Round-up of initial reactions to the Lib Dem conference NHS Bill vote

There’s been no shortage of reaction to the vote by the Lib Dem conference this morning to vote by 317-270 to approve an amendment which implicitly calls on the party leadership to drop its support for the NHS Bill.

I say “implicitly” because the motion as passed — pasted at the foot of this post — does not call on Lib Dems to ‘Kill the Bill’. However, conference did vote (albeit narrowly) to remove the call for Lib Dem peers to support the Bill. This follows yesterday’s pre-debate conference vote (again narrowly) to choose not to debate the motion which would explicitly have called for the party to ‘Kill the Bill’ if approved.

Unsurprisingly, this rather confusing picture has left the Lib Dems open to accusations of a political fudge. Here’s’s Paul Waugh, for example:

Dr Evan Harris, the former Lib Dem MP who moved the amendment, issued the following statement on the Social Liberal Forum website, stating his view that conference had clearly called for further substantial amendments to be made to the Bill before the party could support it:

“The Liberal Democrats have clearly and democratically told their ministers and their leaders that they do not support the bill. This can not be ignored. Although many wish to see no bill at all – for good reason – a significant number would support a bill which was amended to comply with what the the Sheffield conference called for last year, so that the bill is more in line with the Coalition Agreement. Most Liberal Democrats are applied [sic] that the Government is defying the Information Commissioner and the appeal tribunal over the Risk Register. The requirement from March have been published and it is time for Liberal Democrat ministers to engage with what we have called for. The party will not stand for its views to be ignored as we have supported the Coalition and Coalition Agreement but can not this Bill in this form.”

The right-leaning Spectator’s James Forsyth meanwhile has interpreted the conference vote as being more ambiguous:

This is a blow to the leadership who were confident last night of winning the vote this morning. But it is nowhere near as bad as the conference — which, remember, still has the power to make party policy — deciding that the bill should be dropped. It is, though, another sign of how deeply this bill has divided the Liberal Democrats.

Nick Clegg declined to let his speech be distracted by this morning’s vote and the NHS controversy which dominated the conference, making only a brief, passing reference to the health reforms:

Take NHS reform. Controversial, yes. Difficult, yes. But the value of coalition has been proven because this is a coalition Government. The health bill was stopped in its tracks and rewritten because this is a coalition Government. Competition will be the servant of health care, not the master because this is a coalition government. This is a bill for patients not profits. It is not a Liberal Democrat health bill but it is a better bill because of the Liberal Democrats, a better bill because of you. A better bill because of Shirley Williams – Shirley: thank you.

And the Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow has given his take on the downsides and upsides to Nick Clegg of the vote:

On the down side

• Clegg asked his party to support the Shirley Williams motion in full – and they refused. That makes him look weak.

• The debate has shown that Clegg has failed to persuade his party that he has significantly improved the health bill. If Lib Dems don’t believe him on this, why should the public?

• David Cameron may be increasingly wondering whether the Lib Dems will be reliable coalition partners for the next three years.

• The Lib Dem “left” is looking stronger than it was. That’s awkward for Clegg, because people normally place him on the Lib Dem “right”.

• Shirley Williams may be feeling tarnished. The leadership effectively used her as a human shield. In her speech (see 10.03am) she suggested she was not entirely happy about all this.

On the up side

• Clegg wants to persuade the public that the Lib Dems are not the same as the Tories – and today’s vote will help him make that case.

• Today’s vote won’t stop the health bill becoming law.

• Although Clegg lost on a key narrow vote, he still managed to avoid the nightmare scenario of having the Lib Dem conference voting for the bill to be withdrawn. Lib Dem MPs and peers would almost certainly have ignored a vote of that kind, but that would have provoked an internal party crisis and cast doubt on the Lib Dems’ much-prized boast that they are a proper democratic party.

• Clegg may find it easier to extract concessions from Cameron in the future, because he will be able to cite this vote as evidence of the real party management problem that he is having as a result of being in coalition.

And here are my thoughts, from the vantage of not being at conference this year:

Passion trumped pragmatism

There’s been an inevitable problem with the Lib Dem leadership’s position — indeed in the Coalition’s position — on the Health & Social Care Bill: few are passionately in favour of it, and those who are appear unable to articulate why it’s a good thing. Nick Clegg’s position has been “This is a bad bill which we Lib Dems have improved”. Unfortunately for him this leaves open an obvious line of attack: that Lib Dems should not support a Conservative Bill just because it’s not as bad as it was. The ‘We must defend the NHS’ position is a far stronger line than ‘We have made a bad Bill less worse’.

The party leadership played its hand badly

The moment I read Nick Clegg’s conference rally speech — calling on Lib Dems to ‘tear off the rear-view mirror’ — I thought he was in danger of misjudging the mood of party members. My sense, backed up by LibDemVoice’s survey of party members, has been that the membership split roughly into three camps: 15-20% who broadly backed the Bill as it stands; 30-35% who were pretty implacably opposed to it; and about half the membership open to persuasion one way or the other based on the quality of the arguments. Unfortunately the party leadership decided to make this a test of strength — but in the weakest way possible, by deploying Shirley Williams as a human shield. The result was that Baroness Williams, who is clearly conflicted on the NHS reforms — supporting the improvements she’s helped bring about, but still only half-heartedly in favour of the Bill itself — was left to carry the argument. While this came close to working (the vote this morning was a narrow one, after all), it gave the appearance of the Lib Dem leadership not wishing to put its own head above the parapet for fear of the resulting headlines if the vote were lost.

A failure of proper debate

I’m not talking about the debate in the conference hall — which I followed here on LibDemVoice — but about the dire level of debate in the media and (inevitably) on Twitter. Like almost everyone else who’s commented on the NHS reforms to date, I’ve not read the Bill. I would, however, like to try and understand it. For anyone hoping to find out objective facts about the NHS Bill in the newspapers or online all I can say is: good luck. The claims (on both sides) have become ludicrously overblown: I am as sceptical that the Bill will genuinely improve patient choice as I am of the claim that it will privatise health-care. I do not like the leadership framing the debate as a choice between supporting Andy Burnham or Shirley Williams; and I am struck that the Bill’s opponents, while saying they support NHS reform and innovation, seem shy of defining, let alone advocating, what positive proposals they would be in favour of. Pretty much all I’ve seen and heard in the past weeks has been shallow slogans and prophesies of apocalyptic disaster that discredit genuine debate.

