Clegg still has a chance to save the NHS – and his party

Jos Bell reports on the debates on the health and social care bill at the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference as the battle to save the NHS goes on.

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This was the weekend of Gateshead Sage, where the Liberal Party machine, accompanied by a posse of NHS campaigners, flooded the banks of the Tyne for the party’s annual spring conference. But would wisdom prevail? Would it be yet another Liberal Democrat ‘believe what we say, not what we do’ facade?

Nick-Clegg-Liberal-Democrat-Spring-ConferenceOne thing is for sure: the weekend did not disappoint in terms of drama – even if it may yet disappoint in outcome, and yet again where ‘the bill’ and all things related are concerned, we certainly found ourselves walking into yet another new dimension.

Would the Liberal Democrat grassroots reflect the government stance or would they demonstrate a clear difference of opinion with Clegg and his Westminster bill-minders? Would they be persuaded that the health and social care bill is ‘a Baroness Jolly good thing’.

The conference was indeed been almost entirely dominated by debates on the NHS.

On Saturday, four Motions were proposed for debate on the Sunday – one of which could be chosen. Notably, the voting at Lib Dem conferences has yet to turn the 21st-century electronic corner, so by a Beveridge era serial show of hands would hang the future of the NHS.

It is perhaps worth a quick ponder as to whether results would have differed had voting technology been rather more confidentially sophisticated. Defiance is there for all to see, so it does require a sizeable swig of personal bottle to take a stand.

In this relay race of the yellow and orange teams, the two motions relating to the NHS came first and second, however due to the second preference rule, the one which came second became the one selected for debate. Thus to the disappointment of the majority, the Shirley Williams Motion (which caused much gastroenterological mirth to the many medics present) followed through.

Clegg had presumably ensured she had taken her fortifying whipped mustard shakes beforehand, but the noble lady certainly did not look comfortable in her role.


See also:

Lib Dems’ dilemma: A party that votes against itself is a party in trouble 10 Mar 2012

Owen: If coalition continue to appeal Risk Register, Bill must be paused 9 Mar 2012

Tribunal orders Lansley: Publish NHS Risk Register “immediately” 9 Mar 2012

Clegg’s letter to Lib Dem MPs and peers “is just furious spin concealing NHS privatisation” 27 Feb 2012

Issues of great concern remain for Lib Dems on NHS reform 15 Jun 2011


With the unusual decision not to live stream the debating hall other than on Sky News,  those who are equipped only with the reluctant BBC, were able to rely upon Andrew Sparrow on the Guardian Liveblog and a few Tweeters inside the Sage – some of whom were party members, clearly against the bill.

It soon became clear the ‘Shirley Williams Motion’ was grounded in their latest incarnation of an approximate truth – i.e. an astonishingly blatant lie that the bill is actually designed to stop privatisation – which was apparently “introduced by Andy Burnham”. This was again re-iterated on Sunday morning by Simon Hughes MP – who batted both eyelids as he belied the fib.

The message: to vote against the bill would be to support Labour. Just like the disabled children whose vital support has been snatched away, the NHS has become an irritating sideline in a barrier to the lust for power.

To establish the reality: Firstly the bill patently opens the doors to a free market express train of the external market, knotting what would remain of the NHS into a spaghetti junction of destructive European Union competition law entanglements. Secondly, Andy Burnham was the health minister who called a halt to the advance of the market, fully understanding the differential of the risk which comes with the internal and the external markets.

It is also worth noting that there has been an element of the private sector within the NHS since its inception – but always under control and never vice versa. (See Fatally Flawed and Still Fatally Flawed).

Overnight, to counter the second preference win, former MP Dr Evan Harris produced a cheeky genie out of his re-breather equipment. Having previously worked with Baroness Williams to alert Lib Dem conferences about the bill dangers in 2011, then subsequently adopting the surgical scrubs of invisibility when Shirley turned, he threw them off last week to come out firmly against the bill.

Dr Harris produced a clever secondary William Beveridge Motion which both supported the one selected but at the same time rejected it by calling for conference “to delete the call for support of the bill in current form”, which was backed by 314 to 270. (See Kill the Bill – Liberal Democrats against the health bill).

