So – the Lib Dem peers have folded up their cardboard swords faster than an Edwardian maid folding up her ladyship’s drawers, the fat lady has failed to sing, or rather sang on the wrong side of the choir, Chief Pongo ‘No Regrets’ Farron is crowing, and Clegg, ever the tetchy head of a minor public school, wants his flock to ‘move on’. To many, ‘shove off’ may seem les mots plus justes.
Meanwhile, the Medical Royal Colleges have been doing a bit of wobbling. The Royal College of Caring and Sharing cares so much it wants to hold Dave’s hand as it stabs his beloved bill in the back. The Royal College of Surgeons yesterday cut itself down the middle, and voted narrowly against calling for the bill to be withdrawn, by 99 to 76 votes. The Physicians, as ever, are still deliberating: their decision is due next week or the next, perhaps within hours of the bill gaining Royal Assent.
But all is by no means lost. Squirly Williams may have been revealed as wearing blue bloomers under all that bluster, but many rank-and-file Lib Dems are far from happy with the direction in which their leaders are headed. The Lib Dem brass, they believe, have set a course up the wrong creek, and left behind a trail of bobbing paddles. A brief but critical debate at their Spring Conference this weekend may yet see a formal call for the bill to be scrapped. And, crucially, Andy Burnham, Labour’s shadow Health Secretary, has, on the back of a successful ePetition by a GP, secured a ‘drop the bill’ Commons debate for next Tuesday.
The Commons arithmetic means that if Lib Dem MPs, following a kick up the back-side from their conference this weekend, decide to vote with Labour, then the bill can be defeated. To Dr No, the decision is a no-brainer. The bill has been called the Poll Tax Mark Two. It isn’t – it is Poll-Tax-Max – and those who vote for the bill will, if it succeeds, be sullied with the death-blood of the NHS for generations to come. Squirly may consider herself above such concerns, but surely right-thinking rank-and-file Lib Dem MPs will recognise the certainty of electoral suicide, and so will vote not on the whip, but on common-sense, and their conscience.