Opinion: The leadership contest – how's it looking so far?

by Stephen Tall on November 7, 2007

The leadership campaign must have begun: all party members have just received our first e-mails from the candidates, Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne.

I remain a floating voter in this election: genuinely (because I can see the good qualities in each candidate) and deliberately (‘cos I can imagine the flak LDV would get if it were seen to be promoting any one individual). What I’ve got to say should be read in that spirit.

Let’s take Chris’s statement first. (It happened to arrive in my inbox first.) In some senses, Chris should start the favourite: he was runner-up last time, attracting 42% of the final vote – which means over 20,000 members chose to make him their first or second preference candidate back in 2006. This gives him name recognition, at least among activists, perhaps exceeding that which Nick has. It also means he has a campaign infrastructure: a nascent team, extant database, loyal supporters primed and ready-to-go.

Yet it’s clear that Chris wishes – whether by design or default – to pitch his candidacy as still very much the outsider he was until almost two years ago. His opening statement is a call to arms: “Britain needs nothing less than a Liberal Revolution: a revolution in democracy, a revolution for social justice, and a revolution in global change.”

It’s a brave declaration: brave in its ambition, but also brave in its pitch. “A revolution in democracy” is a line which Chris knows will be applauded by party activists the length and breadth of the country. It is a measure which we know would transform the way in which politics in this country is done. And yet… isn’t it too easy? Will the revolution in democracy really grab potential voters? Is it really the slogan to highlight in your leadership pitch?

However, social justice is clearly the gauntlet which Chris’s campaign wishes to lay down to Team Clegg: “we’re against school vouchers and American-style health insurance. How about you?” It’s a fair question, and one to which Nick should give due regard. In his Vision statement Nick left it (deliberately) opaque: “our universal public services must be free to use and accessible to all. But beyond that, I want us to think afresh about how they should be funded and delivered.” Thinking afresh is all well and good – after all, if you can’t do that during a leadership campaign, when can you do it? But he can hardly be surprised if his rivals read into it what they will.

Yet there is a challenge here, too, for Chris: Nick has summarised his approach to public services (free to use, accessible to all, the delivery’s up for grabs) – is Chris suggesting that delivery of services in health and education must always be through government, whether at local or national level? Does he really think council officers in the Town Hall (as opposed to civil servants in Whitehall) will be better placed than the individual patient, parent or pupil to know what individual services they require? We can all agree that public services should be devolved from the centre. The question is: how far do you go? Nick has dodged the question; Chris appears to prefer not to ask it.

On Trident, it seems to me that after all last week’s sound and fury both candidates have argued themselves to a score-draw. Chris will have won over those activists wishing to hear their leader argue unambiguously against Trident; but worried those who fear he’s too in thrall to party activists. Nick will have reassured those who want the party to remain in the mainstream of political debate; but worried those who fear we will be squeezed by Labour and the Tories if we too often adopt a cautious middle-way approach to such vital issues.

Finally, and briefly, on Chris’s statement: “we need a revolution in global change”. I’d be grateful if anyone could explain to me what this statement might mean. I’ve read it a hundred times, and each time I do it means less than previously.

And now, more briefly, to Nick… the difference in style is quite marked. While Chris commits himself to take the party base to the people – “lead[ing] nothing less [than] a Liberal Revolution for the British people” (an oddly top-down remark from such a decentraliser) – Nick opts to widen the party base itself: “There are millions of people in this country who share our liberal values, but don’t yet give us their votes.”

I was one of those people who argued the leadership race should not be a two-horse race, who urged other candidates to throw their hats in the ring – either because they thought they might win, or else to signify their ambition.

But one of the consequences of the straight choice we party members face is that the – be honest, minor differences – which exist between the candidates are that much more transparent. A four- or five-horse race would have been much more interesting; but it would also have muddied the waters, allowing the two leading candidates to deflect attention from their perceived advantages and shortcomings.

