Liberal Democrat Newswire #8 is out: the NHS, House of Lords reform, Paddy Ashdown and more

Liberal Democrat Newswire #8 is now out and you can read it in full below.

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Mark Pack

Health reform, Lords reform, party reform…

Thursday 2 June 2011

Dear Friend

Welcome to the latest edition of my newsletter about the Liberal Democrats.

As ever, if you like what you are about to read, please do share it with others – such as by forwarding this email to your local party email list or by liking the newsletter on Facebook.

I personally read all the feedback to these newsletters, so if you have any suggestions or want to make any comments please do get in touch. And with that, on with the show…

Those election results

You don’t need this newsletter to tell you about the election results at the start of May, but to put them into some sort of context the local election results mean the party’s local government base is now back to its 1993 level. How good or bad you view that is in part, I suspect, down to your age!

Amongst the fallout from the elections, aside from the curio of the control of one council being determined by drawing straws, Willie Rennie has become the new leader in Scotland and, at the time of writing, the fate of the two Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Members who had problems with their qualifications to stand still rests in the balance.

Two of the candidates whose results deserve a particular mention – because they got so little coverage – are Dave Hodgson, re-elected as Mayor of Bedford, and Zuffar Haq, who finished second in the Leicester South by-election. Congratulations to them both.

Liberal Democrat voters meanwhile, both current ones and those who voted Lib Dem in 2010, strongly support the party remaining in coalition.

For a round-up of the lessons I’ve drawn from the results see my list of six.

On to future elections…

London Region has now restarted its selection process to find a London Mayor candidate. The two likely names in the running are defeated MP Lembit Opik and London Assembly Member Mike Tuffrey. A Lib Dem Voice survey of party members found a very strong early lead for Mike.

They have both been recently profiled in the newspapers:

Mike Tuffrey: “This coming year there are some really big choices to make about the whole future of London,” he says, seated in his office at City Hall. “All the problems we have are going to get worse as London grows. How do we make what is one of the world’s great cities a really good place to live, to have kids in, to grow up, not year-by-year but over ten to fifteen years?”

Lembit Opik
: “Boris claims to be as libertarian as me, but I judge by deeds,” he says, pointing out that the first measure Boris passed was a ban on drinking alcohol on public transport. Opik would only base such a decision on crime statistics: “Not enough politics is data-driven,” he keeps stressing. He believes it is a common mistake to over-legislate. “A lot of politics is about changing attitudes rather than changing law,” he says.”


You may have noticed, it’s been in the news. Following the Lib Dem Spring conference debate, Liberal Democrat ministers have been taking a significantly different approach to Andrew Lansley’s plans, demanding major changes.

In one of his many recent talks to local Liberal Democrat events, Health Minister Paul Burstow said the NHS Bill will be substantially changed – and in a Liberal Democrat direction. In his major health speech during May Nick Clegg made a similar point:

“I have been absolutely clear: there will be no privatisation of the NHS. The NHS has always benefited from a mix of providers, from the private sector, charities and social enterprises, and that should continue.

“People want choice: over their GP, where to give birth, which hospital to use. But providing that choice isn’t the same as allowing private companies to cherry-pick NHS services.

“It’s not the same as turning this treasured public service into a competition-driven, dog-eat-dog market where the NHS is flogged off to the highest bidder. Competition can help drive up standards but it is not an end in itself.”

Critics such as Shirley Williams still need some persuading, as she wrote in The Guardian, though given the publicity given to the debates within government (a good move in my view), the different Liberal Democrat viewpoint is now coming through clearly even if it’s yet to become clear quite what the final legislation will look like.

Lords reform

May saw the publication of the government’s detailed plans for Lords reform, including elections by STV (yes, STV) in a new 300-member body.

The Liberal Democrat leader in the Lords, Tom McNally, has strongly backed the reform plans as have Liberal Democrat peers such as Paul Tyler. Tom himself wrote,

“There is much which can be debated in the Government’s proposals. But reforms there must be if the House of Lords is to fit for the 21st century.”

