Michael Gove featured heavily in today’s PMQs. Ed Miliband began his questions by asking whether the prime minister would condemn the education secretary’s recent comments that the Leveson inquiry was having a “chilling effect” on freedom of speech.
But it was during the inevitable debate on the health bill that Mr Gove played an unspoken, but important role.
Ministers seem to be changing their tone in a subtle way when defending the NHS reforms, taking on some of the tactics deployed by the education secretary when he was pushing through the Free Schools agenda.
Instead of talking up how radical the plan is, the government is now downplaying it. We hear that the bill is about “evolution, not revolution”, and more strikingly that it is building on what Labour did while they were in government.
It was this latter point that the prime minister stressed today, reeling off a list of former Labour health secretaries or advisers who back competition in the NHS (which is not the same as backing the bill, mind). He added: Read more
So the fighting is over, now comes the reconciliation. David Cameron’s concessions on the health bill – giving more leeway on GP-led commissioning and changing the role of the medical regulator (Monitor) so it is no longer purely to promote competition – have made the breakthrough. Nick Clegg is willing to support the proposals and is telling his parliamentary party exactly that now.
There will be a statement next Tuesday by the NHS Future Forum on their views on what should happen to the service, but Cameron’s speech has made that less relevant: he has made the key achievement of winning back the Lib Dems. The FF’s statement will be followed quickly by a ministerial statement and the coalition government will then take the reforms forward together.
The question now is whether each can take their own parties with them. The obvious problems will come at the Liberal Democrat end – Cameron’s repeated references to competition on Tuesday show he is not completely rejecting the Lansley reforms, even though some Lib Dems will settle for nothing less. Read more