What Lib Dem bloggers have been saying about the NHS Bill after Lib Dem conference

Unsurprisingly, there’s been plenty of post-conference reaction to the weekend’s events.

A quick recap of what happened: on Saturday, Lib Dem conference representatives narrowly voted not to debate a motion that called for the NHS Bill to be dropped. Then on Sunday, Lib Dem conference representatives narrowly voted following a debate not to support part of a motion that called for Lib Dem peers to back the NHS Bill.

Here’s how Lib Dem bloggers have responded to these events:

The Shirley Motion: what does it actually mean? (Harry Matthews)

In my personal opinion, I hope to see large rebellion in the House of Lords by Lib Dem peers – the bill itself is large, incomprehensible & has lost professional support. Politically, it makes no sense to keep it unless you’re being too proud to see that it is too toxic. However, I don’t think the emergency motion passed at Conference calls for peers to vote in any particular way – more to let them have a free vote on the bill.

The right thing to do for the NHS is to withdraw the bill (Martin Tod)

It’s the enormous complexity and bureaucracy of this new system – combined with the huge and unavoidable cost of transitioning from one system to another – combined with an unprecedented savings challenge – combined with the fact that much of the big savings have already been achieved and from here on in there’s just extra cost – that creates an extremely serious risk of an unavoidably lethal political cocktail of crisis and chaos in front-line services – in the NHS – in the run-up to a General Election. This is worse than tuition fees.

Mr. Clegg and the Vision thing (James Oates)

The problem for me is that I did not join and do not support the Liberal Democrats because they would be more effective administrators within the current system. I joined because the party was advocating a radical change to the way in which Britain is governed. … The Liberal Democrats have become great administrators: we need to return to being great visionaries as well. It is time Mr. Clegg expressed this fundamental part of Liberalism more loudly.

For all the members who have left or are considering leaving – are they prey to the Fundamental Attribution Error? (Matthew Gibson)

Coalitions produce a national collective fundamental attribution error which we can all get swept up in. We can start to attribute the problems with the government or the decisions being made to the smaller party and this will make people want to leave. This is indeed what has happened with people who are leaving questioning not just the decisions of the government but the values of the party or the personalities of the people at the top.

A Price Worth Paying? (Richard Morris)

So here is the question our Parliamentarians need to consider. It is perhaps a fairly obvious question – but in the midst of negotiations both around the bill and within the party, it is one that hasn’t been asked enough. Are you absolutely convinced that passing this bill will improve all patient outcomes in the NHS? If you are – and I’m duty bound to point out this means you believe you know better than just about every professional healthcare body in the country – then you must pass this bill, no matter what the electoral cost to the party. It may mean another 80 years of electoral oblivion but if that’s what you believe, you should put the NHS before the party. But if you’re not sure (and until the Risk Register is published, how can you be?), then is the cost of passing, as Nick calls it, the Conservatives’ Health and Social Care Bill a price worth paying?

Some words of advice for Nick Clegg (Caron Lindsay)

We’ve done wonders for our credibility over the past two years because we have shown ourselves capable of taking tough decisions and governing in the national interest. We’ve not shown ourselves at our best on this. What’s worse is that we’ve allowed a weakened Labour party, whose record on the NHS isn’t that great, to make political capital at our expense, spreading misinformation and often downright lies. … To allow ourselves to become so associated with this Bill on an issue that voters feel is of paramount importance, leaving us exposed to this barrage of criticism, has been a monumental strategic failure. … We need to start aggressively fighting back on health. We had better make sure that the changes, once implemented, make sure that patients are better served than they were before. … It’s a huge risk. We could still pull the plug on the Bill. We have that option. That might put the rest of the reforms we have achieved and might achieve in the future within the Coalition in jeopardy so we have to look at all the consequences in the round. If we are going to back it, though, we have to be absolutely sure that things will improve from the patient’s point of view. If they do not, we’ll get a kicking. The situation we’re in could have been avoided, but we need to make the best of it now. It must never, ever happen again, though and the party needs to be reassured that lessons have been learned. … Nick is a good leader and is doing very good things in Government in very difficult circumstances. Both the party and the leader need to do a bit of work on their relationship, though, and soon.