Text of the NHS motion (as amended) passed by Lib Dem conference today (with thanks to Paul Walter’s blog):

Conference notes:

A. That during the Lords Report Stage of the Health and Social Care Bill in February and March 2012 Liberal Democrats, in conjunction with peers from other benches, have achieved significant changes to the Conservative Health Secretary’s original Health and Social Care Bill.

B. Taking the lead from the motion passed at Spring Conference 2011 Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords have worked successfully to:

i) Guarantee the Secretary of State’s responsibility for a comprehensive health service, his power to intervene if things go wrong and his accountability to Parliament.

ii) Ensure that competition in the NHS is in the interests of patients, based on quality not price.

iii) Secure the commissioning process against damaging conflicts of interest.

iv) Ensure that any profits from treating private patients in Foundation Trust hospitals are invested in the NHS.

v) Underpin the independence of public health.

vi) Place a duty on the National Commissioning Board and CCGs to address and report on progress in reducing health inequalities as part of how their performance is assessed.

vii) Place on all service providers an equal duty to provide NHS education and training; and

viii) Put the NHS in the vanguard of medical research.

Conference further:

1. Confirms the commitment of Liberal Democrats to a comprehensive national health service accessible to all and free at the point of need.

2. Welcomes the changes made to the Bill, which meet the main demands made by Conference at Sheffield, including:

a) Making Monitor’s top priority the interests of NHS patients, not competition.

b) Ending Labour’s policy of giving preferential terms to the private sector.

3. Supports the Liberal Democrat team in the House of Lords in its endeavours to ensure that the Bill is further amended to:

a) Remove reviews by the Competition Commission from the Bill.

b) Retain Monitor’s regulation of Foundation Trusts after 2016.

c) Ensure that individual Foundation Trusts have to justify in advance any substantial increase in their private income.

4. Calls on Liberal Democrat peers to support the Third Reading of the Bill provided such further amendments are achieved.

5. Calls (on) Liberal Democrats nationally and locally to work with Royal Colleges, NHS staff, patients and carers groups and local authorities in the interests of upholding the NHS as a public service, ensuring its ability to meet the challenges of an ageing society despite constrained financial circumstances, and securing better health outcomes for all.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • David Allen 11th Mar '12 - 2:11pm

    “Now, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

  • “On the up side …
    Today’s vote won’t stop the health bill becoming law.”

    Well, that depends on your point of view!

  • coldcomfort 11th Mar '12 - 2:27pm

    The media are in full cry & truth never interrupts what they deem a good story. Starting with today [Sunday 11th BBC News] headline: “LibDem members oppose NHS reforms in conference vote”. NOT TRUE Shirley Williams motion, which drew attention to the massive work that LibDems – especially Peers – had put into improving the Bill, was passed with ease with the exception of just one Clause. Conference voted to remove the Clause instructing Peers how to vote from the Motion deciding to leave how Peers voted to their own judgement. That is what they are there for. We do not share the Tory & Labour enthusiasm for the Whip. Given the work done by Peers (despite ongoing disquiet from many Party Members) it is highly likely that LibDem Peers will support the Bill. That is not the issue. The BBC commentator said that the vote “- – – – – was a shattering blow for the LibDem Leadership” What rubbish – but as nothing compared to what we might expect from certain print media tomorrow.

  • David Rogers 11th Mar '12 - 2:35pm

    It was a ‘clause 4’ moment…

  • Jerry Taylor 11th Mar '12 - 2:42pm

    NHS reform is a difficult argument to win, the reformers have reason and evidence on our side but that is puny when confronted by a towering tsunami of emotion. And the more we talk calmly and sensibly about why improved choice and a more continental mixed system will improve healthcare the angrier the reactionaries get because we’re not reacting to their tantrums. A few years down the line everyone will wonder what all the fuss was about and Labour will not only actively support the reforms but be planning to take them further and we’ll all be wishing we hadn’t been so timid ourselves.

  • Sadly, the events of this weekend have demonstrated that your party, despite the best efforts of its rank and file, is now in the grip of a set of anti state, Milton Friedmanite neo-cons. If you proceed in your suicidal mission of destroying the NHS as we have known it the only party you can ever contemplate being in coalition with again, under your present leadership, is the Tory party.

  • Joseph Donnelly 11th Mar '12 - 2:46pm

    This is a good round up and summary of whats happened.

    The media reporting of whats happened is pretty dire, at least headline wise.

  • Tony Dawson 11th Mar '12 - 3:08pm

    @Jerry Taylor:

    “NHS…. reformers have reason and evidence on our side but that is puny when confronted by a towering tsunami of emotion.”

    The NHS could do with quite a bit of reform. However, the present Bill is not ‘reform’ at all. It is akin to allowing three or four little boys to puddle their mucky fingers in an open wound.

    Towering Tsunami of emotion? Wasn’t that all on the other side? The Leadership pushing Shirley Williams forward was certainly more an emotional appeal than a logical one. Had she not been the mover of this motion, it would have been defeated or amended out of sight.

  • I’ve said many times on this site over the last few weeks the Royal Colleges are key. The travesty has been in lumping them in with the unions which has been an effective misinformation trick….

    I am not against reform of the NHS and Labour (whilst achieving some welcomed improvements in patient outcomes) left a horror in the form of the 2006 Act.

    Is now the time for this direct consultation ? Let’s get someone outside of Government, but senior enough to be taken seriously, to invite the heads of the Royal Colleges directly affected to a summit. To be clear I do not see the value in inviting the Unions, just the colleges.

    In political terms, what a great contrast this would be to Cameron excluding those professional bodies opposed to the Bill.

    In practical terms, these are the expert bodies, bring them on board and I would feel more comfortable with the resulting Bill as I am sure would many of the public.

  • Releasing the full risk register is important too, now and not after the process.

    I am with MacK. The country is being driven in a Neo Liberal way each year, not unfortunately not a general Liberal direction. There seems to be two strands of Liberalism in evidence.

    Also, not impressed Jerry with the emotive description of those that oppose the bill, including the great majority of health professionals, being described as reactionaries.

    In the article above – 30 to 35% of remaining Liberal Democrat members are implacably opposed to the Health & Social Care Bill. Are they are reactionaries too ?

