Opinion: What’s happened to democracy in the Liberal Democrats?

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What’s happened to democracy in the Liberal Democrats? Is it dead? Or is it just comatose?

The reason I ask this question comes from my own experience of our internal democracy.

When I joined the party at the age of 18, I was impressed by how, unlike any other major party,  ordinary members had a real say. That I, as a member, had a voice equal to anyone else in the party, be it my local councillor or the party leader and that everyone’s vote was equal.

So, last year, when I learned about the shocking plans by the government to drastically cut support for the sick and disabled, purely to save money, I was glad that there was something I can do about it. I  wrote a motion to our Autumn Conference on the subject and I managed to get Liberal Youth to sponsor it.

And then, last September, in Birmingham, the day after my 21st birthday, I was lucky enough to not only speak for the first time at conference but also see my motion passed overwhelmingly.

In addition to asking our parliamentarians to take certain specific actions, the motion restated what I think are fundamental liberal principles, that it is the duty of a compassionate society and government to provide the necessary support for those who are unable to support themselves.

But after Conference the motion was completely ignored by our leadership and, in the Lords, where the Welfare Reform Bill is currently going through its final stages, I and disabled people saw no sign of anything changing, of any damaging proposals being removed by the government’s own volition.

And now comes the part that’s shattered my faith in our party. In three crucial votes last Wednesday on Employment Support Allowance (ESA), our peers voted overwhelmingly against party policy and in favour of a one year arbitrary time limit by a margin of 51 to 2. They also voted to support damaging government proposals on two other issues which impacted disabled children and cancer patients.

One of these was specifically against party policy and the other two went completely against what I consider to be fundamental liberal values of humanity, decency and compassion.

Fortunately the Government was defeated on these issues, thanks to the help of crossbench peers who came out overwhelmingly in favour of the disabled.

But last night our peers again voted with the government to reject an amendment that would have required the government to pause £1.4 billion of cuts to Disability Living Allowance for six months to allow the replacement system to be properly trialled and consulted on. As a result, disabled people will now face no reprieve from 20% cuts to a benefit that many vulnerable people depend on just to survive.

So what’s happened to our party? Where do we stand when our leaders and parliamentarians apparently feel no qualms about ignoring party policy or the sovereignty of conference?

What should a young person like myself feel, or do, now that it’s become obvious that, no matter what we do, or how hard we work, we’ll be ignored by our party if they feel like it? How am I meant to have any faith in the party I’ve joined, been proud of and campaigned for? Above all, how exactly am I meant to explain what’s happened to the disabled people who have spent years viewing us as the only party which has ever really been on their side?

* George Potter is the Policy Officer for the Lib Dem Disability Association (LDDA), writing in a personal capacity. He blogs at the Potter Blogger.

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72 Comments

  • I’d suggest perhaps the Lib Dems aren’t the party you want if you think the best approach to welfare is charity rather than opportunity… perhaps Labour are a better bet?

  • As a report on last night’s voting stated…”Conservatives leaned heavily on Liberal Democrat support in the Lords last night, avoiding another humiliating Welfare Reform Bill report stage defeat by only 16 votes”…Makes one proud

  • unfortunately that is one of the reasons why i chose not to renew my membership of the party, it became obvious to me in my time as a member that the things that had attracted me to the party e.g integrity, a desire to help and support the weakest in society and listening to members/people had been thrown out of the window in pursuit of power.

    Power in itself is useless unless you use it to fulfill the principles that you stand for. In a coalition government it is true that compromise has to occur but there also needs to be a point at which a party says – NO because something is taking place which so undermines everything that that party stands for – the liberal democrats in government have failed on that test, have failed to produce alternatives in the various spending reviews that would protect the most vulnerable in society and so have in my opinion lost the right to my support.

    I actually feel great sadness about this fact because instead of being the party that reshaped politics in this country it has become just another part of the establishment.

  • Daniel Henry 18th Jan '12 - 4:31pm

    Where I disagree with Daniel Furr and Simon Oliver is that George’s motion had already accounted for the fact that we’re compromising in coalition and rather than propose for a completely liberal policy (that we’d need a majority for) he proposed compromise measures to take the edge of a nasty Tory policy.

    How much of this policy is ours? Seems to me that the Tories have gotten it completely their way. Did we agree to the attack on the disabled in the coalition agreement? If not, shouldn’t we at least be entitled to the small compromises that George has suggested and that our members voted overwhelmingly in favour for?

