Tag Archives: shirley williams

LDVideo: Nick Clegg – “If I thought this Bill was about privatising the NHS, it would never have seen the light of day”

Nick Clegg took part in an afternoon Q&A at today’s Lib Dem conference, and vigorously defended the changes to the NHS being implemented by the Coalition as amended by the party. Conference representatives earlier voted, by a slim margin of 309 votes to 280, to debate tomorrow morning Shirley Williams’ motion, ‘Saving the NHS’, rather than the ‘Drop the Bill’ motion put forward by Winchester Lib Dems.

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What Lib Dem members think about the NHS Bill: 57% opposed, but majority might back it if significantly amended

We’ve been surveying the views of current Lib Dem members this week on your views on the NHS Bill. Over 500 responded, and here’s what you told us…

  • A majority of Lib Dem members – and a majority of Lib Dem members who will be voting delegates at the party’s spring conference at NewcastleGateshead this weekend – oppose the Coalition Government’s NHS reforms as they currently stand. By 57% to 32%, Lib Dem members reject the Health & Social Care Bill.
  • However, that does not automatically mean the Lib Dem conference will vote to ‘Kill the Bill’ if
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    Shirley Williams sets the record straight on NHS reform

    It has been suggested by one of our readers that we give a higher profile to a speech made in the House of Lords on Tuesday, especially in light of the ongoing debate on these pages. And so, without further ado…

    Baroness Williams of Crosby

    I want to say a word about competition, and it is appropriate to do so given that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, has just been speaking. He has always spoken with some courage on this issue, which I recognise is not exactly popular with his party. However, I say quite directly that I feel very strongly that …

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    Baroness Barker writes… Liberal Democrats protecting the integrity of the NHS

    We trust that doctors and nurses will care for us to the best of their ability, and we trust the decisions they make about our treatment are always in our best interest. It is clear that for patients and medical professionals alike, maintaining the integrity of the NHS is essential.

    Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) will bring their unique knowledge of the health needs of their patient population to the design and commissioning of health services as part of the proposals contained in the Health and Social Care Bill.

    We know that CCGs must be transparent and accountable to the public and …

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    Shirley Williams: how to sort out the NHS Bill mess

    Earlier today I blogged about the odd and dangerous political situation the Liberal Democrats risk being left in – more in favour of the NHS Bill than large parts of the Conservative Party:

    Arguing that you are the smaller party in a coalition and have achieved some important changes to a piece of legislation that has come from another party’s Secretary of State is one thing. But then ending up being keener on seeing the Bill go through than much of the Secretary of State’s own party? That’s skirting with political disaster.

    Shortly afterwards (though I’m sure not as a result!), Shirley Williams took to The Guardian website to offer an escape route, both for the substantive policy issues and the politics of it:

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    Shirley Williams’ campaign against NHS reforms wins new concessions from Lansley

    Here’s how The Guardian reports today’s news that the Coalition will offer further concessions to the NHS reform bill in an attempt to head off a revolt in the House of Lords led by Lib Dem peer Baroness Williams:

    … ministers will table a series of amendments to the health and social care bill that will oblige Andrew Lansley to maintain the NHS as a national public service and, his critics say, limit his ambitions to expand the role of the private sector. The changes will also spell out the kind of services that must be offered by GPs and

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    Ashdown, Glover and Williams on the party’s history

    The latest edition of the Journal of Liberal History caries this account from me of the conference meeting which launched the new history of the party, Peace, Reform and Liberation. You can watch the meeting in full here.

    It would be a brave person who walked up to Paddy Ashdown or Shirley Williams and told them to their face that they are history, or even old, but they are two of the most charismatic, interesting and thoughtful members of the living history class – people who have been around in politics long enough to be able to talk at first hand about not only the origins of the Liberal Democrats but prior events too. So to have both on the bill at the Liberal Democrat History Group’s Autumn 2011 conference fringe meeting not surprisingly resulted in a spacious room being packed, leaving people standing at the sides, the back and in the doorways. However, the star of the show in many ways was the less well-known third speaker, then of The Guardian and now of Downing Street, Julian Glover.

