Opinion: Let’s unite behind the Protecting the NHS motion

I adore Shirley Williams, always have, always will. She’s one of my political heroes. The way she has fought for women’s rights and helped emerging democracies to develop shows a truly liberal and compassionate spirit. So that’s my declaration of interest out of the way. But I’m not alone. I’d say most of us in Gateshead this weekend feel the same way. Policy decisions we make, though, are not about her.

The future of the NHS is not something that you can pin to personalities. That’s why I was not best chuffed when Nick Clegg said this afternoon that you were either on Shirley’s side or Andy Burnham’s. We are and always will be on the side of the patient. As a party our vision is for people centred public services, flexible enough to give each individual as close a fit to what is best for them as we can manage

Nick was, however clumsily, alluding to Labour’s shabby record on the NHS. He spoke about how the Coalition has put an end to the quarter of a billion quid of sweetheart deals Labour had done with the private sector. Labour didn’t tackle the problems that there are within the NHS, where elderly people are often caught between an NHS and a local Council, neither of whom will take responsibility for giving them the care they need. They get called names, bed blockers, when in reality they are the victims of a system that fails them when they need it.

I’ve been talking to lots of people about this around the Conference and even some of those who can be relied upon to be very pro the Coalition have worries about it. This Bill is way out of our comfort zone. It has, however, been substantially changed because of the work that our peers, led by Shirley Williams have done.

Today Conference representatives chose to debate what’s become known as the Shirley Williams notion over that calling for the Bill to be dropped. How good is it that our party allows ordinary members the freedom to make these sorts of choices, by the way?

The proposers of that motion have to be very sensitive to the fact that more representatives gave the drop the bill motion their first preference. I would suggest that their tone should be respectful, understanding and persuasive.

Let’s look at the options before Conference tomorrow. On one hand the emergency notion  says that the peers will only support the bill if the required changes are made in terms of the Competition Commission and Foundation Trusts. Or we have the status quo which means that they’ll be whipped to support it as is, without these changes. That’s the reality of the situation.

Conference effectively made its choice on how it wanted to handle this today, albeit by the narrowest of margins, by choosing not to debate the withdrawal option.

The way I see it is that the Protecting the NHS motion is the better of the two options available. Voting against it will potentially deprive a bill that will inevitably pass of some vital changes. It’s not a choice I think many people would make with huge amounts of enthusiasm, but it’s necessary.  As a party we can be certain that we have changed the original legislation beyond recognition for the better and we need to put our efforts into making sure that we get the credit for that.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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26 Comments

  • “Voting against it will potentially deprive a bill that will inevitably pass of some vital changes. ”

    Alternatively, the simple majority vote for the kill the bill proposition today and by voting against the motion tomorrow gives a crucial rebuff to Nick’s recent politicking. Voting for the motion allows Nick to claim the party backs his stance on the Health Bill, clearly not the case.

    Any idea that voting for this motion strengthens our hand in demanding significant concessions rather than last-minute window dressing is ridiculous.

    Please vote against this motion tomorrow.

  • Never forget how Shirl’s persausive oratory can win over a hostile audience. I’ll never forget how her passionate and superficially pro-Liberal speech persuaded us that we should name our party the SLD (aka Salads) and that the world would end if we voted for “Liberal Democrats” – a decision that was a disaster in terms of connecting with the public or motivating activists and which set the Party’s recovery back hugely until Paddy realised what a mistake it had been.

  • Labour’s shoddy record on NHS?

    Shortest waiting times in history, the cancer guarantee, are just a few of Labour’s many accomplishments.

    Lib Dem’s contribution thus far?

    NHS privatisation by stealth.

  • Dear Shirley Williams

    I am writing to you to see if you would be prepared to take me in as a lodger.
    I currently suffer from Severe Long term Depression as well as Severe Ulcerated Colitis.
    I used to run my own company, until I became far to sick to work, after the savings ran out, I was left with no option but to claim benefits.

    I have a Mortgage on my own flat and receive limited income support for Mortgage Interest payments £14.45 a week to precise and I have to find the other £400 a month from my other benefits.
    I also receive Incapacity Benefit and DLA
    Now I am so sorry for how graphic I am about to get, but this is my reality and what I have to live with on a daily basis. People need to see the realities of the reforms and how they affect people in the real world.

    My Colitis is so severe that means even if I fluctuate I can often pass blood from the rectum, meaning I need to get washed and changed, it’s also pretty demeaning and humiliating, especially for a man in his mid 30’s
    On really bad day’s my bowels are so bad, that if I cannot reach the toilet within 30 secs or so, I will soil with either blood or faeces, not a pleasant experience for the best of us, yet alone when there are secondary health conditions with mental health to deal with.

