Dear LibDems, climb out of the window now

I woke up yesterday to a Tory on Twitter accusing all of us who have protested the NHS Reform of being “hysterical”. A Lib Dem suggested that we really shouldn’t call it privatisation because that’s just a dystopic fantasy. She and another LibDem were telling me that I shouldn’t blame the Liberal Democrats or the Tories because this was all Labour’s fault really, I ought to be complaining about what the Labour government were doing back when they were in power, not about what the Tories and LibDems are doing now.

[And by Friday, Lord Ashcroft had published a concern troll at ConHome: update below.]

The Ninth Doctor: She's climbing out the window, isn't she?


A favoured strategy by politicians and their cohorts when voters complain about planned legislation or other government actions, is the infantilising, patronising response: You just don’t understand. We are better informed than you are: we have had more time to consider these issues. And in our informed and considered opinion, we have decided the best thing to do is –

This is a good strategy. I don’t mean morally good, I mean it’s a solid fighting strategy. Government policy does require lots of information and much consideration to be successfully drawn up and implemented. Most people don’t have the information or the time to consider all the facts around the issues, and we’re mostly fully aware of that. Politicians at all levels use this strategy: in Edinburgh we heard a lot of it from politicians on Edinburgh Council during the Save Our Services campaign: we heard it from Tony Blair during the Iraq war.

We know more than you do: we've read a PhD's students 12-year-old thesis about Iraq, yes we have

The point at which this strategy stops working is when it becomes publicly clear that the politician claiming he’s equipped to make this decision (and you’re not) because he has access to more information than you do, is shown to be lying about that. The Spartacus Report was proved that yes, government policy on welfare reform for disabled people did need a lot of quality information which should be considered – and the government hadn’t bothered to collect the information. Disability groups had to. (Government then ignored it.)

Of course defeating the strategy doesn’t mean winning. The same LibDem councillor on Twitter who told me I should right now be blaming Labour for PFI not the Liberal Democrats for the Health and Social Care Bill, claimed the reason politicial protest had been “ineffective” was because the people who really understood the NHS Bill (that is, LibDem and Conservative politicians and party members, not the uninformed public) understood that this Bill was not privatisation and would not damage the NHS. That, she claimed, was why the Bill had sailed through Parliament unaffected by any of the messy opposition.

The NHS reforms were not mentioned in the Tory manifesto nor in the Tory/LibDem coalition agreement. It was open to Nick Clegg to say that the Lib Dems would not support the NHS Bill: it is always open to one party in a coalition to refuse to support legislation not covered by the coalition agreement. For whatever reason, the leader of the Liberal Democrats has done all he possibly could to ensure this Bill passes, including bamboozling the LibDem spring conference with a motion ostensibly put forward by Shirley Williams: in fact written by his office.

The Tory masterplan for 2015 is to hold 50 marginal seats, to win 36 seats from Labour and to win 14 from the Liberal Democrats. The Tories do not intend to have to go into coalition again, though the LibDems have served them well.

The party is targeting 100 seats in total – fifty it already holds and fifty it hopes to win. The aim is to win 36 from Labour and 14 from the Liberal Democrats.

The Tories have not misled their voting core. Well, not much. They didn’t admit they were going to privatise the NHS, but their core vote won’t object to that – at least not until they need healthcare and find they can’t afford it now. They didn’t win in 2010, but they are undoubtedly hoping to profit by the usual split of left-wing liberal voters undecided whether to vote Liberal Democrat or Labour. This is also a good strategy. It’s worked before.

The NHS Bill is a failure of democracy. From the refusal by David Cameron to hold a debate on dropping the NHS Bill, as requested by (now) 176,344 signers of the e-petition:

Cameron launched e-petitions in August 2010. He said that members of the public could go online, put forward a proposal for debate and see if they could generate support. Those that gained 100,000 signatures would be debated in the Commons. He told parliament: “One of the points of the new e-petitions website is to make sure that if a certain level of signatures is reached, the matter will be debated in the House, whether we like it or not. That is an important way of empowering people.”

From this petty denial by a Prime Minister afraid of having his legislation challenged by the voters, to the government defiance of the Information Commissioner ruling that they must publish the bill’s Risk Register, the Conservatives and for the most part the Liberal Democrats have shown they do not want this bill to be judged democratically: it will go through by party Whip, regardless of what the healthcare professions or the general public want.

On Sunday, a letter signed by fifty doctors appeared in the Independent.

As healthcare professionals, we are appalled that the coalition Government has imposed many of the changes before the bill has even been enacted and then tried to use this as “evidence” that the professions support their reform. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Government has systematically failed to make the case for such radical change to the NHS, which has recently been shown to be one of the most cost effective and highly performing healthcare systems in the world, enjoying its highest ever public satisfaction rates. None of the major healthcare representative organisations and professional associations supports the reforms, and the majority of them would like to see the bill withdrawn. From the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health to the British Geriatrics Society, healthcare professionals agree that the reforms will damage and fragment the NHS, widen healthcare inequalities, and worsen patient care in England.

Despite such widespread professional concern and opposition to this hopelessly complex, flawed and potentially dangerous legislation, the coalition government has repeatedly blocked the publication of the NHS risk register and continues to push ahead with the bill, which is likely to be granted Royal Assent on Tuesday 20th March. It is our view that coalition MPs and Peers have placed the political survival of the coalition Government above professional opinion, patient safety, and the will of the citizens of this country.

