This week North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb votes on the future of the NHS. He must choose between what is right and what is easy. If Lamb puts his constituents first and votes against the planned break up of the NHS he will have to resign from his job as government whip (responsible for pressuring Lib Dem MPs to vote for Tory policies). That would cost him nearly 30% of his £92,000 salary and lose him the power and prestige of the cabinet table. But it would be the right thing to do. If he remains loyal to the Tory-led government he would be turning the clock back on 65 years of advancement in the National Health Service.
According to expert legal advice commissioned by “38 degrees” (an independent campaign group), the bill will remove the duty of the Secretary of State to provide or secure health services. The loss of this principle, which has been at the heart of the NHS since 1946, will mean there would no longer be a “national” health service. The postcode lottery will increase, and the government will no longer be accountable for the quality of health services. Expert lawyers also warn that opening the NHS to competition will remove the limit on the amount of income that NHS hospitals can earn from private services, potentially undermining the ability of the NHS to deliver essential services.
There is of course another aspect Lamb must bear in mind: will his constituents forgive him if he betrays them on the NHS? So far Lamb has handled the media expertly. His widely publicised resignation threat just before the district council elections this year made him looked principled and probably saved the Lib Dems an even bigger kicking at the polls. Few people are aware, however, that Lamb had already voted for the NHS bill in its first two readings. Then, just four days after the elections, Lamb voted against a motion that called on the government to “stop the top-down reorganisation of the NHS” and drop the “damaging and unjustified market-based approach”.
It seems likely that Lamb will again vote in support of the NHS breakup. Expect him to make more noise about ambulance response times in the press and hope nobody notices his actions in parliament. But in the words of Ann Robinson, “It’s votes that count”. So as the Labour party continues to gather momentum in North Norfolk we will not let people forget how Norman Lamb chooses to vote this week.