On Thursday May 3rd, vote NHS, vote Labour
Exactly how voting Labour then will help the NHS isn’t explored — not surprisingly, because it won’t. There’s a reason these elections are called local elections, after all.
Before highlighting Labour’s misleading tactics I thought I should first check out the Lib Dem record on fighting local elections. I have to say I was expecting to find comparable examples, times when the party leadership had called on citizens to cast their vote not in order to elect an energetic and competent Lib Dem council but instead to ‘send a message’ to Tony Blair or Gordon Brown in protest at Iraq or the scrapping of the 10p tax-rate or the 75p pension rise or… etc.
But actually that’s not what I found. In fact Lib Dem local election campaigns — no matter the outrages against international justice or civil liberties or taxing the poor perpetrated by the Labour Government of the time — always focused on issues that were the remit of local councils to try and improve.
Don’t believe me? Here’s the roll-call of every Lib Dem local election campaign launch (that didn’t also coincide with a general election) in the last 10 years:
- 2002 (Charles Kennedy): “Liberal Democrats believe that local councils should be set free to provide quality public services that meet the needs of local people”
- 2003 (Charles Kennedy): ‘This year’s rise in Council Tax is to be the central target of the Liberal Democrats during the forthcoming local election battle.’
- 2004 (Charles Kennedy): Lib Dems ‘believe their plans to scrap the council tax and replace it with a local income tax will be crucial in their battle to win over voters.’
- 2006 (Ming Campbell): ‘The Liberal Democrats will be offering “fresh choices” to voters with pledges to cut crime and scrap the council tax, Sir Menzies Campbell says.’
- 2007 (Ming Campbell): ‘Sir Menzies focused on the record Lib Dem councils have had in cutting crime and on environmental policies.’
- 2008 (Nick Clegg): ‘The Lib Dems have claimed to be the “practical” party of local government at the launch of their campaign for council elections in England and Wales.’
- 2009 (Nick Clegg): joint Euro/local election launch — ‘The Lib Dems were the only party which could get out of Europe “what British families need”, [Mr Clegg] stressed.”‘
Indeed in 2004, the party went out of its way nationally not to use the issue of Iraq, with both Ed Davey and Charles Kennedy saying local elections should focus on the issues relevant to what local councils can achieve for residents:
Jeremy Vine: Let me stay on the war, in terms of the elections, if I can. There’s a quote from your local government, Ed Davey, your local government spokesman, who says: “War is not an issue for local elections. Our advice to candidates has been not to campaign on the war, because it’s not appropriate. With our citizens fighting it’s in poor taste.” You agree with that?
Charles Kennedy: Yes I do agree with that, and my strong impression, as I go around the country, as I have been for weeks now on the local election campaign, is that people are concerned about what’s happening in their community, and what difference the Liberal Democrats can make. I think for the European elections, it is a different calculation.
I think a lot of people want to send a signal to Tony Blair, very directly, that they are extremely concerned about the state of affairs in Iraq, about our country’s position in terms of international standing, and that is a very appropriate forum in which to do it. I think for the local elections, yes, I agree with Ed. I think he’s right.
Labour’s decision to campaign in the local elections on an issue none of their would-be councillors can do anything about says little about Labour’s concern for the NHS, and an awful lot about how unimportant they think local decision-making really is.
* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.