The Orange Book gave the Lib Dems cohesion that is now slipping away. Photo: Flickr/Phillip Taylor
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Orange Bookers call for a stronger Lib Dem message

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Orange Book, and those originally galvanised by this liberal bible are distressed by the Lib Dems’ lack of direction.

“I know this is heresy, but our whole message for the general election is not about what we believe in.”

These were the words of former Home Office minister and the “Orange Booker’s Orange Booker” according to some in his party, Jeremy Browne. He was addressing a fringe event during Lib Dem party conference based on the 10th anniversary of the Orange Book – a collection of essays that established the Lib Dems as a party of a more economically liberal centre ground.

Browne was decrying the fact that his party is going into this election with a vague, centrist message – concentrating on coalition with either of the two main parties – rather than championing the more cohesive liberal message of ten years ago. Though Browne didn’t contribute to the book, he has said that he basks “in the reflected glory” of those who wrote for it.

His argument is that the “biggest problem” for his party is that “wealth creation, people starting businesses, people trying to start a trade”, etc, are the voters who “should feel the Lib Debs are empathetic with them, but they don’t. They don’t see that as where our heart beats.

“We have become too trusting of the state; we should be in favour of big people, not big government.”

The dilution of the Orange Bookers’ defining economic message is not the only gripe of those on the Lib Dems’ right wing. The book’s co-editor, Paul Marshall, told the same audience, at an event held by the IEA, that “the way the party is presenting itself is very muddle-headed”. According to him, this is because it “disagrees with itself” on three key areas: delivery of public services, the nature of markets, and equality.

The Orange Bookers are not necessarily calling for a wholesale return to the book's teachings of ten years ago. In fact, it wasn’t an entirely consistent text, and had essays in it that jarred with one another. But what they are looking for is a reason to “reinvent the Lib Dems if they didn’t already exist”, some soul-searching to which Browne referred. And this can only be done with some semblance of a plan to unite the party’s thinking on economics and social policy that differs from Labour and the Conservatives.

Yet this aim seems near impossible at the moment, due to enduring tensions within the party. As Lib Dem Voice editor Stephen Tall puts it: “To many in our party, ‘Orange Booker’ is a term of abuse”.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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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.