  • Someone Else 18th Jan '12 - 4:37pm

    I have been wondering this as well.

    Now, people have been saying “well we’re in a coalition”. Yes, yes we are, but that doesn’t mean that the activists should be voiceless, no-one expects party policy to become the entirety of government policy but the following things should be done in coalition:

    i) Conferences to decide policy should be far more frequent.
    ii) Conferences should be allowed to set particular policy as “red line issues”
    iii) When government policy is decided the negotiation should be laid out in public, from the party policy to the eventual position taken up. Even if this means just abandoning a non-red line policy, this should be noted and freely presented to the member base.
    iv) Next time this happens more time should be taken in special conference. When a draft agreement is reached it should be approved clause by clause. Anything that is not approved goes to a series of votes – do we try to amend it or do we try to axe it altogether? Is this a major or a minor sticking point?

    Now, there should be a cap on the time spent on this of course, and it would require conference to be mobilised for a rather extended period of time, but the conference to approve this coalition agreement was little more than an (admittedly enthusiastic) rubber stamp. It could have been rejected, certainly, but there was no way to avoid throwing out the baby with the bathwater (i.e. reject bad policies individually). Most subsequent policy hasn’t even had this.

    Many in the current LD government parliamentarians simply aren’t being open about how negotiations go and moreover, I don’t even think they are starting with party policy as the start point for negotiations – but rather starting with the policies they like. For instance, the pupil premium is a fine policy but was it really more important to the party members in general than many other areas of party policy that were dumped? (I’m sure we can all think of a few flagship policies in this category)

    To be frank, the LDs in government have been disappointing, to say the least. There are positives, certainly, most of the things I disliked about the last Labour government are mercifully not cropping up too much in this coalition and I can name individual parliamentarians (and not just backbenchers) who I am very pleased with. On the whole though, I do see a very disconnected party leadership ignoring the grassroots, and even worse, ignoring their voters.

    Put bluntly, it’s not very inspiring. The LD party is no longer the party I was initially enthused with, I am hoping that it is not dead and will return whenever Farron (or anyone else) takes over. Until then I’m unsure about whether to carry on trying to support the party as the lesser of three evils or to leave the fold to hang around the “don’t knows” for a bit.

  • Simon Bamonte 18th Jan '12 - 4:38pm

    A brilliant and heartfelt article, Mr. Potter. I agree with every word.

    People can say “oh we’re in coalition” all they want, but the fact remains our party no longer has any red lines they are unwilling to cross. I believe, and this is just my opinion, the LDs in government have decided the “markets” and the coalition lasting until 2015 are more important than the disabled people this bill will hurt, not to mention those disabled who have already committed suicide due to the reforms.

    500,000 sick/disabled people are due to lose out on DLA once this bill passes. The lower rate of DLA is, effectively, being abolished. Many of these people will be using DLA to help keep them in work. Soon there will be 500,000 people losing their vital government support and they will have nowhere else to turn. Those who lose DLA which allows them to work will mean larger ESA and JSA claims. This is in direct opposition to the government’s plan to “get more disabled people into work”.

    Not to mention that it is difficult enough for able-bodied people to find work these days, so what hope will disabled people have? Most small and medium businesses are not hiring disabled people or willing to make costly workplace or job adjustments to accommodate them. They’ll simply choose the able-bodied jobseeker. And the government is offering NO incentives for businesses to hire sick/disabled people such as tax breaks for every disabled person they hire. Joined-up government this is not.

    It is clear, and should be clear to everyone else, that the sick and disabled are being made to pay for the mistakes of the banking/financial class and the stupidity of the last government. We’re not all in this together. Not by a long shot.

    Our liberal principles of trying to reduce “enslavement by poverty” and protecting the most vulnerable are now purely hollow and only there for window dressing. Like others above, I’ve left the party as my conscience will no longer let me support it, deliver FOCUS, etc. It was with sadness I did that, but my sadness is nothing compared to those our policies are hurting.

    There really is no major party who will support sick/disabled people to the hilt any longer. As Maria Miller, minister for disabilities has implied, it is now simply “too costly” to make sure the sick/disabled are all protected. And yet, and yet…there’s plenty of money for HS2.

