Saturday, 5 March 2011
Captain of a sinking ship ... or mutiny on the Bounty?
Nick Clegg faces potential defeat over the government's planned NHS reforms at his spring party conference, as a heavyweight group of Liberal Democrat figures tables an amendment opposing the "damaging and unjustified market-based approach".
Evan Harris, a doctor and former MP and vice-chair of the party's ruling federal policy committee, will table the amendment, supported by the former cabinet minister Lady Williams (Shirley Williams), registering their concerns that the current legislation will lead to a widening of UK health inequalities if left unchecked.
Defeat at his own conference on a central plank of the government's public service reform agenda would mean Clegg would have to choose between ignoring a vote by his grassroots and negotiating concessions from the prime minister.
The amendment complains that some of the proposed changes in the health bill "have never been Liberal Democrat policy, did not feature in our manifesto or in the coalition agreement, which instead called for an end to large-scale top-down reorganisations".
The changes sought by Harris and Williams include:
• No decision about the spending of NHS funds to be made in private and without proper consultation, as can take place by the GP consortiums proposed by Andrew Lansley, the health secretary.
• Restoration of the NHS as the preferred provider, only allowing new private providers where there is no risk of "cherry-picking" that would destabilise the existing NHS. At the moment, the legislation brings an end to the NHS as preferred provider.
• NHS commissioning retained as an entirely public function, rather than the subcontracting of commissioning to private companies. At present primary care trusts are democratically accountable and open to public scrutiny.
• Continued separation of the commissioning and provision of services to prevent conflicts of interest.
• Healthcare commissioning to be carried out by locally elected health boards or local authorities, with the ability to vary a fair local tax in order to invest in local healthcare services.
Given the fundamental conflicts of interest already raised by numerous well-respected healthcare bodies (as well as Channel 4) and the additional flaws contained within current reforms now raised by his own MP's, will Nick Clegg decide to do a 'U turn' and fight to defend the NHS ... or will he bury his head, soldier on regardless and talk to David Cameron about securing himself a safe Converative seat to fight in the next election? Trust, honor, respect ... Nick Clegg appears to have abandoned all of these in pursuit of power ... e.g. look at tuition fees for instance, and what he wants to do with the NHS now ... with no mandate whatsoever from his party or the electorate.
IMHO the Liberal Democrats will rue the day they allowed their leader to put aside any moral values and renege upon all their elections promises, as many voters will not forget ... and they will not vote for them again! The Liberal Democrats are already getting worried about the future (e.g. in the recent by-election they were pushed into sixth place and also lost their deposit).
Interestingly, despite pushing for it, and despite the clear benefits/importance of electoral reform, one of the biggest risks to a YES vote in the referendum has been the actions of the Liberal Democrat leader himself! Since gaining office he has traded moral principles for power in an attempt to secure electoral reform. Having gained agreement for a referendum, Clegg's now hoping people will vote YES as this will give "him more power" ... however, wasn't he meant to be giving "people the power"!
IMHO this appears to be yet another example of a 'leader' corrupted by Power and who, in their desire to gain more of it, has abandoned their moral compass as well as the people they're supposed to represent. There is no point striving to become captain of the ship (with the intention of steering it into better waters) if in the process of doing so you have to throw away your compass ... which causes the entire ship to sink!
By jumping ship, and the promise of a 'safe' Tory seat, I am sure Nick Clegg's lifeboat is at the 'ready' ... as the Liberal Democrats start to sink ...
In my humble opinion the referendum on electoral reform will be the point Nick Clegg will know whether he's going to need it or not ... as without a vote to change the electoral system (i.e. a YES vote) the Liberal Democrats are now almost certainly dead!