Andrew George writes… A veil of initiatives

The Iron Lady cast a steely shadow over the Westminster village last week.

Memories of Baroness Thatcher’s reign of heavy metal terror still strike fear in those who inhabited the place in the days when she would mercilessly handbag anyone who dared to cross her path.

Last week, of course, her major Hollywood biopic was released. Fearing unfavourable comparisons, the PM appears to have gone into manic overdrive; launching an overlapping series of popular-sounding and eye-catching initiatives.

Having spotted that City fat cats are still awarding themselves performance-related perks, which bear no relation to their performance, the PM has become quite cross. He’s even threatened to give them a jolly good talking to; perhaps at one of those white tie only Banquets, or something like that…

Then he’s been turning up the heat on the nurses who don’t seem to be able to do those Matronly Hattie Jacques impressions like they used to; blaming poor standards on nurses, rather than on not having enough of them on our hospital wards, which is what the main problem is. He believes he’s spotted a solution; setting them another raft of micro-managed targets rather than giving them the support of enough nurses and the chance to use their professional skills and initiative.

And then he’s been trying to scotch the plans of some in Scotland to get away scot free (apologies for that!). Personally, I agree that any attempt at completely severing any relationship is best achieved through mutual consent. Although I strongly support giving places like Scotland (or Cornwall for that matter) their right to decide more matters for themselves if they want to, there’s more (in my view) that brings the United Kingdom together than drives us apart.

I respect Scotland and its distinctiveness, just as I would hope more of those outside Cornwall would respect us too.

But, you know, it’s occurred to me that perhaps all these initiatives are not produced to drown out the media’s temptation to reflect on and big-up the reign of Margaret Thatcher to Mr Cameron’s detriment, but really to divert attention away from the core of Government policy.

Those who, in their DNA, oppose the welfare state will never waste a good economic crisis. But, you know, I think they’d prefer to divert attention elsewhere as they go about their deed.

That’s why I believe we need to take care that we don’t appear to be colluding with the worst excesses of this socially divisive agenda.

We were the architects of the NHS. We now look like going down in history as colluding with the architects of its demise. And this week it’s taken Crossbench Peers to wake up the Westminster village tribes to policies which were never spelt out in the Coalition Agreement, by successfully amending the Welfare Reform Bill.

The Dinner Party tendency in our own ranks, who tend to obsess about (however laudable) rarefied and conceptual constitutional matters which our mass of supports couldn’t give two hoots for, seem prepared to see the weak and disabled bed down at night under railway bridges just so that we can claim credit for some reforms (of doubtful wisdom) to the Second Chamber of Parliament.

Mmm…a moment of reflection and rethink before we lose our way methinks…

Andrew George is the Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives constituency, which includes Penzance, St Ives, Helston and St Just.

* Andrew George was Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives until May 2015.

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6 Comments

  • Yes, the Lib Dems peers should feel proud this week of ensuring that millionaires will still receive disability benefit. I’m sure this will do no measure of good to alleviate the gap between rich and poor, what better policy could there be than to sap money away from our education system so we can spend it giving more benefits to the rich and to the middle…

  • Malcolm Todd 16th Jan '12 - 11:09am

    In further shock news, Tommy, millionaires are also eligible for free healthcare, access to emergency services, and subsidised prescriptions, not to mention protection by police and armed services at no extra cost. That’s the point of universal benefits.

    As a matter of (almost) interest, how many millionaires do you suppose receive disability benefit, and at what cost?

  • John Carlisle 16th Jan '12 - 12:10pm

    The lesson is: never sacrifice principles for the sake of a relationship. You end losing both!

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