  • The handful of ‘fraudsters’ claiming disability benefits will not be rooted out by changes proposed, they know how to play the game, and play it well. The people who will suffer are the genuine sick and disabled who after undergoing inadequate testing will be deemed fit to work, when they are clearly not. It is tough enough for young, fit and healthy individuals to find work in this economic climate, having disabled people go through hoops to claim benefits they need to survive is an utter disgrace.

  • Something to bring up at Spring Conference, I think. Invite the members and ministers involved to defend their decision, have a proper debate about it and then depending on the result of that, declare internal party democracy either dead or alive.

    I would also want to see what’s happened to all the other policies voted through in conference before I’d declare for either side. After all, losing one conference-backed policy is just the nature of coalition. Losing them all would be something worse.

  • Simon Bamonte 18th Jan '12 - 4:57pm

    @Daniel Furr:
    Worth noting: the reason it passed was because hardly any Labour Lords turned up. That, in itself, should be treated with more contempt.

    So the failure of our Peers to vote with their consciences is…wait for it…Labour’s fault? Do we not take responsibility for anything any more? The government won the vote by 16 votes. 16 votes. This is proof the coalition is more important to them than the lives of millions of sick/disabled people. The Tories have broken the coalition agreement already on several policies, like the EU veto. Yet our party lets them get away with this and is not prepared to do the right thing.

    Any one of us could end up disabled tomorrow. For those who think the coalition is more important than protecting our vulnerable members of society, well, I have no words for them. “There but for the grace of God…”

    This policy will backfire once PIP is introduced and half a million people lose their support. Once the bill is passed and people start losing their support, it’ll be a PR nightmare for the government. There will be more suicides and premature deaths. And it will all be down to our Peers and MPs who are unwilling to do anything that will rattle the feathers of the millionaire Tories who really run the government,.

  • James Sandbach 18th Jan '12 - 5:03pm

    The ESA motion also called for a policy change on the decision to take abolish all legal aid in benefit appeal cases; this is now being debated in the the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill – it will be another test for our Peers as to whether they vote for lib dem policy agreed by Conference, or another policy hoisted on us by the Tories that quite deliberately targets/focussses cuts on the support available for disabled people and the most vulnerable….

  • Simon Bamonte..I totally agree………….I, too, have come to the conclusion that there is no principle that ouir representatives will not abandon. Every time very time I read “We’re in coalition” this feeble reason for not following our principles reminds me of the excuses put forward by wives who stay with abusive husbands.
    Above all else a society should be judged on how it deals with its weakest members. Sadly, the LibDems are increasingly failing that test .

    The ultimate hypocrisy is blaming things on Labour in opposition…. On another thread we have posters absolving opposition parties (who agreed with Labour’s fiscal policies) from any blame in the financial meltdown, “because Labour were in government and not us”….

    …..As far as defending LibDem support of these Welfare “Reforms”…..I believe it was Tolstoy who said “Hypocrisy may deceive the cleverest and most penetrating man, but the least wide-awake of children recognizes it, and is revolted by it”

  • Contrary to popular usage, the Lib Dems aren’t “in power”; no, they “share power”. And sharing means that you can never just get your way, unfortunately. That’s the principle of it. Whether concessions should be made on this particular issue is an entirely different matter…

  • Tony Dawson 18th Jan '12 - 7:46pm

    @Simon Oliver

    “This is the reality of coalition politics ”

    That is just not true. It is the reality of [b]a particular type of [/b]corrupt coalition politics. A Coalition government does not have to include in its programme anything which its constituent member MPs would not agree on. Unfortunately for megalomaniac Secretaries of State, such a minimalist coalition programme would require relatively little legislation. It might require them, instead, to try to be proper executives and make existing systems work. Logically, there would be very little need for junior ministers at all. Careerist catastrophe!

    The minimalist Coalition allows agreement on those things its partners agree on – and leaving the rest alone. Then you get on with it. Of course, some would say that not allowing things to be ‘whipped’ through which do not have majority support gives too much power to the ‘middle party’. Others would call it democracy. If we had just locked Gove, Pickles and Lansley in a cupboard for the last 18 months, to do their priapic comparison in private, parliament and the government could have concentrated on agreed priorities. Bliss!

  • As a Liberal Democrat who like George joined the partly because of the internal democracy and the idea that any member can influence policy I have been bitterly disappointed at the way this affair has come about.
    Basic man and situation management should tell you that the best path the parliamentary and federal party should have taken after the vote at conference was one of consultation.

