By Tim Hardy
“What is the Secretary of State most worried about: the frightening chaos of the £1 billion commissioning underpinning the reforms that will benefit Circle health care, United Health, PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG, McKinsey and the rest at the expense of patients; or the personal embarrassment that he would feel if he did what he should do — if he listened to the professionals and the thousands of people who have signed the e-petition—and dropped the Bill?”
Lansley’s not listening. The coalition have refused to debate the demand to drop the bill even after more than 162,000 people signed the petition to do so. Conservatives have lashed themselves to the mast over their plans for the NHS and will continue on regardless. They can afford to. They and many of their voters have private health care. Indeed, many of them directly profit from it.
Today the British Medical Association (BMA) has joined the overwhelming majority of professional bodies opposed to the bill, condemning it as as “complex, incoherent and not fit for purpose” and “irreversibly damaging to the NHS”. Dr Laurence Buckman, the chairman of the BMA’s GPs committee warns the bill “will lead to the privatisation of commissioning… and is likely to exacerbate health inequalities.” (The Guardian.)
No wonder Cameron struggled when Miliband asked “Can you name a major health organisation that supports the bill?”
Meanwhile, outside the pretence of democracy, those lobbying Lansley and Cameron have called the NHS an “abhorrence” and called for “denationalisation” of healthcare:
The philosopher Karl Polanyi warned in 1944 that the ideal of freedom risked degenerating into “a mere advocacy of free enterprise.” Such a perversion of the ideals of liberty would serve to guarantee:
“The fullness of freedom for those whose income, leisure and security need no enhancing, and a mere pittance of liberty for the people, who may in vain attempt to make use of their democratic rights to gain shelter from the power of owners of property.”
(cited Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, p.37)
Is this the rallying cry of the Liberal Democrats? Freedom for the rich, misery and despair for the rest? Are the growing numbers already priced out from housing going to find themselves priced out from healthcare? Did those who placed their cross in the ballot for the party vote for a pittance of liberty for themselves and full freedom to exploit people at their most vulnerable for Circle health care, United Health, PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG and McKinsey?
Clegg may be able temporarily to distract the credulous BBC and the Murdoch media with a soundbite or a stage-managed disagreement with David Cameron – but the British public will never forget that, in its hour of need, when he could have stood up and led a principled opposition to the Health and Social Care bill, he lay down and let private companies take over the NHS.
It is not enough to tell the press that you are sorry and hope that another news story will distract them from the fact that your words do not match your actions.
The medieval Ars Moriendi or “art of dying” indentified five temptations for those on their deathbed, the most dangerous of which were the temptation to despair versus hope for forgiveness and the temptation to vainglory or complacency versus humility and recollection of sins.
It appears that Clegg has given in to temptation and resigned himself and his party to political oblivion. There is no time for the self-indulgence of his self-pity.
History will damn him and the Liberal Democrats if they allow either despair or complacent self-confidence to blind them to the fact that it is not too late to do the right thing and vote against the Health and Social Care bill.
It is up to each Liberal Democrat to decide whether they want to follow the example of Clegg’s ignoble political suicide – or to stand up for the values that their party has historically championed not some bastardized version of liberty that serves only the powerful and rich.
Fine words at conference mean nothing without the acts to back them up. Nor is the infamous fence-sitting of the liberal an option. Liberal Democrats have the decisive vote. To abstain and so to allow the Health and Social Care bill to pass is to vote for the bill.
All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for Liberal Democrats to abstain and claim they’re providing principled opposition.