Chris, it seems to me, is talking to the party – perhaps too gently for its own good – in order to win the chance to talk to the nation. Nick, it seems to me, is focusing less on the party – perhaps too little for his own good – in order to win the chance to be heard by the nation.

This, I would argue, is the essence of this leadership contest: purism (Chris Huhne) versus pragmatism (Nick Clegg). Should that statement be read pejoratively? Well, it depends on what you think the role of the leader should be. Should a leader unite the party around core beliefs – ones which fit it like a glove – in order to give us the confidence to take our liberal proposition to the British people?

“We will make the call loud and clear to change the country we love, not just run it. We will inject our energy and our ideas into the political system. We will build a grassroots movement of liberals within this party and outside it.” – Chris Huhne

Or should a leader unite the people around a broader concept of liberalism – one which the party perhaps sometimes finds uncomfortable – in the hope it will give the party mainstream appeal, and, in time, power?

“Some commentators argue that the best the Liberal Democrats can hope for is third place and a toe-hold in government if we’re lucky. They are wrong. Third place is not good enough for me, for the party, or for Britain. In a time of real political change and shifting public opinion we must aim higher.” – Nick Clegg

This leadership race offers a clear choice: it’s an honest choice, and an honest difference.

And yet there is also a marked similarity between the two candidates, evidenced most clearly by Nick’s public declaration to become “the first national politician to pledge to refuse to register” for an ID card. Nick was indulging in obvious hyperbole: the party’s president, Simon Hughes, beat him to the title by two years.

Yet it points to a growing recognition within the Lib Dems that the party has become too complacent. For five years, the Lib Dems have benefited from being the party which (for example) opposed the Iraq war, and which opposed tuition fees. As those two issues, in particular, begin to lose their visceral resonance with voters, the question emerges: what comes next?

And it’s evident when you talk to Lib Dem members – no matter which self-proclaimed ‘wing’ of the party they align themselves to – that our spiky, edgy, anti-establishment nature was one of the chief attractions of the party to them. Indeed, that word, ‘spiky’, was the one which was adopted by Ming Campbell as a cri de coueur for party members in his private speeches, and which was met with great acclaim; yet he somehow failed to communicate this liberal feistiness to the wider electorate.

If the last leadership election marked the breakthrough into the political mainstream of ‘green politics’ – thanks to Chris Huhne, and irrespective of David Cameron’s photo-ops – then perhaps this contest will witness the Lib Dems becoming more willing to identify ourselves as political outsiders eager to break the cosy Labour/Tory consensus.

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42 comments

I’m irritated because the Huhne campaign tries to portray Clegg supporting American-style health care system, though he has very clearly searched for alternative models from Europe. Many of the European health care system are different from the British NHS, but none of them leaves the sick people without health care if they can’t afford it themselves like in America, and therefor Huhne is misleading people by speaking about the American health care system.

by Anonymous on November 7, 2007 at 9:53 am. Reply #

I’m exactly where I started; I wanted Steve Webb and can’t bring myself to vote for Chris Clegg or Nick Huhne. Once again, I feel the parliamentary party has disenfranchised me.

by Martin Land on November 7, 2007 at 10:00 am. Reply #

Imo, there is definitely something of the late afternoon about Huhne, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

by James on November 7, 2007 at 10:37 am. Reply #

Given the vacuous slogans coming from the candidates I’m tempted to vote for the first one to say “We must build. But we must build surely” 🙂

by Hywel Morgan on November 7, 2007 at 10:45 am. Reply #

A lot of what you claim to be neutral here actually seems to me to be retailing the Cleggies’ viewpoint of the situation.

First, the idea that Huhne ought to be the “favourite”. Well, of course the Cleggies would like him to be seen like this – we’re Liberal Democrats, we’re the sort of people who don’t go for what we’re told to go for – and I see that as a real problem for Team Clegg given the massive backing he’s got from the press with the assumption right from the start that the election is a formality and he’s going to win it. Clegg’s been put forward as “the next leader” since he got into Parliament – by the same commentators who put him forward as a potential defector to the Tories and who like him and back him because of that. Huhne was always the outsider, in the last leadership election he did well only because he was standing, Clegg was not, and there were obvious flaws in the other two candidates.