  • Tony Greaves 11th Mar '12 - 3:50pm

    “I’ve not read the Bill. I would, however, like to try and understand it.”

    I have read it (apart from some of the more incomprehensible schedules). I wish I understood clearly what the effects will be. I wish that there was a consensus of view on what the effects will be. It is a real muddle and the outcomes will all depend on the instructions (or “leadership” if you talk like that kind of babble) from people at the top. Tory politicians and their acolyte bureaucrats. Working with their pals in the health corporations.

    What is very clear is that it will not now result in the overnight privatisation of the NHS. It will certainly result in further creeping commercialisation and privatisation, particularly at the commissioning level (which will not all be done by CCGs – much will be done by the NCB and its regional and local offices).

    Tony Greaves

  • paul barker 11th Mar '12 - 4:53pm

    I take a hard-line “dont know” position on the bill, putting me right in the party mainstream. In a democratic party this sort of 50/50 split is bound to happen sometimes, I dont think we should feel bad about it.
    I doubt the NHS will be a significant issue in 2015.

  • Paul. That may be a fond wish for you and the Liberal Democratic leadership (apologies if you are part of the leadership !)

    Alternately, it may be dawning on the general public what the Liberal Democrats have enabled the Conservatives to do. Health professionals are only too aware of of how bad the Health & Social Care bill is, which is why it is opposed almost by the whole of the medical professions.

    There will be impact of possible closures of hospitals, reduction of available services, increased waiting times, deterioration of the quality and depth of services, whole sale commissioning out of services to private health companies via private commissioning companies, with reports of private companies making massive profit. The evidence of the Increase of bureaucracy and this is not to talk of private services going awry or GP conflict of interest. Also, negative impacts on vulnerable groups and the impact of EU Competition law.

    You should not underestimate how angry many people are. Or the terrible things that are likely to happen.

    As I said above the Risk register that has been decided legally to be produced must be released so we can understand the possible full impact. If released after, and some of the risks that come to pass, then people will know what the Liberal Democrats had knowledge of and allowed to happen.

    No impact in 2015, it is likely to be the defining issue of the election. No top down re organisation eh ?

  • Ian Willmore 11th Mar '12 - 6:00pm

    With respect, your remark that “the claims (on both sides) have become ludicrously overblown” is a false antithesis. The Bill is a very long, very muddled and very opaque document, but its core elements are clear, and have been analysed at length by lawyers and health policy experts.

    The Bill establishes a legal basis for the NHS to:
    · Provide fewer services than those now commissioned by Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), including public health services for children and young people aged 5-19; public mental health services; dental public health services; tobacco control and smoking cessation services; alcohol and drug misuse services; and sexual health services
    · Provide fewer services than those now part of the NHS, by giving the power to clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to decide if provision is appropriate as part of the health service, including services for: pregnant women; women who are breastfeeding; and young children
    · Introduce charges for services, including those listed above
    · Allow the exclusion of people from health services, through secondary legislation and possibly under patient eligibility and selection criteria (these provisions in the Bill remain unclear).

    A full and clear analysis of the Bill can be found at It is written by Allyson Pollock , Professor of Public Health Research and Policy at Queen Mary’s London, David Price, Senior Research Fellow at QMH, and public interest lawyer Peter Roderick. There really is no excuse for political commentators to continue to plead ignorance about what the Bill means.

  • Paul Catherall 11th Mar '12 - 7:21pm

    As I’ve pointed out on other papers on this site, the NHS is the largest state organisation in the world (this very fact makes some Liberals ill), as such it took about 3 governments under Blair just to introduce the ‘agenda for change’, I might add, with the support of the NHS practitioners and bodies. So how can this monumental organization be de-regulated into a comissioning model in under 3 years, with no support from the NHS itself?
    In 2015 we will undoubtably see a Labour government shored up with all the LibDem consituencies as voters drop the LibDem party like a stone, this will make up for any potential loss of Scottish Labour MPs in the independence referendum in 2014, as such one of the first things Labour will do is reppeal the health and welfare Bill (we could be cynical here and suggest this would safeguard the jobs of thousands of Labour voters).
    So in summation, what is the point in supporting this Bill, when it is likely to be reppealed in a few years by Labour, before it can even be enacted properly?
    The outcomes of this behaviour are an increased drive for separtism across the regions, breakup of the UK and handing Labour about 60 MPs courtesy of LibDem scalps.
    Any LibDem MPs should start planning their new life after Westminster politics, or seriously consider defection to Labour at this stage.

  • The party is waking up. Good.

  • Once again we are failing to get our message across. We are reported as dithering idiots who cannot decide which way to face.

    The story of the conference vote for me is this: the grassroots were expected to rise up against the NHS bill; the party leadership pulled a stunt with Shirley Williams as the human shield; the grassroots narrowly failed to get their emergency motion heard; the grassroots did the only thing they could do to send a message to the party leadership about how unhappy we are.

    Nick et al should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for this unpleasant attack on the party’s democratic process.

  • @Oranjepan

    “…” so that Conservatives look wedded to this ugly bill…”

    I suppose that will depend on whether the Tories want to play softball or hardball. When I was looking at political blogs this morning for comment regarding the vote, I noticed this on John Redwood’s blog (I realise that most LDP readers probably don’t even realise he has a blog, but read on please):

    Regarding his reaction when told by a minister about the plan for a health bill:

    “I said that “would be brave Minister” and went on to suggest not attempting it in this Parliament…”

    When the Bill was published he comments:

    “When I read the Preface to the White Paper on NHS Reform signed by David Cameron and Nick Clegg I decided that their vision was one I should support. I overcame my worries and have ever since voted for the measure and done my best to explain the government’s case for it. I was also swayed in favour by some of the comments in the Lib Dem’s Orange Book and their Manifesto, though their proposals went further than I would have chosen myself.”

    Now we’re talking about a true blue Tory here, yet even he is saying that the LDP really wanted to go further than he would. Also, I may not know to much about John Redwood but I don’t think he has a reputation for being over emotional (deliberate understatement I think), so if he is saying “brave” then I hate to think what others were saying when asked about it.

    His post is also interesting as it talks about the LDP in coalition, it may be worth a read:

    It could be a few interesting weeks for the coalition.

