Lib Dems angling for an NHS bill consolation prize

THE Liberal Democrats are gunning for a run of concessions on the government’s NHS policy as consolation for their drubbing in local elections last week, with deputy prime minister Nick Clegg yesterday threatening to veto the bill.

“No bill is better than a bad bill,” Clegg said of the NHS policy that is currently being revised. “I don’t think the bill can go on as it is.”

His comments coincided with remarks by Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes that the NHS policy as it stands was “wasn’t what we agreed in the coalition agreement”.

Clegg also threw into doubt one of the flagship elements of the policy – that GPs would have to take charge of a budget and commission healthcare services. He said that GPs commissioning could be voluntary – a significant shift in policy.

Any sign that the Tories are prepared to make a run of concessions to Liberal Democrats on policy will enrage backbench Conservatives, who believe that prime minister David Cameron should take advantage of his coalition allies’ weakness to pursue a more Tory agenda.

There was little relief for the Liberal Democrats in last week’s votes. They lost 695 council seats and were humiliated in a referendum on the AV voting system, which saw the Lib Dem-backed voting reform rejected by 68 per cent to 32 per cent.

The defeats leave Clegg badly in need of a trophy to show for having signed up his party to the coalition.