Secondly, it’s Team Clegg spin rather than reality that “Clegg is appealing to the outside world, Huhne is looking inward to the party”. The biggest problem I have with Clegg is that most of his leadership speeches sounds to me like empty statements which make Liberal Democrats feel good, rather than stuff which really gets the outside world thinking “heh, those Liberal Democrats have something worthwhile to say”.

The idea that simply saying “Some commentators argue that the best the Liberal Democrats can hope for is third place …” etc is somehow appealing to the outside world is nonsense. No-one’s going to deny the point made here, Huhne is not saying “I want us to be in third place, that’s where we belong” is he? So why do you write up aspirations as if they are actually concrete policies to achieve those aspirations? That’s pure Blairism if anything.

You say Huhne is “talking to the party” “too gently”. But if anything, he’s spitting out ideas too roughly, and he’s been criticised (not without justification) for that. But I don’t all see those ideas as “purism”, though isn’t that just how Team Clegg wants to portray Huhne, as some sort of “purist” who isn’t interested in power? I think in fact what will win us support is showing we have ideas that tackle the problems that people face, not empty posturing of the sort which supposes if we just go on on on about how we really want to win power and how good we are, we’re going to win. Actually, I think feel-good aspirational stuff puts ordinary people off politics, it just makes politicians look like all they care for is power.

On the “voucher” issue, I’ve already asked and got no clear answer, “what do we mean by voucher, and how does it differ from how education is already run?”.

Media commentators put forward the idea that schools are “run” by councils, and that councils just tell parents where they are to send their pupils without choice. Well, maybe these commentators do that because they all send their kids to private schools so they actually have no idea how the state system works, and so just guess this is how it is.

The reality is that parents DO have a choice of schools, and can go to other boroughs as well. Less easy in the rural areas, true, but there’s less of a problem of “bad” schools there anyway. The issue is how do you deal with some schools being oversubscribed. How are vouchers going to solve this problem? Would the system of allocating pupils to LEA schools be any different if it involved a bit of paper called a “voucher”? Are we really talking window dressing here? Now, the big difference would be if vouchers could be used to pay part of the fees of fee-paying schools. The problem with that is the likelihood that it would lead to a system whereby most parents sent their pupils to schools which involved at least some top-up fees, but there would be a few poor quality schools paid for only by the voucher for kids from poor families or families who really didn’t care to go to. Would we be happy with the obvious social divide that would cause?

As for schools being “run” the council, well, one of the most disappointing things I found during the years I was a councillor was that I had almost no say in running schools. I have plenty of ideas on education, but I found LEAs didn’t have any input on that, or at least so little it didn’t matter. Schools are run by their headteacher and their governing body, under the tight grip of the National Curriculum, with the LEA having a mainly nominal back-up role.

The result of this means “taking school out of the control of the council” is meaningless rhetoric – schools aren’t under the control of the council. The different styles offered by different heads mean there is a variety on offer. So quite what is this “voucher” debate and talk of “Council officers in the Town Hall” all about?

by Matthew Huntbach on November 7, 2007 at 10:51 am. Reply #

harry – what’s ‘dirty’ about the Huhne campaign exactly? Yes, he’s clearly trying to flush Clegg out on some issues, but that’s far from ‘dirty’. There’s been more dirt about Chris on some Clegg supporters’ websites (and I’m not suggesting Clegg endorses that) than anything Huhne has said so far.

by Sam on November 7, 2007 at 10:51 am. Reply #

I’ve moderated Harry’s comment (mentioned by Sam in no.7) as it seems to be a case of one person posing as multiple personalities to make different criticisms of one leadership candidate. (If it really is a matter of lots of people all poised at the same time at the same keyboard, just get in touch and I’ll restore the messages).

by Mark Pack on November 7, 2007 at 11:41 am. Reply #

Matthew @ 8, whilst vouchers aren’t relevant in the leadership election are neither side support them, you could do worse than reading up on how Sweden has introduced vouchers for a view on how they work, as you do seem confused.

