Jeremy Browne writes… Britain can’t afford to avoid radical change

‘One of the things the RSPB are calling on you today to do is to not cut funding for nature conservation. Can you promise that despite the 30% cuts to your department, you won’t cut nature conservation costs?’

In a typical week earlier this month, the Radio 4 Today programme, having set itself against police reforms the previous day, had just found yet another deficit denial frontier. And it was only Wednesday.

Labour official spokespeople are the same: Exhibit A, DCMS Shadow Minister Gloria De Piero writing on why we should not reduce the arts budget in Total Politics magazine last month:

‘It is as simplistic to accept the inevitability of cuts to arts funding as it is to make those cuts, as the coalition has done – too deeply, too quickly.’

I enjoy the countryside, and the arts. I also see the obvious value in core public services like schools, the NHS and our armed forces.
But when Ed Miliband delivers his cop-out for all people who prefer their sums not to add up – ‘too much, too soon’ – he is so dangerously wrong that he actually threatens our national well-being.

In this budget week, if there is an overall criticism to be made of the government, it is certainly not that it is being too radical.

Britain is still borrowing an extra £425 million every day. Just the interest on that debt is now almost £1,000 million a week. That is money from ordinary taxpayers, not spent on public services, but poured away. We are still living way beyond our means with the national debt continuing to rise.

Meanwhile, an aging population is pushing up the cost of pensions and healthcare, while the percentage of the population of traditional working age continues to fall.

We cannot wish this all away. It is always a good idea to manage the national finances responsibly, but in an era of dramatically increasing global competition, it is absolutely essential.

Last week, before crisis struck Japan, I was due to be in China and South Korea.

China is now the second largest economy in the world. Its economy doubles in size every 7-8 years.

South Korea has world-class companies like Samsung, which alone is bigger than the entire economy of Malaysia. In the last two years, South Korea applied for more patents than Britain and Germany combined, despite having less than half the population. This inventiveness and enterprise is driving rates of economic growth way in excess of those in Europe and North America.

In these circumstances, Britain really cannot afford not to undertake radical change. If we carry on with a ruinous budget deficit and unreformed public services, and if we duck every opportunity to improve efficiency and reduce waste, and if we avoid asking ourselves any tough questions about raising education standards and promoting enterprise, Britain will be left behind.

Anyone who shares my ambitions for a more prosperous, just, liberal and socially mobile society, with the necessary resources to support strong public services and improving standards of living, has a clear responsibility to prevent that from happening.

It is not the Government’s bold and necessary programme that is the threat to Britain’s future; it is the opposition to it that represents the real high risk option.

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45 Comments

  • Parts of this actually make some sense, it’s just that some parts of it come across as a bit disingenuous.

    ‘Meanwhile, an aging population is pushing up the cost of pensions and healthcare, while the percentage of the population of traditional working age continues to fall.’

    But the Coalition continues to subsidise the bus travel, winter fuel, TV licenses and prescriptions for pensioners regardless of wealth. The cuts have fallen massively on the non-boomer generations.

    ‘China is now the second largest economy in the world. Its economy doubles in size every 7-8 years.’

    Yes, but on the back of a massive housing bubble, a 30% undervalued currency and a novel approach to labour rights.

    I’m not totally averse to this Coalition’s aims, it’s just that the feeling lingers that they are going about it in a strangely one-eyed way.

  • ‘Britain is still borrowing an extra £425 million every day. Just the interest on that debt is now almost £1,000 million a week. That is money from ordinary taxpayers, not spent on public services, but poured away. We are still living way beyond our means with the national debt continuing to rise.’

    But you can afford cruise missiles? How much are you borrowing for that and what section of the public is going to suffer most to pay for them and the whole Libyan fiasco? As you are throwing so much business to the arms dealers perhaps they will help out, after all Dave has been very friendly with them recently. Do you really think people believe you anymore when you talk about us being so broke? We were told that we had to cut the armed services, new planes etc. Now we can afford this? When you talk about radical change do you mean we are going to be a nation of arms manufacturers?

  • richard heathcote 22nd Mar '11 - 12:00pm

    with results for last month released and inflation and borrowing higher than epected i would suggest a rethink on what you are actually doing in government as its clearly not working.

    or is that Labours fault also?

  • Radio 4 sets itself against police reforms and looks for deficit denial frontiers? Is that what we call scrutiny from the media now? ‘You’re either with us or against us’. Authoritarianism seems to be catching.

