By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday, Nick Clegg declared victory – he got the NHS reform bill concessions he pressed for. Whether he believed in the changes he got is another matter. Nick Clegg is very much an Orange Booker: the Lib Dems' Orange Book advocated public sector reform and privatisation. David Laws, Clegg's friend and close ally, authored the chapter on health, and wrote this for the Independent in 2004:
"Finally, we have advocated introducing more choice and diversity into the NHS, with new providers and greater choice. In an essay published yesterday (in The Orange Book; Reclaiming Liberalism), I have explored whether our policy could be developed further in the future to offer even greater choice and diversity."
Unlike the Orange Book tendency, Lib Dems of the leftish, SDP variety, were ideologically opposed to the NHS reforms from the start. Their celebratory remarks at the watering down of the bill are therefore more useful as an indicator of how the Lib Dem backbenches and grassroots will be feeling. Arch-left-winger Evan Harris told Adam Boulton on Sky News:
"What I'm interested in is to know whether tomorrow it's going to be clear that those have been broadly delivered and I think it will be and I think what we're seeing tomorrow is not so much the detailed reaction to Steve Field's report but the announcement of what the deal is between the parties and I think we've got everything we've asked for and have been pressing for and we did that publicly, you see, we're a democratic party."
Andrew George, the MP for St Ives, an early supporter of changes to the Bill (despite not voting against it at Second Reading), said:
"Of course we should pat ourselves on the back for having forced an unprecedented pause in a major piece of Government legislation. It is clear that, had the Conservatives outright power, they would be railroading this Bill through Parliament without hesitation."
He also launched a robust attack on the Conservatives:
"I'm afraid we can't trust the Tories with the NHS. They brazenly ignored the Coalition Agreement before the ink was even dry. Tory promises on the NHS should be issued with a 'health warning'"