The Sketch: Labour cries 'outrage' but could it be they started the slide toward privatisation?

  • @SimonSketch

It's a constitutional outrage, a violence against the people, a forerunner of the apocalypse, oh let us discard party politics, let us forget our low tribal allegiances and rise together into the life-enhancing ozone of the national interest and please, please (some sobbing in the public gallery) abandon the Bill.

That was the advice of the shadow Health spokesman Andy Burnham, on terrific form at the Commons debate on the Heath Bill. He's one of the Labour frontbench who's blossomed in opposition. He's an angry flower. A snapdragon, perhaps. "Dropping the Bill is the right political decision," he said, "but nonetheless we support it." Not the Bill; dropping it. That "but nonetheless" has a whole dictionary of politics in it.

He made one point everyone understood. Lansley had dismantled the basic administrative structures of the NHS before putting in place their replacements. This was thought to be a bad thing. It ought to be a disaster but have you noticed?

The minister did better than he's ever done defending his Bill – but that only showed what a lamentable job he's done so far. Simon Hughes (sic) helped him. "No private-sector profits were to go out of the NHS," he said. I haven't been following closely enough to know whether this was true. A colleague clarified: "The private sector can do NHS work, but the NHS can't do private work."

If that's true, a) what's the fuss about and b) why hasn't Lansley been saying that for a year? And does that confirm Burnham's assertion that the "whole legal structure" of the NHS has been rewritten to privatise it?

Labour was castigated, though probably not chastised. Oh, the things they did in government. The practice-based commissioning. The private treatment centres. The £67 billion of private money debt. The £12bn private IT system. And the franchising out of a hospital that Lansley is being vilified for. "The only secret Tory plan they find is a Labour plan," he yelled. For all the fury, maybe there is a secret consensus underneath it all.