Some people will also use the language of vouchers when discussing the Dutch system, though in that case the term is used retrospectively, with the Dutch coming up with the idea of the money following the child sometime before modern voucher concepts. Incidentally neither the Dutch system nor the Swedish system are “top up” vouchers – the idea that this is what is being talked about in the UK is only put around by people as a scare story.. I haven’t seen anyone at all just propose that (as we don’t yet have an affordable low cost private schooling market, top-up vouchers would threaten its ability to develop in the first place).

Parents of course in the UK do have a choice of schools in the comprehensive system – they just need to buy a house in a rich area with good schooling. No problem so long as your parents are rich.

by Peter Bancroft on November 7, 2007 at 11:41 am. Reply #

9 Peter – to a large extent money folows the child in the current system. The large majority of each school’s funding is based on how many pupils are on role. Where the ‘Pupil Premium’ proposal makes a difference is in varying the amount of money that follows the individual child according to their circumstances.

The Swedish system is interesting ans seems to work. the question for us, though, is whether it would work here, or whether we would need to increase funding, have smaller schools and work out how to engage those parents that are not engaged at present before it would work.

As to your final point, yes there are some parts of the country, particularly large conurbations, where this happens. In most parts of the country, though, most parents happily send their children to their local state school and don’t move house before they do so.

by Sam on November 7, 2007 at 11:49 am. Reply #

I find a lot of this the kind of navel-gazing that has got us nowhere very far in the last two years.

Fact: Nick has had articles and had interest in the Telegraph etc

For me it’s definitely about communicating and reaching out to new voters. That is the No 1 assessment I am making of the candidates.

We can have as many policies as you like but if we cannot communicate them to the wider electorate in the battle of ideas and votes then we are just pissing in the wind.

Why does Cameron speak to BEM radio stations in Harlesden? Not because he thinks the Harlesden estate will come out in force for the Tories at the election but because if you’re speaking to those who will NEVER vote for you you are getting through to those that will change!

Why does he sound so pithy and win the Radio 5 political speed dating against Chris? Because he can directly communicate with the ordinary joe in the street.

Why do I find him sounding so much more urgent than Chris? Because he cannot stand, any more than i can, of us hiding our lights under bushels. He just wants to use the killer Genghis Khan instinct we have psychologically not allowed ourselves to have as a national party.

Yes Chris we want nothing less than a Liberal Revolutions – but you need votes dear for that – and Nick is the one best placed to find them!

by John on November 7, 2007 at 12:09 pm. Reply #

Many of us activists have heard it all before, but we should not belittle the rhetoric of the candidates. If a Lib Dem government implements the policies of the party, they will make very big changes to the way the country is governed.
It is no exaggeration to describe it as radical. Maybe revolutionary goes to far, but as rhetoric it does give a good indication that we are ambitious in what we want to do.
Centre Forum published a pamphlet on the pupil’s premium, and although it is rather boring, I did have the opportunity at the Brighton conference to one of the authors. It is based on the Swedish system, and on paper it ought to be a very progressive system. I am curious to know if anyone has a critique on it?
I have only heard one side of the argument, but it looks a good policy to me.

by Geoffrey Payne on November 7, 2007 at 12:17 pm. Reply #

It’s Huhne for me – purely on the psychedelic issue. All politicians should do acid & mushrooms. Ideally weekly.

by ColinW on November 7, 2007 at 12:18 pm. Reply #

Peter @ 9. Why do you say vouchers aren’t relevant in the leadership election?

Nick was in favour of them in the recent Torygraph article, while Chris has made clear he is against them.

by Kevin on November 7, 2007 at 1:39 pm. Reply #

Martin @2 – I respect your point of view but it was not the parliamentary party which prevented you from voting for Steve, but Steve himself. He had the necessary backing of 7 MPs to stand, but simply decided not to.