It’s time I spoke out on the NHS: I’m angry, but probably not for reasons you’ve heard. (Andrew Emmerson)

If you are to look at why this bill is so toxic … it’s firstly, our own response. We have constantly sought to demonise it, partly because it is Conservative in origin, secondly in some form of differentiation from the Conservative party. This was then capitalised on by Labour who have made it their issue. Owned it. I hate to admit this, but done very well on it. … The bill I feel would not have become so toxic without our own involvement. It has become a self-fulfilling prophecy that we have made it so. Putting our MPs in such a difficult position. Support the wish of a handful of noisy activists or bring the coalition down. … We will seal our own fate by voting against this bill. A bill we have worked so hard on, a bill we have forced so many amendments on, are we really ready to turn on and vote down? That sends a clear message: “Even though we did everything in our power. It wasn’t good enough. We weren’t good enough. We aren’t a restraining leash on the “evil” Tories. Sorry don’t believe we can make it better ever again” That is not a message I’m happy to send. This is not a message I’m happy that my party sends.

This Lib Dem’s view of the NHS bill (Prue Bray)

We can send out some simple messages about the bill, messages which make it clear where the Lib Dems stand on the NHS. Message 1: Let´s make sure people know it was Labour who decided to pay private companies at a premium rate for carrying out operations and it was Labour´s system which has led to companies being paid for operations whether they carried them out or not. It´s a disgrace and it´s one of the things Lib Dems have been working to put right, through changes to this bill. Message 2: this is a Conservative bill, not a Lib Dem bill. It would not have been our choice. We have done a vast amount to change it. Without the Lib Dems– and without the influence Lib Dems have had as part of the government – this bill would be far worse. And finally, message 3: whether we think the NHS bill should be dropped or whether we think it can be made fit for purpose, all Lib Dems are united by our belief in a comprehensive national health service accessible to all and free at the point of delivery. That´s what we have been fighting for and that´s what we will go on fighting for.

(Apologies to anyone whose post I’ve omitted — please do post the link in the comments below.)

* 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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  • Andrew Emmerson 13th Mar '12 - 8:58pm

    Thankyou for the reference Stephen.

  • Richard Dean 13th Mar '12 - 10:41pm

    Not meaning to be rude. How many people read these blogs? How influential are they, or could they potentially become? Oh yes, and how does a person set up a blog? 🙂

  • “Oh yes, and how does a person set up a blog?”

    Google is your friend.

  • Peter Chivall, it would be a tremendous political miscalculation to continue treating the politics of this a tribal fashion. People trust Labour on the NHS more than the Tories, and they don’t trust the Lib Dems at all.

    Your polling figures are terrible, your councillors will be annihilated in May and it seems the best party loyalists can come up with is a strategy that, rather than acknowledge widespread, legitimate concerns about the health bill from almost every stakeholder in the NHS, seeks to attack Labour in the most juvenile and infuriatingly dense fashion.

    Put aside your hatred of Labour and see the opposition to the bill for what it is, the protection of a publicly funded national health service.

  • “It wasn’t in the Coalition Agreement. It started as an entirely Conservative Bill, but by the massive work done by Shirley and others with the Pause and the 1000 amendments, we must accept part ownership.”

    In fact you must accept equal responsibility _because_ it wasn’t in the coalition agreement, but nevertheless the Lib Dem leadership approved it.

  • So to sort out Labour privatising 2% , to cut waiting lists, you open the door to privatisation of up to 49%.
    It is not going to wash with the electorate and attempts to distance the party from this disaster of a bill, are doomed, since Clegg’s name was on the original, unamended bill and your MPs voted for the unamended bill, on two occasions, though Clegg wa later to claim, that your amendments saved the NHS from American style health practices.
    Thank you to the decent Libdem Mps and people who have been trying to stop this bill.
    My own MP was a rebel, but I would have to think long and hard about supporting him, as the rest of the party support the bill and your leader remains intact.Conservative and Liberal Democrat, alike, will be blamed.Cameron is unlikey to take all the flack.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Mar '12 - 12:47pm

    Matthew Harris, I’ve read your blog and it can be summarised as “Stop thinking, stop listening to others, and OBEY YOUR LEADER”. I do not think I have read such an eloquent denunciation of the democratic way of thinking and acting as you wrote there.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Mar '12 - 1:10pm

    Tony Harms, one of the problems was that though it was stated by those in support of it that the Bill was a response to financial and social strains in the NHS, I didn’t hear a single argument as to what was in it that would resolve them. Even if one took the most benign interpretation of it, that it was putting control of the NHS into the collective hands of its GPs, I couldn’t particularly see why that was such a good idea.