    Even if they had real difficulty in negotiating through the coalition the points raised by George they should have given him a call , got him down to London to discuss the concerns on all sides. As far as I’m aware this did not happen….bad man management in the extreme. Unless senior party officials start to listen to grass root members the words snow ball , hill and crash come to mind as words that will be used in future to explain why so many good people no longer feel part of the party they supported.

    We need to use this as a wake up call…..so wake up

  • Good article George, if I’d been a voting rep I’d have supported you too.
    We really need further clarification from FCC or somebody – does conference still make party policy for our MPs and Lords or not?

  • Tony Dawson 18th Jan '12 - 8:02pm

    @Dave Page:

    “My understanding is that Conference is the supreme policy-making organ of the party; party policy forms our manifesto, and our MPs and MEPs are elected to serve their constituents on the basis of that manifesto. However, their primary obligation is to their constituents, not the party.”

    I think that is a very strange form of manifesto-worship. How many voters ever get to have a clue about the contents of Party manifestoes, or, more pressingly, the manifestoes of their candidates which may be slightly different from those of their ‘backing’ parties? We have representative government, based upon the election of MPs by FPTP for single constituencies. Manifestoes appear to have interest for a very small fraction of one per cent of voters.

    MPs’ prime responsibility/accountability is to their constituency electors, who have decided to trust that single person to make decisions on their behalf. But, in performing that representation, one hopes that they will be true to the principles which should have underpinned their most recent election. And it is more likely that their own party members will hold them to account with regard to these issues than the wider electorate will between elections.

    Returning to the original article, it would appear that the Lib Dems were heading towards a more autocratic structure, comparable to Blairite Conservatism, before the last election. The outcome of that process is to lock us into a system where government is dictated significantly by SPADs who will be of variable quality, as will their output.

  • thecharleslloyd 18th Jan '12 - 8:03pm

    You are the future of the party, so roll your sleeves up and to work. If you want to make changes get busy, Find a way to make change, blogging about how disappointed you are is not going to help any one. I agree with what you say, but I do not see how you are going to change anything yet. Ideas is what the party need and you should have them. Let us here how you would change things and how you are going to do it and I will support you.

  • @George W. Potter

    “Apologies to everyone for the length of my previous comment – I think I’ve answered all the points raised in the comments.” Please don’t feel the need to apologies for such a long post, I think most decent minded people with good moral values would agree with every word you wrote, it is just unfortunate though that there are not enough people in the party who are willing to air this opinion “publicly” for fear of upsetting the coalition. If there where more straight talking, good people like yourself in the party, then maybe there would be some hope for the future. Though I fear the present course that the Libdems are taking, this will not be so.

    “I refuse to believe that our parliamentarians could not have found a way to force the treasury to find the £3 billion over five years cuts from somewhere other than the most vulnerable. We’re spending £48 billion on the construction costs alone of HS2 and we’re ploughing billions into the Universal Credit computer system. When those projects inevitably end up over budget the government won’t just say “sorry, we’ll have to abandon the projects because there’s no money left” – they’ll find the money to pay for it.”

    I completely agree, however, the reality is, this government is completely led and controlled by the Tory party. Spending money on welfare and disability benefits does not appease Tory Donors and Sponsors. Spending £48 Billion on HS2 will allow ministers to engage in dodgy back room deals with investors in return for public support for the government and dare I say “future party funding” It is an absolute disgrace and why the Liberal Democrats are aiding and abetting this onslaught on the poorest and most vulnerable people in society is beyond me.

  • Tony Greaves 18th Jan '12 - 8:12pm

    @Daniel Furr:
    Worth noting: the reason it passed was because hardly any Labour Lords turned up. That, in itself, should be treated with more contempt.

    Just for the record the numbers voting in the division yesterday were:

    Tories 150 (69%)
    LDs 67 (2-65) (74%)
    Labour 160 (70%)
    Crossbench and others 65 (51-14) (30%)
    Bishops 0 (0%)

    This is a high turnout for a Lords division.

    Tony Greaves

  • Cuts… “purely to save money”?? You consider this to be a bad reason for cuts?? You really do belong in the lib dems, with your money-grows-on-trees attitude and your assumption that anyone who wants to cut public spending must be a sadist.