The questions came thick and fast on Twitter. What did this mean – both to the bill and to the Liberal Democrats? Why again was the BBC slow to pick any of this up? Surely this meant the party had to oppose in Parliament? Is it possible to firmly sit on the fence? What would happen in the Lords and the Commons this week?

Essentially would the Westminster Liberal Democrats choose to reflect the wishes of their party or continue down the Clegg route. It quickly became clear when Paul Burstow MP announced to the BBC’s Norman Smith that Saturday’s second preference vote – ‘Shirley’s Motion’ – would be party policy.

Thus blatantly ignoring the fact that two out of three voting outcomes were firmly against the bill, and also the final result. If this continues, a schism between Liberal Democrats Westminster and Liberal Democrats the party will be visible from outer space.

As Diane Hain (@DianeHain) Tweeted:

#BBCNews How can Simon Hughes stand there and tell us @LibDems Conference didn’t oppose #NHSBill but #Bill in its present form, is he MAD!?”

Indeed, for those who have been tracking the progress of the bill closely it is clear Liberal Democrat claims they have sizeably changed the bill are false – see pdf.

Meanwhile, Dr Charles West – who wrote on Left Foot Forward last September that the current bill “dismantles the NHS” – and who until Saturday tweeted as @West4MP, changing it to @West_GP shortly after the outcome of the voting on his motion to drop the bill, Tweeted:

#HealthBill will allow CCGs to withdraw services in 20 categories, introduce new charges & deny some people treatment altogether.”

He has since announced that he has been told he has lost favour with party big wigs. Does this mean that open debate – always the watchword of this party – is seemingly also to be stifled?

Democratically the Liberal Democrat Party should and could adopt a new policy which reflects their party view. One which both honours their own grassroots view and which neatly knits into Lord Owen’s call for a halt in the third reading until the Transitional Risk Register contents are revealed.

This is due in the Lords on what is fast emerging as NHS Super Tuesday – when both Commons and Lords will debate the bill simultaneously. Given David Cameron’s stance on the Risk Register, the Parliamentary Liberal Democrats could save their multifarious faces by supporting Lord Owen and Simon Hughes. Should the High Court order the Register to be revealed they will very publicly find themselves on the side of the law – and on the side of medical ethics.

In a further twist, by Sunday evening we heard of an email circulating which demonstrates that deputy leader Hughes is paying more than a passing glance at the feasibility of dropping the contentious Section 3 (the clauses which involve competition). The Guardian also reveals that he will ask Clegg to demand the publication of the Risk Register in a sign that he is paying at least some attention to his own party.

Clegg’s end of conference speech called for “pulling together”, which given the circumstances, unsurprisingly met with audibly half-hearted applause. This should come as a warning to his powerbubble of oblivion. Clearly the majority of the party did not swallow his fabrications with respect to the bill – nor that it was all Set-Up Shirley’s idea.

He then flew in the face of all the evidence by maintaining “the Liberal Democrats are a one nation party”. If the laughter in the Sage was inaudible it was surely ricocheting cross-country between Tynebank and the Thames. The only way for this to be a more accurate self-assessment would be for Clegg to support the securing of a one nation health service.

Andy Burnham has called for supporters of the NHS to put aside party differences and build a new coalition to protect the NHS.

Go on Mr Clegg – surprise yourself, support your party’s wishes and save the NHS – and possibly also your party itself.


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49 Responses to “Clegg still has a chance to save the NHS – and his party”

  1. James Gill

    Clegg still has a chance to #SaveTheNHS – and his party, writes @jos21: #DropTheBill

  2. Anonymous

    I’m surprised labour is against the Bill it meets the new labour ideals, of the private sector, but i suspect labour has to find something to battle on.