    I certainly agree that much of the opposition to it is ill-informed and hyperbolic. One might suppose from not just much but MOST of what is being said by its more vocal opponents that it proposes an immediate sell-off of every aspect of the NHS into the hands of big money-making companies, which obviously it does not. Nevertheless, many of us who work in the public sector have heard so much of the “competition drives up quality” propaganda, and experienced the reality that almost everything done with that argument in recent decades has had the opposite effect, that even a bit of it in this Bil is enough to make one sceptical. What this sort of thing really does is create a job boom for lawyers and accountants and administrators, and destroy morale amongst those actually doing the real work as pride and intuition is replaced by doing whatever it is, however mad, that meets this month’s target figures – which are inevitably derived and measured by said lawyers, accountants and administrators with no realisation of how as soon as some figure becomes a target it stops becoming useful to consider it, as fear-driven attempts to meet the target (and “competition drives up quality” really does mean “rule by fear you will lose your job”) results in people doing whatever is necessary to meet the rule of the law regardless of the spirit.

    It seems very clear to me that this legislation is just not going to work due to the total unwillingness of those who must work it to accept it. Sorry, but that HAS to be a huge consideration when deciding whether one will accept it. I might have gone along with it had I heard a clear argument form those arguing in favour as to just what benefits it would bring and how. But I did not. So far as I could see, even if one is trying to be positive about it, it’s more reorganisation, and reorganisation is expensive, time-consuming, disorienting, and hence ought not to be considered unless a VERY clear case is made for it. If the real case is “We’re macho politicians, so we’ll force this on you to show we’re the masters now”, well, that’s not the sort of politics I favour.

  • Matthew Harris………………………..”the massive concessions secured by Nick Clegg”………

    Rewriting history? Didn’t Nick vote in favour of the ‘unamended’ bill?

    ……the activists concerned look like spoilt children demanding another ice cream when they’ve already (as a special treat) been allowed two today……….

    To stay with a ‘foody’ analogy; if the dish is made up of ‘slugs and snails and puppydogs’ tails”, removing the ‘puppydogs’ tails’ doesn’t make it appetising.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Mar '12 - 1:20pm


    Thank you to the decent Libdem Mps and people who have been trying to stop this bill.
    My own MP was a rebel, but I would have to think long and hard about supporting him, as the rest of the party support the bill and your leader remains intact.Conservative and Liberal Democrat, alike, will be blamed.

    Well, that’s just typical of the response that makes me sick. Here we are putting all this effort into getting the party to oppose the Bill, and all people like you can do is say “Thanks, but I don’t care”. Sorry Margaret. but when I read what you wrote I thought “Why on earth did I bother? Why did I spend so much of my time and money to try and turn the party round when all that effort is getting us nowhere in terms of support?”.

    What you say Margaret, is playing into the hands of our party leaders. It enables them to say “Look, all you’ve done by not obeying us like the automatons we want you to be, is divide the party and make it look weak”. Those of us opposing the leadership MUST be able to show that our line works, that it is winning the party back votes. How many more MPs will be encouraged to make a stand against such tings if it suggests they are more likely to hold onto their seats? How many MPs will instead obey the leader if disobeying him wins no votes but instead causes one to be labelled as a “rebel” and so passed over in terms of being able to exert influence?

    Margaret, as one of those who went to Gateshead and opposed this Bill, I don’t accept your thanks. Instead what you wrote feels like a kick in the teeth. I wish I hadn’t bothered if your sort of attitude is common. I would rather have had my weekend to do other things and kept the several hundred pounds it cost me.