  • Great article George – I do understand your frustrations. On the other hand I do think that LibDems being in power is unbelievably great for the country in the short and long term. So.. when to vote with your conscience and when to vote to stay in power? It’s impossible to draw any lines and we have to leave it to each individual and trust that they make the right decision that balances both. Whatever – it’s democracy in action at the cutting edge and you have to admire it.

  • I would consider myself a middle of the road liberal willing to take on board any points of view that will lead to a better future for all. Instinctively we as liberals and democrats find this issue difficult on so many different levels, as to finding cuts to off set the money, yes it will be difficult but unless the party big boys start talking to the grass roots then how can we try and suggest ways around problem areas. We have some very talented and educated members within the party many of whom are capable of suggestion ways to avoid this sort of brick wall . A member of a face book group I’m on recently put together a proposal to combine government purchase departments that could save around 2 billion….he was thanked for his effort but nothing has come off it.

  • Simon Bamonte 18th Jan '12 - 11:50pm

    @George W Potter:
    If you’re going to save money and cut the deficit – which I completely agree with – there are plenty of places to save it from other than by taking away support from those who literally can’t survive without it.

    Exactly. This deserves to be said over and over again until our MPs and Peers start to listen. There’s plenty of money for HS2, adventures in Libya, Dave’s renovation of Number 10, the IMF and unpopular and highly costly NHS reforms. Yet when it comes to cuts that have literally drove people to suicide or a premature death (and the cuts are only just starting to bite right now), we’re told there’s no money. Fancy that!

    Something is seriously wrong with our society when we are told we must accept the complete removal of actual lifelines from 500,000 more disabled people in the next few years, yet some of the very same ministers would have backed plans to (originally) spend millions of pounds of public money on a sodding yacht for the blessed Royals.

    And many here call them our “friends” these days, the Tories.

  • Grammar Police 18th Jan '12 - 11:53pm

    Two points – you’re wrong about what a large chunk of our Lords did, they abstained, this is what allowed the 3 amendments to pass, for example, because they didn’t back the Government.

    Secondly, even in the Liberal Democrats you cannot mandate a parliamentarian (it’s actually in our party constitutions – Dave Page is right). They can choose to vote against policy if they so choose. In the Liberal Democrats however, the members set policy, unlike the other two parties where policy is dictated by the leadership. Voting against policy is one way to make yourself deeply unpopular in the Lib Dems, and MPs who do so are likely to find themselves out of a job if they do that too much.

    I’ve read the motion again (indeed I voted for it at Conference) but I actually think it’s very difficult to see how much of it relates to the Welfare Reform Bill that was actually before the Lords.

    “On top of that, on the crucial issue of the motion asking our parliamentarians to oppose an arbitrary, medically unsound and incredibly damaging one year time limit to contributory ESA, only two of our peers voted to do so.”

    No, no, no – that’s not what the amendment was about. The amendment purely extended that “arbitrary, medically unsound and incredibly damaging one year time limit” to two years. Given our party policy against arbitrary time limits, how would you advise our Lords to vote? Given this it isn’t surprising that a sizable chunk abstained.

    I chatted to one of our Lords who voted against some of the amendments the other day. He had his reasons, and deserves more than the hyperbole of “what happened to democracy”.

  • Grammar Police 18th Jan '12 - 11:57pm

    @ Simon Bamonte
    I don’t wish to belittle the issue (two of my close family members are disabled and in receipt of DLA) but

    “There’s plenty of money for HS2, adventures in Libya, Dave’s renovation of Number 10, the IMF and unpopular and highly costly NHS reforms. Yet when it comes to cuts that have literally drove people to suicide or a premature death (and the cuts are only just starting to bite right now), we’re told there’s no money.”

    It is hyperbole like this in part that is causing people to worry, cuts that are “literally going to drive people to their death”. There’s too much shouting, and not enough explanation of the real issues – which are in the detail.

  • “hyperbole like this”

    Is it hyperbole, though? You don’t think financial hardship can drive vulnerable people to suicide? Frankly I think the greater danger is to treat the whole thing as a political game being played at Westminster – where the stakes are percentage points and numbers of seats won and lost – and ignore the fact that it has an impact on real people living in the real world.