Their plan is have doctors to stand as MPs in the next General Election, to unseat politicians who have supported the NHS Bill. They are taking advice from Richard Taylor, the retired consultant who was elected as an independent MP for Wyre Forest in 2001 in protest at the downgrading of his local hospital:

“I had no more thought of becoming an MP when I retired than I had of going to the moon, and I’m sure these doctors were the same. The doctors selected as candidates need to be popular in their own areas and they have to portray what they stand for as a vital national issue. They will need an unpopular sitting MP or one who has voted the wrong way, so they must choose their targets wisely.”

The Conservatives will survive this as a party. The legislation conforms with their political beliefs, even if it wasn’t in their manifesto, and whether they’re in government or not after 2015, they will certainly be a significant body of MPs in Parliament.

There are a fair number of constituencies – including Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam – where the two front runners are either Tory or Liberal Democrat. If these doctors stand as Independents, choosing constituencies where it would not be much of a sacrifice for Labour to agree not to compete with them for votes, they could take down a significant proportion of LibDem MPs. There are 29 LibDem MPs in Parliament who have constituency majorities of less than 5000. (Five are in Scotland, which is a different political situation again.)

The only hope for the Liberal Democrats is that the doctors must choose constituencies carefully. There are 84 Tory MPs who have a majority smaller than 5,000 – and only one of those is in Scotland. If the fifty doctors chose by Parliamentary majorities alone, there would be only 12 LibDem MPs in the target group, and 38 Tories. However they select their constituencies, they should go in and win: it would be a splendid dose of medicine for the Westminster Parliament to have fifty independent MPs who are bound by no Party whip, voting as they judge best. Even the loss of 12 MPs for a party which only fields 57 is a major blow, and I doubt it will be only a dozen MPs they lose over their support for this Bill.

As for the Liberal Democrats: the third reading of the NHS Bill is today, and though David Owen plans to try to delay it until after publication of the Risk Register, I think he’ll fail: and even if he did, the Bill would still pass. The Liberal Democrats are walking into their own destruction as a party.

“Just go in there and tell her the Doctor would like to see her.”
Intern: “‘The Doctor’ who?”
– “Just ‘The Doctor’. Tell her exactly that, ‘The Doctor’.”
Intern: “Hang on a tic.” (The intern goes inside. There is the sound of a teacup smashing and the intern returns.) “The Lord Mayor says ‘thank you f-for popping by.’ She’d love to have a chat, but, um, she’s up to her eyes in paperwork. Perhaps you would like to make an appointment for next week…”
– “She’s climbing out the window, isn’t she?”
Intern: “Yes, she is.”


If evidence were needed that this plan has got the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats scared, Lord Ashcroft of Belize posted a distinctly misleading blog at ConHome in which he argued that running Independent candidates in this way would benefit the Tories and so be a very bad idea. This is known as concern trolling,

Concern troll: Noun, derived from “internet troll.” A more subtle beast than your standard troll, this species posts comments that appear to be sympathetic to the topic being discussed but who, in reality, wishes to sow doubt in the minds of readers.

and really, the only thing Ashcroft did wrong was posting it under his own name. After all, if Lord Ashcroft, the Tory party’s biggest donor, really thought this plan could help the Tories get a majority, he would never have blogged about it.

This morning on Liberal Conspiracy, LibDem blogger Mark Thompson has taken up Lord Ashcroft’s concern troll and repeats it with added AV flavour:

The absolutely fascinating finding is that whilst the doctors apparently have 18% support, they would only shave a little bit off the two coalition parties. By far the biggest loser from their entry to the parliamentary race would be Labour.

So the mere presence of these candidates in the race would take 2% points from the Lib Dems, 3% points from the Conservatives but fully 11% points from Labour according to this poll!

As I noted in a comment to Mark’s post:

What Lord Ashcroft ignores – for obvious reasons – is that the doctor candidates would be standing in constituencies where the two front-runners are either Tory or LibDem. (Or so I understood their plan to be.)

In those constituencies, Labour voters know their candidate won’t get in.

A doctor standing for the pro-NHS interest in those constituencies would certainly take away Labour’s overall share of the vote nationwide, but not diminish the number of Labour MPs likely to get in.

These doctors standing for election threaten a Tory majority in GE2015 – since the Tories must hold all the seats kept in 2010 and gain at least nineteen more to form a goverment. They can’t do this if in every constituency where the Tory candidate lost to the LibDems, or where a Tory MP is challenged by a LibDem, there is an alternative candidate who is: Locally known and personally popular (a retired GP, for example); who is a credible alternative vote for Labour voters (if Labour agrees to stand aside in these constituencies), for LibDems sickened by their party’s betrayal: and even by Tory voters who loathe what their party is becoming under the Bullingdon boys.

There are a dozen constituencies where LibDem MPs held their seats by a narrow margin and the next front runner wasn’t Labour. The LibDems only fielded 57 MPs in 2010. The loss of even 12 will make their party even less credible – and that’s just the threat from the doctors in support of the NHS.

Why the pretence that this will affect Labour more than any other party? Because it really won’t.

The last is a rhetorical question. It’s obvious why Tories and LibDems are uniting against the idea that 50 doctors might stand for election in the constituencies that would threaten them most: the Tories in their desire for government after 2015, the LibDems for their survival as a party.

Update, 4th September

For the future of the NHS in Tory hands, look no further than Hunt for the NHS.

(I reconsidered this support following an unfortunate discussion on Twitter)

1 Comment

Filed under Epetitions, Healthcare

One response to “Dear LibDems, climb out of the window now

  1. The libdems have been saying that the bill is acceptable now after they have imposed over 1000 amendments on it. Any bill, or indeed any plan at all, that needs that number of changes must have been horribly flawed to begin with, and it is best to scrap it and start again. This one especially.

    I don’t know what Shirley Williams was thinking when she threw her support behind the bill – none of her fundamental objections to it have been changed one iota. Is she ill?

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