Saturday, March 17, 2012

I should quit the Liberal Democrats to save the NHS? You are kidding, aren't you?

I've been told by a former Party member, who shall remain nameless, that, in order to save the NHS, those of us who remain in the Party should quit. And given the recent losses amongst our ranks, I thought that I should publish a suitably edited version of my reply.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceIf, like me, you've been a Party member for a quarter-century, seen triumph and, mostly, disaster, you tend to stick with it, especially when it's a Party that hasn't got a recent track record of glorious victory. If it were power I was seeking, here in deepest Suffolk it would be far easier to join the Conservatives. If I had, I'd be a District Councillor with an inside track to being a County Councillor next year. But I wouldn't be a liberal. And I am.

It isn't clear why you joined the Liberal Democrats. Was it from a deep and abiding sense of being a liberal, or some other reason, a policy or stance that you applauded, a person you admired? Or something else? After all, people join political parties for all sorts of reasons, and I am critical of none of them.

But it appears that, for you, it was easy to leave the Party, which is fine. However, for those of us who are liberals, and want to change our society for the better, the options are more limited. If we all leave, as you would like us to, where do we go? Set up a new liberal party? Extremely difficult, especially with first past the post elections. Join the Greens? Hardly liberals. Join the Conservatives or Labour? If that were so tempting, most of us would have gone years ago.

Oh yes, we could join single-issue groups, but they seldom change lives in a big way, rarely change our society.

So, if you don't mind, I'll continue to fly the rather battle-scarred banner of liberalism within the only political party attempting to offer an often disinterested and occasionally scornful British public a genuinely liberal option. It isn't perfect, no political party is, but for me it is the best vehicle for expressing what I stand for, internationalist, inclusive and rooted in the notion of community.

And you want us to sell it, and liberalism, down the river because they think we've put the NHS at risk? When the country ends up with a choice of blue authoritarians versus red ones, who are you going to call? Ghostbusters?...


Dustybun1 said...

We have ended up with the most extreme blue and orange authoritarians. The blue ones would have been unable to operate with no majority if the orange ones had not come to their rescue. Will you be liberal or democratic enough to approve this comment?

Ibetyou said...

Sorry but your voters won't agree, you and your party will suffer for years to come because of your blinkered power hungry approach to government. If you hadn't of surrendered your policies then your supporters wouldn't question you staying with your party.

As it is, the NHS, Education and your party's constant position as lickspittle to the Tory machine will not be forgotten. EMEA and student loans will have done that for years to come. The NHS will do it for decades.

Anonymous said...

"And you want us to sell it, and liberalism, down the river because they think we've put the NHS at risk?"

Well you're selling the NHS down the river so why not? You clearly still see your party as plucky good guy underdogs rather than responsible for some of the truly horrible things this government are doing.

Anonymous said...

Dustybun1 - Mark obviously is both liberal and democratic since your comment is visible.

Wake up. The tories won the most seats in the 2010 general election. There was no other coalition possibility available.

Not going into the coalition with the tories and leaving them to run a minority government would have resulted in another general election within months.

Guess who would have been best placed financially to fight it - the tories - their business friends would have seen to that.

Since the tories were best placed to fight another general election so soon - I can see no other outcome than a tory majority government.

Did you really want a blue extremist tory government with a majority to do exactly whatever it pleased without the restraining influence which the LibDems have brought to the coalition? Get real.

Mark Valladares said...

Dustybun1, Ibetyou and Anonymous 1,

Yes, you've bought into the scare stories about the NHS. I assume that you were equally worried when Labour opened up the NHS to the private sector, contracted out cleaning services and encouraged the wasting of vast amounts of money on PFI schemes when it would have been more honest, and cheaper, to do it the old fashioned way, i.e. borrow the money and show it as capital expenditure.

And I'm sure that you can tell me what you did about it then, can't you?

The NHS will be changed as a result of this legislation. Otherwise, there would be no point. And there is a legitimate argument to be had about its impact, although you haven't bothered to offer one.

People I trust tell me that the legislation has been amended to address the concerns that have been raised. So I'll trust them. And you can trust whoever you want to. In three years time, we can compare notes about whether the NHS is better than it was. Oh, I forget, we can't, because you're all either anonymous or hiding behind pseudonyms.

Politics is not about doing things that are popular, it's about doing things that are right. People like you make that rather difficult, but then, you don't have to worry about how to pay for the NHS, education, welfare benefits and all of the other good things that government does. And given that we were borrowing vast amounts of money to do so, and that to do so isn't viable, some really tough decisions have to be taken. You won't or can't, so Liberal Democrats have.

And really, that old 'power hungry' bit. People like you spent years telling us that we couldn't win, that we wouldn't win. But we worked for what we believed in anyway. It's called devotion to an idea. If it was power we were after, we'd have cut out the middleman and joined either Labour or the Conservatives.

So, disagree with what we're doing by all means, I don't expect you to come back here and apologise if it turns out you're wrong (notice that I don't say 'when'). I doubt that you would have the courtesy to do so anyway. But as you're not a friend of the Liberal Democrats, and probably never were, I'll not be lectured by people like you.

Dustybun 1 said...

I do not see any evidence of any restraining influence. I agree that much of this was started by Labour but with the philosophical underpinnings of (in my opinion totally misguided)Gidden's Third Way rather than these slash and burn Tory policies. There was at least some attempt to genuinely deal with inequality and exclusion rather than leave everything to market forces whatever the consequences. I do not agree with the coalition and believe the Tories should have been left to it; they may have had to moderate their ideas in order to achieve some level of consensus to keep in power. The LibDems could have had far more of a moderating influence out rather than in. I am in a strong Labour constituency but if I had been in a marginal I may well have voted LibDem. I am glad now I didn't.