    All three were introduced to the meeting by the Group’s chair, and one of the lead authors of the book being launched, Peace, Reform and Liberation, Duncan Brack. He reassured the audience that the meeting was maintaining historical party traditions, for Paddy Ashdown was going to have to leave early … and Shirley Williams was late! He also quoted Paddy Ashdown’s words on the importance of political history to a party, taken from his autobiography, A Fortunate Life, in which Ashdown recounted some of the problems of the 1989 SDP–Liberal merger. He wrote that, ‘Being a relative outsider compared to the older MPs I had, in my rush to create the new party, failed to understand that a political party is about more than plans, priorities, policies and a chromium-plated organisation. It also has a heart and a history and a soul.’

    The same applies to a newspaper, too, and in kicking off with the first main speech Julian Glover took a look at one part of his newspaper’s history and soul – its on/off, love/hate relationship with the Liberal Party and its successors. Glover cited The Guardian’s May 2010 editorial urging people to vote Liberal Democrat. But, as Glover added, ‘As soon as we did it, we changed our minds.’ That prevarication is nothing new and, he implied, not necessarily much of a problem for the party given that polling showed that Labour support amongst Guardian readers went up after that 2010 editorial.

    The paper’s political advice has varied much over the years. Julian Glover even located a 1950s Guardian editorial which urged people to vote out Clement Atlee and vote in the Conservative Party. But much of the time the paper had been a Labour-supporting outlet which urged best wishes on the Liberals and their successors, often advising the party to be just a little different in a benevolent / condescending (delete to taste) way.

    Much of the editorialising about Britain’s third party has been, as Glover highlighted, variants on a common theme: to bemoan that the third party is not fully backing whatever cause is of most concern to the paper at the time. The other theme, he added, is to write off the third party as doomed. On occasion, The Guardian has combined both themes in one leader, including in a 1987 leader that said, ‘These are dire days for the Alliance. They have some of the most thoughtful and radical politicians around.’ Glover added, ‘As a paper we certainly seem to enjoy nothing more than praising the Liberal Party and the Liberal Democrats while going on to explain why we can’t actually support it.’ The party’s 1992 general election manifesto received praise from the paper: ‘it far outdistances its competitors with a fizz of ideas and an absence of fudge’, but even that was not enough for the paper to call for Paddy to become prime minister. ‘So there you have it, 150 years from The Guardian and the Manchester Guardian calling on the Liberal Party and the Liberal Democrats to be brave, radical; praising the party’s policies and then writing it off as irrelevant’, concluded Julian Glover.

    He was followed by Paddy Ashdown, who in typical fashion strode towards the audience before starting to quiz everyone in the room, testing people’s knowledge with quotes from history. After an easy duo with ‘Go back to your constituencies and prepare for government’ and ‘I intend to march my troops towards the sound of gunfire’, with the audience easily and correctly guessing (or in many cases, remembering) David Steel and Jo Grimond, Ashdown posed a tougher one with, ‘Ideas are not responsible for the people who believe in them’. The answer? Paddy himself (on being particularly exasperated by Alex Carlisle). Probably. He admitted he may have borrowed it from someone else and forgotten. (A search through Hansard finds him first using the phrase in Parliament 1986, in a different context and even then not sure if he had penned it himself).

    He went on to entertain and enlighten the audience with a sequence of many other quotes from past Liberals, including from Lord Acton: ‘A state which is incompetent to satisfy different races, condemns itself. A state which labours to neutralise, to absorb, to expel them destroys its own vitality. A state which does not include them is destitute of the chief basis of self-government.’ Acton got several mentions, with Ashdown also picking out what he described as one of his favourite quotes: ‘It is easier to find people fit to govern themselves than it is to find people fit to govern’. The quote should be emblazoned across the party’s political manuals, he said, making the implicit point that many of the lessons past liberal drew from their contemporary experience are still highly relevant today.

    As he said, ‘our history is our present’ – just after quoting Gladstone on Afghanistan. Different centuries, different wars but the same humane, liberal creed: ‘That philosophy of liberalism that combines a solution to the questions of liberty and freedom – and sometimes, as John Stuart Mill said, they oppose each other, the freedom to and the freedom from – you have to determine where that balance lies for your time, for your nation and for your generation. It does not lie always in the same place. You have to determine that. That is why liberalism is a living creed.’ He finished saying, ‘The thing that we have in our party title – liberal – goes back thousands of years. You should be proud of that. It should give us strength, and it should make us campaign even harder … Henry Gibson once said, ‘You do not go out to battle for freedom and truth wearing your best trousers.’ Sometimes I think our party wears its best trousers too much. This is our heritage and it is also our message today – and we should be proud of it’.