  • Richard Dean 12th Mar '12 - 1:10am

    @Orangepan. Absolutely correct! This has been a great victory for democracy, Libdems, and the NHS. The motion authorizes the LibDem peers to let the blll through the Lords, after appropriate amendment, and enables LibDem MPs to then exert decisive power to get final changes included. Perhaps we need a spin person to counter all the negativity!

    @Ian Willmore. We now have clear notivation as well as an opportunity to clarify the issues detailed by Allyson Pollock, David Price, and Peter Roderick in In my view those authors are not being rational at all, but it’s clear that their points do need better answers than so far given.

    @Jerry Taylor. Emotion is a perfectly valid thing – would we be human without it ?! The NHS has a special emotional place in our culture, and the idea that the whole nation helps in healing people is itself a thing that can heal. The result of the vote can perhaps provide a stimulus to start to recognize these kinds of feelings.

  • Martin Pierce 12th Mar '12 - 8:21am

    One real irony is that having gone to such a huge effort on Friday and Saturday to successfully skewer the opportunity for the real debate that should have happened on theNHS bill, the leadership then failed to follow through by actually getting people to put cards in to make the argument for the anodyne motion they had got prioritised! One final thing – can FCC resolve not to put people’s names in the titles of motions again in future – officially calling the leadership’s motion ‘the Shirley Williams motion’ demeaned all concerned in my view

  • It’s not the best of results; it’s the worst…….A ‘Pontius Pilate’ moment

    Clegg looks weak; weak leader, weak party (look at Labour, with a more charismatic, stronger person they’d do far better)
    The party looks weak; a majority against this ‘bill’ and yet it looks certain to go ahead.

    Thinking ‘rational thoughts’ about the NHS is a major mistake; it has the same appeal, to the general public, as does the monarchy. Every problem in the ‘reformed’ NHS will be blamed on this bill and, like it or not, LibDems will receive far more blame than the Tories (historically, every poll shows the public do not trust the Tories with the NHS and that mistrust was why Cameron lied to the electorate. “No top-down NHS reorganisation” removed the NHS from the election agenda). Cameron is adept at keeping praise and passing on blame; all future references/comebacks will be addressed as “together with our LibDem partners, etc.”

    IMO this bill will have far more impact, on the LibDems in 2015, than tuition fees

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Mar '12 - 3:00pm

    The negative comments from MacK and Chris_sh suggest these are people whose only aim is to destroy the Liberal Democrats (and hence pluralist politics in this country). Here we are, having voted against this NHS Bill, and yet they are accusing us of being the opposite of what that demonstrates.

    Anyone who has a REAL interest in the Liberal Democrate thriving and pulling back from where it has been pushed in recent years ought to be applauding us for what happened at this conference instead of continuing with the snide comments. Having spent more of my time and money than I could easily afford attending this conference and voting against the Bill, I feel “why bother?” if all I get is this sort of abuse. It’s really deflating and demoralising when one is trying hard within the party to re-establish its position on the left of politics and we still get the “nah-nah-nah-nah-nah, you lot are all yellow Tories” line from anyone who isn’t with us and isn’t a Tory.

    Having made this push against the leadership, what is now needed is some demonstration that such things are gaining us support. If it lead to people outside the party saying positive things about it and thinking again of voting for it, we inside the party pushing it that way will be energised to continue. It will be much harder for the leadership to resist if our party showing a demonstration of standing up to the Tories leads to it showing increased support. If support drops with claims it means the LibDems are “weak and divided”, the leadership will be able to clamp down on this sort of opposition. Remember, the ideological right-wing in the party is very small in numbers, and even if Clegg is really amongst them he relies on a “the show must go on” middle ground to keep going that way. This middle ground can be swung if the leadership gets defeated and it can be shown the show still goes on.

    The Liberal Democrats are a democratic party, we have shown this by debating this subject seriously and coming to a conclusion. What other party in the country could do that? What does it say if democracy like this is derided? A really positive message could come from this – we have show that ordinary people do count and can achieve things in a political party, we are about a different sort of politics than top-down leader-knows-best. Nick Clegg himself, if he is smart, ought to turn this around and use it to bargain harder with the Tories.

    If we turn round and find the backing we need from the left is not there, that all we have is the “Never vote LibDem again” crowd, then the LibDems will collapse. And who will win? The Tories. Most LibDem seats in Parliament are seats from places which without LibDem work would have returned Tory MPs. Without the LibDems winning a whole load of constituencies which not long ago would have been written off as “true blue Tory”, Lansley’s original Bill would have gone through.

    I would also like to note that I found the hyperbolic and somewhat patronising lobbying of delegates as they entered the conference to be counter-productive. Liberal Democrats like to talk things through themselves and make their minds up themselves. Tony Greaves has it right – the end result of the Bill was not overnight privatisation, the “end of the NHS” as was so often claimed, it was just more creep in that direction – a continuation of the creep that Labour so encouraged when they were in power.

    On Shirley Williams, I can see what is happening here. If you have spent a long time and a lot of effort trying to make a bad thing better, it’s hard to say “It’s still bad, let’s throw away all that time and effort and start again”.

  • This analysis of the spat between Polly Toynbee and Shirley Williams seems to be definitive. Anybody disagree with Polly and agree with Shirley on the specifics?

  • I read Matthew Huntbach’s comments with interest.

    The conference did not give its approval but does anyone truly feel that the MPs and leadership will not approve the bill Health & Social Care Bill with anything but minor amendments ?

    The proof of the pudding is in the eating and action that the move from the conference means anything would be the ditching of the bill.

    If that happened, I may start to change my opinion of the Liberal Democrats.

    Trust is earned. (I trust my GP but not Allied Health Care or Capita or outsourced private commissioners and least of all Conservative assurances of equitable treatment).

  • I think it says it all when the conference members at Gateshead did not believe Shirley Williams and voted against her motion, It was a disgrace that her motion was presented as a choice between supporting her or Andy Burnham, as though it was a popularity or beauty contest. This trivialised an important debate, it was not about the popularity of Shirley Williams, but the future of the Health Service, which people care passionately about. Nick Clegg and Shirley Williams split the vote with the motion, but we all know that this was the intention in order to save Nick Clegg’s face. People really resent it when Shirley Williams keep saying that people do not understand the bill, as though she has a monopoly on understanding. People understand it only too well and that is why they are against it. It is a disgrace that she and Nick Clegg continue insisting that this bill is fit for purpose when we all know that it is not. Why does David Owen say that it will lead directly to privatisation of the NHS, is Shirley saying that he does not understand the bill either? I would think that with his background as a doctor, he would understand it a lot better than her. Thank God that many Liberal Democrat members at the conference had the courage and integrity to speak out against this flawed bill. It shows that not all are in the Tories pocket.

