I wasn’t surprised that the Liberal Democrats took an absolute drubbing in the local elections, nor that the referendum on the Alternative Vote resulted in an over-whelming ‘No’ majority.
Throughout the year, I spend a lot of time on the doorstep across my constituency just talking to and listening to people about their aspirations and concerns. This means I get continual feedback about the mood and feelings of local people.
Over the last couple of months, even I was surprised at the depth of the vitriol towards Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader and Sheffield Hallam MP. This was most vehement from people who had switched to voting Lib Dem at the last general election. They used words like ‘betrayed’, ‘lied to us’, ‘broken promise after broken promise’, ‘I no longer believe a word he says’, ‘he says he’s proud of Sheffield; let me say, we’re not proud of him’…………
It wasn’t the fact that he’d gone into a government coalition with the Conservatives. It wasn’t the fact that any government right now is likely to have to make some difficult decisions.
It was the revelation that he’d never had any intention of keeping his promises on issues like student tuition fees, even if he’d won the last general election. It was his attempt to blame public-spending levels for all the country’s ills, when the record shows that he demanded higher spending in every budget. It was his statement that ‘no Lib Dem council has closed a library or Sure Start centre’ when every Lib Dem council was planning big cuts in both library and Sure Start budgets.
Now, Nick Clegg is trying to spin a new line about the Liberal Democrats demanding changes in the coalition government’s NHS proposals to ‘protect the NHS’.
Before the last general election, Nick Clegg was a co-author of the ‘Orange Book’ in which it was suggested that the NHS be replaced with health insurance schemes. Then, in various speeches, he proposed that national health targets and standards should be abolished – effectively imposing local postcode lotteries for all health services.
Since the Liberal Democrats went into the Conservative-led coalition government, Nick Clegg personally signed off the proposals in the NHS Bill.
There will be changes in the NHS Bill, because of the mounting opposition from doctors, nurses and patient representatives as they have seen the proposals as a prelude to breaking up the NHS and then privatising health in the UK.
I’m sure the electorate will find Nick Clegg out on this as well when they realise the coalition government’s unwelcome intentions are exactly what he’d proposed and supported.