Simon Carr: It could have been an execution. But the lynch mob flunked it

Sketch: At any point a dozen of them were on their feet making animal noises, chattering and yelping
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The Independent Online

It's not clear that Andrew Lansley won the argument yesterday but he certainly didn't lose it. His accuser must be mortified. In the Opposition day debate on the future of the NHS there was a chance there for a parliamentary execution. Lansley could have been lynched. He's the loneliest man in politics, the poor fellow.

But John Healey, the shadow Health Secretary, drew himself as a man of destiny, struck his attitude and began. It was like watching a man having a parliamentary fit.

The bench monkeys didn't help – the hooting, the shrieking, the agitated jogging and bottom-pointing was remarkable by any standards.

And the Opposition's argument was hindered by the fact that Healey is generally said to agree with what the Tories want to do – and indeed by the record of the government in which he was one of the more prominent gargoyles.

Tories pointed out that Healey had described the plans now under attack as "consistent, comprehensive and coherent", that he'd approved of the "general intent" and that Labour had used the private sector liberally with "independent treatment centres". Indeed, Healey said yesterday that use of the private sector had "allowed us to reduce waiting lists".

At any point a dozen of them were on their feet making animal noises, chattering and yelping. Healey leftily described a market as a "free-for-all". No, markets are disciplined by prices. To get an idea of a free-for-all you want to get this debate on the Parliament's website.

If Healey had a lower impression of himself he might have worked harder on his case. In the event he rehearsed assertions that this would cause "irreparable damage to the core values of the NHS" and that the plan was to "set up a full-scale market".

When Lansley eventually got into his stride he itemised half a dozen ways in which he was pursuing plans originally laid by Labour. That may or may not recommend the proposals to you but the only incontrovertible thing to come out of the debate is that when a million people are employed in a £100bn public endeavour – you can always find an argument. In fact, you have to. It's the law.