  • g says stop treating the NHS in a tribal fashion.
    I think g meant to post that on Labour list?

  • Sorry, Matthew.I had no intention to offend and my own MP is a decent, independent minded and honourable person.
    I am not normally into politics, as such, but care passionately about the issue of the NHS and it has really hurt to see the support for this bill from the party .

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Mar '12 - 1:27am

    Margaret, the point is that if the LibDems are to be pulled back from where they have been dragged, those of us trying to do it need the support of voices from outside. If we can show that moving the party away from support for policies previously associated with the Conservatives wins us back the support we have been losing since the coalition was formed, we can get somewhere. If whatever we do, the reaction outside is still of the sort you have given, not only is it demoralising for those of us who want to move the party back to the left, it makes it much harder for us to get our arguments accepted within the party because it means we have no counter-argument to the line “all you are doing is losing us votes by making the party look weak and divided”.

    I’ve been very disappointed to see comment from outside the party on what happened on the NHS BIll in Gateshead has tended to be either “the LibDems are weak and divided” (from the right and some of the left) or a continuation of “the LibDems have given up their principles and are Tory yes-men” from the left. So, people on the left moan about us having “given in to the Tories”, but when we try to do something about that they carry on moaning, well, it isn’t exactly encouraging, is it? Of course, we know the position of the Labour Party is that they’d rather see the Liberal Democrats destroyed and the Conservatives prosper than face a challenge on the left, because they want a return to the two-party system. But is that what you want? If you had it now, the NHS Bill going through would be Lansley’s original one. In the unlikely event of Labour becoming the decent left-wing party it wasn’t under Blair, the two-party system still means we’d get the Tories back eventually – and if thanks to people like you there’s no LibDems left, it’ll be Tories nastier and more right-wing than ever, with nothing to soften them.

  • “and if thanks to people like you there’s no LibDems left, it’ll be Tories nastier and more right-wing than ever, with nothing to soften them.”

    But surely, the period when the Tories were at their most moderate and centre-right, coincided with the period when the Liberals were at their weakest? And the rise of the SDP and then the Alliance, coincided with the rise and eventual hegemony of Thatcherism. I don’t actually want to see the Lib Dems destroyed, but the notion that they exert some moderating influence on the Tories in general electoral terms is absolutely nonsense; they may be exerting that influence in coalition, although it doesn’t look much like on the issues I think are most important, but they certainly don’t somehow weight politics to the left by their mere existence.

  • Matthew HuntbachMar 15 – 1:27 am………………we have no counter-argument to the line “all you are doing is losing us votes by making the party look weak and divided”……………..

    The counter argument is , “We are losing party members and electoral support in the general population by following the present party line”…..Nick Clegg has shown he cares less for members views than going further than the agreed coalition on many issues. (the majority of the party are against the NHS bill…It’s going through having been backed, at every stage, by most of our elected MPs. The stance of our elected members over child poverty and the disabled are, at least to my mind, not in keeping with LibDem beliefs)
    However, Nick has shown that he is more than mindful of the wider electorate. After strongly supporting Lansley’s original bill ( in fact, speaking in its favour) within days of our local election disaster he was distancing himself, and the party, from it and calling for major changes.

  • Matthew, I think you are being unfairon this point (as someone who also tries and wishes to turn the party back to a more usual leftward stance, but not unfortunately one who attended the Gateshead conference). I think the best way to show the rest of the party that our way “works”, is to gain members and win local elections by positively taking a leftward stance. You can’t expect people like Margaret to vote for us at an election where current leadership policies are the rule, because you and some others oppose them. Sorry.

  • “We have done a vast amount to change it. Without the Lib Dems– and without the influence Lib Dems have had as part of the government – this bill would be far worse.”
    @Pru Bray
    Without the Lib Dems voting for it in the beginning, this bill wouldn’t exist.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Mar '12 - 10:35pm


    I think the best way to show the rest of the party that our way “works”, is to gain members and win local elections by positively taking a leftward stance.

    But Margaret is saying she still won’t vote for us even if we take a leftward stance.