    Those who are in denial are those who claim that cuts alone can reduce the deficit. This is either stupidity or an ideologically inspired lie. There will never be a reduction in the deficit if cuts are the only tool used. How much did the shrinking of the economy of 0.6% over the last quarter increase the cuts by? This posturing is nothing more than a campaign against public services. The notion that a deficit can be reduced by cuts alone is dependent upon the economy remaining static or that the cuts will outpace any reduction in the size of the economy. Otherwise growth and/or tax increases are the only answer to reducing the deficit. If Osbourne does not increase the level of cuts to align the cuts only method with that 0.6% of negative growth then he is not following the doctrine of reducing the deficit by cuts. Is he then being a ‘deficit denier’? He must after all be relying on something ‘other’ than cuts to plug the gap. That ‘other’ being growth and/or tax rises we can only conclude that deficit acceptance is the position of believing that cuts, growth, taxes and privatisation of public services will provide the solution to the deficit and that cuts, growth and tax rises without privatisation of public services as far as possible will not and is in fact ‘deficit denial’.

    There is no doubt that the phrase ‘deficit denial’ has had very good political traction but it is dishonest and should not be the basis of campaigning for a party that claims to wish for a consensual politics. The use of it to confer radicalism on a set of policies when those policies are reactionary is straightforwardly delusional. It is not in any way radical to suggest that the country cannot afford to offer its population a good standard of living, good health care, an education designed to give every child a fair and equal start in life and a comfortable retirement. It is the position that laissez faire capitalism, Conservatism and libertarianism have always taken and it was the state of the world up until the radical institution of welfare states and universal health care provision. The radicalism of a society that tries to do those things is being dismantled by your government under the guise of deficit reduction. Language does not lose its meaning simply because you wish it. A more accurate description of your proposals would be that in your view we need to undo all of the radical changes that we have made to our society over the past 60 years and revert to the status quo that existed throughout rest of the course of human history.

    It might seem from the above that I don’t think you have some validity to the arguments you make and the positions you take. I do. I think that dispassionate reasoning should lead you to a conclusion other than that you have reached but your position is a valid one for debate. However, you don’t offer debate. You offer authoritarianism in the George W Bush method; either ‘full blooded support for anything we say’, or, ‘enemy of the good’.

    There is little doubt that if you had proposed this prospectus before the election you would now have a mandate for it. You didn’t, so you haven’t. For a party that claims for itself the mantle of the only true democrats in the country this post election position is anything but democratic. I may be wrong but I don’t think anybody voted for the liberal democrats because they thought this approach to the deficit or the public sector would be their direction. Although many Liberal Democrats may like this approach to public services, they cannot have voted for you because they believed they were going to get it. If this is what they wanted they should have voted Conservative.

  • What a shame you didn’t state the case for cutting so deeply and so quickly at the time of the General Election. What a pity you didn’t call Vince Cable a deficit denier because he wanted to halve the deficit in four years like Alistair Darling. No-one would have voted for you then and we wouldn’t be saddled with the Liberal Democrats in government on the basis of a paltry number of seats and without any mandate. But the people will know better next time.

  • “Just the interest on that debt is now almost £1,000 million a week. That is money from ordinary taxpayers, not spent on public services, but poured away”

    Errr not quite.
    Government debt is usually issued in the form of interest bearing bonds (why the government needs to borrow money at interest is another debate). These bonds are purchased by people wanting a secure home for their money. Around two thirds of those bonds are owned by British pension funds who use people’s retirement savings to purchase these bonds. The rest are held by foreign governments, just as we hold foreign government bonds ourselves.
    The pensioners then receive the income from these bonds in retirement and spend that money back into the economy.
    It is fairly misleading to imply this money simply disappears.

  • Simon McGrath 22nd Mar '11 - 12:51pm

    Excellent piece, clealry things can’t go on a we are. We can’t remind people enough that even with the ‘cuts’ we are still borrowing vast sums every day, which will mean the Government has less money to spend in future (or taxes will need to be higher)
    @Anne – you are quite right. we should save the money spent on cruise misiles and let the people of Benghazi be ‘sterilised’
    @JRC “A more accurate description of your proposals would be that in your view we need to undo all of the radical changes that we have made to our society over the past 60 years and revert to the status quo that existed throughout rest of the course of human history.” YOu emean things like capital housing benefit at £20k a year and spending more money each year on the NHS?

  • Simon McGrath – (not getting at you).