  • I agree with Polly Toynbee completely

  • Matthew Huntbach- I do support you and all the other people who voted against the bill, but the leadership is saying it will make no difference and they will still push the bill through. The problem is Nick Clegg and other Lib Dem MPs do not listen to the members and try to manipulate them and lead them up the garden path. They try and rubbish anyone who opposes the bill by saying they do not understand it, or they are union members or miffed about pension changes etc, How Insulting, not the way to win friends. People are angry with the Lib Dem’s because they feel the leaders ignore their views and seem to be only interested in being in power, rather that sticking to their principles and those of the members. It comes across like the leaders have abounded their principles. If they had opposed this bill it would really have made a difference and people would have been on their side and supported them.

  • There is a law of politics: if Polly “I believe in comprehensive schooling so much I educated my children privately” Toynbee says something, the opposite must be true.

    David Allen: a great Churchill quote. I’m reminded of another of his, said many years after the 1922 debacle meant he was forced to choose between Conservative and Labour: “I’m a Liberal; always have been; always will be.”

  • David Evans 12th Mar '12 - 7:13pm

    @Tony Dawson

    “The Leadership pushing Shirley Williams forward was certainly more an emotional appeal than a logical one. Had she not been the mover of this motion, it would have been defeated or amended out of sight.”

    and if the motion had not been described as “the Shirley Williams’ motion”, the drop the bill motion would have won the ballot to be discussed.

    What is interesting is that 309 people voted to debate it, but only 270 voted in favour of it. Was the party bureaucracy successful in getting people who weren’t even there (on the Sunday) to support the vote to debate the Shirley Williams’ motion.

    What is clear is that without the block vote of most of the salaried party members (MPs, MEPs etc) the true nature of the party’s concern with the way it is being led would have been debated.

  • @Matthew Huntbach

    “The negative comments from MacK and Chris_sh suggest these are people whose only aim is to destroy the Liberal Democrats”

    Ooohhh Pleeeze

    I was replying to post from Orangepan who was advocating a policy of blame it all on the Tories, after all they won’t do anything about it. I was trying to point out that you may end up with egg on your face if you push it to hard, there would seem to be plenty of tories who only went with it because it had coalition backing (that’s you by the way – you do remember that you are in government don’t you?).

    For a Party that has been around as long as you have, you do seem to be rubbish at politics and often seem to go into group think mode, without anyone wondering what the consequences may be.

    There is an old maxim that goes along the lines of “If you have only one option then you have no choice, if you have 2 options then you do not have choice but only a dilema. It is only when you have at least 3 options that you start to have choice”. It is to my benefit (and everyone else’s benefit) to have a 3rd party capable of forming a government, it’s just that at times I think that, in your heart, you don’t want to.

  • Name takenagain 12th Mar '12 - 8:41pm

    Being seen to allowing the destruction of the NHS might wipe out the LDs but more importantly (yes!), it will do great harm to people. Real people, including all of us, in fact. Even most of the Tories are turkeys voting for Christmas, if they all but knew it because very few people stand to gain from this increased marketisation.

    Agreeing with the current Labour party on this one issue does not mean by extension that you agree with the Labour party on anything else, or that you agree with what New Labour did.

    It’s not true to say “the Bill’s opponents, while saying they support NHS reform and innovation, seem shy of defining, let alone advocating, what positive proposals they would be in favour of.” The RCGP and other colleges have proposed an alternative – but it is sensible and practical and doesn’t make for sensationalist headlines.

    I have no party allegiance, and I work in facts and logic, not rhetoric. Stop the bill, and engage everyone properly in considered debate.

    For example:
    What really are the implications of an ageing (but healthier) population?
    Why train people to diagnose and treat an individual’s ill health and then ask them to plan health services for a population?
    If drug costs are increasing, you could 1) use the purchasing power of the NHS to bring them down or 2) accept that many aren’t very effective and not buy them or 3)..?

    There is much to do, but this Bill is not the answer.

  • @Matthew Huntchbach and activists

    Please do not think that the public is not grateful for the stance that you and others have made, like George Potter when it comes to standing up to the leadership.

    There are many people out there who desperately need that voice and the support.

    Yes it must be extremely frustrating for activists when they face a barrage of criticism despite their desperate efforts to make a change, It is only human nature to get your hackles up and become defensive.

    But please remember this frustration and criticism from the public is not aimed at the grass roots of the party, but at the leadership itself.

    Despite all the motions passed by conference and party policies, Nick Clegg chooses to ignore those within his own party, he constantly comes out and defends Tory Policy and blatantly lies to the public and the party saying this is the best option for the country and the right thing to do.

    If the leader of a party speaks and acts against the will of his own delegates, why then should the general public have any faith in what that person is saying or doing is in the best interests for the country??

    What Clegg is doing is destroying the credibility of the party and the image that the party has always tried to portray that it is the most democratic out of all the political parties.

    I believe now, that the only way that the public will start to place any faith in the Liberal Democrat party, is if someone places a vote of no confidence in Nick Clegg and his leadership of the party.

    I am not saying that the party needs to get rid of Clegg, I am not a Libdem and it is not my place, that’s up for your membership to decide. But I do believe Nick Clegg needs putting in his place and reminding that he holds his position to represent the party and not the coalition and I think it will take fighting a leadership campaign to remind him of that.

  • I have just read Polly Toynbee in the Guardian. You should read it, though I know some on here do not like her.

    She is absolutely spot on her points raised.

    Yes there is a 49% cap for private work in NHS hospitals. The only thing stopping it rise from 5% that is a nod from the governors – not much of a check, if the hospital is under pressure financially.

    EU competition law will apply and will not prevent cherry picking of services. This will undermine integration of service which is one of the things that makes the NHS so efficient. – Hospital to go private. CareUk – not a good provider of social care from my experience.

    Mind does it matter now after Saturdays intervention prevented the call from activists for the bill to be dropped to be fully taken up ?

  • Richard Dean 12th Mar '12 - 10:52pm

    @matt. Do you have any evidence that the public is “grateful”? It’s not what I get from people I talk to.

