The question Lib Dem MPs must ask themselves

Will passing the health bill improve patient outcomes in the NHS?

There appears to be some confusion as to what the Lib Dem members were saying about The Health and Social Care Bill at Spring Conference over the weekend. Let me attempt to clarify things.

In short we are asking our MPs and Peers to decide if the cost of passing the Health and Social Care Bill is a price worth paying.

We don't like this bill. We trust our Conservative coalition partners on the NHS about as far as we can throw them. Our peers have done a tremendous job at amending the bill but it still has a very bad smell hanging around it. Even Nick made clear in his speech to conference that "this isn't a Liberal Democrat bill".

Nonetheless, there are some good things in the bill. No one pretends the NHS is perfect. Even Andy Burnham - who wrote an open letter to all Lib Dem members last week - says there is work to do to "enable the NHS to make some of the difficult service changes it needs to make to have a care model ready for the challenges of this century".

But everyone in the party does agree on one thing. Somehow - oh, how has this been allowed to happen - we have been manoeuvred into a position whereby if the bill passes, in the eyes of the electorate the responsibility for it will lie with us. And even if in the long term it turns out that supporters of the bill are right and the NHS improves through the passing of this bill, we wont get any of the credit, and we will get still get hammered by the voters for passing it. The cost of allowing this legislation comes with a heavy price tag for the Lib Dems.

So here is the question our Parliamentarians need to consider. It is perhaps a fairly obvious question - but in the midst of negotiations both around the bill and within the party, it is one that hasn't been asked enough.

Are you absolutely convinced that passing this bill will improve all patient outcomes in the NHS?

If you are - and I'm duty bound to point out this means you believe you know better than just about every professional healthcare body in the country - then you must pass this bill, no matter what the electoral cost to the party. It may mean another 80 years of electoral oblivion but if that's what you believe, you should put the NHS before the party.

But if you're not sure (and until the Risk Register is published, how can you be?), then is the cost of passing, as Nick calls it, the Conservatives' Health and Social Care Bill a price worth paying?

The members have done their bit and been clear that they don't think that it is.

But it's up to you now.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Getty.
Show Hide image

What Brussels can learn from the Italian referendum

Matteo Renzi's proposed reforms would have made it easier for eurosceptic forces within Italy to gain power in upcoming elections in 2018.

The Austrian presidential elections can justifiably be claimed as a victory for supporters of the European Union. But the Italian referendum is not the triumph for euroscepticism some have claimed.

In Austria, the victorious candidate Alexander van der Bellen ruthlessly put the EU centre stage in his campaign. “From the beginning I fought and argued for a pro-European Austria,” he said after a campaign that saw posters warning against “Öxit”.

Austrians have traditionally been eurosceptic, only joining the bloc in 1995, but Brexit changed all that.  Austrian voters saw the instability in the UK and support for EU membership soared. An overwhelming majority now back continued membership.

Van der Bellen’s opponent Norbert Hofer was at an immediate disadvantage. His far right Freedom Party has long pushed for an Öxit referendum.

The Freedom Party has claimed to have undergone a Damascene conversion but voters were not fooled.  They even blamed Nigel Farage for harming their chances with an interview he gave to Fox News claiming that the party would push to leave the EU.

The European Commission, as one would expect, hailed the result. “Europe was central in the campaign that led to the election of a new president and the final result speaks for itself,” chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas said today in Brussels.

“We think the referendum in Italy was about a change to the Italian constitution and not about Europe,” Schinas added.

Brussels has a history of sticking its head in the sand when it gets political results it doesn’t like.

When asked what lessons the Commission could learn from Brexit, Schinas had said the lessons to be learnt were for the government that called the referendum.

But in this case, the commission is right. The EU was a peripheral issue compared to domestic politics in the Italian referendum.

Alberto Alemanno is Jean Monnet Professor of EU Law and an Italian. He said the reforms would have been vital to modernise Italy but rejected any idea it would lead to an Italian Brexit.

“While anti-establishment and eurosceptic actors are likely to emerge emboldened from the vote, interpreting the outcome of the Italian referendum as the next stage of Europe’s populist, anti-establishment movement – as many mainstream journalists have done – is not only factually wrong, but also far-fetched.”

Renzi was very popular in Brussels after coming to power in a palace coup in February 2014. He was a pro-EU reformer, who seemed keen to engage in European politics.

After the Brexit vote, he was photographed with Merkel and Hollande on the Italian island of Ventotene, where a landmark manifesto by the EU’s founding fathers was written.

This staged communion with the past was swiftly forgotten as Renzi indulged in increasingly virulent Brussels-bashing over EU budget flexibility in a bid to shore up his plummeting popularity. 

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker even publicly reprimanded Renzi for demonising the EU.

Renzi’s vow to resign personalised the referendum. He gave voters a chance to give him a bloody nose when his popularity was at an all-time low.

Some of the reforms he wanted were marked “to be confirmed”.  The referendum question was astonishingly verbose and complex. He was asking for a blank cheque from the voters.

Ironically Renzi’s reforms to the constitution and senate would have made it easier for the eurosceptic Five Star Movement to gain power in upcoming elections in 2018.

For reasons best known to themselves, they campaigned against the changes to their own disadvantage.

Thanks to the reforms, a Five Star government would have found it far easier to push through a “Quitaly” referendum, which now seems very distant.  

As things stand, Five Star has said it would push for an advisory vote on membership of the euro but not necessarily the EU.

The Italian constitution bans the overruling of international treaties by popular vote, so Five Star would need to amend the constitution. That would require a two thirds majority in both houses of parliament and then another referendum on euro membership. Even that could be blocked by one of the country’s supreme courts.

The Italian referendum was closely watched in Brussels. It was hailed as another triumph for euroscepticism by the likes of Farage and Marine Le Pen. But Italians are far more likely to be concerned about the possibility of financial turbulence, which has so far been mildly volatile, than any prospect of leaving the EU in the near future.

James Crisp is the news editor at EurActiv.com.