of America has been the world’s paramount superpower, one motivated by, for good and for bad, a rational and predictable series of motivations around its interests and a commitment to a rules-based global order, albeit one caveated by an awareness of the limits of enforcing that against other world powers.

We are now entering a period in which the world’s paramount superpower is neither led by a rational or predictable actor, has no commitment to a rules-based order, and to an extent it has any guiding principle, they are those set forward in Donald Trump’s inaugural: “we will follow two simple rules: hire American and buy American”, “from this day forth, it’s going to be America first, only America first”.

That means that the jousting between Trump and China will only intensify now that he is in office.  The possibility not only of a trade war, but of a hot war, between the two should not be ruled out.

We also have another signal – if it were needed – that he intends to turn a blind eye to the actions of autocrats around the world.

What does that mean for Brexit? It confirms that those who greeted the news that an US-UK trade deal is a “priority” for the incoming administration, including Theresa May, who described Britain as “front of the queue” for a deal with Trump’s America, should prepare themselves for disappointment.

For Europe in general, it confirms what should already been apparent: the nations of Europe are going to have be much, much more self-reliant in terms of their own security. That increases Britain’s leverage as far as the Brexit talks are concerned, in that Britain’s outsized defence spending will allow it acquire goodwill and trade favours in exchange for its role protecting the European Union’s Eastern border.

That might allow May a better deal out of Brexit than she might have got under Hillary Clinton. But there’s a reason why Trump has increased Britain’s heft as far as security and defence are concerned: it’s because his presidency ushers in an era in which we are all much, much less secure. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.