Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Lib Dems should vote to #DropTheBill this weekend

I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the Lib Dem membership this weekend should vote to stop the NHS bill currently going through parliament.

I am afraid this is not really for reasons of principle. I have long thought that the NHS is going to need major reform in the coming years and I think certainly some of the aspects that I have read about in the current bill would be to the benefit of the organisation. I must confess I am not up on all the latest details but I know Lib Dems in parliament have been working very hard to improve it and I expect they have done.

I also think that pretty much regardless of what a bill on the NHS brought forward by this government said, Labour would have loudly and vociferously opposed it claiming that it would "privatise" and "wreck" the NHS. (Incidentally I do not think there is much I have seen in the current bill that is not essentially extending the reforms Labour brought in in the last few years).

The bottom line is that the NHS is political poison for the Conservative party. The plain truth is that they are not trusted on it. Coupled with the dreadful job that Andrew Lansley has done in trying to explain and sell the changes to the public and the NHS itself we are in a position now where I think we have no choice. We need to stop the bill.

I don't often advocate following a course of action for purely political reasons but I am going to make an exception in this case because frankly the future survival of the Lib Dems as a party may depend on it. If we allow the bill to pass, then it won't matter whether the bill has positive or negative effects on the NHS. That is not what we will be judged on. We will be judged on having ignored the widespread view within bodies representing those employed by the NHS and the public more generally that it is a very bad bill.

Someone on Twitter yesterday suggested that if it passes, every lost paperclip in the NHS will be blamed on the passage of the bill. I strongly suspect they are correct. Everything that goes wrong in the NHS in the next few years will be blamed on us. The Conservatives will get some of the blame of course but judging on previous experience the opposition and the public will go for our throats. If you think the reaction to the Tuition Fees debacle was bad, wait until our party is blamed for "wrecking" the NHS. To reiterate, I don't agree that's what will happen but perception is everything in politics.

On a practical level, Clegg cannot simply perform a reverse on this; he is too deeply in. He needs a reason. We can give him that reason this weekend. The party can vote to stop it. Clegg then has the cover he needs to go back to Cameron and Lansley and explain that has to listen to his party. I suspect Cameron would secretly be relieved to have a reason to go back to the drawing board on this. His political antennae must surely be telling him no good can come of this bill politically.

This may lead to an early end to the coalition. I can't predict how things will pan out. What I can say for sure is it will be worse if we allow it to pass.

We should drop the bill.


lizw said...

I think we need to drop it simply because, whatever its merits, it just isn't going to be possible to implement large-scale reforms effectively against the opposition of all the relevant professional bodies. The NHS does need reforming, but it's only going to be possible with a large measure of consensus. It was always going to be a struggle for the Tories to build that consensus, and all Lansley's efforts have just made a difficult task impossible.

Lon Won said...

I agree with lizw.

I also think we should not be making decisions primarily in terms of political expediency, but that professional buy-in is important.

The point about paperclips only applies because the Bill is unclear, lacks a mandate & has no professional buy-in. Otherwise no bill would ever be proposed for fear of blame.

Moreover, despite all the improvements to the Bill, it's still not good enough to meet the important objections that have been raised. In particular it provides an inadequate basis for democratically accountable competition. We need an NHS Bill, to fix Labour's botched changes and to open up monolithic structures, but this Bill isn't it.

SomeBeans said...

I agree with this generally, with a couple of provisos:

1. I don't believe that if the NHS bill goes through it will be the end of us. There's been a lot of shouting to that effect, but that's what they said over tuition fees too.

2. Professional buy-in for any changes. Bevan said that he got the professionals onside for the formation of the NHS because he stuffed their mouths with gold. I don't think anything has changed, and it's not a good way to manage the NHS.

I have the suspicion that even if the original bill had gone through the end users would have noticed little different.

andyj said... hatred for Lib Dems is complete..from voter to hatred, how did that happen?..

..lib dems as a party don't deserve to live..and really it is that bad..

andyj said... hatred for Lib Dems is complete..from voter to hatred, how did that happen?..

..lib dems as a party don't deserve to live..and really it is that bad..

andyj said... hatred for Lib Dems is complete..from voter to hatred, how did that happen?..

..lib dems as a party don't deserve to live..and really it is that bad..

Anonymous said...

The lib dems will be wiped out in 2015 anyway...

Yours is not a mature political movement.

Not ready for, or comfortable with, the responsibilities of government.

If your former voters were happy with the results of this government I contend they will vote Conservatives; your weirdy-beardy sandal-wearing constituency will probably vote Green so that they can continue their comfortable state of continual opposition and loony lefty ideas that never have to be tested by government. Some will vote Labour, many will stay at home.

So who cares? The Lib Dems were destroyed by government. I can't think of any better epitaph for this joke of a 'motherhood and apple pie' two-faced, please everyone party.

Good riddance....