  • Grammar Police – now that the detail is being released, though (e.g. the criteria and thresholds for DLA rates released a couple of days ago) it’s looking even worse. The more detail is released, the more people are shouting. The government keeps saying that the most needy won’t be affected, but we’re getting towards a pretty strange definition of “most needy”.

  • p.s. I don’t think it’s right to focus on suicide, though. Sharon Brennan makes a good case why not in this article:
    http://bit.ly/fY83D6

  • The fact is that the Party is pretty much morally bankrupt. No one trusts it, it’s consistently favoured hitting it’s own voters over really arguing with it’s coalition partners, I am voting Green at the next election because I’m fed up with alleged progressive politicians playing to the press. They’re all frauds and they’re not worth bothering with.

  • …………………………If we think it’s acceptable to “win the war” (by which I assume you mean “win more votes”) at the expense of giving up the battle for the sick, the disabled, for the broken of Britain, then we are no longer a party I want any part of…………….
    I have been a supporter of the Lib and LibDem parties longer than I care to remember….I have celebrated, commisserated, been sad and been angry but now, for the first time, I am ashamed

  • “This isn’t just one of a dime a dozen pet projects supported by conference” Exactly – a couple of posts have made it sound like George’s pet project. I’ve been generally surprised at the low level of interest the subject seems to have provoked in the party, notwithstanding the conference motion – is it because people are assuming that the protests must be hyperbole? In what way is the removal of benefits for people unable to support themselves (for this is what is happening) not a priority? I don’t understand. (I’m not keen on the phrase “the most vulnerable in society” because I think it encourages a left/right view of the issue, and I’m pretty much on the right of the party).

    Despite what I’ve said before about their ulterior electoral motives (i.e. that the Tories see this as a vote-winner if they manage the media right) I’m nevertheless deep down amazed that the Conservatives are so keen to go ahead with this, since I’ve never bought into the caricature of “Tory heartlessness”. What I think the Conservatives do do is find excuses for their behaviour – I was talking to a Conservative researcher about the issue and he said: “Yes, but disabled people are pretty well-organised.” I think the Tories use the idea of the “disability industry” to provide an excuse – “what we’re taking away isn’t essential, it’s just the disability industry that makes it sound as if it is, and they’re all to blame anyway for getting people to claim more than they should” – that sort of thing.

    Simon Oliver – re. how hard we can push: yes, the Tories seem particularly determined on this issue. I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes in terms of the personalities and quid-pro-quo involved. But I think we underestimate how much pushing on this issue the coalition can bear – and I am very pro-coalition and want to see it preserved just as much as you do.

    If we get these changes properly amended so as to make the reform of ESA and DLA reliably fairer, will the media really be running with headlines along the lines of “Damn you, Cameron, giving in to the Lib Dems over the scroungers? One more reason to call a snap election!” I doubt it. This isn’t Europe. As the Mail’s recent decision to run three critical articles by Sonia Poulson in a week shows, there is something of an emerging appetite in the right-wing media for articles criticising the government over heartlessness on disability reforms – although they’re also reproducing the DWP’s highly misleading press releases for now.

  • jenny barnes 19th Jan '12 - 9:46am

    The tories can’t just call a snap election. It needs a 2/3 majority of parliament. See below from http://www.parliament.uk/about/faqs/house-of-commons-faqs/elections-faq-page/

    I agree with many of the posters – I thought the LDs were different. I continued to think that until “our parliamentarians” supported a neo-colonial middle east oil war. Oh sorry, I mean “Bringing democracy to the Middle East” Everything since then has confirmed that mostly they are neoliberal freemarketeers, just like the other 2 parties. I can see no point working for the 1%.

    After the Fixed Term Parliament Act was passed on 15 September 2011, the date of the next general election is set as 7 May 2015. The Act provides for general elections to be held on the first Thursday in May every five years. There are two provisions that trigger an election other than at five year intervals:

    A motion of no confidence is passed in Her Majesty’s Government by a simple majority and 14 days elapses without the House passing a confidence motion in any new Government formed
    A motion for a general election is agreed by two thirds of the total number of seats in the Commons including vacant seats (currently 434 out of 650)

  • A society is judged by how it treats its least fortunate and those unable to care for themselves. Some interest groups lobby for advantage, some for ideology, from what I have seen those lobbying for adequate disabled benefits are neither, they just want fairness and to provide all with as equal an opportunity as can be provided to make their way in this world.

