Shirley Williams talking sense on NHS, Philip Hammond talking sense on rail, but Big Society could derail him
Posted on 28 February 2011 | 7:02am
For the second time in less than a week – well done Charles Kennedy on re-election as Rector of Glasgow University – I intend to be nice about a Lib Dem.
I did not see BBC Question Time last week, but several people have mentioned to me how impressed they were with Shirley Williams.
The former Labour minister and founding member of the Gang of Four is being impressive again this morning, as she takes the government to task over the NHS reforms for which, as I have pointed out before, there is no point and they have no mandate … NO POINT, NO MANDATE … NB campaigners, good slogan.
Shirley (I’m hopeless at using those Lord and Lady titles) has a piece in The Times which not only takes apart the proposals on their (de)merits, but makes a very good point for her fellow Lib Dems, namely that they ‘are under no obligation to support coalition NHS reforms because they do not appear in the coalition agreement.’
That echoes my NO MANDATE point, not just with regard to the lack of any commitment to these reforms in the Tory manifesto, but in the coalition agreement too.’ ‘Why we should dismember this remarkably successful public service for an untried and disruptive reorganisation amazes me. I remain unconvinced.’ Well said, Shirl. Let us hope a few of her Commons colleagues take note as the reforms proceed through Parliament.
She also takes successful aim at the government’s attempts, as part of Operation Save-Clegg, to paint the proposals as progressive. ‘Many clinicians fear the private sector will skim off profitable routine operations, leaving expensive, complicated treatment to the NHS,’ she says, adding that the new GP consortia will face little local accountability on how they use £80 billion of public money.
Meanwhile, in another part of the local accountability political jungle, I spot a Tory I actually agree with, namely transport secretary Philip Hammond in his efforts to get a high-speed rail link going. It is much needed, and provided the economic case can be made properly, something that should be supported.
But here’s the glitch … as part of the Big Society (can I suggest a Giant Question Mark as a logo?) the government is committed to localism (its definition only slightly less vague than the BS?) And something like a high-speed rail link cuts through a lot of localisms, so many of them are getting organised in a Big Society kind of way to stop the link.
As he launches the consultation on this, I happen to agreee with Hammond when he says that the decision should be taken in the national interest.
‘It is about bringing the UK together,’ he says (tick). ‘It is about closing the North-South gap’ (tick) ‘and stimulating economic growth,’ (tick) ‘a 21st century infrastructure for a 21st century country.’ (tick).
But in common with his boss, he does not like criticism and starts to lose the plot tonally when he says of opponents …‘They are mainly Nimbys. Although they express a principled opposition to what we are proposing, most of them happen to live in the Chilterns. That is not to ‘diss’ them.’
Mmm, quite a good dissing if you ask me … and watch the Nimbys get even more agitated once the cuts affect local services and they start campaigning on those too, asking why money is being spent on a rail-link nobody (sic) wants when our local this that and the other are being cut.
Politics is so much harder than it seemed when Dave and Nick were sitting down to write their coalition agreement on a fag packet and forgetting to include anything about reforming the NHS.