Kevin @ 14 – the Clegg campaign were clear that his views were misrepresented in the Telegraph article (the journalist didn’t understand the difference between vouchers and the pupil premium idea).

by Jeremy Hargreaves on November 7, 2007 at 2:05 pm. Reply #

Stephen wrote that “Chris will have won over those activists wishing to hear their leader argue unambiguously against Trident; but worried those who fear he’s too in thrall to party activists.”

Only the second half of this sentence is correct. Many unilateralists in the party seem to be worried about the “Huhne-bomb” he proposes to replace Trident. Adding “some of” to the first part of the sentence would be more accurate.

by peter on November 7, 2007 at 2:05 pm. Reply #

Two interesting things to note about the Swedish system are:

1. Schools cannot select pupils on any basis – ability, aptitude, geography etc – places are filled on a strictly first come first served basis.
2. Schools cannot expel pupils – they have to deal with the intake they get and cannot kick out difficult children for them to become someone else’s problem. (Not one party in this country supports that idea.)

I think these two factors play a significant role in making their system egalitarian. Planning to implement vouchers and/or increased parental choice without them doesn’t deliver the same system or outcomes.

by Liz on November 7, 2007 at 2:14 pm. Reply #

11 John – so you’ll vote on the basis of which of them can show they’ve been most successful at persuading the public?

15 Jeremy – so Nick didn’t communicate the policy very well then?

17 Bunnies – ‘nobody is paying the slightest attention to the silly party and its nugatory election’ except you, it seems, from your posts here.

by Sam on November 7, 2007 at 2:30 pm. Reply #

Bless

by Ross on November 7, 2007 at 2:33 pm. Reply #

I am genuinely torn between the candidates. I like what Chris is saying but I want a leader with genuine mass and media appeal. For that Nick is the better person. It would have been preferable to have more candidates in the field in order to show the public the depth of talent that the Lib Dems have available to us now but I guess that everybody was taken by surprise by Ming’s sudden departure and the only people who were in a position to go were Chris and Nick.

Whoever wins, I hope he will be able to persuade both Ming and Charles to return to the Liberal Democrat front benches in Westminster.

by Martin Veart on November 7, 2007 at 2:52 pm. Reply #

10 – I have the perception that everybody agrees that the money should follow children to the school chosen by their parents, but people are disagreeing whether to call it ‘School Voucher’ or ‘Pupil Premium’.

by Anonymous on November 7, 2007 at 3:06 pm. Reply #

And why on earth is there a link from every single story of LDV to Jock’s Place under the title “What other bloggers are saying about this story…”? He surely hasn’t commented every story published in LDV, including this one.

by Anonymous on November 7, 2007 at 3:09 pm. Reply #

23 The difference is that in typical voucher systems the parents are given a voucher worth a particular amount of money which they can use at any school, and can top up if they wish to send their children to a private school.

In effect this subsidises middle class parents who can not quite afford private schools for their kids.

The ‘pupil premium’ as I understand it means that an amount of money is transferred to the school but stays within the state system.

by Sam on November 7, 2007 at 3:28 pm. Reply #

22 But what evidence is there that Nick has ‘genuine mass appeal’ other than the fact that his campaign team keep telling us that he has?

by Sam on November 7, 2007 at 3:29 pm. Reply #

Hmmm.. Please tell me that Nick Clegg isn’t going to privatise the NHS with some half-baked ‘Social Insurance’ scheme ?

Maybe he should pop down the cinema to see ‘Sicko’ from Michael Moore – amusing if not entirely telling the whole truth. But does show the dangers of not having comprehensive health care…

by Bonkalot Jones on November 7, 2007 at 3:53 pm. Reply #

Sam at 25: Of course Netherlands, where the system has been in place for over 90 years, proves that in a free system there are private schools catering for everybody. Majority of the schools in the Netherlands are private, and even the most deprived parents can put their children in a private school.

by Anonymous on November 7, 2007 at 4:43 pm. Reply #

It’s always nice to see our political opponents bothering to come here and write a comment to tell us that….we’re not worth bothering with!

