The Only Choice for Progressives Now is to Vote Green

By Tim Hardy

Lansley, Cameron and Clegg carry coffin marked NHS

"This helpful idiot doesn't realise it will be his party in the coffin next."

(Via the internets. Original image source unknown.)

The Liberal Democrat leadership no longer needs to betray its own party and instead can carry on betraying the electorate.

Rather than debating to drop the Health and Social Care Bill, the party faithful will now prepare to debate a self-congratulatory motion claiming that they have saved the NHS which they most definitely have not done.

As Professor Allyson Pollock, David Price and Peter Roderick point out (PDF):

the fundamental policy behind the Bill remains intact – to abolish the National Health Service – and introduce mixed financing and greater commercialisation and commercial control over the scope and allocation of government funded health care.

The document bears quoting at length:

Legal duty of Secretary of State to provide is abolished
The legal duty of the Secretary of State to provide a National Health Service has been  abolished, replaced by a political declaration and a duty on list-based clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) whose GP members are permitted to use and will have to use commercial organisations such as McKinsey and KPMG to enter into thousands of contracts on behalf of the CCGs – all subject to commercial confidentiality.

Competition chapter has not been dropped
Competition will increase, and competition rules will increasingly apply. Far from deleting the competition chapter as called for by Shirley Williams in her Guardian article on 13th February, this week Liberal Democrat peers:

  • agreed to delete only three of the eleven clauses of that chapter;
  • voted against their own amendment aimed at preventing competition rules from obstructing the NHS, and
  • voted against an amendment to require Monitor to treat competition and collaboration equally.

Cherry picking by providers is not outlawed
Of particular concern is the statement in the “40 point” document that the Bill outlaws cherry-picking – repeating what Earl Howe said in the House of Lords this week, and what Baroness Jolly writes in her Guardian letter on 9th March. This is not only wrong, but the opposite of what the Bill says.
Clause 103 of the Bill requires all providers to decide whether and how to cherrypick, in that they must set and apply eligibility and selection criteria. Those criteria must be transparent, and must be applied transparently. As the Explanatory Notes to the Bill state, that is intended to “enable Monitor to minimise the scope for providers to make extra profits by ‘cherry picking’- i.e. delivering a service only in less complex cases – by requiring them to be transparent about their patient eligibility and selection criteria”. The government and Liberal Democrat peers are misrepresenting Clause 103: transparent eligibility criteria transparently applied is not outlawing cherry-picking, it is expressly providing the framework for it and intending openness to minimise it.

The Bill legalises fewer services for fewer people, for introducing charges for services currently free, and for excluding people
This Bill would establish the legal basis:

  • for providing fewer services than those commissioned by Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) under their duty to provide, by proposing to give local authorities only discretionary powers to commission 20 categories of services
  • for providing fewer services that are currently part of the NHS, by giving the power to clinical CCGs to decide if provision is appropriate as part of the health service – namely for pregnant women, women who are breastfeeding, young children, the prevention of illness, the care of persons suffering from illness, and the after-care of persons who have suffered from illness – thus permitting commercial considerations to influence what would be regarded as appropriate as part of the health service;
  • for introducing charges for services that are currently free under the NHS, including charges on individuals for public health services provided through the local authority; and
  • for excluding people from health services, through secondary legislation.

The government has no mandate for this Bill from the electorate or in the coalition agreement.

Disillusioned after a lifetime of voting for Labour with that party’s authoritarianism and extreme comfort with inequality, I voted Liberal Democrat for the first time at the last election.

It is a decision I will regret to my dying day.

I was extremely ill towards the end of last year, in hospital for five days and in bed at home for a further few weeks. During that time, reflecting on the failure of non-aligned groups to effectively resist legislative change, I decided that it was finally time to join a political party to the horror of many of my more anarchist-minded friends.

I joined the Green Party, the only mainstream political force that opposes markets in healthcare.

To social liberals horrified by what is being done in their name, I would say join us. To Labour party members tired of the neoliberal apologists their party has become I would say the same.

This government is turning back the clock on hundreds of years of social progress to entrench the financial privileges of the small elite they represent. Opening up the NHS to privatisation is yet another step in this process.

Leading Liberal Democrats may be able to fool themselves that they’re nice guys but they cannot fool the electorate.

The death of the Liberal Democrats will leave a vacuum that will most profit the Conservative party. Only a strong showing by Green candidates in Liberal Democrat marginal seats at the next election can now turn back the destructive rampage Cameron’s party have embarked upon. It is time for those who care about humanity to join forces and resist on a front those who prefer direct action have too often left undefended.

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