In the US, because of that country’s notorious fetishization of self-reliance, it has been appallingly easy for would-be exploiters to portray anything cooperative as being Communist, with the result that the gulf between the rich and the poor is horrendous, healthcare is a privilege and not a right, and it is possible for weird, self-defeating movements like the Tea Party to persuade ordinary people that is somehow a good idea to slavishly empower the same super-rich people who have treated them with disdain for three decades and outsourced all their jobs in search of greater profits for themselves and their shareholders, and then conjured up the greatest theft in history through deregulating the financial sector.
In the UK — the US-lite, in so many ways — it has taken a while for Tea Party-style self-defeating stupidity to take root, but successive governments — and their corporate advisors — have long been fascinated by the profits to be made in following the hyper-capitalism of the US, and, following the deranged property-driven bubble of the Labour years (which almost everyone bought into, and which is still preserved in the inflated house prices in London and the south east), the Tory-led coalition government now appears to be succeeding in its efforts to con British voters into accepting an artificial, ideologically driven “age of austerity.”
In this latest cynical assault on the British people, the Tories and their cowardly or deluded Lib Dem accomplices — while largely shielding the City thieves and corporate tax-avoiders from public scrutiny — have managed to persuade voters to believe that “we’re all in it together” in having to “tighten our belts,” even though those making these pronouncements are wealthy Etonians whose face fat alone ought to indicate that they’re not “in it with us” at all.
Such is the power of the “austerity” message that the Tories managed to persuade their own voters, in many cases, to accept the ideological slashing of state support to all arts, humanities and social science courses at Britain’s universities — even though this may permanently impoverish Britain’s cultural abilities, just when they are needed the most. They then encountered opposition to their plans to sell off Britain’s forests, which they apologised for, but then pressed ahead with once everyone thought they had won. However, despite this blip, they unequivocally found and fostered new buds of neo-fascistic intolerance for their demolition of welfare for the disabled and unemployed, and they even seem to be getting away with their plans to hollow out the NHS, filling it instead with corporations anxious to erode vital services to boost their profits.
Given that the NHS is the most popular institution in the country by far, this may well come back to fell these arrogant vandals at the ballot box, but while critics have, understandably, been targeting Lib Dem MPs and peers, in the hope of persuading them to recall that they are in a coalition with Tory executioners, but are not actually Tory executioners themselves, no one seems to have considered for a moment that it would be worth targeting Tory MPs as well, beginning with those with the smallest majorities and working upwards.
Yesterday, for example, as two last-ditch attempts to derail Andrew Lansley’s disgraceful NHS privatisation bill failed in the House of Commons — a “drop the bill” amendment by Labour, and a genuinely last-minute not “in its current form” amendment by the Lib Dems, inspired by an e-petition opposing the bill and signed by 174,000 people, and by dissent at the LIb Dem spring conference at the weekend — the Tories who overwhelmingly voted for it never came under scrutiny for a moment. Like an impregnable wall, made up not of individual MPs with constituents, but of undiluted, unelected arrogance, the 305 Tory MPs followed the party line, while the government’s majority of 84 (which depends on the 57 Lib Dems) was cut to 56 in the Labour amendment and 54 in the Lib Dem amendment, as various Lib Dems dared to dissent.
This is not quite the end of the Parliamentary process for the bill, although it was a depressing day, as, in the House of Lords, where it was also being debated, the government “also won a string of votes on amendments by Labour and cross-bench peers,” as the Guardian explained, “including a motion calling for the third part of the bill — introducing more competition into the NHS — to be delayed until beyond the general election in 2015.” That was the final vote of the day, and the government won by 237 votes to 178.
What remains is the controversial risk register, analysing the impact of the planned reforms, which Andrew Lansley has persistently hidden, and which the government has now been ordered to release twice by a tribunal — most recently, last Friday. I first wrote about the risk register in November, and discussed the government’s dissembling reasons for refusing to release it last week, but it now appears to be the last barrier to the coalition’s plan to destroy the NHS, as the cross-bench peer David Owen — Lord Owen — has recognised.
A longtime opponent of the bill, Lord Owen has not followed his colleague, Shirley Williams, into deluded acceptance of the bill, after a year of amendments that still leave its core aims unaffected. Instead, he “has tabled an amendment calling for the final reading of the health and social care bill in the House of Lords to be delayed until the risk register is published,” as the Guardian explained, noting, “The move will put pressure on Lib Dem peers, whose party members last weekend refused to vote at their spring conference for a motion calling on them to support the bill.”
Last week, after the tribunal ruled that the risk register should be published, Lord Owen “urged peers to vote for his amendment on Monday,” as the Guardian also explained, and did so with a powerful reminder of how the Tories have behaved scandalously in pushing forward within their planned legislation, and how it is imperative that the Lib Dem peers refuse to accept the bill being railroaded through Parliament while the risk register remains unpublished.
These were his words, and it only remains for me to encourage readers to write to every Lib Dem peer before Monday to ask them to pay heed:
To go ahead with legislation, while appealing to the high court, would be the third constitutional outrage associated with this legislation. The first was to legislate within months of the prime minister promising in the general election that there would be no top-down reorganisation of the NHS. The second was to implement large parts of the legislation without parliamentary authority. The attempt to railroad this legislation through both Houses of Parliament has raised very serious questions about the legitimacy of this coalition government. Now at the last moment parliament has a chance to assert its democratic rights and the many Liberal Democrat peers, who know in their heart of hearts that this legislative procedure is fundamentally wrong, have the opportunity to stand by their principles.
Note: If you’re in London, please attend the protest outside the Department of Health, on Saturday at 2.30 pm (79 Whitehall, opposite the Cenotaph), and also please circulate the information about this protest. We need to make it as big as possible. What are you doing on Saturday afternoon? Shopping?