    1) Would you be in favour of cuts to the pensioner and boomer benefits such as the winter fuel payment. Note: cuts, not per se abolition.
    2) Libya looks suspiciously like an internal rebel movement wanting to fight to the last European. It is entirely appropriate to look at the costs of intervention as well as the politics. Why do you see this as cost-neutral?
    3) The state of housine benefit has as much to do with three generations being priced out. Something that no political party seems to want to talk about.

  • If young, disaffected, vulnerable to radicalisation, Muslim men on the streets of Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East see the west as (for once) intervening to protect their rights then the cost of a few cruise missiles will be well worth it.

  • Surely the most disengensous line is Labour’s cutting “two far and two fast” which is trotted out to avoid having to say what you have to cut. It also fails to acknowledge that if you cut more slowly you will have to cut more deeply as the size of the debt will be that much bigger.

  • If times are so hard, can Jeremy (and his supporters) advise why we are paying out £1.8 billion for an NHS reorganisation the medical profession don’t want? Or chucking money at “free schools” even when we can’t afford to repair existing schools?

    It seems as if money can always be found for the Tory right’s pet projects.

  • Simon McGrath,

    No, I mean the privatisation and denationalisation of the NHS into it’s pre-1948 structure and the change in social and welfare benefits to being no more than a safety net against absolute poverty rather than a mechanism for fairness. To say that government will spend more each year on the NHS presupposes that there will be an NHS. Andrew Lansley’s white paper envisages the National in NHS to mean only dealing with such things as epidemiology and vaccination programmes. His white paper also proposes that social care should be privately funded thereby significantly reducing the main cost of an ageing population and rationing such services by individual wealth. We will almost certainly spend more on the health system that results from these ‘reforms’ but it won’t be on anything we recognise as an NHS.

    Simon,
    The Labour party spelled out the majority of its cuts in the pre-election budget, Osbourne accepted these and added to them. The cuts could therefore be legitimately described as largely Labour’s. As much as it is politically expedient to say they have denied the need for cuts or where they would have done them had they been in office, it remains untrue. The difference between their proposals and the governments would only apply to that above that budget. To say that the labour party had no published cuts proposals is also disingenuous. The size of the debt would only be bigger if you assume that growth and taxes would be identical under any level of cuts. If cuts result in higher unemployment and lower growth then the liabilities of the state would increase more rapidly than the savings made by cuts. In such a scenario cuts would lead directly to a larger deficit and therefore a larger debt.

  • And another thing.

    Please can someone explain to me:
    Who Governments borrow from?
    Who they pay interest to?
    Why Government debt is bad?
    What money actually is?
    Why the inflation rate is high – is it because of too much demand forcing prices up?

    It is just I see a lot of people saying that increased debt/defecit is awful but if such fundamental points aren’t understood by the people making the arguements it is hard to understand why we should listen to them.

  • “South Korea has world-class companies like Samsung, which alone is bigger than the entire economy of Malaysia. In the last two years, South Korea applied for more patents than Britain and Germany combined, despite having less than half the population. This inventiveness and enterprise is driving rates of economic growth way in excess of those in Europe and North America.”

    Quite right – which is why it’s imperative that we go for growth now, rather than stunting growth and employment figures by arbitrarily cutting the deficit, the bulk of which doesn’t need to be paid back for more than 10 years (the average maturation point for our debt bonds is 14 years – compared to less than 3 years for Greece and Ireland).

  • “unreformed public services”

    Which Country do you live in? Are you a relic from the 1980s Tory party? Of course you’re not – you’re just a poodle of the current Tory party, which is a relic of the 1980s Tory parrty.

    The public sector has been constantly reformed over the last three decades. Our fiscal deficit is the result of spending projections based on unsustainable tax revenues generated by the mis-allocation of capital in the private sector. A rational person would suggest reforming the private sector (and taxing the ****ers in the financial services industry that caused the mess). Blaming the innocent for the problems isn’t going to help us out of our economic woes.

  • @Tom Papworth
    “5) Why the inflation rate is high – is it because of too much demand forcing prices up?
    No. It’s because Labour poured hundreds of billions of pounds of extra money in the economy (“Quantitative Easing”). More money chasing the same level of goods leads to inflation. Some of us have been saying for a long time that this is all going to end in inflation. Sadly, Mervyn King didn’t agree!”

    We have high inflation figures because (a) it includes a tax rise in VAT and (b) because the import inflation as a result of the devalued poundcreated by stupidly low base rates that are being used to bail out the reckless lenders and borrowers that caused this mess and forced house prices up. It certainly has nothing to do with QE. If the actual money supply was expanding then why is wage inflation so much lower than RPI/CPI?

