Remember the Health and Social Care Bill listening exercise, anyone? When former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley ran into difficulties with his Dick Dastardly NHS plans, he called a reflective pause, just long enough to do bugger all, whilst the media conveniently forgot what he was up to in privatising our NHS. Jeremy Hunt may have finished the job, but Lansley’s listening exercise masterstroke was enough to buy off the fretting ranks of Lib Dems, and get the job done without too great a rebellion, and without any significant concessions.
Fast forward to 2013 and Lansley is mired once again in a dog’s dinner of a Bill, this time one ostensibly designed to deal with the lobbying sleaze crisis in Parliament, but which seems to actually do very little to upset the interests of the big money corrupting our politics. Business lobbyists have unsurprisingly avoided any significant changes, whilst 38 Degrees and Hope Not Hate are being thumped for daring to think about the government’s failings. And unions have been included too, mainly because it seems they haven’t been punished much of late.
What’s a poor Lord Privy Seal to do? Well, why not reduce the heat by calling for a pause, and hinting at a few changes? That should take the wind out of the sails of those pesky civil liberties campaigners, just long enough to regroup and push it through again come December.
That seems to be working for him again, but this time though, he’s decided to try two birds with one stone – Why even waste time with a pause, when you can pause one part of the Bill and speed up another, to keep to your overall timetable whilst looking to all the world like you’ve compromised?
You have to admire the chutzpah of the guy. Two months grace on the civil society gagging clauses, but he’s done it by bringing the section on trade unions forward two months to match. So whilst UK progressive types celebrate a supposed victory on one section, we now have no time to prepare for a Lords battle on some severe but superfluous union-bashing regulation (of which I’ve wrote more on here).
And whilst it might not seem as severe as the damage Lansley would like to inflict on Hope Not Hate (basically banning them doing anything at all for one year in five), the punishment he wants to mete out to unions is pretty drastic. Costs of implementation could be a real problem for some unions, and the work required to keep up with vexatious challenges under the new regs from political opponents. But we’re most annoyed about the way this pries into the privacy of 6 million UK union members – sharing information they’d thought was confidential with government agencies and employers’ agents.
Compounding the injury is the insult that they just don’t care about the problems they might cause for union members, evidenced in their belief that you can call forward a snap debate and vote at just days’ notice, as it presumably doesn’t matter much. The chance for scrutiny of part 2 is a good thing – this is a Bad Bill on all fronts – but it should be a genuine pause. Lansley’s playing bait and switch to get his legislation past Parliament, and despite overwhelming civil society opposition.
All of which is saying, if reading this hasn’t totally exhausted your caring-about-stuff time for today, please send an email to a member of the House of Lords now. Real people lobbying them is a good antidote to a Bill that does nothing on the real problem of corrupting big lobbying money in politics. Wonder why the supposed Lobbying Bill is so silent on that?