    Good for you for keeping it on the agenda………

  • The Liberal Democrat conference is not the sovereign decision making body in Britain. That is Parliament. Parliament is there to aggregate and determine the collective will of the British people. MPs are responsible first and foremost to their constituents, not to any party or party body. Peers represent a party, but also their own experience, expertise and judgement. Your motion undoubtedly affected the party’s attitude on this Bill. Why should ESA get more attention than – for example – the total cap on benefits which will be deeply damaging to children? I am not setting these up against each other, but pointing out that your motion has been effective. But it should not tie the hands of our parliamentarians who have to juggle many competing pressures and priorities in an extremely difficult political and economic context.

  • “The Liberal Democrat conference is not the sovereign decision making body in Britain. ”

    Should it even be the sovereign decision making body in the party? How representative is it of the membership*? Should not policy be ultimately decided by the whole membership?

    * – conference delegates will tend towards a certain type given the investment in time, energy and £ required to attend.

  • Oranjepan – there’s been very little “enthusiastic encouragement” by Labour.

    Where do you think the hysteria is in the protests, out of interest?

  • …………Labour’s enthusiastic encouragement of hysterical contributions from people fearful of future effects is at least equally to blame for the choices of people who react to that hysteria…

    A far, far greater cause is the ongoing, government encouraged, media depiction of those on benefits as “Scroungers and Cheats”. There has been a deliberate and cynical ‘softening up’ of the working population by finding the most extreme ‘fiddlers’ and (sometimes by the use of actors) to depict them as the norm….

    But let’s repeat the mantra….it’s “Labour’s fault”. On one post we deny culpability for the financial disaster “Because Labour were in power” on here “It’s Labour peers” and now “Labour’s enthusiastic encouragement of hysteria”….

  • In a time of austerity where is the investment going to come from to make the adjustments to workplaces etc and ensure that discrimination against disabled people doesnt take place? The truth of the matter is that reforms designed to cut costs are not the answer to creating a benefits system that provides the help and support needed by the disabled and vulnerable in our society to develop to their full potential and take their place alongside everyone else in society.

    It is right to say that people feel better if they feel that they are contributing to society but when a disabled person needs to prove they are 5 times better than an able bodied person in order to get a job and the support that they had to assist them in meeting those needs is at risk/has been removed all you do is make a bad situation worse.

    Welfare reform deals with PEOPLE not NUMBERS and should be dealt with by discussion, debate and where possible a cross party consensus and with the support of those that rely on the services.

  • Oranjepan – I was asking where you thought the hysteria was with regard to the likely effects of the benefit changes/qualifying criteria etc., which from everything I’ve seen has formed the vast bulk of discussion/concern. Hate crime has been mentioned, but it’s hardly been the focus.

  • and if hate crime against disabled people isn’t rising – well, good. Now, about the actual proposed policies…

  • Simon Bamonte 19th Jan '12 - 4:19pm

    Sometimes I feel our party has been taken over by cold-hearted, emotionless sociopaths who will do anything, anything to stay in power and not rock the boat (even though the Tories are happy to break the coalition agreement, and have already done).

    It is not hyperbole to point out these reforms are driving people to suicide or early death. It is the opposite: standing up for them and seeing justice is done. Here are some examples of the effects policy which our MPs and Peers are voting in favor of have had already:

    http://www.thisishampshire.net/news/9095159.Jobseeker_took_own_life/
    A suicide letter and next of kin note were found in which he expressed concerns about Government cuts, Southampton Coroner’s Court heard.

    http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/north-east-news/evening-chronicle-news/2010/08/05/body-found-in-river-wear-is-leanne-chambers-72703-27003699/
    The sales coordinator, who had battled depression for a number of years, had taken a turn for the worse after receiving a letter telling her she had to be assessed by a doctor to see if she was fit to return to work.

    http://www.scotsman.com/news/author_s_suicide_due_to_slash_in_benefits_1_1367963
    FRIENDS of an acclaimed Scottish writer have accused the new government’s crackdown on welfare benefits of being a factor in his suicide.

    http://www.thisishullandeastriding.co.uk/Woman-drowned-drain-upset-health-check/story-12927176-detail/story.html
    A WOMAN found dead in a drain had been worried about attending a medical appointment to assess disability benefits, an inquest heard.

    http://blogs.mirror.co.uk/investigations/2011/02/sick-who-gives-atos.html
    But months later George collapsed and died of a heart attack, the day before another Atos medical. His widow is convinced the stress of claiming killed him.

    http://www.thefreelibrary.com/PREGNANT+MUM+LEAPS+TO+DEATH+HOLDING+SON.-a0213434697
    A PREGNANT mum jumped to her death clutching her baby son after her benefits were stopped, an inquest heard yesterday.

