What Lib Dem bloggers have been saying about the NHS Bill after Lib Dem conference

by Stephen Tall on March 13, 2012

Unsurprisingly, there’s been plenty of post-conference reaction to the weekend’s events.

A quick recap of what happened: on Saturday, Lib Dem conference representatives narrowly voted not to debate a motion that called for the NHS Bill to be dropped. Then on Sunday, Lib Dem conference representatives narrowly voted following a debate not to support part of a motion that called for Lib Dem peers to back the NHS Bill.

Here’s how Lib Dem bloggers have responded to these events:

The Shirley Motion: what does it actually mean? (Harry Matthews)

In my personal opinion, I hope to see large rebellion in the House of Lords by Lib Dem peers – the bill itself is large, incomprehensible & has lost professional support. Politically, it makes no sense to keep it unless you’re being too proud to see that it is too toxic. However, I don’t think the emergency motion passed at Conference calls for peers to vote in any particular way – more to let them have a free vote on the bill.

The right thing to do for the NHS is to withdraw the bill (Martin Tod)

It’s the enormous complexity and bureaucracy of this new system – combined with the huge and unavoidable cost of transitioning from one system to another – combined with an unprecedented savings challenge – combined with the fact that much of the big savings have already been achieved and from here on in there’s just extra cost – that creates an extremely serious risk of an unavoidably lethal political cocktail of crisis and chaos in front-line services – in the NHS – in the run-up to a General Election. This is worse than tuition fees.

Mr. Clegg and the Vision thing (James Oates)

The problem for me is that I did not join and do not support the Liberal Democrats because they would be more effective administrators within the current system. I joined because the party was advocating a radical change to the way in which Britain is governed. … The Liberal Democrats have become great administrators: we need to return to being great visionaries as well. It is time Mr. Clegg expressed this fundamental part of Liberalism more loudly.

For all the members who have left or are considering leaving – are they prey to the Fundamental Attribution Error? (Matthew Gibson)

Coalitions produce a national collective fundamental attribution error which we can all get swept up in. We can start to attribute the problems with the government or the decisions being made to the smaller party and this will make people want to leave. This is indeed what has happened with people who are leaving questioning not just the decisions of the government but the values of the party or the personalities of the people at the top.

A Price Worth Paying? (Richard Morris)

So here is the question our Parliamentarians need to consider. It is perhaps a fairly obvious question – but in the midst of negotiations both around the bill and within the party, it is one that hasn’t been asked enough. Are you absolutely convinced that passing this bill will improve all patient outcomes in the NHS? If you are – and I’m duty bound to point out this means you believe you know better than just about every professional healthcare body in the country – then you must pass this bill, no matter what the electoral cost to the party. It may mean another 80 years of electoral oblivion but if that’s what you believe, you should put the NHS before the party. But if you’re not sure (and until the Risk Register is published, how can you be?), then is the cost of passing, as Nick calls it, the Conservatives’ Health and Social Care Bill a price worth paying?

Some words of advice for Nick Clegg (Caron Lindsay)

We’ve done wonders for our credibility over the past two years because we have shown ourselves capable of taking tough decisions and governing in the national interest. We’ve not shown ourselves at our best on this. What’s worse is that we’ve allowed a weakened Labour party, whose record on the NHS isn’t that great, to make political capital at our expense, spreading misinformation and often downright lies. … To allow ourselves to become so associated with this Bill on an issue that voters feel is of paramount importance, leaving us exposed to this barrage of criticism, has been a monumental strategic failure. … We need to start aggressively fighting back on health. We had better make sure that the changes, once implemented, make sure that patients are better served than they were before. … It’s a huge risk. We could still pull the plug on the Bill. We have that option. That might put the rest of the reforms we have achieved and might achieve in the future within the Coalition in jeopardy so we have to look at all the consequences in the round. If we are going to back it, though, we have to be absolutely sure that things will improve from the patient’s point of view. If they do not, we’ll get a kicking. The situation we’re in could have been avoided, but we need to make the best of it now. It must never, ever happen again, though and the party needs to be reassured that lessons have been learned. … Nick is a good leader and is doing very good things in Government in very difficult circumstances. Both the party and the leader need to do a bit of work on their relationship, though, and soon.

It’s time I spoke out on the NHS: I’m angry, but probably not for reasons you’ve heard. (Andrew Emmerson)

If you are to look at why this bill is so toxic … it’s firstly, our own response. We have constantly sought to demonise it, partly because it is Conservative in origin, secondly in some form of differentiation from the Conservative party. This was then capitalised on by Labour who have made it their issue. Owned it. I hate to admit this, but done very well on it. … The bill I feel would not have become so toxic without our own involvement. It has become a self-fulfilling prophecy that we have made it so. Putting our MPs in such a difficult position. Support the wish of a handful of noisy activists or bring the coalition down. … We will seal our own fate by voting against this bill. A bill we have worked so hard on, a bill we have forced so many amendments on, are we really ready to turn on and vote down? That sends a clear message: “Even though we did everything in our power. It wasn’t good enough. We weren’t good enough. We aren’t a restraining leash on the “evil” Tories. Sorry don’t believe we can make it better ever again” That is not a message I’m happy to send. This is not a message I’m happy that my party sends.

This Lib Dem’s view of the NHS bill (Prue Bray)

We can send out some simple messages about the bill, messages which make it clear where the Lib Dems stand on the NHS. Message 1: Let´s make sure people know it was Labour who decided to pay private companies at a premium rate for carrying out operations and it was Labour´s system which has led to companies being paid for operations whether they carried them out or not. It´s a disgrace and it´s one of the things Lib Dems have been working to put right, through changes to this bill. Message 2: this is a Conservative bill, not a Lib Dem bill. It would not have been our choice. We have done a vast amount to change it. Without the Lib Dems– and without the influence Lib Dems have had as part of the government – this bill would be far worse. And finally, message 3: whether we think the NHS bill should be dropped or whether we think it can be made fit for purpose, all Lib Dems are united by our belief in a comprehensive national health service accessible to all and free at the point of delivery. That´s what we have been fighting for and that´s what we will go on fighting for.

(Apologies to anyone whose post I’ve omitted — please do post the link in the comments below.)

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.