  • The Tories promised to support Labour’s spending policies right up until the Bankers broke their own banks, had to be bailed out and caused a huge deficit which the Tories and the Lib Dems now say was caused by —- er, Labour’s spending policies. Whenever we try to tell them that it wasn’t caused by our spending policies which were relatively modest as a proportion of GDP the Tories and the Lib Dems tell us that we are deficit deniers. Presumably the Tories and Lib Dems would have preferred Gordon Borwn to allow the banks to go under and produce lawlessness and anarchy, which would surely have resulted when people found that the hole in the wall cash dispensers didn’t work. If you want to build a bridge with Labour you really must stop calling us deficit deniers. At the moment Jeremy Browne sounds like a spokesperson for Orwell’s Ministry of Truth.

  • @ Tom Papworth

    Thanks for your answers.

    By “What is money?” I was asking why people seem to think that money is a finite resource. Money is simply a way of simplifying the exchange of goods and services. A soverign government cannot run out of money.

    I do not believe the inflation to be too much money choosing too few goods. This is the classic supply side arguement but a simple glance at the unemployment figures and spare capacity around the globe shows that it is a lack of demand. Cutting government spending will decrease demand, weaken the economy, weaken the currency and cause further imported inflation.

  • jedibeeftrix,

    “If we carry on with a ruinous budget deficit and unreformed public services, and if we duck every opportunity to improve efficiency and reduce waste, and if we avoid asking ourselves any tough questions about raising education standards and promoting enterprise, Britain will be left behind.”: Is what everyone asked for before the election, and what every party manifesto proposed to do, and, it is entirely devoid of any actual meaning for policy.

    Unless of course you know of an individual or party who promoted massively increasing deficits, stagnating public services, increasing waste and inefficiency, lowering educational standards and deliberately hampering enterprise.

  • @Tom Papworth
    “As above. However, both the interest and the principle represent a significant
    intergenerational transfer. Bluntly speaking, we’re spending our children’s money. They will be paying the interest on a typically 25 bonds issued today in 2035. Then, in 2036 they will have to pay the principle. Many of today’s beneficiaries will be dead by then; many of the taxpayers presented the final bill haven’t even been born yet. If the money was being used for investment it might just be defensible. To spend it on perks for today’s tax-eaters is grotesque intergenerational theft.”

    Would you have said this during the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher was trotting out EXACTLY the same arguments as she cut the far bigger deficit of the day (as a propotion of GDP)?

  • Jeremy Browne

    Your blog post is straight from the Thatcher/Reagan/Pinochet school of politics even down to the authoritarian streak, how can you ever claim to be a Liberal Democrat?

    If you don’t like Radio 4 stop listening to it – Rupert Murdoch provides plenty of your sort of media.

    Your post doesn’t bode well for either our party, or worse, the future of the UK.

  • “Bluntly speaking, we’re spending our children’s money”

    Just as a proportion of our money has been servicing the debt of previous generations. It’s not even clear that this is entirely a bad thing. After all each generation bequeths assets as well as debts. For instance why shouldn’t the cost of building hospitals be spread across the several generations?

    In any case the coalition is impoverishing young people now while protecting the benefits and wealth of the old so supporters of the government are hardly in a position to talk about intergenerational justice.

  • “a sovereign government can’t run out of money”

    Isn’t that Mugabenomics?

  • It’s fun to blame everything on the last Labour government when your back is against the wall, but it’s worth pointing out that the deficit denier tag is simple minded political sloganeering and, more importantly, not true. Both the Tories and the Lib Dems were fine with Labour’s spending levels until the banks crashed the economy.

    If you’re going to blame Labour then blame them for what they actually did do to ruin the economy.
    Brown and Labour’s disasterous light touch regulation of the banks.

    Entertaining though this passing the buck about the economy is the fact of the matter is nobody seriously thinks the next election is going to be decided by what the previous government did. Obama couldn’t blame all his economic woes on Bush as he found at the midterms. Nor will Osborne or Clegg be able to run an election campaign by claiming they haven’t been in charge of the economy.

    This knockabout about deficits and the last Labour government will go on for about another year or so but the public is already beginning to tire of hearing this government blame everything on the last government, so those who seriously think they can keep this up for year after year are going to be in for a huge shock at the ballot box.

