Posts Tagged ‘Lib Dem Conference’
Let no one convince you that the last Lib Demmer has emigrated to Greece, we have one amongst us on the allotments. Phil spends his days caring for his chickens, and following the fortunes of the party that emerged from the benign roots of his beloved Jo Grimond’s Liberals. This morning he reappeared after his soggy week in Brighton, where he joined the ever-shrinking faithful band of party members. He enjoyed the traditional defeats imposed on the leadership and rounded it all off by taking in the final hooray from Nick Clegg.
We codgers were in good humour mainly thanks to Judge Michael Pert, who yesterday made clear that burglars attacked by their victims will receive no sympathy. At last we learn of someone in the judiciary with an inclination to consider the victims. The result was we were in indulgent mood and happy to listen to Phil’s account of life before death on the south coast.
The man who once triggered a national craze for sweaters proclaiming ‘I agree with Nick’ was welcomed on to the stage by one of our local MPs, Tim Farron. He cried that the speaker is “the biggest chart sensation to come out of Sheffield since the Human League. What about Pulp or Arctic Monkeys? Never mind, it was a reference to the pop version of Nick’s infamous apology and the man himself ran out, boy-band hair looking rakish.
The lectern, emblazoned with the not-quite-rock-anthem motto “fairer tax in tough times” had been moved to the middle of the room, an astute decision given that the audience was rather thin on the ground. However, the result was that Phil and fifty others faced the great man’s back throughout his tirade. But his suit was, Phil assures us, immaculate.
As was his delivery, one thing that Nick Clegg can do well is rant eloquently. That tends to hide the fact that his content tends to be a little thin these days. It was a speech about journeys, Phil lost count of how many but the drift was that the Lib Dems are on one. Nick insisted that it is a journey to freedom, to government, “two journeys linked”. He presumably knew what it meant but to many it sounded like the kind of thing they announce when your train is late.
Such substance as there was centered around the economy. As if reading the text of a Cameron address, young Nick insisted that there would be no turning back. But the Lib Dems will insist on “fairer taxes”. “The system must be tilted in favour of those on middle and low earnings”, he cried. He simply ignores what the Institute for Fiscal Stuies always says; the raising of personal allowances gives the bottom third nothing, the middle only a little, while the main gainers are the richest third. Worse, universal credits will wipe out most of that little gain by the middle. Which is probably why he was able to “wring these concessions out of Osborne”.
But Phil’s reflections are focussed on two rather startling developments. The first was the announcement of the recall of Paddy ‘pants-down’ Ashdown, a man still revered by Lib Demmers and ladies in equal measure. Yes, the Lib Dem revival is to be led by Baron Ashdown of Norton-cum-Hamdon thus ensuring that the Tories cannot use the pleb label when the chips go down.
The other shock was Clegg’s decision to enhance his reputation as a ‘boat-burner, a nickname well used in Lib Dem circles. He launched a vitriolic attack on the Labour Party. Even our dear leader has ended the oft-repeated claim that the entire economic crisis was caused by Grumpy Gordon. But young Nick wheeled it out with a vengeance and laced it with a tirade of insults. If people want to support a party of no-hopers, of people liivng in the past, of corruption unlimited, they have a clear offering. They should join the Ed Miliband lot!
He did also attack the Tory right wing, notably Liam Fox, but that piece of the script was aimed at helping his rose garden buddy. In effect he was pouring petrol on to his boat-burning, he was ensuring that there will be no deal with Labour should the next election produce another stalemate.
So it all boils down to a simple scenario. Every poll suggests that come the election, if Clegg is still at the helm, the Lib Dems will be decimated. In the unlikely event that the Conservatives have resolved our economic woes they will get the credit. If they fail the Lib Dems will land most of the blame. Either way there will be a straight fight between left(ish) and right. If any third party is needed for coalition it will not be the Lib Dems.
Boat-burning is a dangerous game if your boat is heading for an iceberg!
According to the Met Office we have had the equivalent of a month’s rain in the past 24-hours. As we slithered about in ankle-deep mud this morning we had no difficulty in believing that. Someone suggested we forsake hen-keeping in favour of mud-wrestling, but whether the sight of a topless Albert caked in slime would appeal to those who patronise such events is open to considerable doubt.
And considerable doubt must surely be the mindset of the hard-core Lib Demmers who are braving the elements in Brighton. New polls show that Nick Clegg’s apology over tuition fees has misfired badly, 80% say that they are now even less likely to listen to what he has to say. Even worse, the party now trails the Conservatives by 17% with the less than dashing Ed Miliband 10% ahead of the Old Etonians.