  • @Richard Dean

    yes I do have evidence.

    I am a member of the public and I am grateful.

    Without wishing to sound rude however, after seeing your somewhat aggressive support and stance on the NHS Reforms here on LDV, I would not imagine to many people would be expressing gratitude to you in person, as you would not have appeared to be one of those who listened or took on board peoples concerns.

    What I said to Matthew Hunchbunch I meant with all sincerity.

    However, you do have to remember that when you chose to represent an organisation, it is the front like staff who bare the brunt of any dissatisfaction.

    It is no different if I buy a dodgy Pie from Tesco’s.

    If Tesco has brought my custom and I purchase something that I am not happy with, I do not run to the owner of Tesco’s to complain, because quite frankly, he is not going to listen to little old me, and that is what he employee’s customer services for, to deal with these complaints and soften out the issues.
    It is up to the customer service representatives to relay the problems on the shop floor in order to bring about change. If that change does not happen, the store will eventually go under.

    politics is no different

    Ok Activists and grass roots may not be employed, and work purely voluntarily for something they believe in, but they have still entered into a role to act as a representative for the party, not that much different to that of a customer service role. It is the task of the customer service representative to engage with the customer or “voters” who they have courted and brought their vote, and to relay their problems on the shop floor at “staff meetings” ie conference,

    The same applies as before, if customer services are doing their job, but head office is not listening and making their job near on impossible, then they are left with some pretty tricky options and decisions to undertake

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Mar '12 - 11:29pm


    Well, I have read your whole reply to mine, over and over again, and sorry, I have found it very hard to drag any meaning from it. Anyway, I’ll try with the last paragraph:

    There is an old maxim that goes along the lines of “If you have only one option then you have no choice, if you have 2 options then you do not have choice but only a dilema. It is only when you have at least 3 options that you start to have choice”. It is to my benefit (and everyone else’s benefit) to have a 3rd party capable of forming a government, it’s just that at times I think that, in your heart, you don’t want to.

    Seems yet more damned if we do and damned if we don’t. We are subject to abuse because all we did is accept the reality of how the people of this country voted – in a way that meant the only realistic government was a Tory one. Had we not gone into coalition with them no doubt there would be even more abuse on the lines “you don’t really want to go into government”.

    We were in a dilemma, as you put it, following the 2010 general election – the two choices were coalition or minority Tory government. The former meant chance to modify Tory government policies, the latter would actually mean giving them “supply and confidence” which really means voting for their budgets (supply) and for any of their policies they (or Labour to embarrass us) deemed “an issue of confidence” (“confidence”).

    Again, let me note, if there were no LibDems in 2010, as the “I’ll never vote LibDem again” crowd seem to want, we would have had a majority Tory government – it would have been much more right-wing than what we’ve got now. It seems there’s a big bunch of people out there who’d rather have a hard line Tory government in complete power so they can self-righteously moan about it than have what we have now – the worst of the Tory stuff blocked at the cost of still having to let the middle ground of it get through.

    The biggest argument that we could have used to fight the Tories – that they did not deserve so much power because they did not get that big share of the vote, it was just distorted that way by the electoral system was destroyed by the “No” vote in the AV referendum i.e. a vote on favour of the electoral system which gave the Tories five times as many seats as the LibDems on just a bout one and a half times the LibDem vote. If we’d had support from the left outside the LibDems then, we could have used it to push back against the Tories, but, oh no, they’d rather vote to support theTories by supporting the electoral system that favours them than support a move towards political pluralism.

    To me, fighting on the left of the LibDems to pull this governemnt our way feels like a fight where the enemy is in front of uyou, but behind you are people who ought to be your allies trying to stab you in the back.

  • Richard Dean 12th Mar '12 - 11:55pm

    @matt. Well really that’s very misleading – one member of the public only! How many voters are there? Is there any evidence that a significant number of them are “grateful” – significant in terms of electability?

  • @ Richard Dean

    You are at it again, being confrontational and being disparaging towards anyone else comments or opinions does neither yourself or what you are proposing to represent no favours whatsoever.

    I can tell you now, there is a huge amount of respect for people like George Potter in the party, who has stood up to the leadership, championed what he believed in, and provide vocal support to many thousands of vulnerable people of people who have not been able to do so themselves.

    Now, I am not going to say that I have agreed with every post or opinion George Potter has shared on this board, But I will tell you this, I respect him to such a degree that I will ALWAYS listen to what he has got to say and take the time to consider his opinion and measure my own thoughts and feelings.

    For me, George Potter is the epitome of where your parties future lies, and could learn lessons from him on engaging with communities and public from all different apexes of the spectrum.

    I believe you said in a previous post yourself, ones mind needs to be open to change in order to be productive in a proper debate 🙂

  • Richard Dean 13th Mar '12 - 12:31am

    @Matt. Haha! If you look back at all the posts I made in this debate, you will see I have indeed listened. I’ve even taken a good look at several documents that people said supported their view. Even including the professor’s. It’s been informative, and I;ve certainly changed a bit. But every time I address the issues people raise, they stop raising those issues and raise some new ones. It’s not me who hasn’t listened! It’s those other people who’ve not been playing fair!

    Yes! If you play fair you say what you mean, you don’t use other issues as tools to deflect arguments away. You don’t claim that the “public” says something if it’s just one person. I don’t know if Clegg and Co listen or not, or whether the delegates at Gateshead play fair, but I do know that this party will continue to be a mess until its members start being a bit more honest and open about why they take views, and a bit more open to reasonable debate.

    But then again, you say you’re not a LibDem, so it doesn’t matter so much I guess!. To you. This isn’t being confrontational. This is a civilized debate. Look at Syria. No ncie NHS there. A complete nutter who interprets peaceful protests as armed rebellion, and doesn’t see that it’s his own troops’ behaviours that causes of the problem. An extreme form of the isolation and blindness that seems to grip many people.

    No offence meant. Just a robust attempt at getting through! 🙂 Night night!

  • @Matthew Huntbach

    “Seems yet more damned if we do and damned if we don’t”

    Well after all those years campaigning for the type of politics that would lead to more coalition governments, of course you would have been damned if you didn’t. I can’t imagine that I’m the only one in the Country who thought it was a good thing and that it would give the LDP a chance to prove it’s metal.