    It would take a speaker of rare skill to match Ashdown’s speech, but Shirley Williams is one of the select band who could – and did, even though she opened joking that she wished she had after all agreed to speak before rather than after him. She contrasted Ashdown’s drawing of lessons from the more distant past with her own talk – looking at the lessons from more recent political history, in particular the way the limited teaching of history in the US helps shapes its leaders’ worldview – if you only teach American history, you end up with people who do not think much beyond the boundaries of America. This had ‘devastating consequences’, Shirley Williams argued, when the lessons of the Vietnam War and the state the country was left in were not applied to Iraq.

    She then turned to the way the Liberal Party declined so sharply in the early twentieth century, becoming reduced to near irrelevance. ‘What kept it going were the deep roots it had put down in some parts of the country – the Pennines, parts of the West Country and of course the Celtic Welsh and Scottish Liberals,’ Shirley Williams explained. Her own roots, of course, are in the social democracy rather than liberalism – a distinction she described as being based on being less distrustful of the powers of the state, but also a distinction that has faded as the merged Liberal Democrats have evolved.

    Returning to America and the uses of history, Williams said that lessons from the 1930s are still very relevant. One of her conclusions from them is the need to consider a job creation program, aimed particularly at young people, funded by a dedicated temporary tax. More optimistically, she thinks politicians have learnt from the 1930s that they should not ‘simply take the dictation of the market without any question as to whether it is right or whether it isn’t.’ Then only the American President FDR amongst western leaders bucked that consensus of treating the recession as an act of inevitability, introducing instead a liberal and democratic government to fight that which other people viewed as inevitable.

    The USA is also responsible for her views on coalition. Williams revealed that initially she would have preferred a minority Conservative government, with a confidence and supply arrangement rather than a formal coalition. However, she has since changed her mind, drawing on what she has seen in the USA and the dangers it shows of ‘total political polarisation’ stopping the government from taking necessary action in an economic crisis. As a result, she now thinks forming a coalition ‘was necessary and it was right … One had to make the political system work, even if it was painful and difficult to do so.’

    Finally, looking back a century to Britain’s own history, Shirley Wiliams said there were three failures of the Liberal Party in 1911: on gender, inequality and Ireland. ‘It was appalling that Asquith consistently refused to consider suffrage for women,’ she said, before stressing that in her view the party had made far too little progress in improving the diversity amongst its MPs – and has a diversity problem illustrated by the near all-white audience for the fringe meeting. The success of ‘zipping’ in introducing gender balance amongst the party’s MEP’s points the way, she said, towards the need for action in other areas.

    The second failure was shown by the so-called workers’ rebellion, fuelled by a dramatic drop in real wages. As with gender, this source of 1911 failure is a challenge for the modern party too, with real wages once again dropping. But on this issue Williams said the party was getting right, with its emphasis on a fairer tax system, keeping the 50 per cent tax rate and increasing the basic rate income tax allowance to £10,000. When she was first elected in 1964, the ratio between the pay of the country’s leading chief executives and the average wage of people who worked in manufacturing was about 8:1 she said; now it has risen to over 80:1. ‘That’s not just inequality: it is appalling obscenity.’

    On Ireland, Williams reminded the audience that Ireland was long a passion of William Gladstone. The tragedy of his inability to secure home rule for Ireland was a heavy burden on Britain and Ireland’s subsequent histories. But, much less well known is that when in office Gladstone offered the Zulus a military alliance against the Boers. When he fell as prime minister the proposal fell apart, with huge costs to South Africa, too. On this point, Williams did not explicitly say what the lessons for modern Liberal Democrats are, the implication was left hanging in the air that it meant – at least some of the time – being willing to militarily support the oppressed. What she did say in conclusion was that history matters, for ‘we must learn the lessons, even the painful ones, and not make the same mistakes again’.

    In answers to questions from the audience, Ashdown agreed that Gladstone’s love of thrift and voluntarism is still very relevant – environmentalism is a form of thrift and community politics is based on voluntarism. But community politics is greater than voluntarism, for community politics must also be about shifting power.