Anonymous @ 24 – quite right!

by Jeremy Hargreaves on November 7, 2007 at 4:55 pm. Reply #

Sam says: “22 But what evidence is there that Nick has ‘genuine mass appeal’ other than the fact that his campaign team keep telling us that he has?”

Why do the media want us to vote for Nick?

Is it because he would be more favourable to US foreign policy than Chris?

Is it because he would form a coalition with the Conservatives in the event of a hung Parliament?

Or is he just another political celebrity, like Blair and Cameron?

Of course there is no evidence that Nick has mass popular appeal. Too few people know him. And the same is likely to be true of Chris. And anyone else in the Parliamentary Party.

The fact that much of said Parliamentary Party has lined up to shaft Chris tells us something, but I am not quite sure what that something is.

Who, if anyone, is winding the key in Nick’s back?

by "Sesenco" on November 7, 2007 at 5:18 pm. Reply #

As you may have spotted from various cross-references in people’s comments being wrong, there’s been another little outburst of abusive comments, largely from Conservative activsts, yawn yawn.

So just a reminder of the comments policy – disagreement, including from active supporters of other parties, is welcome. Spending your time wandering around on the internet like a foul-mouthed drunk isn’t.

by Mark Pack on November 7, 2007 at 5:52 pm. Reply #

24. I have no idea what Nick’s intentions towards the Health Service are. But anything would be welcome; the world’s second largest employer, this inefficient monster needs urgently reforming and it would be nice to see us proposing some serious policies to do it. My wife proposed buying medical repatriation insurance this year when we went en famille to France and Spain. After I’d finished laughing I asked her to kindly desist (or words to that effect) asking her why we should pay good money to be repatriated from an excellent hospital in France or Spain to the ‘plague pits’ which are the current offerings of the NHS.
We need a National Health Service with free and effective treatment for all. They manage this on the continent WHERE MANY HOSPITALS ARE PRIVATE SUPPLIERS TO THE HEALTH SERVICES, without it descended into something from Dante’s Inferno. The Tories, bless their little cotton socks, will never be trusted with the health service, but Lib Dems always will be. It therefore behoves us to take this issue more seriously. So long as every citizen is guaranteed free health treatment for all reasonable needs, I have no ideological axe to grind. By all means let’s look at real reform.

Under the last Tory government it was a mantra that what the NHS needed was investment. Health spending hasd been increased from less than 6% of GNP to more than 9% today, in line with our continental neighbours. And has it got any better? Well yes, but nothing like 50% better and it’s still a long way behind European Standards. Surely we cannot reasonably argue that we must continue to pour money in without any prospect of reasonable standards being achieved?

Who knows, if Nick is really starting to question things, root and branch, I might yet be provoked into voting…

Now if only he would say something about the organisational state of the party… Bit TOO radical that, though.

by Martin Land on November 7, 2007 at 6:16 pm. Reply #

I’ve often wondered why there’s a link to my blog after every single post on here. If anyone can shed any light on it I’ll investigate!

by jockox3 on November 7, 2007 at 7:01 pm. Reply #

What’s with all the comment along the lines of: Why is Lord Bonkers popular?

Is he really Labour/Tory?
Is he in favour of wife beating?
Is he clockwork?

Cut the crap. If you have something to say, say it. If you wish to criticise a candidate’s position, then you might want to refer to what that position actually is, rather than all this “my Nan says he’s probably anti-apple pie” bullshit.

by Joe Otten on November 7, 2007 at 7:22 pm. Reply #

Anonymous Says:
November 7th, 2007 at 9:53 am
“I’m irritated because the Huhne campaign tries to portray Clegg supporting American-style health care system, though he has very clearly searched for alternative models from Europe. Many of the European health care system are different from the British NHS, but none of them leaves the sick people without health care if they can’t afford it themselves like in America, and therefor Huhne is misleading people by speaking about the American health care system”

This was Conservative Party policy in 2005. Fox and Howard came back from European countries and promoted the idea.