But for one delegate all is not lost. Uncle Vince Cable has been given a poll of his own by ICM. It reveals that were he to be the Lib Dem leader the party’s share of the vote would be nudging 20%, and all of the present MPs would be safe. Small wonder the old boy appeared to be enjoying himself. He demonstrated once again his ability to show loyalty to the coalition whilst making clear his disdain for the other half of it.
Having suggested that the Boris versus Dave rivalry dates back to a pillow-fight in an Eton dorm, he then apologised for joking about social class before remarking that as a “mere pleb” he simply couldn’t resist it. Uncle is not quite the innocent he portrays, this was a clear attempt to exploit the Mitchell affair, living proof of the view the rich boys hold of the rest of us. He realises that the row surrounding the foul-mouthed abuse dished out by the Tory chief whip can only work to the Lib Dem advantage. Yet another poll had shown that almost 80% believe the police version – pleb was the word used. Frankly, were the police involved in fabricating evidence it would not have occurred to them to use the word pleb!
The reality of the Lib Dem conference is that there is no reality. We heard the usual promises about taxing the wealthy and tackling tax-avoidance, but even the most optimistic Brighton drowned-rat knows that the chance of the Conservatives agreeing to any such thing is equivalent to young Nick being re-elected in Sheffield. There has been no growth in the economy over the past 18 months and as a result the deficit is rising, not falling. Uncle Vince found a way of attacking Osborne’s strategy whilst praising him for his determination. Not bad for a mere pleb!
We codgers take a great interest in the machinations of Uncle Vince, not because we have firm political allegiances but because we have a sneaking admiration for crafty cockneys. As a result we imagine that we can follow his drift. Yesterday, having taken various venomous swipes at his Tory partners – he also referred to them as “headbangers” and “backswoodsmen” – he pretended to answer his mobile by saying “Not now Ed, I’m performing”. That was his way of underlining his good relationship with the Labour lot. And he stressed that the next election will again call for a coalition!
Icarus Clegg has flown too close to our dear leader and is badly scorched in the eyes of the Labour heirarchy, pleb Cable is potentially one of them. Our crafty hero had a good day yesterday. Read between the widely-spaced lines and he was saying that he is loyally doing his best for the economy but has little time for the rich boys. He was saying that he is loyally doing his best for Clegg but fears the worst for the party. He was saying that the Lib Dems could work well with Labour, to whom only he is acceptable.
There is one weakness in our favourite pleb’s plan. The government is falling apart and its support is plummeting. With Icarus at its head the Lib Dem party will crashland. Given that likely scenario there will be no coalition and Uncle Vince will fade away in true Liberal fashion.
Then again, the party may just have enough sense to change leaders before the election. Then the plebs might rally to a cause not finally lost!
One of the less pleasant aspects of hen-keeping is the sight of a mob pecking a wounded colleague. When we let the squawking mob out this morning we immediately noticed what appeared to be an avian version of ‘kettling’. Albert waded in, arms flying in all directions, and discovered an injured creature in the centre of the crowd. Even as he picked it up, a dozen or so hens were still attempting to get in one last peck. We were just in time, and the isolation coop is now occupied.
After witnessing this less than appetising spectacle, we slouched over to the clubhouse for a brew and out came the papers, and learned that jack-the-lad Clegg is being pecked too. We have almost given up hope on the NHS, we know enough to know exactly what is going to happen once Lansley’s Bill kicks in. And we don’t have private health insurance. Time and again we have scratched our heads at the antics of the Lib Dem leadership in supporting privatisation, of course we understand the Tory position.
But suddenly we realise that it is not the Lib Dems who support the Bill that will ruin the health service, it is Nick Clegg. Yesterday the distinction became clear when the party conference refused to endorse the bill. By a majority of 314 to 270 party members rejected a call for the party’s peers to vote in favour at the third reading. Speaker after speaker attacked the leadership’s support for Lansley, it was only the backing of the revered Shirley Williams that saved Clegg from total humiliation.
A typical attack came from a former MP, Martin Tod. He warned; This is worse than tuition fees. We are told that stopping the bill is an incredibly hard thing to do, but last year Nick talked about not doing the easy thing, but doing the right thing. This bill is not about Labour or Tories, it is about doing the right thing for the NHS”. Another former MP, David Rendel, urged delegates to consider first the doctors and nurses in the NHS. A succession of delegates then, in effect, accused Clegg of playing politics with the NHS, of betraying what the party stands for.