  • Simon McGrath 22nd Mar '11 - 8:49pm

    @Duncan

    1) Would you be in favour of cuts to the pensioner and boomer benefits such as the winter fuel payment. Note: cuts, not per se abolition.
    2) Libya looks suspiciously like an internal rebel movement wanting to fight to the last European. It is entirely appropriate to look at the costs of intervention as well as the politics. Why do you see this as cost-neutral?
    3) The state of housine benefit has as much to do with three generations being priced out. Something that no political party seems to want to talk about.
    I think things like winter fuel payments should be taxed or means tested.
    I don’t see the money spent on libya as cost neutral
    Not sure I take undestand point about housing benefit?

  • Andrew Suffield 22nd Mar '11 - 8:52pm

    Libya looks suspiciously like an internal rebel movement wanting to fight to the last European. It is entirely appropriate to look at the costs of intervention as well as the politics. Why do you see this as cost-neutral?

    Certainly it is appropriate to consider the costs. So far it’s cost very little – a million here, a million there, soon you’ll be talking about some real money. We’ve got 14 combat aircraft, two frigates (that’s a relatively small ship), and one submarine operating there – not a large chunk of our resources. And the value for money in shutting down aircraft operations in the country, in terms of lives saved and damage prevented, is really rather good. Given the huge number of nations participating in the effort, none of them actually needs to contribute very much; this is an excellent example of how this sort of thing should work, and why it’s no longer necessary to maintain such a large military.

    I’d certainly be opposed to the sort of invasion we had in Iraq, which poured billions into a hole in the ground. But so far we don’t have anything like that. (It had better stay that way, or there will be trouble)

    After all each generation bequeths assets as well as debts. For instance why shouldn’t the cost of building hospitals be spread across the several generations?

    I wouldn’t have any problem with it for investment in infrastructure like this – and government borrowing is a normal and expected thing for this sort of purpose.

    The problem comes when a government decides to borrow lots more money and build a big bonfire of money. I have an issue with a government borrowing money just to give it to contractors to buy things that don’t work and aren’t needed.

  • Simon McGrath 22nd Mar '11 - 8:54pm

    @JRC actually there is a lot to be said for the structure of heLthcare pre NHS – charity hospitals, panel systems and private hospitals. Of course it needs to be free and properly financed. Bevan was a socialist so of course preferred a monolithic state controlled system rather than wealth of different, free, providers

  • I read Jeremy Browne’s piece and wondered what he would have said a year ago. Not quite the same I suspect. In fact I look at this thread and wonder what the Lib Dems are becoming. When I was a member I don’t recall, members using that approach or that argument about the economy. Rightly or wrongly, we campaigned in May 2010 on a policy not dissimilar to Labour’s on cuts, perhaps with a bit more flexibility and substance I thought. It bears almost no resemblance to the approach set out by Jeremy Browne.

    I assume Browne, Burstow, Stunnell, Laws, Alexander and Clegg are now signed up long term to the policies they have lashed themselves to and argued for. To think the Lib Dems could fight a 2015 election with a different economic policy or a different approach to the NHS or education to that now being supported so strongly is far fetched. Whatever members might want or dream about, the manifesto is partly written by the actions taken in Govt.

  • Simon McGrath,

    That would appear to be a private system to me. I disagree that the re-introduction of charity hospitals, panel systems and private hospitals would be positives but whether they are or not, to introduce them would be profoundly undemocratic, there is no need for it and there are few who desire it but ultimately the government has no mandate for it. The same applies to Andrew Lansley’s proposals for health care reform. The people do not want it, they did not vote for it, they did not vote for anyone who proposed it, they actually voted for people who specifically expressed the opposite view. The credentials of the Liberal Democratic party are profoundly entangled in the fight for democratic legitimacy. How can such undemocratic behaviour be tolerated?

    Your desire for it to be free and properly financed is not what is being proposed. Social care funding is yet to be decided and the only proposal in the white paper is that it should be privately funded through ‘partnerships’ whatever that may mean. Social care includes midwives, home help, district nursing, community psychiatric nurses, mobility equipment, home based end of life care and lots more that we now consider to be a part of general health care. That would seem to me to include a great deal of health care that would no longer be free or funded under the white paper as it stands.

    In foundation trusts the cap on private work is being lifted, it has to be because private companies, whether charities, profit making, plc., social enterprises or workers co-operatives, cannot be obliged to take any particular customer ahead of another. Private work has always paid better than NHS work for both the hospital and the individual doctors. Lifting the cap at the same time as privatising provision introduces an incentive structure at odds with comprehensive universally free at the point of use health care delivery. If you want to see where these incentive structures lead take a look at dentistry.

