I had an odd sleep. You know, one of those nights where you're not quite sure you actually are
asleep. My brain kept going over and over the NHS vote in the commons last night. A kaleidoscope of Punch and Judy, outraged lefties, pompous righties and every now and then, a quiet, pleading voice, trying to be heard, perhaps Graheme Morris or Andrew George.
Nonsense! No-one even listened
to them. If you weren't making an impassioned speech that mentioned Bevan at least three times or spitting the word "Blairism" across the chamber, you might as well have gone home.
There was something very odd about watching twitter yesterday afternoon as the NHS Drop the Bill debate raged. The NHS supporters who had fought so hard to be heard went though an exact carbon copy of our Welfare Reform Bill angst - disbelief, passion, then as the votes were counted, nail biting followed by despair.
"Where are all the MPs? Disgrace so few attending debate"
"But! But! He's LYING!!!"
"I could kiss *(insert name of hero of the moment)"
"How can this guy be a Lib Dem? How can they do this?"
"This is so undemocratic!! How can they ignore us like this?"
"Vote soon - I can hardly watch"
"Hey!! where are all these MPs coming from? Dragged in just to vote without hearing debate? Shouldn't be allowed!"
"I feel sick - results in 5 minutes"
"Well, that's it then, we lost"
"The Lib Dems didn't even vote for their own amendment!!"
In just over three hours another few thousand hearts broke, another few thousand voters realised just how rotten "democracy" has become.
But, when it was welfare, I don't know, somehow I could kid myself it was just us. We were hardly popular were we? Compared to the Alpha male that is the NHS, trying to save benefits was like trying to make Katie Price demure. No-one really paid attention to our crucial votes, the media overwhelmingly didn't care, the public didn't have a clue what we were really fighting for and the opposition were hiding in a Starbucks muttering "Please don't notice we started all this."
But this was the NHS! These reforms are opposed by so many acronyms, it reads like a tin of alphabetti-spaghetti. 87% of the public think the NHS is awesome (about 1% think benefits are and we're all on them!!) And - crucially - this was the Tories
doing all this!!
Now, Tories can kick Welfare til it gasps it's last breath and the crowds will cheer! Oh how they'll cheer! "More Iain! More Dave!" They'll scream.
But the NHS? The issue that made the Tories unelectable for well over a decade? The issue so toxic to Conservatives, Dave had to *Ringfence* the budget and make lots of "I really understand, honest I do" speeches?
So, here's what happens next.
Let's assume the bill passes. Even if it was the most kick-ass, studiously written, comprehensively wonderful bill of all time, the NHS still has to find 20 billion or so in "efficiency savings" *cough, CUTS cough*. Waiting times are rising, standards are falling, wards are closing, midwife numbers are dropping, A&E waiting times are soaring and there are fewer nurses. By 2015, the stats will read like a car crash. And remember, this is without the bill.
Now, you can't strike on benefits. You can't say "Right, that's it, I'm just not claiming your Disability Living Allowance any more" Cos, you know, you'd starve. AND Iain Duncan-Smith would be thrilled which kind of defeats the object. DWP ministers were always pretty safe in the knowledge that they could do what they liked with us.
But you just can't steamroller through changes to the NHS without the staff. Not without the surgeons and the nurses and the GPs and the radiographers and the physios. It can't be done. I'm astonished Dave and George didn't get the memo. They must have been on yet another foreign lobbying trip when civil servants held the "Sacred Cow" seminar.
Joking aside, there is only one possible conclusion. They heard Blair talk of the "scars on his back" from public sector reform, they heard him say he should have gone further and faster, and they made a decision that no matter what happened
Lansley's health plans would go ahead. Just like they decided that no matter what happened,
Dunky's welfare plans would go ahead. And Gove's Education reform..... and Clarke's Justice reforms..... and Gideon's money tree planting spree....
And the LibDems? Well, they will get the blame, just as they always do. As every Gran dies on a trolley in a corridor, as every bed get's blocked, as every hospital get's sold off to MacDonalds, every classroom is sponsored by Murdoch, every ill or disabled person starves quietly in their unheated home - they will get the blame. "They stood by and let this happen" will ring out across shires and cities alike. I have saved my LibDem hyperbole til now, just in case they redeemed themselves, but this step is the step too far. This of all is the step they can never recover from.
When I remember not to be devastated at the human cost, suffering and horror of a country picked apart, all at once, no stone of major-upheaval left unturned, part of me will sit back for the next year or two and enjoy watching Dave and George, Andrew and Iain squirm. As the privileged complacency falls away, the out-of-touch arrogance turns to doubt, I will be chuckling in a dark humoured kind of way.
As the little boys in the playground realise their game has gone horribly, horribly wrong it will at least be some small comfort.