On Monday evening, just next door to the House of Commons where the ‘absolutely crucial’ vote on the Brexit deal had been postponed because – well – it didn’t turn out to be that crucial, I bumped into a friend who worked in partnerships with the NHS at the Local Government Association.
Her previous week had been full of postponements.
Last Monday, along with the rest of us, she was expecting the NHS long-term plan to be published but it was delayed because No 10 wanted to postpone it until after the ‘crucial’ vote on December 11. An announcement of the greatest increase in spending that this Government has ever or probably will ever announce.
Last Thursday, with even more urgency, she had been expecting the Local Government Financial Settlement – this is where local authorities get their first sight of central government money for their budgets from April 2019. This postponement comes from the same Government that will take them to court if they don’t set their budget in the time for next year. Time the Government is stealing by postponing the announcement.
Last Friday – and with even greater expectation – the social care green paper had been expected having been trailed in every DHSC announcement as resetting the finances for social care for a generation.
So three pretty important sets of announcements effecting everyone in the country had been put off because of a crucial Brexit vote – that now we know has proved to be less than crucial.
Why did this happen? It’s not that the Government couldn’t stand a few good stories about spending money on public services or the good story that it is planning for social care into the next decade rather than just next week.
No, these were postponed because of the three act drama that the Brexit vote had become.
Act 1 was meant to be the vote on the deal.
A vote that was always likely to go down – but not by the 100+ that looked likely last Monday. So Act 1 was all about a Government trying, and nobly failing, to persuade its own MPs to vote for the Brexit deal.
Act 2 was a set of announcements about extra money for services.
The target audience for Act 2 would be those MPs who had voted against the Brexit deal. They were to be told that this extra money for public services would only get through to their constituents if the Brexit deal got through and Government was maintained. And that depended on them voting for the deal.
The money was being spent by a Government that needed the Brexit deal and if you didn’t vote for the deal in Act 3 the money being promised in Act 2 would not be spent.
Act 3 would be the Brexit deal vote rerun.
The hope being that enough rebellious MPs would change their minds for fear of losing the money promised in Act 2. This last scene sees the Brexit deal squeaking through on the back of public expenditure.
So it’s pretty obvious that Act 2 had to follow Act 1 and not precede it. Hence three postponements.
When I was first told about this it seemed pretty odd. One of the things I have learnt about human behaviour is that it is no good trying to incentivise a form of behaviour in people with an incentive that – well – doesn’t work for them.
Nearly all of the Government MPs voting against the deal believe that Europe is THE issue for their generation. Trying to get them to change their mind by threatening not to spend more money to the NHS is odd. It doesn’t matter that much to them compared to Brexit.
So here we are with the NHS long-term plan postponed. Primarily as an incentive to change votes on Brexit in a second vote.
But now we haven’t even had the first vote.
It’s bad enough to bepostponed because of a Brexit vote, but being postponed for a cancelled Brexit vote……….