Today was the second reading of the NHS Reinstatement Bill in the Commons. This cross-party bill basically restores the NHS by reversing the ongoing privatisation, and undoing the disasterous changes made by the Tory and Lib Dem Health Social Care Act, such as removing the responsibility of the Health Secretary for even providing healthcare at all.
All in all, the Bill contained measures that healthcare professionals and analysts have been calling for for years and has the backing of a large number of campaigners and politicians.
Fast forward to today and the second reading. It was ‘talked out’ by a small number of Tory MPs. This is a well-known method that is used, especially on Fridays when a lot of MPs don’t bother turning up, to stop legislation even going to a vote. It’s massively undemocratic but sadly something that happens. Thankfully it can be stopped if 100 MPs make something called a ‘closure motion’.
However, without worrying about the archaic nature of Parliament, the thing to take from this is that is was obvious that at least 100 non-Tory MPs had to be there today. Senior Labour figures such as Jeremy Corbyn had previously stated support for the bill, so you would have thought that this wouldn’t be a problem, right?
Only 18 Labour MPs turned up. The bill was, predictably, talked-out.
Now we can blame the Tories for their undemocratic use of parliamentary time here, of course, but the fact that they would do this was completely predictable. Who we can be angry with, completely justifiably, is Labour. If Labour had ensured that enough MPs were present they could have stopped the filibustering and taken the bill to a vote. As it was, not even Corbyn turned up.
Would the vote have been won? That’s not essential. If a proper debate was held then Tory MPs would have been forced to publicly state how they wanted NHS services privatised - something they desperately still denied against all evidence at the last election. It would have shown them for what they are. Equally, Labour MPs who may well be in government in 2020 would be on record stating a willingness to end privatisation. Would that have held them to it? No, but it would make it more likely.
As it is, none of this happened. Labour MPs didn’t feel it was worth their time to try to save the NHS.
Labour has picked-up members and the support of progressives with the promise that they have changed - that they will now oppose austerity and support public services remaining public. They had the best opportunity yet to prove that today and almost completely failed to do so.
What is the lesson we should take from this? If you want politicians who will actually stand-up for the NHS, you need real progressives like Greens, Plaid and the SNP. Labour is not fit for purpose.