    As for Bevan creating a monolithic structure because he was a socialist, that is simply absurd, in both its understanding of history and its characterisation of socialism. The structure of the national health service was designed by Henry Willink, the Conservative Health minister in the wartime coalition government. The lack of local panel systems is due to the members of BMA refusing to be employed by local authorities and preferring to be employed directly by the secretary of state. The wealth of free providers you mythologise never existed. The charitable organisations and private hospitals that existed were continuously going broke and closing down. They could not be relied upon to continue in existence let alone continue to offer comprehensive care. Implicit in Andrew Lansley’s vision for health care is that we return to this. It is envisaged as part of the government reforms that many hospital trusts will go to the wall and either close or be taken over by other larger trusts gravitating towards large monolithic private structures, much in the same way that the power companies have gradually become vertically integrated monopolies and in the same vein, this is part of the vision for universities.

    The structure of the NHS became what it is because it did not work in the piecemeal fashion you say has merit. Whether or not a lot can be said for the structure of health care prior to the NHS it cannot be said that it provided adequate health care for all let alone the high quality of provision we now enjoy.

  • Jeremy, eloquently put – but devoid of any real content.

    Your piece can be summarised as “Labour bad, Coalition good; £120m interest a day; Don’t oppose us because if you do you just don’t understand”.

    It’s pretty much the same line Clegg bangs out whenever anyone dare suggest to him “Are you sure you’re right”?

  • Jeremy Browne’s expressed views in this article are exactly why I have just tendered my resignation to the Liberal Democrats after 25 years of membership of the SDP and Liberal Democrats. Most of what I want to say has already been most articulately expressed by JRC and I won’t repeat all this.

    I would like to emphasise the undemocratic nature of what is going on. I would remind Jeremy Browne that he campaigned and was elected on an economic policy that was very similar to the Labour Party position he now derides and I remember an excellent Channel 4 debate where Vince Cable and Alistair Darling put a coherent case for the lower level and slower cuts that are now derided by the person who stood for them. I believe that this fundamental change in economic policy is what dams the current Liberal Democrat Party Leadership even more than the other policies they had to drop as a result of the formation of the Coalition. I should point out that 52% of the electorate(Labour and Liberal Democrat voters, I don’t need to include the Nationalists and the Greens in this calculation) voted for what is now the Labour Party economic policy and only 37% (I haven’t included UKIP and the BNP because that would be distasteful) voted for what is actually happening. I thought we used to believe in proportional representation.

    The other point I would like to make here is that he doesn’t ask the question “How did South Korea and China get into this strong economic position?” and probably more pertinently Germany. This is a very important question if we are planning to re-balance the economy and develop the industries destroyed in the fit of fundamentalist free market economics which has dominated the debate form 1979 onwards. Where are the British owned companies that are going to do this: ICI, GEC, Ferranti, Courtaulds, Cadbury’s, Jaguar, Rover, etc etc. etc ? What has happened in South Korea, China and in a previous decade Japan was not produced by fundamentalist free market economics, we all know the thing deregulation (the Banks!!!!!), taking away workers rights, privatising everything, lowering investment in education etc etc. We know what this achieves we are living it so why is continuing in this way radical?

    Can Jeremy please tell me how the deeply reactionary NHS changes and Free Schools are going to contribute to growing a more balanced economy, how slashing social service spending in local authorities is going to make a contribution to a much needed export led recovery ?

    He should not get away with his very frightening attack on the BBC, which is the only non partisan source of news we have. Of course governments don’t like the BBC as it is non partisan and has to challenge every position, I don’t think the last government was too happy with the comments on the Iraq war and on the banking crisis and I remember Alistair Campbell trying the same disreputable trick. If the Liberal Democrats have any relevance in government it should be to stop the Tories from threatening the only news media we can trust not making cheap and nasty comments like this.

    and this is all without mentioning that overused word “Fairness”

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Mar '11 - 10:47am

    I have just this morning renewed my subscription to the party – once again cutting the amount I pay as a sign of my unhappiness at the poor way it is being led. I did not cut my payment to the minimum only because that allows me to make further cuts should I see no improvement. I am sorry to see the defeatism of so many on the left of the party in the face of the way our party is being led, “Robert” above being an example. Gareth Epps is correct, Jeremy Browne is on the far economic right of the party, and to be fair to him, he has never made any secret of that. If the reaction of those on the centre and left of the party is to resign rather than fight against unrepresentative right-wingers, well, all I can say is “where’s your backbone?”.

