Apparently at the Lib Dem conference in Gateshead last weekend, Nick Clegg tried to claim that the NHS Reform bill is strictly Tory.
This is of course not true. While it originates with the Tories, and will obviously benefit their donors, the Liberal Democrats are directly and very publicly responsible for ensuring that the bill will pass – even though it was not part of the original coalition agreement, was not even on the Tory manifesto, and has been comprehensively rejected by both the general public and the NHS professionals who would be required to implement the changes.
The emergency motion that Dr Evan Harris had proposed for debate Sunday morning, to have the LibDem conference vote to drop the bill, was defeated because Nick Clegg’s office instructed Shirley Williams to put forward a competing motion.
While the defeat of the Shirley Williams motion has been billed as a defeat for Clegg, in fact Nick Clegg won as soon as the motion his office had drafted had been chosen for the emergency debate Sunday morning:
Opponents of the bill expressed horror at the way in which the issue was being transparently manipulated to turn it into a referendum on Williams, regarded as a deity in her party. Critics said she knew little about the motion drafted in the office of Nick Clegg. “I don’t mind Shirley being a human shield for Nick, but at least she should be a volunteer,” complained a former MP. Another asked why they could not call their kill-the-bill motion the St Francis of Assisi motion.
Williams does indeed have a unique status in her party. It was her rhetoric that persuaded delegates last spring in Sheffield to demand massive changes to the bill, and as a result many delegates this weekend instinctively were willing to subcontract their judgment to her. Clegg framed the choice simply: “Should we have faith in Shirley Williams or Andy Burnham [the Labour shadow health secretary], touring the TV studios denigrating our party?” Delegates received three leaflets from the leadership extolling the bill.
The Tory plan for the next General Election according to ConHome:
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.
(They don’t plan to try to win any seats in Scotland, but presumably both Labour and Tories will continue to blame Scotland’s public spending on “the Barnet formula” rather than a steady pattern of left-wing government. Interestingly, of course if the LibDems did decide to quit the coalition, that could mean the next UK General Election would take place before the independence referendum which is locked in to autumn 2014. If Labour won – and they well might – the likelihood that Scots would vote for independence goes down.)
The Liberal Democrats are steadily nailing themselves into their own coffin: they are down to 8% from 30% at the last General Election, and they frankly deserve it. They are as a party unwilling to stand up for anything – not to defend the welfare state, not even to defend the NHS. Whereas
The Conservative Party and David Cameron are seen as strong but not enough voters see the party as “fair”. In the next three years – off the back of welfare reforms, in particular, the Conservative party must present itself, as the party of true fairness and therefore win the values battle. This began with Cameron’s speech on Saturday 3rd March.
A LibDem blogger without much experience in politics, Nick Thornby, was found for the New Statesman to argue the tired case in 2012 that in 2010 the Liberal Democrats picked the least-worst choice given the election results:
That left only a coalition or a minority Tory administration. Within weeks of forming a minority government, George Osborne would have produced the most populist, tax-cutting budget imaginable and, when it failed to get through the Commons, David Cameron would have visited Her Majesty, Parliament would have been dissolved and a new general election – probably in autumn 2010 – would have ensued. And at this point, both Labour and the Tories would have had one message: “it’s time for you to vote for one of us – the Lib Dems have rejected the option of power”. The Lib Dems would have been squeezed like never before; every marginal – virtually every Lib Dem seat – would be vulnerable. We’d have been reduced to a miniscule Parliamentary Party.
With 8% support in polls even before the coalition passes the LibDem-approved NHS Reform Bill and things go completely pearshaped, it seems likely that after the next General Election a Lib Dem MP will become as rare a beast as a Scottish Tory MP after the 1997 election.
A record-breaking 173,418 people have signed Dr Kailash Chand’s e-petition to drop the NHS Reforms bill. Tomorrow, it will be debated in the House of Commons. I fully expect that the majority of the 57 LibDem MPs – and perhaps all of them! – will vote to support the NHS Reforms Bill, because I expect their party leadership is pushing the idea that any defeat would mean the Tories abandoning the coalition and forcing an early General Election. Whereas if they cling on to power for the next three years, something might happen. If this were genre fiction, and the LibDems were the good guys, there would certainly be a surprisingly-happy ending or at least an earned happy ending.
What the Liberal Democrat party leadership doesn’t seem to realise is that the story in which they continue to cling to the Tories is not one that can have a happy ending. Here’s the Trope:
The villain approaches one of the good guys, often having captured them first. The good guy is then offered a deal: if he will help the villain by betraying his comrades, he will be amply rewarded with money, a high-ranking position in the villain’s organization, or something else that would be attractive. He accepts the bargain, and keeps his end of it.
Of course, the villain has no intention of honoring his own part of the bargain. One reason is that no Card-Carrying Villain would want to share anything with a stooge who has outlived his usefulness. Another reason is that smart villains never trust a traitor, no matter which side he’s working for — they can never be sure that their double agent won’t turn triple agent.
So, the traitor gets the “reward” of being put to death or being reduced to menial slavery. Not such a pleasant outcome for him, is that? Frequently this is accompanied by a speech of withering contempt for treachery, which demonstrates that the villain is an honorable enemy or at least a Worthy Opponent to some degree.
In pro wrestling, Face Heel Turn is what happens when a “good” wrestler (a face) is tempted by The Dark Side, or just gets fed up, and becomes a heel. In pro-wrestling, paradoxically, a face turning “heel” often sees their popularity skyrocket.
I really think that the LibDem party leaders think they have worked out that: If they defy the Tories, there’s an early General Election, and LibDems are so unpopular right now that they’d lose all their seats. Whereas if they cling to the coalition and cooperate with the Tories, they will at least retain their share of Parliamentary seats until 2015. Something might happen between now and then that would change the situation – it’s a million to one chance, but as fans of Terry Pratchett know, those crop up nine times out of ten. What they have overlooked as that there is a Lucky Bastard in UK politics right now, and it’s not Nick Clegg.
Perhaps because their party is unused to government, they’ve lost track of the plain fact that it’s up to them to make things happen to change the situation. Though about the only thing I can imagine is for Nick Clegg to do a Face Heel Turn and a scenery-chewing You Shall Not Pass speech tomorrow.