John Prescott: a Liberal Democrat role model?

The Lib Dems can learn from Prescott's anti-establishment stance.

Tuesday lunchtime at Liberal Democrat conference saw me speaking at an IPPR fringe meeting on what the Liberal Democrat future strategy should be. Reaching for a striking, memorable way to make my comments stick in people's minds in amongst the excellent other speakers at the event such as Simon Hughes, I revived a parallel that I had briefly blogged about a few months back: John Prescott.

No great surprise really that in a room with several Labour members and national journalists, this time the line spread rather wider, with some good natured (I think!) banter from John Prescott himself on Twitter and a lengthy piece from theBBC.

The point, however, is a serious one. What Prescott managed to do very successfully as a backbencher in the last years of the Labour government was both be a member of a party in power and also be consistently anti-establishment, especially in his attacks on some in the financial sector - and his mobilising of public support behind his campaigns.

For a party such as the Liberal Democrats who have such a strong tradition of anti-establishment ideology and campaigning, pulling off that combination now is all the more important. Or as Party President Tim Farron put it in a debate later in the day, "Let us become the administration but never, ever the establishment".

Whether it is traditional establishment forces in the financial sector wanting to see off banking reform, in the unelected House of Lords wanting to hold on to political power without that little matter of democracy or in a myriad of other places, the establishment forces are not defeated simply by having some different names on ministerial name plates.

So sorry John, but I think I'll be using your example again in future.

Mark Pack is co-editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and in his third decade of conference-attending.

Mark Pack is the Head of Innovations for the Lib Dems. He previously worked in their Campaigns & Elections Department for seven years.
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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.