    Our country is becoming ever more dominated by the super-wealthy, those who the super-wealthy pay to promote their interests, and those who have realised the way to prosper is to suck up to the super-wealthy. That is why those on the extreme right of the Liberal Democrats seem to find it so much more easy to get a public voice than those on the left. The super-wealthy, for example, are happy to throw money at right-wing think-tanks which claim to be “liberal” but promote a version of “liberalism” which is very far from that the party had when I joined it. If your views are to the left, however, no-one will pay you to help you promote them.

    So far as I am concerned, the Liberal Democrats are a democratic party, meaning its members and not its leaders are in ultimate control. If we don’t like those who lead us, we can and should throw them out. We should not instead throw ourselves out, that is ridiculous. I shall continue as an active member of the party, though very unhappy at present with its leadership, so long as I feel its membership as a whole is people I can work with productively to advance what I think is beneficial politically. If I feel the membership has moved so far to the economic right that they are no longer people I can happily work with as electoral campaigning colleagues, then I will resign. So far there has been no full test of that, although the Spring conference’s position on the NHS “reforms” was encouraging. It is quite right at this stage to give warning shots to the leadership such as this, things may have to be upped if the leadership does not respond appropriately. This is not going to happen if those members needed to exert the pressure lack the backbone to do it, and instead just resign.

    The horrible thing is that if I did end up resigning because our party’s membership turned out to be spineless people who could not resist the push of the super-wealthy and their friends and hangers-on to the far right, I cannot see any other place to go. That would be very sad after a lifetime’s active involvement in democratic politics.

  • Simon McGrath
    Posted 22nd March 2011 at 8:54 pm | Permalink ” actually there is a lot to be said for the structure of heLthcare pre NHS – charity hospitals, panel systems and private hospitals. ”

    I wonder how old you are? Back in that wonderful golden age of healthcare pre NHS my long term, unemployed lorry driver grandfather lived for fifteen years in agony with a fistula that he couldn’t get treated because he had no money. Finally, in the late 1930s, a very kind consultant at St Marks Hospital, taking pity on him agreed to treat him for nothing. When the NHS was established doctors found thousands of people in my grandfather’s situation and they were appalled by the horrific medical conditions that they were presented with. That’s why socialists such as myself will fight tooth and nail against people like you who want to destroy the NHS which we created despite opposition from Tories, private health sector advocates and voluntarists and charity workers.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Mar '11 - 11:01am

    Now to Jeremy Browne:

    If we carry on with a ruinous budget deficit and unreformed public services, and if we duck every opportunity to improve efficiency and reduce waste, and if we avoid asking ourselves any tough questions about raising education standards and promoting enterprise, Britain will be left behind.

    Unreformed public services? Anyone involved in public service will know there has been reform after reform after reform. The cost of organising these reforms, and the disruption and damage to morale they have often caused has itself been HUGE. Many of the reforms which are supposed to have saved money have turned out to be more expensive in the long run. The poor quality but expensive public services we have now are to a large extent the consequence of right-wing inspired “reforms”.

  • Martin Huntbach describes my position as spineless, he may be right in his terms. The Party is potentially recoverable because there are enough people on the left of it who will pick up the pieces after these Orange Bookers have performed their historic role and moved on further right. I admire the people on the left of the party for this but I think they are either wasting their time or in it for the long haul , 10+ years. Once the Lib Dem brand has been hollowed out (to borrow a tedious marketing phrase) by the association with this Tory agenda it will take a long time and an inspirational leader before trust will be restored. In the meantime we (in this case the country) are going to have to once more suffer the consequences of the fundamentalist free market agenda driven by the Tory party, The Lib Dems will have no credibility in fighting it as they were the Trojan horse who allowed it to happen and I will not let 1 pence of my money or any of my efforts go into supporting this.

    I will be showing my displeasure in any way I can, attending the March 26th march in London will be the start of it and voting against all members of the Coalition parties in any election that is held (which is another reason why I can’t be a Party member) unless they have shown some spine of their own by voting against policies they don’t support. I will support individual Lib Dems, nationally and locally, who share my beliefs, I would not be able to vote for Jeremy Browne.