Paul Tyler too has been strongly arguing the case for reform – in his case up against former Liberal Party leader David Steel. Despite all three of the general election manifestos during Steel’s leadership of the Liberal Party backing Lords reform, he chose the day that Nick Clegg’s plans were published to sign a letter with peers from other parties opposing the plans for elections.

A survey by The Times has found many Lib Dem peers opposed to Lords reform. If you want to persuade them to change their minds, sign up on Facebook to Liberal Democrats for Lords Reform.

One question on some people’s minds is whether the party should pursue Lords reform at a time when other issues are so pressing. My answer is simple – yes, for the party can do more than one thing.

Changes at Cowley Street

The location of the party’s new HQ has been unveiled – Great George Street – where, amongst the new starters, will be the party’s new Director of Marketing, Collette Dunkley. The other significant changes are in the party’s campaigns team where a new structure.

Although the new structure has received many positive comments from former staffers (such as by myself), the way in which the move to the new structure has been handled – especially the handing out of redundancy notices to campaigns staff at their first post-election meeting – has been widely criticised. Jake Holland, Victoria Marsom and Shaun Roberts are the first appointments under the new structure – best of luck to them and their teams.

Paddy Ashdown – the singing, dancing version aka Rory Bremner

Click on the image to enjoy this from YouTube:

Other Liberal Democrats in the news

Lynne Featherstone has been profiled by Total Politics magazine: “Cross-departmental nagging is my strong point.”

David Laws issued an apology after it was ruled he broke Parliamentary expense rules (with the odd twist that it turns out he claimed £30,000 less than he could have if he had followed the rules).

Chris Huhne and his agent have been cleared of one election expense complaint. The second one and the driving points claims have not yet been resolved. Huhne has meanwhile been heavily praised in the Daily Telegraph by Britain’s longest-serving environmental correspondent for his environmental policy achievements [link, alas, no longer working].

The investigation into the Big Society chaired by Chris Rennard has reported: “The Conservatives do not have copyright on Big Society – its roots and its prospects of success lie with all of us, in Westminster and beyond. However Government’s current failure to communicate plans effectively is breeding cynicism and means they are in danger of leaving the public behind.” (You can also read my review of Tory MP Jesse Norman’s book Big Society here.)

Danny Alexander was in the news during May for helping to deliver another Liberal Democrat policy – action against so-called ‘vulture funds’ who buy up debt from developing countries and try to profit from it. Danny has also been fingered by the Daily Telegraph for successfully bringing about major changes to the Conservative Party’s plans for more private involvement in public services, turning the emphasis to mutuals, charities and not-for-profit organisations instead.

In addition to his health speech, Nick Clegg gave a major speech on the green economy in the last month,

“The liberal philosopher John Rawls insisted that justice requires us to consider the consequences of our actions over ‘at least two generations’. Some North American Indian tribes used to judge the impact of their decisions over seven generations.

“We can only succeed on issues like climate change if we lift our chins and look to the horizon, well beyond the next election. A genuine desire to take a long-term view is one of the things that animates this government.”

My other email lists

This monthly newsletter is not the only email list I run. You can also sign up to receive daily summaries of my blog posts – either all of them or only certain subjects.

Want to read more from other Liberal Democrat bloggers?

Each month Wikio publishes a list of the “top 100” political blogs in the UK. The methodology for such surveys always leaves plenty to chew over, but it’s still a pretty good list.

So if you want some ideas about other Liberal Democrat bloggers to read, see the Lib Dems from that top 100 listed here [now closed].

Please share this newsletter

If you’re read this far, I hope that means you’ve enjoyed the newsletter! And if so, please do share this newsletter with others you know who may find it interesting.

One really effective way is to forward it to your local party’s email list (where appropriate) and you can also use Twitter and Facebook.

Many thanks both for that and for reading.

Best wishes,


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