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 Health Service. She does so in an eloquent and determined way that whilst pointing out resolutely why she is against Andrew Lansley’s proposals, also acknowledges the need to make some reforms to the NHS in order to make it more efficient in the economic climate.

It is very easy when in opposition to make sweeping statements against the government every time they announce a policy. However, what is more difficult is to raise an objection when in government and to do so in a way that does not alienate you from the mainstream of the party or look opportunistic to the electorate. Done in the wrong way, the objector can open themselves to accusations of only being happy in opposition and not ready for government. In laying out the facts as she sees them for both sides, Baroness Williams shows us that you can object to a policy without being viewed as a knee jerk reactionary only looking for a fight.

Its the kind of thinking and articulation that we need more of. That’s not say that we want to encourage open revolt from Peers and parliamentarians. Quite the opposite. What we want is to encourage our party members to speak out eloquently and in a way that is deemed calm and realistic. We want to show clear water between us and the Conservatives to preserve our identity as a party, something that is even more important given the local elections soon to be upon us. If we can do this, we can maintain our integrity as an independent party.

The term ‘critical friend’ was, for me, articulated properly for the first time in a long while. It speaks volumes that there has been none of the usual histrionics and tribalist screeching from Labourites and right wing conservatives over Baroness Williams’ article and that can only be due in part down to both the respect she commands as a parliamentarian and the grace and sensibility with which her article was written.

Lisa Harding is a Lib Dem member and activist from Woking who blogs at spiderplantland.co.uk

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11 Comments

  • Bill le Breton 1st Mar '11 - 5:28pm

    Sadly we cannot read the article without contributing to the income of Mr Murdoch. Could the Lord’s Whip’s offioce post the piece directly from SW?

  • Shirley Williams is coming late to the party and her fears have already been expressed by Labour MPs and just about every medical body going. These plans are a naked attack on the NHS to create a gravy trrain for private health contractors and you want to be nicey nicey about telling the Tories you are propping-up to get lost.

    I haven’t seen LibDems do much in tackling this one in the Commons – just like Clegg they all seem to be experts at burying their heads in the sand.

    What a bunch – I hope the electorate buries your party as it doesn’t deserve to survive as there doesn’t appear to be any decent human beings left in it.

    As to Williams not being a ‘reactionary’ I’m afraid that’s exactly what she’s become and I remember when she was a revolutionary who would have been organising her party to fight these proposals tooth and nail. Changed days for the LibDems eh?

  • Shirley can say what she likes.

    When you see articles like this appearing: http://tiny.cc/35wr4, and Clegg still vocally supports this hideous scheme, it’s going to take more than Shirley Williams to get this Party to realise that they will never be forgiven if they continue with this privatisation by the back door.

  • mike cobley 2nd Mar '11 - 10:38am

    “massively expensive unaccountable bureaucracies” – sorry, but this is a complete myth. The percentage of the NHS budget spent on admin is a small amount, especially when compared with the vast bureaucratic expense of the American health insurance system. The wastage can be found in the profits paid to private sector providers doing work which should come under the purview of in-house NHS divisions. Which, as has been shown, are actually quite efficient. After all, what is the core function of the NHS? – to look after the health of the public. Whereas the core function of private sector providers operating in the commercial market is maximise profit-minimise loss. Market mechanisms should not be allowed anywhere near public services.

    There, that should give the Whigs something to shriek about.

  • Top of the league 2nd Mar '11 - 10:49am

    @neil bradbury “massively expensive unaccountable bureaucracies”

    To add to Mike Cobley’s comments, PCT Board meetings are open to the public and minuted, and PCTs are subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

    Privately-run GP Consortia, which will replace PCTs, will not be subject to any of these scrutinies.

  • @Lisa Harding

    Lisa – you’ve totally misread me as I have not been a member of the LP since Blair was elected leader. Following Milliband’s election I have rejoined as I believe he has actually got some principles. So I look at the last GE as a chance to take stock and for our party to renew and I honestly think it may prove to be a good thing – in the longer term – not to have won especially as no one actually won particularly the sorry remnant that is left of the LibDems that believes salvation lies with the Tories.

    As to swivel-eyed I don’t think I regard what’s left of the LibDems in that light – now forked-tongue that’s another matter.

  • Anyone who doubts Lady Williams as a powerhouse and game-changer has not been paying attention. She is one of the top powerbrokers in Parliament. I agree — Lady Williams is an amazing politician, a rare strength of conviction without making debates, speeches, and discussions uncivilised — even when she has been treated badly herself. I can’t wait to watch this debate unfold, not only from a public policy point of view, but, just as much, from a political point of view wacthing with fascination how Shirley operates in action! I also note that Lady Williams seldom, if ever, has prepared speeches.

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