    I am supposed to having hospital appointments every four weeks for this condition in order for us to discuss progress and treatments and also arrange other tests like colonoscopies. However, I have noticed over the last 12 months especially, My appointments have been being cancelled time and time again by the hospital for “nonclinical reasons” so my next appointment that is due now, has been put back to feb 20103
    As I said previously receive Incapacity Benefit, which is in the process of being switched to ESA, and after reading the horror stories that others have endured, with appeals rocketing I do not hold out much hope.
    At the same time my DLA renewal form came up for review, The small amount that I receive as care allowance I actually use to fund my own “private” therapy as I had exhausted all resources on the NHS, I was actually told by my own GP, that unless I committed Harry Carry again “suicide” and ended up in hospital once more, I could not be refereed for further help, Great isn’t it, when I need to slit my wrists once more to actually get some help.
    SO instead, I approached a private therapist, who I now see every Friday at the same time. The service is more reliable, I don’t get cancelled appointments and therapists leaving so having to start all over again with someone knew. But this is not cheap and my whole DLA is swallowed up in these £40 appointments.
    I don’t mind paying it, because I know it is my only real contact with the outside world and without it, I would slip into a much darker place and more destructive place again.

    So these benefits that I get, they do not fund a Lavish Lifestyle as the Daily Mail would believe, I have hardly left my house in the last 7 years. I do not vacate public houses or bars, In fact due to my medical problems I do not have a social life at all, as I am sure most would appreciate and the reasons why

    So let’s recap on what’s happened over the last week please

    The Bank of England has kept the base rate at 0.5% however mortgage companies are about to raise there STV rates that are going to affect millions of vulnerable people like me. I already pay 4.77% to my mortgage and the government contributes just 3.75% to the Interest only part of the mortgage, leaving me with a £400 shortfall. The government will not increase there support for Mortgage Interest Payments as they base the rate on the BOE.

    I am in the process of having my benefits reviews, which I know if they get refused and I have to appeal, I will not have the money to fund my therapy or the other costs associated with my conditions. Which will be very detrimental if not fatal to my health.

    These NHS reforms look likely to pass now that Liberal Democrats have turned their backs on us.
    Gastronomy is not the most glamorous of clinics and is not one that I can imagine to many “private care” providers leaping through heaps to get at.
    The NHS bill may very well say that the Service will ALWAYS remain FREE at the point of use, but there is nothing in the legislation that says every service has to be retained.

    So please Shirley Williams, I hope you spend the time to see where I am coming from here, and see what some of us have been faced with over the last few months since your party and the coalition formed.

    I will not be able to maintain my flat once the rates go up,
    I will not be able to maintain my therapy and meet the costs of my disabilities if I have to go to appeal on my benefits.
    So please if you have a spare room, and you don’t mind plenty of laundry, could I rent a room

  • two things .

    i have heard that there was much leafleting for the Williams motion . can anyone confirm whether this was carried out by ordinary members of party employees ?

    The second i entered this sit i saw a banner ad against ken Livingston which when I drilled into was actually produced by the Boris Johnstone campaign . Surely Lib dem Voice isn’t accepting advertisements from the Conservatives ???

  • Well done, powers that be. Mission accomplished. Conference is so confused about how to act to display our dislike for the bill that no one knows what to do. Vote for Shirley’s motion and save the amendments? Vote against Shirley’s bill and lose them?

    The reality is clear. If you want to send the strongest message to those making decisions in our name, vote against this motion and be sure to say why in the debate. Patients and local Councillors up in May will love you for it; Labour will wince.

  • You really are going to vote for something that nigh-on every professional healthcare organisation has come out against simply because if you vote against it it looks like you’re agreeing with Labour? Really? I mean honestly, really, that is your rationalisation? Not patient care, not the risks of private firms cherry-picking or obtaining state-funded natural monopolies for major areas of patient care, not the RCGP coming out against it, but “Oh, might look like we’re supporting Labour”?
    Seriously?

  • Geoffrey Payne 11th Mar '12 - 12:16am

    This was bizarre in that conference has effectively made a decision without having a debate beforehand. I think the leadership would have won anyway, but I think this is an affront to democracy and should not happen again.

  • It is still public health services being given out to private companies, who will get very rich at the expense of the sick and ill, and all funded by the tax payer.

    The so called ‘choice’ for GPs will see the PCTs replaced by private commissioning companies who will outsource to their private health care friends. The outright lie that their will be less bureaucracy and paper work.

    All this against the outright opposition of the huge majority of the health professionals in this country. Totally unmandated and unsupported.

    The bill is terrible and will produce terrible results for years to come. The Liberal Democrats will pay a huge price for enabling it.