    But after new labour sell off and it attempts to make the NHS more cost effective, but allowing the private sector in, also the use of private money PFI not sure Miliband just decided look if we do not find the NHS bill, we will have nothing

  3. Andrea

    "@leftfootfwd: Clegg still has a chance to #SaveTheNHS – and his party, writes @jos21: #DropTheBill"

  4. Tristram Wyatt

    Clegg still has a chance to #SaveTheNHS – and his party, writes @jos21: #DropTheBill

  5. Political Planet

    Clegg still has a chance to save the NHS – and his party: Jos Bell reports on the debates on the health and soci…

  6. ingridrkonopka

    Clegg still has a chance to #SaveTheNHS – and his party, writes @jos21: #DropTheBill

  7. tenderhooligan

    Clegg still has a chance to save the NHS – and his party: Jos Bell reports on the debates on the health and soci…

  8. Patron Press - #P2

    #UK : Clegg still has a chance to save the NHS – and his party

  9. leftlinks

    Left Foot Forward – Clegg still has a chance to save the NHS – and his party

  10. Pulp Ark

    Clegg still has a chance to save the NHS – and his party #Public_Services_for_All #muslim #tcot #sioa

  11. seuss

    Clegg still has a chance to #SaveTheNHS – and his party, writes @jos21: #DropTheBill

  12. Jane Shaw

    RT @leftfootfwd: Clegg still has a chance to save the NHS – and his party

  13. Jane Shaw

    RT @leftfootfwd: Clegg still has a chance to save the NHS – and his party

  14. Jos Bell

    @HSJnews summary of key points & implications from the weekend

  15. Richard Murphy

    Clegg still has a chance to save the NHS – and his party | Left Foot Forward

  16. sharon lewis

    @Sharonavraham @BiancaJagger see link to Lord Charlie Faulkner's piece on Risk Reg in here

  17. Jemma Collins

    @DrEoinClarke An LD nudge >>

  18. Jos Bell

    @Liza_Harding something about the weekend….

  19. BevR

    Clegg still has a chance to save the NHS – and his party #wrb #spartacusreport #nhs #democracy #boycottworkfare

  20. seuss

    Clegg still has a chance to save the NHS – and his party | Left Foot Forward

  21. BevR

    Clegg still has a chance to save the NHS – and his party | Left Foot Forward

  22. BevR

    @DrEoinClarke An LD nudge >>

  23. Inna Mood

    Clegg still has a chance to save the NHS – and his party | Left Foot Forward

  24. Jos Bell

    @LordTobySays LD nudging…….

  25. Irene Short

    Clegg still has a chance to #SaveTheNHS – and his party, writes @jos21: #DropTheBill

  26. Liza Harding

    @Liza_Harding something about the weekend….

  27. diana smith

    post trying to unravel what happened at the #libdems conference, on #NHS #d

  28. Jos Bell

    RT @leftfootfwd
    Clegg still has a chance to #SaveTheNHS – and his party, writes @jos21: #DropTheBill

  29. Andreas Baader

    RT @leftfootfwd
    Clegg still has a chance to #SaveTheNHS – and his party, writes @jos21: #DropTheBill

  30. Phillip Tilley

    Clegg still has a chance to save the NHS – and his party | Left Foot Forward

  31. Richard Shaw

    I think the idea that the “losing motion” won because of second preferences has been lifted from the No2AV handbook – appropriate considering it was an AV/IRV selection process; If it had been a head-to-head motion selection then the Shirley Williams motion would have won – it only came second in the first round because the support was split between it and the motions on Syria and the use of secret evidence in trials. The majority of delegates didn’t want to debate or vote for dropping the bill. Plus a few delegates I spoke to only voted for the drop the bill motion in order to get a debate, with no intention of backing it. If a majority had wanted to drop the bill they could have voted against the amended motion. A huge majority chose to back it.

    The message from the votes is this: A majority didn’t want to force the Bill to be dropped; A majority want the Bill to be further amended and; A majority didn’t want to tell the Lords to support it.

    The outcome was to support further amendments but leave it to the Parliamentarians to make the final decision.

    p.s. The Lib Dems are the most democratic party of the big three, if not of all the UK parties. Anyone can join (a bargain at £12 per annum), become (or help elect) a sympathetic conference rep for their local group, put a motion or amendment to a motion to conference and then vote on it. Simples. And so much more effective than a hashtag or twibbon.

    p.p.s. I gave my first preference to the drop the bill motion and would have voted for it. But it wasn’t selected. I then voted for the SWM because calling for further amendments is better than in effect not call for amendments by voting against it.