Of course Clegg was quick to indicate that the party vote will make no difference. But one suspects that he is wrong. It may not torpedo Lansley and his private sector friends, but it may well torpedo Clegg. He makes much of his personal closeness to David Cameron, and there is little doubt that the two men have become a unit. And therein may lie Clegg’s lifeboat.
Vince Cable is making clear his ambition to take over, to break from the coalition and to make the Lib Dems electable. Now he has the activists on his side. If Clegg decides to cross the floor of the House he won’t be the first Liberal to do so. No names, no Churchills!
A miracle has happened! It wasn’t pouring down when we cleaned out the hens and the mud this morning, in fact we could even see patches of blue sky. But we were still downcast for the hoped for miracle of the privatisation of the NHS being stopped by the House of Lords didn’t happen. The attempt by David Owen to subject the legislation to deeper scrutiny drew the support of 262 peers, but the motion was defeated by 68. The reason was the decison of 80 Lib Dems to vote against!
They did so having been pressed by Nick Clegg to support his stance, this despite the Lib Dem conference having voted otherwise and national polls showing great opposition on the part of the vast majority of those who voted Lib Dem at the general election. Clearly he is still besotted by his right to sit at Cameron’s right hand in the Commons!
The effect of this latest betrayal of all that he promised during the elction campaign is that Clegg has aligned his party to the Conservatives. If the reaction of those amongst my allotment pals who voted Lib Dem is any indication, the other effect will be the total annihilation of the party come the next election. The message is now clear – if you favour Conservative policies vote Conservative, if you oppose them vote Labour. The Lib Dems have ceased to exist in ideological form.
The right wing press has this morning seized on reports of neglect of the elderly at some NHS hospitals as justification for Lansley’s bill. It is nothing of the sort. As it has shown only this week in Cumbria the NHS regulator, Monitor, has powers to deal with such unacceptable performances. It can, and has, put in a new management team with absolute authority to make whatever changes are necessary. Incidentally the Daily Mail claim that one in five hospitals were found wanting is somewhat dubious since only the 100 lowest rated were inspected!
The idea that bringing in the private sector will in some mysterious way ensure good treatment of the elderly reminds us of the recent revelations of the treatment afforded to residents in the care of Southern Cross homes. Once our elderly and vulnerable are bundled off into the avaricious grasp of for-profit companies the monitoring of their care becomes far more difficult, more obscure.
No one denies that those hospitals which fall short must be brought up to the stnadard of the majority of excellent NHS centres. No one denies that bureaucracy must be minimised. What millions reject is the introduction of private providers who will ‘cherry-pick’ the easier and more lucrative services, leaving NHS hospitals with the impossible task of balancing the books or of funding critical care in such fields as cancer, coronary or emergency medicine.
Several years ago the Labour government under Blair attempted to transfer outpatients services in the North West to a South African company called Netcare. When it became apparent that the effect of this would be to render insolvent the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals there was a massive public outcry. Led by Lindsay Hoyle, now Deputy Speaker, thousands took to the streets. A police presence was needed to control what followed and in due course the government backed down. Had they not done so, Lancashire would by now be quite the wrong place to be if you or yours were unfortunate enough to need emergency care.
So I am not making a political point when I say that the coalition are heading the NHS toward its destruction. Already there have been mass redundancies, already waiting times are doubling, already there are many advertisments for private medical insurance. Hopefully the chaos caused by Lansley’s incompetent handling of the bill will subside, but what will be left is a service of postcode medicine and preferential treatment for those who can afford it.
It would be wrong to blame right-wing conservatives such as Lansley and Liam Fox for all that is happening for their preference for private initiatives was clear for all to see. But Clegg and his henchmen supposedly stood for something quite different. As their president has made clear, they recognise that the profit motive and acute medicine make poor bedfellows. Like many of the politically uncommitted they see social injustice writ large in the American model and its giant private healthcare providers, some of whom are already being brought in to provide the commissioning services that GPs clearly are not equipped to handle.
Yesterday Clegg delivered his final death sentence on the national service that has meant a great deal to so many for so long. Serious illness is stressful enough without the added burden of worrying about finding the cash for good treatment. Our society will never feel the same again and for that we can thank the Lib Dems for selling their own principles for the illusion of power.
The ’38 Degrees’ protest organisation has mustered millions of signatures for its petition opposing Lansley. This week it raised £75,000 in four days to fund a special campaign aimed at members of the Lords. Sadly it underestimated just how far a Judas will go!
