13 Jun 2011

Cameron reassures Tory MPs that NHS reforms are still on track

David Cameron’s about to address the 2010 intake of Tory MPs in a room off Westminster Hall.

David Cameron has a tricky line to walk. He wants to signal to his backbenchers that the “red lines are safe” (a reference to the Nick De Bois email to Tory colleagues that complained that the Lib Dems were having everything too much their own way) without frightening the Lib Dem horses by actually saying that.

The public message for the party faithful will be that the Government has listened and taken into account concerns, but the broad direction of travel will be maintained because the NHS has to reform. Privately though, the more truculent Tory MPs are today being reassured that “the red lines ARE safe.”

One Minister touring potential rebels to calm them down said: “Are we substantially changing direction? I don’t think so.” Another government Tory said: “Bureaucracy still goes; sticking to the original timetable; GPs still head commissioning; Monitor is still responsible for bringing competition…what’s not to like?”

Norman Lamb’s words at the weekend and the talk of a triumphant Lib Dem checklist particularly irritated the Tory backbenchers. David Cameron, again, has to walk a line signalling that the Lib Dems have got less than they’re proclaiming without stirring up Clegg’s troops more than is helpful.

The truth is that nobody can be entirely sure how much the adjustments to the Bill will impact the speed and delivery of reform. They could mess things up as far as the Lansleyites are concerned. But with the existing bureaucracies being destroyed to the original timetable there is no full-scale retreat possible. Lansleyites feel they have saved what is most important to their original plan.

The Lib Dems are going to be proclaiming that they have “saved the NHS”. They can’t both be right.

Levels of Tory antipathy towards the Lib Dems reached new heights of abuse in chats I had this morning. One Tory MP was saying he’d be doing everything he could to make sure the Bill is enacted by the summer, as he thought the Lib Dems couldn’t be trusted not to slide again and seek more changes if it drags on into next year.

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