    Williams agreed, saying the country was increasingly realising how unreal the New Labour economic boom had been, based on unsustainable debt producing a mirage which both the public and the government believed in. For her thrift has a moral and psychological purpose, making us more happy, she thinks, given the costs of the anxiety that comes from seeking ever-more riches rather than enjoying what you have.

    On voluntarism, Williams again agreed with Ashdown, pointing to the amazing care that hospices provide, thanks to a system based on voluntarism. Repeating her high profile opposition to some aspects of the government’s health reforms, she nonetheless saw a key role for such voluntarism.

    The question and answer session was rather taken over by contemporary political questions, including very strong comments about the importance of the party improving the diversity of its parliamentary party in the Commons from both Williams and Ashdown. The latter admitted to changing his mind on the topic and is now willing to support more radical temporary measures if necessary than he was when leader of the party.

    Ashdown also retold a story of a meeting between Henry Kissinger and Mao Zedong. Seeking to kindle a shared interest in history to smooth the business, Kissinger asked Mao what he thought would have happened if it had been Khrushchev and not John F. Kennedy who had been assassinated. Mao pondered before saying that he doubted that nice, rich Greek ship owner would have married Mrs Khrushchev.

    Closing the meeting, Duncan Brack reminded people of the comment made by the distinguished historian and Liberal Democrat peer, the late Conrad Russell, that the party via its predecessors was probably the oldest political party in the world. This 350 years of history is captured in the new history of the party – to remember, to celebrate and to learn.

    You can buy Peace, Reform and Liberation from Amazon here or reviews from William Wallace and Iain Sharpe.

    * Declaration of interest – I’m one of the chapter authors.

    Watch the event in full

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    Lib Dem Peers rebel as Government defeated on Welfare Reform

    The Government has suffered a series of defeats in the House of Lords tonight on various aspects of the Welfare Reform Bill.

    The House of Lords was discussing amendments relating to the Employment and Support Allowance.

    The Guardian reports that 3 Liberal Democrats, Jenny Tonge, Matthew Taylor and Roger Roberts voted for an amendment which protected young people’s right to claim Employment and Support Allowance.

    The Government was also defeated on their one year time limit for claiming Contributory ESA. This was increased to two years by the amendment. The Liberal Democrat rebels were Dee Doocey and Jenny Tonge.

    The third defeat was …

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    VIDEO: Paddy Ashdown, Shirley Williams and Julian Glover on the Liberal Democrats, recession and The Guardian

    You can now watch again in full one of the best fringe meetings from the party conference, which saw Paddy Ashdown, Shirley Williams and the then Guardian editorial writer Julian Glover launch a new history of the party and its predecessors, Peace, Reform and Liberation.*

    Julian Glover gave a very funny speech about his newspaper’s love/hate relationship with the party – “So there you have it, 150 years from The Guardian and the Manchester Guardian calling on the Liberal Party and the Liberal Democrats to be brave, radical; praising the party’s policies and then writing it off as irrelevant”.

    Shirley Williams turned to the history of America and of the 1930s, drawing lessons for the current economic difficulties, including why American history has made her a supporter of coalition government in the UK.

    Paddy Ashdown’s speech included a collection of his favourite liberal quotes and why the lessons contained in them are still highly relevant to contemporary liberal politicians, ending with this exhortation:

    The thing that we have in our party title – liberal – goes back thousands of years. You should be proud of that. It should give us strength, and it should make us campaign even harder … Henry Gibson once said, ‘You do not go out to battle for freedom and truth wearing your best trousers’. Sometimes I think our party wears its best trousers too much. This is our heritage and it is also our message today – and we should be proud of it.

    Here is the meeting in full to watch, and chances are it is much better than quite a few of those Christmas TV repeats you’ll otherwise find yourself watching…

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    LibLink | In praise of… Shirley Williams

    One of this week’s Guardian leader columns, ‘In praise of…’, was deservedly dedicated to Shirley Williams, a Lib Dem peer, founding member of the SDP, and former Labour education secretary. Here’s a snippet:

    Forever running late, but with a warmth that ensures she’s forgiven, Williams has great faith in reasonable compromise. She has pursued a more softly-softly approach towards the dreadful health bill than we have advocated. But survivors of the SDP’s internecine wars recall a wily chair perfectly capable of calling a crunch vote when an awkward customer had gone to the loo, and it is too early to judge

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    In other news…

    On the NHS:

    Liberal Democrats may win a key concession on the controversial Health and Social Bill before the legislation is passed, PoliticsHome has learned.