Interestingly immediately after the result of the vote was known the President of the Royal College of GPs sent an email urging 38 Degrees to carry on the fight. So much for Lansley’s claim to have clinical support! OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S MIDWEEK QUIZ; 1. Broadcasting House 2. Cable News Network 3. Radio Times 4. Reuters 5. Private Eye 6. Aberdeen 7. Advertising 8. Which? 9. Fred Basset 10. China
I remember holding a straw-poll just after the general election. It was a fine day and a fair number of allotment holders had gathered in the ‘shed’, there was much talk about the negotiations being carried out by the Lib Dems with both Cameron and Grumpy Gordon. Over a third of us had voted Lib Dem and there was a good deal of speculation as to what Clegg – who had bewitched many of us with his TV debate performances – would do.
The course of action favoured by most of his new disciples was that he should opt for allowing the Conservatives to form a minority government with the promise of support so long as its policies were acceptable to the Lib Dems. This would enable the risen stars to act in the national interest whilst leaving them free to maintain their own identity. Even better, they would have retained the right to force a general election on any issue on which they had widespread public support. The result could easily have been a triumph and the first Liberal government in living memory.
But the lure of high office took Clegg along another path. He entered into a marriage of non-equals, and the latest Mori poll tells us that should an election take place now, almost two-thirds of those who voted Lib Dem would no longer do so. In fact a straw poll on the allotments yesterday showed no one willing to contemplate any alternative to the two traditional giants. Tim Farron, the president, said at the Lib Dem conference that “without the Lib Dem influence the Conservative dominated government would have been a “nightmare”. He missed the point which is that without the Lib Dems there would be no Tory-led government.
In reality the Lib Dems have excercised little restraint. The Tories’ ideological prescription for down-sizing the state and pushing ahead with its neoliberal agenda means that the NHS and the welfare state are seriously at risk. The Tories are using the opportunity of the financial crisis to transfer taxpayer’s money from the state to the private sector, not because it is more effective, but because that is what their ideology demands. The Lib Dems have made it possible for the Tories to do pretty much everything they dreamed of doing, with just a little bit of tweaking at the edges as a sop to their junior partners.
On the NHS for example, every expert in the land is warning of its imminent demise and privatisation. The concessions supposedly wrung out of Lansley by the Lib Dems make no difference whatsoever to the thrust of the bill. Had the Lib Dems retained an independent status it would never have seen the light of day.
It is difficult to see how the party that, for a few short weeks, Nick Clegg took to the brink of electoral success can survive at all from the mess that he has created. If, as we all hope, the government succeeds in its economic policy, the credit will go to Cameron and Osborne. Should it fail, the blame will almost certainly be placed at the hands of people such as Alexander and Cable.
In fact any successes will not be shared. Cameron has reasonably claimed success over the intervention in Libya. Do you recall any of his TV appearances on this ever including a mention of Clegg? On Europe, Cameron has undoubtedly been grateful for the option to point at Lib Dem opposition to demands from the right of his party for a referendum and a withdrawal from the Human Rights Act. He is able to tell his right-wing supporters what they want to hear without actually doing anything, thus avoiding a damaging split with the pro-European Tory wing.
Nick Clegg likes to invoke as a comparison the coalition that served the country so well in World War 11. It is pure nonsense. The marriage then was one of equals and so great was the external threat that the nation recoiled from political dogma. There were no ideological debates to be had, Corporal Hitler saw to that.
Nick Clegg’s big address at the Lib Dem conference was every bit as well acted as we have come to expect. He was reading ftrom an autocue and yet still managed to convey the impression of someone sincerely pausing for thought, of someone reaching into his very soul to find the truth. But even in that he did make one huge error.
He chose to launch the bitterest possible personalised attack on Miliband, Ball and others. He publicly burned his boats so far as any possible liaison with Labour is concerned should there be another hung parliament. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, since the possibility of one becomes more remote by the day.
Who knows who will emerge from the next election for both Conservative and Labour parties are less than impressive. But the odds are that one of them will. People will regard a vote for the Lib Dems as one for the Tories. The inevitable outcome will surely be a total redistribution of that impressive Lib Dem vote on a pro or anti Conservative basis.
I take no pleasure in believing this. Just for a fleeting time I, and millions like me, thought we were witnessing the birth of a new age in British politics. We were transfixed by the relatively unknown Clegg. Alas, he lives in cloud-cuckoo land!
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