Good on Clegg!

by Justin Hinchcliffe on November 7, 2007 at 9:49 pm. Reply #

Joe Otten wrote: “If you wish to criticise a candidate’s position, then you might want to refer to what that position actually is, ”

To criticise a candidate’s position, that candidate has to tell us what his position is.

by "Sesenco" on November 8, 2007 at 9:19 am. Reply #

29 – I am concerned about the voodoo economics here. There seems to be an idea that take down the sign reading “NHS” and put up one reading “Medics Ltd, contractors to NHS” will make a big difference. Sorry, I find that a little simplistic, and I’d like more detail of exactly why that is supposed to work.

It was the leader of the Liberal Party, Clement Davies, who expressed scepticism about the nationalisation of the coal industry by the 1945-51 Labour government with a quote I can’t quite remember, but something like “it will be the same men in the same place, and the same expression on the face of the pit pony”.

I feel similar scepticism about the magic solution of changing the sign plates on hospitals. We have after all, seen enough of this sort of thing with various privatisations and PFI and the like to know that it isn’t the magic solution it was once held up to be and could perhaps be more easily believed to be in 1980. I’d be all for it if someone could really explain how handing over hospitals to the private sector and contracting back their services is going to change the behaviour of those working in them so the experience of using them becomes much more pleasant.

I actually think the problem may not at all be the nameplate on the hospital, but a certain crapness in British society which encourages the sort of slapdash attitudes I agree we undoubtedly see in our hospitals. We do seem to have lost some of that mental discipline and common sense which once meant people worked well and gave good service in hospitals. Part of this may be to do with things like contracting out cleaning to private suppliers on the basis of those who make the lowest bid (and do it by cutting corners and employing cheap “no questions asked” labour) get the job. Part of it may be obsessive management forever with an eye on the budget at the expense of longer term considerations. I don’t know for sure, but I do feel switching the nameplate won’t solve it.

by Matthew Huntbach on November 8, 2007 at 9:34 am. Reply #

Matthew, the same Clement Davis argument could have been used when nationalising the health service in the first place.
The most expensive health service in the world is in the US. The poor can’t afford to be treated properly, whilst the rich get overtreated to help the private sector make more money.
Everyone loses.
Questions to do with what parts of the NHS should be run privately, and what parts publicly are important.
The NHS isn’t perfect. It is a large complicated organisation that is very difficult to manage. We should look to other EU countries for ideas, but the best health services such as in France also enjoy bigger government investment, and have done so for a number of years.
With greater demand coming from an aging population, there is no easy solution to all this.

by Geoffrey Payne on November 8, 2007 at 10:00 am. Reply #

Well, despite having lived a large part of my adult life in in France, I never thought I would end up promoting their health system, as there is much that is wrong with it (generally with the GP’s though), but here goes…

Hospitals are a mixture of the public and the private. The evolution of private hospitals has been, like here a method of bringing private capital into the state sector. The hospitals charge the health service to an agreed tarif for each operation or treatment. The patient pays nothing – unless they want too. For example, for the birth of our first son, my wife spent three nights in the hospital, with no charge to us, but I was offered a considerable number of additional facilities, which is where the hospital admitted they made their profit. These included private rooms if you wanted one – my wife preferred company; Wine with meals – I kid you not, they even had a wine list! Fresh Flowers every day. Cable Television and so on!
The rooms were clean, comfortable and well maintained. The service impeccable. I contrast that with the birth of our second son in a north London Hospital four years later. The staff were malevolant, borderline incompetent – “O no, baby’s not coming yet.” “Well stick your head down there and tell him that!” The Hospital was dirty and I don’t just mean a little tired and worn around the edges, I mean dirty. They discharged my wife and baby within 24 hours and I have never been so relieved in my life, just to get them out of there.