  • Richard Dean 11th Mar '12 - 1:42am

    Things do seem to be getting hot over there in Gateshead!

    Matt. Everyone knows there are severe cases of need. I have met a few rather worse than the ones you describe, But that is not the question, surely? The question is how best to solve those problems, how best to provide the care and support that is needed? What type of organizations are needed? What is the best method of raising and distributing the money to provide the care? Is the present bill the best option? Or will it be better to make the proposed amendments?

    May I also suggest that the survival of the LibDems is not the issue either. If the electorate see you making decsions on the basis of LibDem interests rather than in the interests of the electorate, we wll not survive!

    Good luck to everyone. I hope you make the right decisions.

  • David from Ealing 11th Mar '12 - 7:48am

    Well the BBC was saying that we have ‘dropped’ a debate on the NHS. People out there really do not ‘get’ the complexities of what we’re voting on. All they ‘get’ is the idea that we are in favour of this Bill, which most of them – and most of us – do not understand. But most people end up not liking it.

    Over the past couple of years I’ve thought time and again whether I should resign from the party I’ve belonged to for 40 years. I’m still here, but only just. I don’t really feel that I still have a political home.

  • @Richard Dean

    “Matt. Everyone knows there are severe cases of need. I have met a few rather worse than the ones you describe, But that is not the question, surely”

    Well I am sure you have met people with worse cases than me, and I am pleased for you.
    But please do not presume to know how severe and debilitating my condition is. I know and life with it 24/7 and you don’t.

    Everything this Government has done so far is going to have such a negative and detrimental effect on those most vulnerable in society and needing state support.

    But it’s always the same with the Tories, Shrink the state and the support, Unless your a wealthy land owner that is and receive state subsidies that you don’t need!!!!

    Sickening, truly sickening. And Liberal Democrats have tied their flag to the mast

  • I’ve just figured out the subtext to the Leadership’s appallingly cynical attachment of Shirley Williams’ name to the NHS Bill debate. If the motion is defeated then Nick Clegg wants to be able to go along to Cameron and say, “Well, Dave, you can see I threw absolutely everything at this, but the Party just wasn’t having it”. So actually, Nick wants you, the delegates, to vote against the motion today – please don’t let him down!

  • Blair and New Labour did provide the basis for the privatisation, and proceed with that appalling and expensive PFI scheme. Attacking labour for sweet heart deals with the private sector is fine. But then at the same time going on to support an NHS bill which will enable enmasse services to be handed out to private sector commissioning and the private sector is double think of the highest order.

    I am no fan of Labour and the lack of leadership they have shown in bringing people together to fight the bill, makes me suspect that they don’t mind it going through as they will use it against the Liberal Democrats (and Conservatives) at the next election, for their own advantage.

    But it is not about Labour or Liberal or party politics it is about an effective health care system. The NHS bill is terrible and one that I understand that the majority of Liberal Democrat members don’t want or like.

    How are you going to ask the majority of activists or members to go on the doorstep and justify something that most don’t believe in ?

    I am very disappointed in Shirley Williams. The way that the argument is posed in your article – is though a vote against the motion is a vote against further protections of the NHS. If the NHS was a fluffy animal, you are trying to suggest that vote against it, would only lead to more cruelty. What kind of choice is that ? How about stopping the cruelty altogether ?

    I forget, the Liberal Democrats decided against that option yesterday with the Shirley Williams spoiling motion tieing her and the Liberal Democrats to the mast of a boat that will sail directly into an electoral storm that the Liberal Democrats will unlikely survive.

    Trying to make the minor stuff appear very important will not help on the doorstep when compared to the massive and unmandated policies such as handing over the NHS to the private sector.

    Shocking to see a party conference vote for its own oblivion.

  • The last lot were cynical but, ‘my oh my’, haven’t we learned well. To turn this mish-mash of a bill into a choice between a personal endorsement or a ‘slap in the face’ to a respected elder LibDem really makes me sick.

  • Tony Dawson 11th Mar '12 - 9:53am

    I am still trying to work out what was the ’emergency’ that would allow conference committee to accept Shirley Williams’ motion as an emergency motion. Except, perhaps the ’emergency’ of the People who have supported this dreadful Bill to date realising that they have more than egg on their face and do not want to be shown up. 🙁

  • Grammar Police 11th Mar '12 - 9:57am

    Or heaven forbid, perhaps Shirley really does support what is left of the bill . . .

  • One happy man this morning – Andrew Lansley.

    {Is this statement somehow derogatory?]

  • Alun Griffiths 11th Mar '12 - 9:49pm

    Also worth noting John, that there were a couple of proaganda sheets suppporting the bill in the bag of papers etc given to delegates

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