The head and the heart

The reasons why people choose the Lib Dems.

I asked Nick Clegg yesterday at conference for some shorthand for what we stand for. What is the liberal language we should be using in our everyday conversation? What's the elevator sell?

I rather like his answer.

"We should answer the call of the head and the heart."

By which he meant that we should deliver the fiscal rectitude the country needs (and Labour can't claim to have delivered) and also ensure that the life chances of every person are never blighted by the circumstances of their birth - everyone should have an opportunity for greatness. The 'caring' territory that the nasty party (not my phrase) would struggle to own.

Now, I'm presuming that core Labour and Tory supporters have nipped straight to the comments section (go on, knock yourself out). But to everyone else, 'the head and the heart' deserves a closer look than just a face value evaluation.

As Nick reminded me, as a party we don't have that cultural reserve of supporters who vote Lib Dem out of a sense of tribal loyalty, choosing us out of an intuitive sense of supporting the group they come from. Of course there is a core of supporters (puts own hand up, waves) who passionately believe in the principals of liberalism. But then there is also a large group who see how we as a party choose to express those principals through policy, and then decide to support us (or not).

Both of these groups have therefore found objective reasons to choose to support the Lib Dems. We don't have that base who support us out of a kind of visceral sense of belonging, which both the Labour Party and the Conservatives can boast.

So ensuring that we follow both 'the head and the heart' means that we deliver policies that both match the creed of liberalism, and the sense of fairness that draws supporters to the party.

We should be a party of hope, not fear and ensure that every child is given the chance to do great things.

You can shout all you like about whether we're delivering or not. I expect you already are.

But as a sentiment to take away from Birmingham, it's a standard I'd happily be held to.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common which has been named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.