    These are just a few reports. There are more. If these tragic stories don’t make people realise the effect Coalition policy is having on already vulnerable members of society, then there really is no hope for our party, not to mention our humanity as a nation.

  • martin sweetland 19th Jan '12 - 7:47pm

    My wife would like to know whether one of the Peers who abstained/ voted with the government, might offer her a job . She cannot walk very far , can only stand for a few minutes, has memory loss , is unable to lift with her right arm ,and suffers permanent exhaustion . Some days she needs to have a snooze for a while , and on hot days her feet swell up so she needs to remain seated . On cold days she needs to wrap up warm and be in a draught free environment. Since suffering a stroke three years ago she has been unable to work . This is intolerable , as despite two stroke consultants , head of physio at the local hospital , and a nurse from the stroke association ( not to mention our local G.P. ) , TELLING HER SHE WILL NEVER BE FIT TO WORK AGAIN, she is obviously just a malingerer , as her benefits are due to stop in Apri, and she is to get NO INCOME (aside from her £46 a MONTH pension ) until she reaches retirement age in 2015 . As i earn over £7500 a year she will not qualify for means- tested ESA. And as she is able to wash herself , not for PIPS either. Disgusted with this alliance ? ****ing right..

  • We boast a lot about the things we have achieved in coalition which are specifically Lib Dem achievements. All the evidence is that the public are deeply unimpressed, and the reasons are not hard to discern. Our “achievements”, such as the pupil premium, the increases in tax thresholds, and the abolition of ID cards, are all policies which the Tories were perfectly happy to go along with. We won them easily, because we didn’t have to fight for them. The public can see that our boasts are largely empty.

    Then look what happens when we take a view which the Tories are not so happy to go along with. Despite Conference votes, our leadership is unwilling to fight for distinctive Lib Dem policies, and throws in the towel. The public thereby gets to understand just what a Lib Dem “achievement” means, and just how hard we are trying to moderate Tory policy.

    This is not a coalition. It is an alliance. Those who did not want us to become a permanent part of the Greater Conservative Movement should recognise that our leadership is determined to make sure that we do.

  • daft h'a'porth 20th Jan '12 - 10:24pm

    “If it is suicide then it is not murder.”
    I’m sure the Rev. Jim Jones would agree.

    Whilst legally you have something approaching a point, the lack of an explicit “driving victims to suicide act” does not mean that England is magically exempt from such occurrences, or that suicide is just a totally random act that falls like lightning from a blue sky and has no external causes.

    “There are no excuses when it comes to matters of personal responsibility, such as for one’s own life, so there can be no blame if one chooses to throw it all away.”

    Sometimes it is nonsensical to talk about personal responsibility, because the freedom – any option – just isn’t made available to you; you have no place to turn and no resources with which to effect change. You’ve done all you can, you are powerless to do more – in short, you accept and admit that you need help. If help does not arrive…? Speaking of self-immolation, I’m sure that the coroner who dealt with the sad case of Francecca Hardwick and Fiona Pilkington would be fascinated to learn that “trying to pinpoint some external blame for [the victim of suicide's] choice is inhumane”. Presumably, the failure of the police and councils to identify them as vulnerable and do something about the decade of abuse they faced should never have been discussed, given that in your opinion it is impossible to identify any causal factors for Fiona Pilkington’s decision to immolate herself and her daughter.

    Taking for a moment your stance that all suicide is simply a mental health issue, why then are these ‘paranoid’ people not getting the support they so clearly need?

  • @George Potter:

    “If we think it’s acceptable to “win the war” (by which I assume you mean “win more votes”) at the expense of giving up the battle for the sick, the disabled, for the broken of Britain, then we are no longer a party I want any part of.”

    George, I do not think that those who are pushing through these measures know the first thing about winning votes at the moment, so I doubt it is for that reason.

    But please, people, recognise that flawed though these proposals are, there are indeed a number of people presently receiving sickness/disability benefits who should not be receiving them.

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