A short measure of public esteem for the Liberal Democrats is the length attached in the media to the Rt. Hon. Vincent Cable MP’s name, and the longer, the better. When fully expanded in all its parts, the LDs are in full sail, before a soldier’s wind. Vincent says they are still making good way, but Vince tells of head winds, and when crimped to Vic, stormy seas are close ahead. The day it’s V signals nothing’s left, and that’ll be the day for those who value survival to abandon ship.
Dr No mentions this barometer of public esteem since it seems to him that, while Michael Foot may have written the longest suicide note in political history, the LDs are now engaged in the longest suicide act in political history. Education and health are the twin pillars of a decent society, and having already stabbed themselves in the spleen of education, the party are now lining up to pierce themselves in the heart of health. The commodification of higher education, by establishing what is little short of a ruinously expensive insurance-in-arrears scheme, was a cynical stunt; to sit back idly while the Tories do much the same to health is a stunt too far. The British public will neither forget nor forgive. Come the next election, we shall see Clegg put back in his rightful place, a poodle in his own back yard.
Yet there are those who have had and continue to have high hopes for the political process. We have had campaigns directed first at MPs, and now at peers. There are those who still think that Dame Shirley of the Short Hair has a bold plan to stick a cold finger up the rear of the coalition’s privatisation plans. Stuff and nonsense, says Dr No! The truth is, as we have already seen, that Owen has hit the fan; and a glance at last Tuesday’s Lords’ Hansard reveals many fine words, but precious little result. The Icarian wax that binds the coalition together has yet to melt; and we will see the Bill on the books before it does.
There is a postcard doing the rounds at present. Its message is that it will not do for doctors to sit idly by while governments – all of them, but most horribly, the coalition – destroy the NHS, and all that it stands for. This pleasingly recalls and reinforces a point Dr No has made before, and makes again now, and will make again in the future.
Which is this: Labour are in the long grass, and the lust for power has poisoned the once good intentions of the LDs. The Tories will hold sway, and the Bill will be enacted. And so it is that today the NHS is hanging by a thinner cable than ever before in its history. Soon that cable will thin to a thread, and then that thread shall fray and snap. Unless – and only unless – the one group that has the power to wreck the Bill – GPs, and, yes, the patients they counsel – do what they must do, and wreck this ruinous Bill.