    You can’t expect people like Margaret to vote for us at an election where current leadership policies are the rule, because you and some others oppose them.

    But she said her own MP voted against the Bill, yet she says she still won’t vote for him.

    So you seem to be agreeing with me and then saying the exact opposite. If people who say they want us to take a leftward stance won;t actually give any support to those of us who stick our necks out and do so, which is exactly what Margaret is saying, it means we simply can’t do what you say we should be doing.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Mar '12 - 10:43pm

    McClusky – you really don’t seem to get my point.

    If the “I’ll never vote LibDem again” crowd get their way and destroy the LibDem party, then we are back to a strict two party system. There will only be Labour and the Conservatives, and even if Labour win next time, the Conservatives will come back sooner or later.

    Although the current government looks pretty bad, when one looks at the details and sees just what the Liberal Democrats have stopped it doing, it’s horrifying. The “I’ll never vote LibDem again” crowd are following Labour propaganda in ignoring what the LibDems have achieved in the colation in order to get Labour back towhere it wants to be – majority government for them (as we saw under Blair), which means Buggin’s turn gets us majority Conservative government later – which seing how the Conservative Party is going will be very nasty and VERY right-wing.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Mar '12 - 11:03pm

    Brian Dove

    Without the Lib Dems voting for it in the beginning, this bill wouldn’t exist

    If the LibDems, the Conservatives and Labour all said “we won’t vote for anything except 100% our own policy”, we would have no effective government. The nature of politics is that there has to be compromise. Why do people keep supposing the LibDems could somehow enforce 100% LibDem policy?

    If we wish to exert more influence and get more out of where we are, we need to show we have the support outside to do it. That is why the “I’ll never vote LibDem again” crowd are doing theTories’ work, because they are weakening us. They weaken us particularly when we do make an effort to push things more our way, and it doesn’t seem to get us any more support. Suppose people were saying “I’ll vote for my LibDem MP if s/he opposed the Bill” – wouldn’t that encourage more to do so? Suppose the vocal opposition to the Bill at Gateshead drew more saying they’d support the LibDems if the LibDems carried on doing more like this – wouldn’t that help those of us trying to push the LibDems that w ay win our arguments inside the party?

    But if there’s no acknowledgment of what we have done, and no support for those us trying to do more, those in the LibDems who are arguing for us to stick close to the Tories will better be able to win their case by arguing that a shift to the left gains us nothing.

  • Matthew Huntbach
    Can you explain to me why the Lib Dems supported the bill in the beginning? It wasn’t part of the coalition agreement. My MP is a Lb Dem and all I get from him is waffle and obfuscation, no direct answers to questions.

  • I think the Lib Dems are probably finished now. I shall certainly never vote for them again and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.

  • Jayne Mansfield 20th Mar '12 - 9:53pm

    @ Matthew Huntbach- I just thought I would dip into Liberal Democrat Voice one more time having read of the banging on cabinet table that followed the passing of the National health and social care bill.

    I agree with Margaret, there have been some honorable exceptions, but in the minds of people like myself who voted for you, you are now viewed as a bunch of unprincipled moral contortionists. Your party have not supported the bill because they are in the minority in government. Nick Clegg fully endorsed it from the start. When asked whether it was in the manifesto he claimed that funnily enough it was.

    It is as much a Liberal Democrat bill as a Tory one and it is no good trying to pull the wool over our eyes by trying to claim otherwise.

    I have no sympathy with the likes of Liberal Democrats such as Mr Farron who did nothing to stop this bill when it was possible to do so. I will never ever vote for your party again and that seems to be the position of every other former Liberal Democrat supporter that I know.

    I held out hope until today that the bill would be delayed, but have now recognised that we are powerless to stop the top -down dismantling of a service that although in need of constant reform to meet new challenges, has been a precious beacon of something that was noble in our increasingly selfish and greedy society.

    Today I am tearful, but I look forward to funding and helping in anyway I can, the doctors who will stand against Nick Clegg and other Lib Democrats at the next election. In my own area, where there will be no doctor standing, those of us who no longer have a political party that we want to vote for, will of necessity have to vote Labour as the only opposition party that is likely to overthrow the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives.

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