    Timing is very important for me , I dread watching my children going through the emptiness of the 1980’s, where 3 out of my 4 siblings had to leave the country to find work, therefore I will vote for and join any party that puts together a coherent opposition to all this nonsense and I really don’t think it is an exaggeration to say we have one parliament to save the NHS. Unfortunately the only party in a position to reform themselves to do this is not the Liberal Democrats. The Labour Party has a very long way to go but they have the advantage of being in opposition and not being dominated by a clique of public school, Oxbridge uneducated clones.

  • @Simon McGrath

    JRC comprehensively trashed your naive views about the provision of healthcare at 12.59am. I note you have no response to that but instead prefer to make snide comments to members of the party that feel they have no option but to leave. Well done you.

  • @Simon McGRath

    @Mack – how clever of you to read my comments without noticing that i said several times that of course health provision needed to be free and properly funded. I don’t suppose your grandfather cared who treated him as long as he was treated for nothing and it was effective.”

    You are obviously confused. You appear to support pre NHS provision and yet say that it has to be free and properly funded. A non monolithic state system of healthcare will never be free and properly funded. That’s why my grandfather couldn’t get treatment for his agonising condition and why it took him fifteen years to be cured. Are you suggesting that we go back to the days when we have to wait fifteen years to be cured and be dependent on the good will of charities when we have a modern health service that nearly 90% of the population are satisfied with? What tosh!

  • Simon Mcgrath
    I am really glad that you believe the propaganda put out by the party machine. In answer to your points:
    1. 1 Million people low paid people will pay no income tax. This is going to be easily balanced by the extra unemployment, wage freeze and high inflation which is being exacerbated by the Coalition deep and fast policy.
    2. Poorer pupils will get more money. I am a school governor and have been for 20 years there has never been more despair at the removal of support for poorer families by local authorities that lies behind the support for poor pupils at school. This is one of the real disgraces of this government, the Dickensian couple Pickles and Shapps will undermine anything that is added in other areas.
    3. The NHS increased spending, if I remember rightly one of the reasons the last government is blamed for the deficit is the increased spending it put into the NHS to compensate for the years of underfunding by your current partners. The Lansley reforms will eventually go down as the biggest atrocity undertaken by this Government and I do not want to be part of a party that is helping them get through.

    Finally the tedious, repetitious mantra blaming the last government for the crisis. The last government must shoulder part of the blame, after all it accepted the received wisdom that light regulation was the only way to manage the banks, as did all the governments in developed countries. This was the cause of the crisis and hence the deficit. In fact the UK’s overall debt before the crisis erupted was lower than Germany, France and the USA. The reason why it was overspending in the 2-3 years prior to the criss, where its own golden rules should have prevented it, was the attempt to rectify the underspending of the Thatcher/Major years that left our public infrastructure in a disgraceful state and guess what they probably overshot. What is happening now is an overshoot of austerity. Our lowered growth forecast contrasts with what is now happening in the US and Germany who have adopted the “slower and shallower” approach of our last manifesto who have increased growth and improving positions on unemployment. The only way you can support the Government’s economic policy is if you sign up to their small state agenda and I don’t.

    I have not joined the Labour Party because of a lot of other things; the illiberal attitude to civil liberties, the debacle of the Iraq war and because they have yet to repudiate the light touch regulatory approach to city institutions and like the coalition have no substantial plans to re-balance the economy away from reliance on financial services. After all they also started us down the road to loading our young people with enormous debt before they even start working. What I do think is that because they are in opposition, they have to rethink their policies and are therefore in a better position to come to a position I can support than the Liberal Democrats, who will have to spend the next 4 years defending reactionary policies.

  • mark Wilson 27th Mar '11 - 8:01pm

    Whilst i generally support the Coalition’s aims there is not enough meat on the bones of how the Government will support the aspirations for growth in our economy. Whilst economic confidence remains low, and the cuts programme shows no sign of baring fruit for at least 5 years Jeremy must address his mindset to this and not keep bleating on about the “need” for cuts.
    On one point I do disagree with Jeremy. Room does have to be found in the “Contingency Budget” (of which of course there is one) to deal with certain interest groups problems which cannot be ignored because to do so would be a clear betrayal of core Liberal values. To this end the Lib Dems must fight not to allow future Student Loan interest payments to be linked to market interest rates, and /OR they must allow students to pay off their student loans early. Jeremy please explain the moral and economic justification for tightening the proverbal noose of debt round the necks of the baby boomers the future wealth creators for this country. Alternatively the real choice for some is to vote with their economic feet. DON’T GO TO UNIVERSITY AT ALL!!

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