    Sources have indicated that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, including key rebel Baroness Williams, have struck a deal which would allow Lib Dem peers currently opposed to the legislation to secure changes to the role of the Health Secretary. They are currently concerned that the Bill will mean the Secretary of State is not responsible for ensuring that patients across the country receive the same services and standards of care.

    PoliticsHome understands that the responsibility of the Health

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    Baroness Liz Barker writes… The Health and Social Care Bill in the Lords

    I have spent my entire working life in the field of health and social care. For many years I worked for Age Concern and for all my time in the Lords I have been a member of the Health and Social Care team. I am, and always will be, a passionate supporter of an NHS which is free at the point of need and open to all regardless of their ability to pay.

    Although the Health and Social Care Bill only came to the Lords this week I have been working on it for several months along with Liberal Democrat colleagues, including …

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    Opinion: If the cap doesn’t fit, don’t wear it

    The NHS Emergency Motion which was not debated at Conference in Birmingham had a clause that stated the cap on Private Patient Income (PPI) by NHS Foundation trusts should be retained. Shirley Williams has since stated that this is one of four main aspects of the bill which she will be trying to change in the House of Lords.

    But Lib Dem peers would be wrong to press for retention of the cap. Even for those who want to preserve a strongly public sector provided NHS the retention of the Private Patient Income (PPI) cap makes no sense.

    The cap limits the …

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    Adrian Sanders is still right

    With the reduction in number of MPs back in the news, so too is the question of how many ministers there are. As I wrote in October last year:

    I agree with Adrian Sanders and 22 Conservative MPs
    Yesterday in Parliament Adrian Sanders and 22 Conservative MPs voted to reduce the maximum number of ministers allowed in the Commons in line with the forthcoming reduction in the number of MPs

    Without a cut in the number of MPs on the government payrolls, reducing the number of MPs will increase the government’s power over Parliament when the whole thrust of other reforms is, rightly, that …

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    LibLink: Shirley Williams – Why this flawed bill threatens the very future of the NHS

    Writing in today’s Observer, Liberal Democrat peer Shirley Williams says:

    As the passage of the Health and Social Care Bill has ground on, the doubts and questions that accompany it have become ever more difficult to address. This is a bill that has been subjected to a listening exercise, extensive consultation and a report by Steve Field, chairman of the Future Forum, redrafting by Parliament, more than 100 hours of debate, and dedicated efforts by the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, and the Liberal Democrat minister of state for social care, Paul Burstow, to amend it to meet the worries Lib

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    Shirley Williams revisits her childhood haunts

    BBC Radio 4’s latest series of “The House I Grew up In” (which revisits the childhood neighbourhoods of influential Britons) includes an episode featuring Liberal Democrat Peer, Shirley Williams.

    Shirley Williams, now Baroness Williams, returns to her childhood homes in London’s Chelsea and the New Forest. Her mother was the writer, Vera Brittain, whose most famous novel – Testament of Youth – was a best-seller when Shirley was a child in the 1930s. Her father, George Catlin, was an academic and and an instinctive feminist whose own mother had been an early suffragette, ostracised by Victorian society. He was a

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    LDVideo: Vince and Shirley’s war on Murdoch, while Nick savages PCC as “busted flush”

    There’s no doubt about the big story this week: Rupert Murdoch being forced to close the biggest-selling British newspaper in a brazen bid to ride out the illegal hacking story that threatens his media empire.

    Vince Cable’s prophetic powers first came to prominence during the economic storm that came close to collapsing the banking system. Last December, he accidentally went on the record to make clear his wish to clip Rupert Murdoch’s wings. Ironically, it was the Telegraph’s widely condemned subterfuge which stopped Vince in his tracks, and prevented his ability to hold to account the company where illegal hacking was rife. Here’s what he inadvertently revealed to the Telegraph last year:

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    LibLink | Shirley Williams: After all the arguments, where next for the NHS?

    Shirley Williams writes in the Times today of her strong support for Future Forum’s recommendations for NHS reform, and suggests that listening exercises may be the way forward for future policy-setting:

    Like many others, I was sceptical about the listening exercise. It seemed to me a way for the Government to win time so that it could rethink its proposals for NHS reform in the light of great scepticism from medical organisations, distinguished think-tanks, health service managers and staff, and, not least, doctors.

