Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

This weekend’s NHS vote is the Lib Dems’ last chance

Colin Leys says party members face a choice – is loyalty to their leaders more important than the future of the health service?

March 10, 2012
3 min read


Colin LeysColin Leys is an honorary professor at Goldsmiths University of London. He is the author of Market Driven Politics: Neoliberal Democracy and the Public Interest and, with Stewart Player, The Plot Against the NHS (Merlin Press, 2011).


  share     tweet  

Nick Clegg is urging Lib Dem members meeting in Gateshead to ‘move on’ from ‘divisive’ debates about the NHS. But is the party really divided over the NHS? Most Lib Dems I know are for the NHS – not uncritically, but passionately too. What really divides them is whether to let their leaders underwrite its destruction.

A crucial moment was missed in the summer of 2010 when Andrew Lansley published a white paper that proposed to do exactly what the coalition agreement said would not happen (‘We will stop the top-down reorganisations of the NHS that have got in the way of patient care’). The leadership failed to take a stand on principle and refuse to support Lansley’s project. As the Lib Dem peer Lord Greaves pointed out in the Guardian on Friday, they missed a second opportunity at the time of the ‘listening pause’ last year.

Ever since then, Lib Dems have been caught between loyalty to their leaders and loyalty to their principles, with the NHS the focus of both. The final act in this drama is now under way. The last batch of Lib Dem amendments to the bill – which Nick Clegg and Shirley Williams, in a letter to party members, assured them would complete the preservation of the NHS – have since been withdrawn, entrusted to ‘assurances’ given by the Conservative minister of health, Earl Howe. The bill will now reportedly be rushed through the Commons and given royal assent in less than two weeks’ time.

What everyone who has seriously studied the bill knows is that none of the ‘concessions’ secured by the Lib Dems in the Lords, including those that have now been entrusted to the assurances of Lord Howe, seriously affect its real aims. The Lib Dem peers know in their hearts that by ‘winning concessions’ but voting with the Conservatives on all the key elements in the bill they have actually enabled Cameron and Clegg to pass a law which is strongly opposed by most of the public and by virtually the entire NHS workforce.

Even pro-market health policy experts think it will increase costs, reduce the quality of care, increase inequality, increase fraud, and diminish trust in doctors. It involves a reorganisation of the kind the prime minister promised explicitly not to undertake, and it has begun to be implemented in advance of any legislative authority, with already costly and chaotic results. As Lord Owen justly says, it is a constitutional outrage.

For party members who pride themselves on belonging to a party of principle, dedicated to democracy, openness, and all forms of integrity, the dilemma is acute. If they ‘move on’, they will be moving on from being that kind of party. If they decline to move on, and refuse to hand over the NHS to the multinationals, they will create a lot of trouble but will save their reputation for honesty and for being genuinely committed to the NHS and the values it represents.

Colin Leys is an emeritus professor at Queen’s University Canada and an honorary professor at Goldsmiths College London. He is the author with Stewart Player of The Plot Against the NHS

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Colin LeysColin Leys is an honorary professor at Goldsmiths University of London. He is the author of Market Driven Politics: Neoliberal Democracy and the Public Interest and, with Stewart Player, The Plot Against the NHS (Merlin Press, 2011).


Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes