Saturday, 12 March 2011

Lib Dems and the NHS: now its members have said their piece, it's time for Clegg to listen

The Liberal Democrat conference has just voted - overwhelmingly - to put a brake on what many see as the beginning of the end of nationalised, publicly-delivered health care in the UK.

Andrew Lansley's Health and Social Care Bill, delivered under the guise of 'necessity' and supported by (endlessly repeated) dodgy statistics, is almost universally hated.  Doctors groups, nurses, GPs and other health groups have queued up to express dismay at a policy that was in neither party manifesto, nor in the coalition agreement. Private companies, meanwhile, are open about the scale of opportunities for profiting from the reforms - with one welcoming the 'denationalisation' of the health system.

Most depressing has been the silence of the Liberal Democrat leadership on the issue. Whilst it is unsurprising that many in the Tory Party would jump at the chance to privatise the NHS, the Lib Dems were considered defenders of the organisation.

A rising number of backbench MPs and party members have not been so quiet. Evan Harris, the former MP who proposed the motion and Andrew George MP have written columns in the national press this weekend in defence of a publicly run National Health Service in England, in the Guardian and Independent respectively.

The motion passed at today's conference has now forced Clegg and his colleagues to set out their stall on this issue. We'll see what this means in practice...

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