Lansley fights another day as Cameron backs NHS reform

The PM moves to squash speculation about the Health Secretary's future as the Lords prepare to debat

The Health and Social Care Bill has had anything but an easy ride. A year on from its introduction, the bill -- more controversial than ever -- is returning to the House of Lords.

Yesterday saw intense speculation about the future of the bill, and of its creator, Andrew Lansley. Writing in the Times (£), Rachel Sylvester quoted an anonymous Downing Street source saying that the Health Secretary should be "taken out and shot". She also discussed rumours that the former Labour health secretary, Alan Milburn, could be given a peerage and parachuted into the cabinet.

Rather provocatively, the Times (£) has followed up today with a piece by Milburn, in which he issues a stinging criticism of the bill:

The Health and Social Care Bill is a patchwork quilt of complexity, compromise and confusion. It is incapable of giving the NHS the clarity and direction it needs. It is a roadblock to meaningful reform.

The article is an edited extract of an essay Milburn has written for Reform's The Next Ten Years, published at the beginning of next month, and as such makes no reference to the current speculation. While arch-moderniser Milburn reiterates his belief in the urgency of reform, he also states that he does not "believe that the current government can or will make these changes". Perhaps he will not benefit from a cabinet reshuffle after all.

Indeed, David Cameron is reportedly keen to squash rumours of the imminent demise of Lansley and his bill. Public and professional hostility remain: 90 per cent of respondents in a British Medical Journal poll said the reform should be scrapped, while 50,000 people (including celebrities such as Stephen Fry and Jamie Oliver) have signed a petition to drop it. But it appears that rather than back-tracking, Cameron will throw his weight behind the reforms to get them on the statute book sooner rather than later.

And this might just be possible, as Liberal Democrat peers have indicated that they will end their war on the reform, saying that the changes they secured -- the bill has had more than 1,000 amendments over the last 18 months of battle -- will safeguard the NHS and regulate competition.

So it looks like full steam ahead. But Cameron has some serious work to do if he wants to get the public on board and convince voters that, after his careful work detoxifying, this is not a return to business as usual for the Tories and the NHS.

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

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We're running out of time to stop a hard Brexit - and the consequences are terrifying

Liam Fox has nothing to say and Labour has thrown the towel in. 

Another day goes past, and still we’re no clearer to finding out what Brexit really means. Today secretary of state for international trade, Liam Fox, was expected to use a speech to the World Trade Organisation to announce that the UK is on course to leave the EU’s single market, as reported earlier this week. But in a humiliating climb-down, he ended up saying very little at all except for vague platitudes about the UK being in favour of free trade.

At a moment when the business community is desperate for details about our future trading arrangements, the International Trade Secretary is saying one thing to the papers and another to our economic partners abroad. Not content with insulting British businesses by calling them fat and lazy, it seems Fox now wants to confuse them as well.

The Tory Government’s failure to spell out what Brexit really means is deeply damaging for our economy, jobs and global reputation. British industry is crying out for direction and for certainty about what lies ahead. Manufacturers and small businesses who rely on trade with Europe want to know whether Britain’s membership of the single market will be preserved. EU citizens living in Britain and all the UK nationals living in Europe want to know whether their right to free movement will be secured. But instead we have endless dithering from Theresa May and bitter divisions between the leading Brexiteers.

Meanwhile the Labour party appears to have thrown in the towel on Europe. This week, Labour chose not to even debate Brexit at their conference, while John McDonnell appeared to confirm he will not fight for Britain’s membership of the single market. And the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn, who hardly lifted a finger to keep us in Europe during the referendum, confirms the party is not set to change course any time soon.

That is not good enough. It’s clear a hard Brexit would hit the most deprived parts of Britain the hardest, decimating manufacturing in sectors like the car industry on which so many skilled jobs rely. The approach of the diehard eurosceptics would mean years of damaging uncertainty and barriers to trade with our biggest trading partners. While the likes of Liam Fox and boris Johnson would be busy travelling the world cobbling together trade deals from scratch, it would be communities back home who pay the price.

We are running out of time to stop a hard Brexit. Britain needs a strong, united opposition to this Tory Brexit Government, one that will fight for our membership of the single market and the jobs that depend on it. If Labour doesn’t fill this gap, the Liberal Democrats will.

Tim Farron is leader of the Liberal Democrats.