    But it would seem that all of those years of “preperation” didn’t seem to include the possibility of a coalition with the Conservatives!! All the talk was of a “progressive” alliance, so when it started to become apparent that there may be a hung parliament (with the major party being the Tories) it looked like you were on the verge of panic. The end result of that lack of forethought was the loss of a lot of people, people who may have stayed if the Party had thought things through and had a plan that everyone understood.

    At the time, I just put it down to one of those things, you’d been in opposition a long time and it was a bit of a rude shock, but with a steep learning curve you would get there fast. However, we are now 2 years into the Government, we’ve had the AV referendum which was a fiasco and now we get to the NHS.

    In your post you say “Tony Greaves has it right – the end result of the Bill was not overnight privatisation, the “end of the NHS” as was so often claimed, it was just more creep in that direction ”

    The obvious question that comes to my mind is, if you (the Party) really believe that then why did you commit to a similar thing in your manifesto (you have commitments to both using the private sector and competition – quite a big creep)? Wasn’t that decided on democratically by convention as well? If you’d come to Government, looked at the facts and changed your mind then I would happily understand that – but that isn’t what you’re saying, you’re saying that the “big boys” made you do it and only you can save the NHS, such glaring inconsistencies stick out a mile.

    In the meantime of course, you also have a commitment to Lords reform (which I hope happens), so how do you think it plays with the public when a bill is passed by the elected house but blocked by LD peers. You’ve all jumped on the “good old Lords” bandwagon but has anyone thought through how this looks to joe public? Opponents of the lords bill are going to have an absolute field day with you, I can just imagine the headlines in some of the papers etc, so how are you going to explain it?

    You state that you want to return the Party to the left (“re-establish its position on the left of politics”), you then state that if it doesn’t work and you don’t regain the support of the left then you will collapse and that will only help the Tories as most of your seats are in the blue world. So what happens if you do veer left and gain a huge amount of support on the left? Do you honestly think that those areas will stay yellow and not just revert to blue? You’ve obviously thought long and hard about this, so what was your assessment of the number of seats that would be lost in these areas? How many seats do you realistically expect to take from Labour once you are back on the left? What the heck are you going to do if your plan results in a major loss of seats, how will you rebuild without making the “same mistakes”?

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th Mar '12 - 12:04pm

    So what happens if you do veer left and gain a huge amount of support on the left? Do you honestly think that those areas will stay yellow and not just revert to blue? You’ve obviously thought long and hard about this, so what was your assessment of the number of seats that would be lost in these areas?

    Actually no (in answer to the middle question), because ordinary people tend not to fit so easily on a one-dimensional left-right spectrum. My background is a working class southerner, growing up poor in a supposedly “true blue” part of the country. From that I know how in so many of these places there is an untapped left vote, which the Liberals can hit but Labour can’t. The Tories often win these places by default rather than because there is overwhelming support for them. Labour often appears just too urban and/or too northern to appeal much to people in southern and rural parts whose opinions are far more to the left than the electoral record of those parts would suggest. But get a LibDem in, and the LibDem stays there – see, for example, Norman Baker’s hold on Lewes, which once would have been written off as unwinnable Tory – he’s managed to do this while being fairly openly to the left on many issues.

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th Mar '12 - 11:14pm


    In your post you say “Tony Greaves has it right – the end result of the Bill was not overnight privatisation, the “end of the NHS” as was so often claimed, it was just more creep in that direction ”

    The obvious question that comes to my mind is, if you (the Party) really believe that then why did you commit to a similar thing in your manifesto (you have commitments to both using the private sector and competition – quite a big creep)?

    Er, sorry, neither Tony Greaves nor myself are “the Party”. We are members of the party expressing our own view on this thing

    Wasn’t that decided on democratically by convention as well?

    No (I assume by “convention” you mean “conference”).

    Even if it was, so what? Party members are not bound to agree with everyting in the manifesto, we’re not a Leninist party.

    you’re saying that the “big boys” made you do it and only you can save the NHS, such glaring inconsistencies stick out a mile.

    I’m saying that government is about reaching a consensus, a position that a majority can accept. That means if you’re in a minority, as the LibDems are (and so are the Tories but a big minority) you can’t have everything your way, there has to be give and take.

    When you write “only you”, I suppose you mean the Liberal Democrats and not me personally. I have never claimed to be the authentic view of the Liberal Democrats, I’m a long-term member, but throughout my membership I’ve never agreed 100% with the party’s policy. As I said, we’re not a Leninist party, so why do you argue with me on the supposition we are and that tehrefore merely because I’m a party member I must be 100% in support of whatever its official position is?

    My point on this is that I feel, an d it seems by the conference vote so does a majority of the party, that we feel so strongly on the NHS Bill that it’s an issue where we would want the Parliamentarians to hold off on the “give and take”. If such a strategy is to work, it helps if we can show wide support for that position outside the party. On both sides in the coalition, the ultimate position we can use if we are not willing to give and take is to say “ok, we’re sticking, and if you are as well, that’s the end of the coalition”. If we are to be able to use that line then even more so we need some support from outsie the party to stick to it.

    But instead all we seem to be getting is those people who moaned and moaned “you LibDems keep giving in to the Tories” now complaining “You LibDems are all confused and divided”. Sheesh, as I said before, why did I bother? Look, if you would prefer Leninist politics, where it’s all about a FiveYear Plan and obediene to the Party line as put forward by The Leader, instead of politics where there are gradations of opinions and people in parties are free to argue and persuade others to shift their opinion, why don’t you just say so clearly so I know where you’re coming from?

  • @Matthew Huntbach

    Sorry, I should have been clearer on the “you” issue, I am referring to the “you” Party as opposed to the “you” you.

    Conference was what I meant, are you are saying that there was no agreement required to approve the 2010 manifesto then? On the many occasions I’ve visited this site I’ve been left with the impression that conference had to approve this sort of thing.

    “Even if it was, so what? Party members are not bound to agree with everyting in the manifesto, we’re not a Leninist party”

    So as a Party grouping in Parliament your MPs and Lords can do as theyplease? If the LDP was in Gov on it’s own and an attempt to introduce your manifesto was blocked by Lib Dem Lords you (personally) would be happy with that? Your Party and it’s Gov would also be happy with that I take it? Or perhaps it is more likely that these people would be expected to vote in line with the manifesto, which brings me back to that initial question of why put it in if the Party thought this sort of thing was bad.