The point is that 10 years ago we could say, ‘well we get what we pay for…’ but now we pay a similar amount of our GNP to the health service as other european countries it’s still little better.

When a friend or colleague had to have some treatment or a minor operation in France we would all wish them well and compliment them on their luck in having a few comfortable days off work.

Here I just pray for them.

The Health Service needs a completely new approach, not more money, or at least not until it is reformed root and branch. We need to be leading a real agenda for change in the the way health is provided. Of course it must remain free; that is a fundamental principle. But there is no reason why it can’t be free and not actually go around trying to kill people.

Our leadership contenders need to address this issue. The public can trust us with the health service; but we can no longer, as a society, afford to trust the running of our most important national asset to a bloated and incompetant bureaucracy.

by Martin Land on November 8, 2007 at 10:12 am. Reply #

I went to the Welsh hustings in Cardiff last night, and I must say that Chris massively outperformed Nick.

Whatever happens, I’m sure both candidates will be an improvement on our former leader and will offer new vision for our party.

However, after hearing both candidates last night, I think that Chris has a stronger vision and will put us on the path for future election success.

by Joseph Carter on November 8, 2007 at 10:13 am. Reply #

It seems to me that the policy differences much debated on this thread do not matter as much as public perception of our “brand”; Ming’s politics and policies were sound enough but the public did not buy him so he had to go.
I find these polite hustings between colleague/candidates are too much internalised family affairs, and I look to debates where the candidates are having to make their pitch against parliamentary rivals.
I caught one on QS day where Nick Clegg was having to make his pitch in such company, plus the cool presence of Nick Robinson.
I thought he was the most passionate but least coherent of the four; best pin-up of the four of course.
It set me wondering how each of our candidates would perform under tory and labour pressure, and the kind of parliamentary barracking that Paddy and Charles had to endure.
We really need to ask Vince (shame he is not on the ticket), to let each do 2 PMQs before the ballot.
It is my impression that neither has even done backbenchers’ questions at PMQs.
It would be disastrous if the public perception of our new leader is that we have gone from “too old” to “too young”.

by Elizabeth Patterson on November 8, 2007 at 10:44 am. Reply #

The real question is whether we want a dynamic leader: Clegg or Chris Iain Duncan Huhne: the quiet, grey man who i don’t think will ever be turning up the volume. Huhne dodged the answers at the Cardiff Hustings and Clegg gave vision

by Adam Evans on November 8, 2007 at 11:03 am. Reply #

Don’t agree with that at all, Adam. I was at the hustings too and asked a question. In answer to mine, and many others, Chris gave a well thought out set of policy answers whereas Nick just attacked Labour.

I think Chris is the man who just wants to make things better without all the spin and I think that is what the party wants and I think that is what the public want too.

by Kevin O'Connor on November 8, 2007 at 11:40 am. Reply #

The debate here so far overlooks the clear danger which the evidence shows that the partys collapse in the polls had little to do with the age of the former leader, or rather to be absolutely accurate the ageism of the media , but is largely the result of Camerons advance/ ability to keep a lid on all the dissent, excepting Ancram and Hastilow and his comparative success in removing the stain of the nasty party.Yes people have genuinely fallen for this and we should never forget that Cameron mirrors his ideas on Mandelson, whom the Tories in their cynicism love and hate. I do not believe that even a new leader after the honeymoon can advance much in what Hulne calls the soggy centre.Strategy aside, the far bolder social justice platform Hulne is outlining especially as New Labour has so disastrously failed in all areas of equality accords with the noblest of our ideas and principles and thus there is no contradiction. The bolder Hulne becomes the more popular he will become- people outside the curent political equation are crying out for a far more radical direction in British politics.

by bill haymes on November 8, 2007 at 8:20 pm. Reply #

Speaking of the leadership election, will members actually get ballot papers for this vote? ‘Cos I’m still waiting for my Euroselection ballot papers – closing date tomorrow!

by crewegwyn on November 8, 2007 at 8:39 pm. Reply #

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