It’s the last day of the Liberal-Democrat-Conservatives conference at Brighton today.
- Seumas Milne has a comment is free article on the unity of the coalitionwhile there is empty, superficial, phoney differentiation.…Some of the battles are real enough. But when it comes to the core of the government’s programme, they’re little more than shadow boxing. As the Lib Dems’ man at the Treasury, Danny Alexander, spelled out on Tuesday, the whole coalition backs a scale of cuts the Institute for Fiscal Studies has called “almost without historical and international precedent” – but is now committed to an additional £15bn squeeze for 2015-16.
For all the Lib Dem boasts about their green credentials, a pupil premium that isn’t getting through to the poorest and increases in tax allowances that are mainly benefiting the better off, they remain fully signed up to the main agenda: an austerity, welfare cuts and privatisation programme that is cutting taxes for the rich and the banks, throttling recovery and threatening to widen inequality still further for years to come.
We may not all be in this together – but they are. Lib Dem activists naturally don’t like it, but there’s little sign of rebellion. In what remains the most democratic of the main parties’ conferences, delegates still allowed themselves to be pushed into voting for more austerity – apparently out of loyalty and fear of what Tim Farron, their president, insisted would mean “chaos, mass unemployment and human misery”.
When it comes to the Liberal Democrat leadership, it’s easy to forget how close the Orange Book faction around Clegg were to the Tories on economic policy to start with. In an echo of New Labour, the pro-privatisation, small state Orange Bookers – including Clegg, David Laws and Ed Davey – took over the Lib Dems at exactly the time the neoliberal model they so admired was imploding in the crisis of 2007-8.
But their rapid rise laid the ground for the coalition with Cameron’s Tories. And any idea that they might have rethought a discredited ideology was dispelled on the Brighton fringe, where the home office minister Jeremy Browne rhapsodised about the free market, and Orange Book editor and hedge funder Paul Marshall gleefully recalled that Cable, another contributor, had endorsed privatisation of public services and a state spending cap of 40% of GDP (it’s now about 45%).
- Conservative Liberal-Democrat leader Nick Clegg is expected to make a speech today extolling the virtues of the ConDems slashing social benefits and public services while supporting super-rich bankers with huge benefits. He is expected to make the preposterous claim that the fourth, fifth or sixth party in UK politics is now a party of government. I expect the speech will be altered to avoid mention of Alan Sugar who called him a twat.
The number of nurses and midwives working in the NHS has plummeted by almost 6,000 in the last two years, figures showed today.
Since April 2010 the number of qualified nursing, midwifery and health visiting staff has fallen by 5,748, according to data gathered by the Health And Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).
Between May and June this year a further 840 posts were lost, according to the HSCIC’s workforce statistics for England.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) warned that the fall in numbers would cost the NHS more in the long run.
RCN chief and general secretary Peter Carter said: “Our members have been highlighting the posts being slashed by NHS trusts for more than two years now and we have proved that more than 60,000 posts are at risk.
“You simply can’t take out this many posts without profoundly affecting patient care.”
“We do want to break up the NHS. We don’t want to privatise it, we want to break it up.” Nick Clegg.
Opponents said the comments about the NHS, in a 2005 interview in the Independent, showed that Mr Clegg had no understanding of the way the health service works.
In the interview, carried out while Charles Kennedy was leader and two years before Mr Clegg took the job, he said: ‘I think breaking up the NHS is exactly what you do need to do to make it a more responsive service.’
Asked whether he favoured a Canadian or European-style social insurance system, he said: ‘I don’t think anything should be ruled out. I do think they deserve to be looked at because frankly the faults of the British health service compared to others still leave much to be desired.
‘We will have to provide alternatives about what a different NHS looks like.’
Under a social insurance system, members pay into an insurance scheme, either themselves or through an employer, to guarantee their healthcare. It means that those who pay into a more expensive scheme can get better care.
Under the NHS, however, everyone pays into the same scheme through taxes – and is then guaranteed care that is ‘free at the point of use’.
In the interview, Mr Clegg said ‘defending the status quo’ is no longer an option. Instead, he called on his party to ‘let its hair down’, ‘break a long-standing taboo’ and be ‘reckless’ in its thinking.
‘We do want to break up the NHS,’ he said. ‘We don’t want to privatise it, we want to break it up. Should the debate be taboo? Of course not, absolutely not.’
A year earlier, Mr Clegg had contributed to the notorious Orange Book in which those on the right of the party discussed how policies should change under Mr Kennedy’s leadership. The conclusion of the book outlines in more detail the type of insurance scheme he was outlining.
‘The NHS is failing to deliver a health service that meets the needs and expectations of today’s population,’ it said.
John Lister, of the lobby group Health Emergency, said: ‘These comments show Mr Clegg does not understand the NHS. He seems to be ignorant of the fact that social insurance schemes in Europe are far more expensive.’
Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: ‘The NHS is one of Britain’s most loved institutions. People will be worried that Nick Clegg wants to “break it up”.’ [!!! That’s Andrew Lansley pretending that the NHS is safe in Tory hands before the election !!!]
What Britain now has is a blue-orange coalition, with the little-known Orange Book forming the core of current Lib Dem political thinking. To understand how this disreputable arrangement has come about, we need to examine the philosophy laid out in The Orange Book: Reclaiming Liberalism, edited by David Laws (now the Chief Secretary to the Treasury) and Paul Marshall. Particularly interesting are the contributions of the Lib Dems’ present leadership.
Published in 2004, the Orange Book marked the start of the slow decline of progressive values in the Lib Dems and the gradual abandonment of social market values. It also provided the ideological standpoint around which the party’s right wing was able to coalesce and begin their march to power in the Lib Dems. What is remarkable is the failure of former SDP and Labour elements to sound warning bells about the direction the party was taking. Former Labour ministers such as Shirley Williams and Tom McNally should be ashamed of their inaction.
Clegg and his Lib Dem supporters have much in common with David Cameron and his allies in their philosophical approach and with their social liberal solutions to society’s perceived ills. The Orange Book is predicated on an abiding belief in the free market’s ability to address issues such as public healthcare, pensions, environment, globalisation, social and agricultural policy, local government and prisons.
The Lib Dem leadership seems to sit very easily in the Tory-led coalition. This is an arranged marriage between partners of a similar background and belief. Even the Tory-Whig coalition of early 1780s, although its members were from the same class, at least had fundamental political differences. Now we see a Government made up of a single elite that has previously manifested itself as two separate political parties and which is divided more by subtle shades of opinion than any profound ideological difference.