It doesn’t take much of a rebellion to inflict embarrassment or defeat on a government with a small majority. Mr Cameron has not reached that stage in the Commons yet, but he has been given a warning following his reported remarks that ministers who want Britain to leave the European Union would have to quit the government. Yesterday, Mr Cameron was on the defensive, claiming his remarks had been “misinterpreted”, and chiding journalists with the advice: “If you are not certain of something, ask.”
Perhaps Mr Cameron could have a think about just such an approach. He has either delivered his original message so poorly that he should have asked an adviser if it made sense before going ahead, or he has now found that he should have asked his ministers first of all how they would feel about such a demand for loyalty.
Mr Cameron took another swipe at journalism when he was questioned about a television appearance in which he appeared to rule out a free vote on the EU – claiming he had been misinterpreted on that occasion, too, because the interviewer had interrupted him.
What we were told by Mr Cameron yesterday might have taken the Conservatives back from the brink of revolt, but it represented the classic political fudge: immediate crisis averted, but unsatisfactorily so. Instead of demanding support over the EU issue, Mr Cameron says he was only talking about the renegotiation process being a three-line whip, as he tries to improve on the existing treaty. So, ministers would be able to vote freely at the referendum itself? Not quite. Mr Cameron said he would tell us later, because this amounted to no more than a “hypothetical” question. “You are going to have to take this stage by stage, step by step, and you will get the answers,” he said.
But as Mr Cameron should know from the independence campaign, asking people to be patient over possible referendum scenarios isn’t going to work. And it is not hypothetical, but entirely appropriate, to ask the Prime Minister if his own government ministers are to be removed if they cannot back their leader’s stance on Europe – at any stage of the debate.
This is the kind of mess Mr Cameron could end up in when he enters difficult territory. When the Prime Minister runs into early trouble with members of his own party, it is not an auspicious start to the EU in/out campaign. There is a whole electorate out there, still to be convinced. Having delivered a referendum which he believes he will win, Mr Cameron has a responsibility to those who do not want an EU exit to get it right. Few will have been impressed by yesterday’s farce.
Setting health standards that must be met
The standard of care for the elderly is an increasingly important aspect of the work of NHS Scotland, with the widely acknowledged “demographic timebomb” placing ever-greater strains on the service.
Sadly, there are few straightforward cases when the ailments and diminished physical abilities experienced in old age start to take effect. Care for the elderly can be a complicated and expensive matter, if it is to deliver the required support and have any positive effect.
It is only right that each case should be looked at individually. At a time when the need for dignity is paramount, the least we can do is treat the elderly with understanding and compassion.
Therefore, the new set of standards published today for NHS Scotland is to be welcomed as a step in the right direction, as it gives patients a better say in the decision-making process which so directly affects them.
The standards also promise to address some of the current failings in the system, such as a lack of co-ordination of support between services, and a similar lack of joined-up strategy when it comes to discharging the elderly to their own homes. The process of arranging suitable rehabilitation support can take weeks on end, with the patient still in hospital long after being deemed fit to go home. This is one of the primary causes of bed blocking, which delays treatment for those in need,
The standards come into effect immediately, and not before time. As well as the cost of the inefficiencies, the frustration suffered by patients and families can only be of further detriment to the health of those concerned.