Cameron and the Referendum Game

Tom McGuire 

copyrigh European Union 2012 Council Union

David Cameron finally gave his long-awaited speech on Britain’s relationship with the EU last Wednesday morning promising Britain an in/out referendum on its membership of the EU. This referendum would come after the next election, and only if he does not succeed in changing the relationship as he hopes to over the coming months, and indeed years. This appeared to be a bold and surprising move from a Prime Minister usually averse to making his position so clear. Beneath the surface it was vintage David Cameron; the Prime Minister distilled into his purest form, in the shape of this one speech.

The promise of a referendum was that special type of promise: the David Cameron promise, the kind that upon closer inspection is nothing of the sort. Making any firm pledge on ‘when-I-win-the-next-election’ grounds is dubious for any politician; it is particularly problematic for David Cameron. With the Lib Dems withdrawal of support for boundary changes he seems increasingly unlikely to command an outright majority after 2015, having failed to win one in 2010 when it was his to lose. We have also seen the Prime Minister twist, turn and weasel his way out of a number of apparently firm positions on a variety of issues throughout his term of office. Most recently, most glaringly and most shockingly, when he overturned his prior assertion that he would adopt the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry if they were not ‘bonkers’. They weren’t, he didn’t, and tellingly nobody was remotely surprised. This is a man whose promises carry little weight, even by politicians’ standards. Read more of this post

The NHS reform bill is reckless politics

Tom Bailey

Image © UCL Conservative Society

The former Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson, famously called the NHS “the closest thing the English have to a religion.” This oft-quoted truism is once again doing the rounds as the furore over the Health and Social Care Bill boils on despite continuous opposition from almost everyone in the profession and large swathes of the public. Ed Miliband even had a good soundbite in PMQs when, citing supposed (and since refuted) opposition to the reforms from the Tory Reform Group, he hit Cameron with the line that ‘Even the Tories don’t trust the Tories on the NHS.’ Lawson’s judgement remains an apt assessment of how important the NHS is to the British people and the corresponding distrust of creeping privatization into this most popular institution of the welfare state. For an example of this instinctive distrust of marketisation of the NHS, last week’s Question Time saw the American business woman, Julie Meyer, jeered by the audience when she suggested that we should turn it into a ‘trillion pound British healthcare industry.’ Perhaps this response was unsurprising given how America somehow squanders away 16.2% of its GDP on healthcare (as opposed to 9.3% for the UK) and yet leaves around 50 million people, or approximately 16% of its population, without healthcare. However, I want to focus on the bad politics surrounding this bill. I lack sufficient expertise and willpower to dissect or examine the 367 page bill itself.

Firstly, this bill was not democratically mandated. The much cited Coalition agreement set out that the government would ‘stop the top-down reorganisations of the NHS that have got in the way of patient care.’ Further to this, the Tory 2010 manifesto stated that ‘more than three years ago, David Cameron spelled out his priorities in three letters – NHS. Since then, we have consistently fought to protect the values the NHS stands for and have campaigned to defend the NHS from Labour’s cuts and reorganisations.’ Occasionally there has been an attempt by the government to claim it is not top-down but bottom-up change. However, one Tory MP argued that ‘stripping out primary care trusts (PCTs) and strategic health authorities is as top down as it comes.’ Even if certain clauses in manifestos gave hints of coming organizational changes, no radical transformation was openly offered up at the last election by either the Tories or the Lib Dems. Instead, the government is open to accusations of dishonesty and hypocrisy given the record of both the Tories and Lib Dems in critiquing overly zealous top down New Labour reforms of the NHS.

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