    My concerns were not justified. The Future Forum, chaired by Professor Steve Field, himself for many

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    LibLink | Shirley Williams: Lib Dems should take credit for thwarting Lansley

    Shirley Williams, writing today in the Independent, says that the Liberal Democrats can be proud of their influence on NHS reforms:

    Liberal Democrats, from our party’s grassroots to its leadership, can be proud of the influence we have exerted to change the Government’s NHS plans. It is clear now that the proposals that will be taken forward are dramatically different to those originally proposed.

    The implications of Andrew Lansley’s massive health proposals, setting England’s health system on the path to a market in health care rather than a public service, were very slow to sink in. The complex, extensive and sometimes almost

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    Tamed and reshaped – Clegg on the NHS White Paper

    Speaking last night at an excellent anniversary dinner to mark 25 years (yes, 25 years) of Liberal Democrat control on Sutton Council, Nick Clegg said the party has been successful in taming and reshaping the NHS reform plans.

    The run of political and electoral success achieved by Liberal Democrats in Sutton is, as Clegg pointed out, a standing answer to anyone who doubts that you can achieve and then hold political power whilst continuing campaigning and staying true to your liberal roots. One of the key people in that success was Ruth Shaw, who Nick Clegg personally presented with the 2010 …

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    It’s a busy Saturday for the spinners

    With the new version of the government’s health plans due out on Monday or Tuesday, expect tomorrow’s papers to be full of pre-briefing from the different camps – the pro-Lansley Tories, the rest of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

    The first of that trio are likely to have by far the toughest, verging on implausible, task given the major changes coming to the original NHS plans. The bigger media battle is between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats (or Cameron and Clegg if you prefer your politics in distilled personalised format) over the relative credit for those changes.

    The news from the Liberal …

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    Liberal Youth: appealing to Lib Dems everywhere

    Conferences are a foundation stone of being a Liberal Democrat. There have been some really huge and important ones – Brighton, 2002, where we laid out a principled position on Iraq; Llandudno, 1981, where Shirley Williams and David Steel spoke passionately in favour of an alliance; Sheffield, 2011, when we opposed the NHS reforms. Conference is the best way for the membership to exert their influence over the leadership. Past leaders, from Steel to Ashdown, from Kennedy to Clegg, have often feared Conference for the skill and passion with which it has put its arguments. And so the tradition of …

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    NHS reforms will be altered significantly and in a Lib Dem direction – Paul Burstow

    The NHS Bill will be substantially changed – that was the message from Liberal Democrat MP and Health Minister Paul Burstow at Lewisham Liberal Democrats on Friday night. It won’t just be changed, he said, it will be changed in a distinctively Liberal Democrat direction.

    At the heart of the likely changes is the role of Monitor, the proposals for which Paul bluntly said were got wrong first time round. Though he was careful not to directly criticise Andrew Lansley, he did say that the original proposals for Monitor were to adopt the model of regulator used with privatised utilities and …

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    LibLink: Shirley Williams – The line the Lib Dems won’t cross on the NHS

    Over at The Guardian, Baroness Shirley Williams has a piece setting out the problems she has with the government’s proposed NHS reforms, and four substantive changes that the Liberal Democrats would like to see made.

    Here’s a sample:

    First, the role of the secretary of state: as the excellent fifth report of the House of Commons health committee pointed out, the public, who pay for the NHS, look to the secretary of state to be responsible for the delivery of a comprehensive health service, one that is equitable, accessible to all, and free at the time of use. The National Commissioning Board will

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    Who are the greatest Liberal Prime Ministers who never were?

    Mark Pack reviewed Francis Beckett’s new counterfactual collection, The Prime Ministers Who Never Were, on the Voice earlier this week — 14 ‘Big Beasts’ who, had the chips fallen differently, might have become premiers.

    The list is mostly inevitable with a couple of intriguing outsiders: Austen Chamberlain, J R Clynes, Lord Halifax, Oswald Mosley, Herbert Morrison, Hugh Gaitskell, Rab Butler, George Brown, Norman Tebbit, Michael Foot, Denis Healey, Neil Kinnock, John Smith and David Miliband.