    “But instead all we seem to be getting is those people who moaned and moaned “you LibDems keep giving in to the Tories” now complaining “You LibDems are all confused and divided”.”

    Not guilty on the first part, partially guilty on the second. I think you’ve (Party) had years to think about this coalition stuff, yet every time something comes up the Party (and I include members from top to bottom) seem to go into panic mode. The LDP should be the experts on this sort of Gov, but at times you look flat footed and inept and don’t really comprehend how this plays out with “normal” folk.

    ” “ok, we’re sticking, and if you are as well, that’s the end of the coalition””
    How about a slightly different thought (it can be applied to any situation, not just the NHS Bill), you get to the stick point and then instead of Cameron saying that the coalition is over he puts a motion to the house that either the House agrees with the bill or “That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government.”

    What would the Party do then? He’s not ended the coalition, but thrown down a “back us or sack us” ultimatum. My feeling (so far) is that no one will have thought of that scenario, so if you back the Gov you can look both weak and power hungry at the same time. In the event of going for a vote of no confidence, you would look like you’re putting Party before Country, both the Labour and Conservative Election Teams would tear you apart while everyone sits around trying to decide on a response.

    Regarding your earlier post, are you sure your view isn’t a little to complacent, whilst these areas may retain a good MP there is no guarantee, plus if the MP resigns/retires then they may revert to type. I live in an area that keeps MPs, the current one is Labour (3 terms if I remember correctly), previously it was Plaid but he decided to go for the Assembly (he was MP for years). Prior to him it was Conservative and he was around for ages before he retired. I would also point out that sometimes MPs can be there own worst enemy, Opik had what must have been classed as the safest ever, yet he managed to lose. I can’t recall Evan Harris having any particular PR disasters (my recall may be wrong), yet he lost and he’d been in situ since 97 and had a 9 k majority in 05.

  • @Oranjepan
    “If you think I advocate “a policy of blame it all on the Tories” then you’ve not been reading closely.”

    I’m sorry, but your exact phrase was:

    “The party wins because we’ve subtly shifted the debating positions so that Conservatives look wedded to this ugly bill”

    Now I don’t happen to believe that shifting the blame (sorry, the debating position) is much help to you, I think it would be an accurate comment to say most people don’t trust the Conservatives on the NHS so it’s not going to make a huge dent in their support. Whether it is a fair comment in regards to what Conservatives feel about the issue is beside the point really, it is the public perception that counts.

    Over quite a short period of time the LDP have wanted something similar, your manifesto shows this, your MPs voted and passed it and now it has got stuck in the Lords where your own peers have led the charge against it, this has sparked a left wing revolt in your own Party and it has also given the Labour Party something to fight with. So I think my question on what the attitude of Party members would have been if this had happened in an LDP majority government is very valid, it helps me understand the way you think and whether any such government would get anything done or if they would just spend huge amounts of time bickering. I’ve also asked the “why put it in the manifesto” question a few times on LDV as well and I can’t recall getting an answer, so my gut feeling is that this problem would have also existed even if you were running the Country on your own. This in turn probably means that I feel you (in the Party sense) have failed on the point “we must satisfy the prerequisite to have a workable agenda capable of maintaining support” .

    “there are a lot of misconceptions on all sides about how politics actually works, which exist primarily in the gap between what is written and what is argued. The further away debate gets from the facts the more misconceptions arise.”

    I would agree with that 1000% and with bells on as well. However who is at fault for that? In the last week or 2 I’ve seen people on LDV saying that they didn’t realise that you had any commitment to reform as they hadn’t read your manifesto (although they do take an interest in politics), I’ve seen some one stating that it was held back from the public as he never saw it covered in any LDP literature that was shoved through the door. If this gap exists then it is the fault of the political classes as they are the people that are deciding what the public hear. My knowledge of politics is fairly low, I try to read blogs from all of the main parties and try to read up on their manifesto commitments prior to voting, I would say I’m probably in the group of people who go by their gut feeling when asking 2 questions; Q1. What are they saying? and Q2 Do they really mean it?

    “The NHS cannot continue unreformed without significant financial implications, and the longer we wait the greater those implications will be. I also don’t like this bill, but I accept we do need urgent action.”
    Again, I couldn’t agree more, but your Party has allowed this issue to go beyond the case of reform. To give an example of what I mean, earlier today I was busy working in the neighbourhood and bumped into a mate, we were having one of those rambling chats that started with a question on how he was getting on with his decorating and ended on the meaning of life and everything. At one point we talked about the NHS and his (totally unprompted) point was along the lines of “Well them liberals, they had the chance to stop the bill but didn’t and now we’re going to have to start paying for things”. I should hasten to add that this guy isn’t a dunce, so I asked him why he thought that and he replied that it was what everyone was saying when he listened to politics on the radio/TV. I pointed out that the bill didn’t really change this, it basically said if you pay for something now you will still pay for it after etc, he seemed to be genuinely surprised by this. I couldn’t really resist the temptation of also asking him if he was aware that the Lib Dems had also committed to reform in their manifesto, he wasn’t as he hadn’t read it and had only gone on what was being said on the TV. So for that one person, it is fairly obvious that “shifting the debating position” didn’t really help and that your Party were to blame (he didn’t even mention the tories)- like I said, it’s perception that matters.

    Anyway, apologies if this all comes across as the ramblings of a half wit, but tbh I am struggling at the moment to understand which part of the political galaxy your party is coming from and, just as importantly, if your Party ever think through the likely consequences of it’s actions.

  • Following on from Alex and Oranjepan discussion.

    I think that there is a real danger of a Conservative hegemony in this country. The individual signing up of the electoral register threatens to wipe out about 30% of the more progressive liberal democrat and Labour voters. The constitutiences will be then redrawn to reflect voter registration due to the requirement of the equal size of the constituence by the boundary commission. If you add in the current Conservative policies, Scotland will be pushed towards favouring independence, with redrawal of the Labour and Lib Dem MPs from parliament.

    Coalition government will not be needed as the Conservatives have well and truly stacked the deck. If the Conservatives are like this with having to depend on the Liberal Democrats for a majority on such items as the NHS, what will happen to this country without any moderating influence at all ? The conservatives have always seen the democratic process as one to be managed rather than respected.

    I am very worried for the future of this country .

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