Mark Valladares said...

Dustybun 1,

So, let's see. You didn't vote Liberal Democrat even in 2010 and you don't believe in the Coalition. That's fine. But the slash and burn you refer to, how would that have been different under Labour, or a Labour/Lib Dem coalition, or a minority Conservative administration? None of those change the fundamental arithmetic of the public finances, and all three major parties talked about huge cuts in public spending.

The NHS budget is, I understand, preserved, and relative to a whole bunch of other areas of government spending, it has been left unscathed, hardly slash and burn as far as I can see. By preserving it, a whole bunch of other unpleasant choices have been forced.

Did I enter politics to raise taxes, cut benefits, see hundreds and thousands of my fellow citizens made poorer? No, I didn't. But you do have to spend what you can afford, and the only reason that this country is not in a world of pain is because we can roll over our debts at ludicrously low interest rates, the benefit of government action.

And if you want to see real pain, look at Greece, or Spain, or Ireland or Portugal. We only see the demonstrations on television, we don't see what goes on there on a day to day basis.

Yes, on a number of issues, Conservatives really aren't very nice. They appear to have an 'interesting' view towards the poor - one shared by a worrying proportion of the population. But then, Labour are talking about paying benefits at regional levels, i.e. less if you live outside London, cutting VAT (and where does the money that would cost come from?) and have a record on civil liberties that would shame a liberal government. Not exactly a tempting alternative.

Ideally, we would have formed our own government, applied our manifesto, and taken the flak based on that. But people like you vote to keep somebody else out, or tell us that you like what we stand for but won't win, or any of the dozens of excuses given that I've heard over the years for not voting Liberal Democrat.

We've done the best we can. Sometimes, that hasn't been good enough. But we're still there, and we're still trying. I don't expect your gratitude for that. What I do expect is a little more thought.

Mick Taylor said...

Mark is so spot on. The NHS is not being privatised, it's not being broken up, its management is being changed. In fact the government are stopping the privatisation started by Labour in their 2006 NHS Act. (Don't take my word for what Labour did, read Prof Allyson Pollack's book NHS plc)

There have been so many lies told about this legislation by its opponents that it is now not possible to have a debate on the facts.

Most of the people who have attacked Mark have done so anonymously and it's clear they are part of that outraged group who simply couldn't believe we Lib Dems could think for ourselves and were not in politics to just prop up Labour.

Caron said...

I am not thrilled about the NHS reforms, my rage about cutting benefits for sick & disabled people knows no bounds. I coukdn't contemplate leaving though & it's never actually crossed my mind.

You see, despite those issues, I can see Lib Dem policies being implemented, I can see our ministers fighting for the values I care about . They don't always get it right. In fact, sometimes they muck it up in infuriating fashion, but the alternative, a majority Tory Govt elected in October 2010, would be so much worse. We'd be looking at people like Perer Bone & Nadine Dorries influencing Government policy.

We'd have unadulterated health & welfare reforms, tax cuts for rich dead people & not much in the way of securing the future of the planet.

George W. Potter said...

Just wanted to express my wholehearted agreement with the OP.

Gwenhwyfaer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tony Ferguson said...

Brilliant original post and puts into words for more clearly than I ever could why I choose to stay as well.

Stephen Robinson said...

Well said Mark. Sums up largely what I feel.

Tried very hard not to respond to the trolls here but
"unalloyed authoritarianism"
Oh give me a break.

I grew up thinking the Tories always wanted to destroy jobs and tell everyone what to do e.g. centralising control of local government. But post 2001 I saw what a UK Government can REALLY do with the power of the state when they put their mind to it.

Remind me: who wanted 90 days detention without charge? THREE national databases of personal details? Targets for every single activity in the public sector (the Foreign Office had a target for increasing happiness!!)

James said...

"Yes, you've bought into the scare stories about the NHS. I assume that you were equally worried when Labour opened up the NHS to the private sector, contracted out cleaning services and encouraged the wasting of vast amounts of money on PFI schemes when it would have been more honest, and cheaper, to do it the old fashioned way, i.e. borrow the money and show it as capital expenditure."

Well...Yeah, actually. Privatisation and marketisation have terrible implications.

As an internatonalist, I'm sure you can't have missed that? Here's an example just off the top of my head:

So yeah, I think the reforms are going to have a deleterious impact on a vital national institution. Don't you agree?

Mark Valladares said...


In part, I agree with you. Marketisation and privatisation can have negative effects. But it depends on what, and on how, as well as the motivation for doing so.

If you take the view that private is better than public, something that both Labour and the Conservatives have been prone to accept in recent years, your judgement is coloured before you start. And that inbuilt bias risks worse outcomes. Not only that, but privatisation can be a one way street, with no means of return or, at least, no easy ones.

So, one should only bring the private sector in if you have a clear understanding of the risks and opportunities.

And, as an internationalist, and someone who has been fortunate enough to travel widely, your point is open to challenge. Markets are not inherently a problem - it is the failure by governments and institutional bodies to properly monitor and regulate them that is at the root of poorly functioning markets.

And that brings me to our fundamental difference - your comment implies that markets and privatisation are inherently bad, and as a liberal, I disagree.

James said...

Well given the vested interests large sections of the Conservative Party have in private healthcare being pushed, and the outright opposition by a huge proportion of the medical profession, I think it's pretty apparent what the 'motivation' here is...?

(I'm honestly stumped as to why any LibDems want it.)