  32. Richard Shaw

    I think the main reason Labour oppose the bill is either because they didn’t think of it or because it undoes their 11% preferential rates to private providers and other provisions in their 2006 and 2008 acts which would have allowed an unlimited and more insidious infiltration of the NHS by the private sector. This Bill might increase the amount of private involvement to a higher level than now but it will be lower and more scrutinised than if we’d left Labour’s legislation to run its course for a few more years.

  33. Jos Bell

    @LordPhilofBrum – somehow think there will be more to say after tomorrow!

  34. Rob

    Clegg still has a chance to save the NHS – and his party | Left Foot Forward

  35. Jos Bell

    @GlenysThornton did you catch this? *spin bowls*

  36. Glenys Thornton

    @GlenysThornton did you catch this? *spin bowls*

  37. Jos Bell

    @JohnHealey_MP let's hope Hughes prevails…

  38. Jos Bell

    @DanRebellato poss of interest?

  39. Robert CP

    @DrEoinClarke An LD nudge >>

  40. Newsbot9

    I disagree, it’s too late for the LibDems.

  41. Newsbot9

    Yes, right, you can’t dodge the fact that your party are responsible for every single hammer-blow you’re delivering to the poor. The death of the NHS is on your hands, as long as you remain with them.

  42. Richard Shaw

    It may have escaped your attention that the Lib Dems, and the Liberals before them, have the best record on tackling wealth inequality of the “Big Three”, being responsible for much of the design and creation of the early welfare state. In Bradford, for example, after 18 years of Conservative government it was among the most deprived areas in the UK. That was still the case after a further 13 years of Labour government. Wealth inequality, benefit dependency, child poverty, taxes on lower incomes… they all grew or were failed to be tackled by the supposed party of the People. Conservatives seek to preserve their supporters’ privilege, wealth and power and Labour seek to maintain paternalistic dependency, taxing the poor to give it back to them as benefits in order to maintain their supporters dependence on Labour governments for survival. The Liberal Democrats have always promoted opportunity, removing barriers for people to build a better lives for themselves, consistently preferring to tax unearned wealth over wages; giving a hand-up, not a hand-out.

    The NHS is not going to ‘die’ – the Lib Dems want a comprehensive, free-at-point-of-use health service which offers good value for taxpayers money, is as decentralised and locally accountable as possible and which provides room for local development and innovation. If you really want someone to blame, take a closer look at what Labour did and would have continued to do had they remained in power.

  43. Newsbot9

    No, it’s not escaped my attention that the LibDems have supported a policy of social cleansing and slum creation. That you call attention to it just shows how desperate you are to save your party (it won’t work).

    Labour, at a time when the Feral 1% were – globally – pushing out wages for capital managed to hold the line, especially on child poverty. This is now collapsing, with millions thrown into poverty. This is your fault.

    The NHS isn’t going to “die”, no, YOU are killing it. Deliberately. You want a service which is free if you can travel half the country for it. “Decentralisation” is another word for killing local services and making the postcode lottery far worse, smashing what was one of the best health services in the world.

    I’m not a Labour supporter, I’m a actual left winger. Also unlike you. You are to blame, personally, along with everyone still with the LibDems. Just as much as every Tory.

    Don’t like it? Tough.

  44. Clinic Expo

    Clegg still has a chance to save the NHS – and his party

  45. Foxy52

    On the NHS reforms, read abt the debates at the Lib Dem Spring Conference: #PMQs

  46. “Stockholm Syndrome” – coalition clings on to a bill that will cause irreparable damage | Left Foot Forward

    […] See also: • Clegg still has a chance to save the NHS – and his party 12 Mar […]

  47. Diane Hain

    @dianehain see I gave you a mention! @Puffles2010

  48. Lucas: “Dismantle this reckless ideology – before it can cause irreparable harm” | Left Foot Forward

    […] Clegg still has a chance to save the NHS – and his party 12 Mar […]

  49. Newsbot9

    Yes, it completely escapes me, given you are in support of social cleansing, of slashing and burn in the university sector and in propping up the Feral 1%.

    Collective responsibility has not been suspended in the cabinet, YOU are responsible as a party. And personally, as far as I’m concerned. The NHS is dead, the “point of use” for many services is going to dwindle very rapidly indeed. And “local accountability”. Ah yes, “this is why we can’t afford this service here”….because you are starving poorer areas of cash.

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