    Voice readers will notice one evident fact: there’s not a single Liberal (or SDP) name among them. In some ways it’s not that surprising. After …

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    Shirley Williams writes… Why Vote Yes – So that voters aren’t taken for granted

    Let me start by stating an undisputable truth; we live in a pluralistic society. Governments have recognised this in delivering our public services and in fostering multiculturalism. However, when it comes to how we vote for our politicians, we have been stuck with first past the post, and left with the patronisingly simple option of submitting a single cross.

    Experts of voting behaviour in the past would have explained voting outcomes through ‘class’. Nearly everybody voted either Labour or Conservative. For example, during every election of the 1950s, at least 90% voted for the two main parties. Now barely two-thirds do. …

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    The party strategy debate: rolling highlights

    Note: If you’re catching up with this post after it was published, read it from the bottom up.

    Final result – both amendment and motion passed overwhelmingly. The overall tenor of the debate was more good natured than might have been expected – people did not take the opportunity to express any unhappiness in strident tones, and the party being in coalition with the Tories until 2015 was accepted and expected, explicitly or implicitly, by all speakers. Tuition fees and NHS got mentions, but brief ones. Norman Lamb’s comments about the health debate (see below), however, were unexpected and welcome.

    James Gurling, …

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    Ten comments on Saturday at party conference

    1. Being introduced at a meeting or in a debate as a “Minister” is still a plus point, often triggering a round of applause. People at conference like the fact that the party is in government.

    2. The Social Liberal Forum (SLF) is growing quickly in influence in the party, partly thanks to a smartly organised set of fringe meetings, amendments and motions. However, the SLF is very keen to repeatedly stress that it is not anti-coalition.

    3. The NHS debate was a decision delayed. All sides are happy with the idea that a conference debate is used to set out or …

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    Conference preview: two of the coalition’s most controversial policies

    Saturday morning in Sheffield this weekend sees the LibDem conference debating two of the areas of coalition which have generated the most controversy: the NHS and the future of the Disability Living Allowance.

    The motion on the Disability Living Allowance (F4) has been slightly overtaken by events as the debate within government over the Welfare Reform Bill develops and in fact the plans in this area have in effect been sent back to the drawing board. That makes the motion all the more important, because rather than being simply a chance to cast a verdict on what the government has done, it is a chance to influence what is yet to be decided. The heart of the motion calls for “the Coalition Government to reinstate the Mobility Component or otherwise fund the mobility needs of those who cannot afford to do so themselves”.

    Paul BurstowStraight after this debate comes one on the NHS (F5). The choice of Andrew Wiseman, Federal Conference Committee’s chair, to chair this debate is a good sign that this is expected to be one of the liveliest of conference as is the news that two Liberal Democrat MPs have signed an EDM expressing concerns over the policy.

    Buried in the middle of the motion are lines 16-17 which says that “Conference welcomes the vision for the NHS set out in the Government’s White Paper”. That may be glossed over as a bit of padding between long lists of less controversial points or it may be the trigger for an all-out row, as also may be the amendment likely to be debated that is coming from ex-MP and doctor Evan Harris and Lib Dem peer Shirley Williams (who made her views clear in “I can’t support the coalition plan for the NHS“).

    The gap between what the amendment calls for and what Liberal Democrats in government have been pressing for is not that large, however – and some have already expressed the view that the amendment may be a good route to getting more changes made to the health plans. That will provide a pointed choice for those promoting the amendment – whether to try to bring about change through aggressive antagonism or through emollient persuasion? And is modifying the government plans or setting out what a Liberal Democrat majority government would do their top priority?

    The full text of both motions are in the Spring Conference Agenda and Directory embedded below.

    Liberal Democrat Spring Conference Agenda and Directory 2011

    Posted in Conference | Also tagged , , , , , and | 2 Comments

    Opinion: Baroness Williams shows how to disagree with coalition policy with grace

    One of the very reasons I became a Liberal Democrat in the first place was be cause of strong women within the party who held similar beliefs to my own. Baroness Williams is one of those women, but she has something else which is equally important in these times of coalition government.

    Shirley Williams has a wonderful way of saying that she disagrees with the coalition without it being dramatic or overly sentimental. In her opinion piece in The Times she lays out her thoughts as to why she cannot support the coalition and its proposals for the National …

    Posted in News | Also tagged and | 11 Comments



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