The Medical Innovation Bill (v… wait, which is it on now? do they even know what it says? ) having passed through the Lords despite vocal disagreements from some peers, was due for its second reading in the Commons on Friday 27 February. It was unlikely to be debated due to the length of the list, however it would have been voted on in order to proceed to committee stage and third reading. On Thursday, after a week of letters and articles highlighting the Bill’s unworkability and failings, as well as confirmation from a number of MPs that they would be present and intending to oppose, it was announced by the Bill team that it had been moved (by them) to the following Friday, 6 March.
On Saturday night (28 Feb) the Bill’s media partner-the Telegraph- published 2 articles covering the story that the Bill had been ‘killed’ as a result of Liberal Democrat opposition. The Lib Dems have not done a lot of legislative good in government. In fact they’ve let through some gross atrocities of law. Perhaps they are starting to see the light?
An article featuring Norman Lamb, the party’s health spokesman confirmed that the Liberal Democrats believe that the most appropriate approach to the issue is not to rush this far-reaching legislation, which operates to remove patients’ rights to legal redress, but ‘to examine what the barriers to innovation really are and how best to overcome them’. ‘It should be given priority but we must get it right’.
The leading article featuring Lord Saatchi, entitled ‘Fury as Lib Dems kill off Saatchi Bill’ was rather less moderate. Penned by the Telegraph’s Chief Political Correspondent Christopher Hope [promoted following the principled departure of Peter Oborne] it includes aggrieved snippets from Lord Saatchi and Mr Nutt, and makes and frames a number of factually inaccurate statements about the Bill.
It erroneously refers to the Bill as a ‘law to allow doctors to test new drugs on seriously ill patients without the fear of being sued’ which would have ‘allowed doctors to test cutting edge new treatments on patients to help find cures for cancer and other serious illnesses’ and in which ‘new safeguards were introduced last year.’
It states that the Bill has been pulled. ‘It was due to be debated by MPs on Friday in a race to ensure it was put onto the statute books by the end of next month, when MPs break for the election campaign. However it was pulled at the 11th hour.’ Lord Saatchi is then quoted, saying that Nick Clegg has handed down a death sentence to cancer patients.
Meanwhile in the realm of Twitter the Saatchi team were in full swing, declaring that yes the Bill is dead, and yes it is the Lib Dems’ fault. Their supporters, who in good faith believe the Bill would help them access treatment or cure disease, were shocked and understandably very upset.
The emotive pleas, the anguish and the anger were deafening. The deep visceral pain from the hit palpable through less than 140 characters on a screen. All the while team Saatchi (having blocked all those known to disagree with the Bill, including those who have never engaged with them, never followed them), were stoking the flames. The following day saw more carefully planned articles such as ‘Nick Clegg is spineless says father whose son is dying of terminal illness’ There were tweets of fury and increasingly offensive content, including declarations that people would like to know what will happen when Nick Clegg’s children had cancer. The media front went into full swing with interviews demanding time for a debate, tweets and articles about the Lib Dems and the blood on their hands.
Andy Burnham then waded in and spoke to the Telegraph to say the Liberal Democrat decision was ‘odd and wrong’ as the Bill ‘was heavily amended and extra safeguards put in’ and offered hope to desperate parents of seriously ill or dying children “For parents like them nothing is available and they have no hope, it [the Bill] is about opening up hope.” (incidentally, searching ‘Andy Burnham odd wrong’ on google yields 134,000 results)
Labour MP Margaret Hodge also said things and David Cameron’s spokesman spoke a bit too.
“The Prime Minister has expressed his support for this – there were changes that were made during its passage through the Lords, with regard to safeguards.
He has argued for it to go ahead and those who have come to it differently will have to explain their position.”
Labour supporters opportunistically piled in in various ways, including an encounter with a Labour chap who appeared to compare the false premise i.e. lack of existence of the reasons for the Bill with the existence of Stephen Lawrence as his argument, before then championing it on the basis that Lord Saatchi has an ’emotional connection with his wife who died a painful death because of restrictions on drugs’. Right.
Meanwhile team Saatchi were clear.
They never withdrew the Bill and had carefully timed the media coverage around the announcement. As the Bill was still alive it was wrong to say it was dead, ergo Clegg was responsible for the deaths of patients. They chose targeted language to create mass outpouring of genuine distress from their supporters. They knew this would mobilise political forces.
This has been pointed out by a patient safety and justice charity among others.
Burnham has obviously failed to read the Bill or the remarks of anyone in opposition to it. ‘#Politicsbeforelives’ Mr Burnham? Cheap’n’easy votes for curing cancer? Either Andy’s strings have been pulled by Saatchi as well, he couldn’t even be bothered to read it, or he’s doubly incompetent to fail to understand science, medicine, false hope, anecdotal propagation of nothingness, the fact ill children should have quality of life prioritised over irresponsible experimentation, the real dilemmas parents feel who simply will and often must try everything, and the issues that could have been addressed in the past few years to see how they could actually be helped, not harmed. The Liberal Democrats certainly seem to have understood what Burnham has not.
So Nick Clegg hasn’t killed anyone, that we know of. He hasn’t even killed the Bill off yet. Indeed rather than it being ‘pulled’ at all as in the Telegraph’s leader it remained and remains listed for its second reading. The deal was struck with Lord Saatchi, whose M&C Saatchi firm has just produced the Conservative election campaign ads. That deal was – for the Bill to be given additional time in the Commons in the race to wrap it up before the end of the month: the reason that they switched it from the 27th when they knew MPs could and would be there to object summarily. Of course, a Private Members Bill completing its tumble through the Lords and entering the Commons has no priority whatsoever over any other Bill, private, public, any. It’s also clear that Lord Saatchi’s advisors failed to remind him it was a Coalition government.
What followed when he was denied his special velvet gloves VIP treatment was no more than an almighty, vindictive and increasingly disturbing temper tantrum.
He announced the Bill’s demise inaccurately along with the press and in doing so maximised the column inches, the interest but also the devastation expressed among his supporters. Who cannot support hope, after all? Telling them that it was dead, killed; they knew the outpourings of genuine distress would put pressure on decisions in parliament and try to force time to be allocated.
While it is highly improbable it would get through – and deeply wrong that legislation of this nature would be rushed through in the face of unending opposition from doctors’ organisations, academics, patients and charities, it’s still listed for tomorrow just as it always was, without the secret special deals, and an MP therefore still needs to shout “object”. Meanwhile a petition has been launched and the Bill’s website is backing it.
Lord Saatchi sure is talented; he can sell anything.