Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Nick Clegg talks NHS reform and social mobility on BBC Breakfast

I've just seen Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg talk about "substantive changes" ahead for the Government's NHS reforms on BBC Breakfast which will follow the delay in the legislative process announced yesterday by Andrew Lansley.

Clegg is taking an enormous risk here. These reforms are a Tory idea, and so far removed from Liberal Democrat thinking and policy that our Spring Conference delivered a strong statement to our MPs, asking them to amend the legislation. I am sure that there will be some of our number who baulk at Nick's close association with the issue - but when our Conference emphatically tells him to jump into the water and sort it out, we can't complain when he gets wet. I instinctively winced yesterday when I heard that Nick would be going out on the road with Lansley and Cameron to talk to health workers - but it's surely better that he's there than not.

What is beyond doubt is that without the influence of the Liberal Democrats within the Government, there would be no pause for thought - they would carry on regardless.

Anyway, back to Nick on BBC Breakfast. The thing that impressed me most was when he said that "The NHS belongs tot he country, not the Government." He also reminded us how Labour had crowbarred private sector providers into the NHS, costing more money and undermining it.

The reason he was on the show was to talk about social mobility, but he actually didn't get much chance to discuss the Government's new strategy on this which is to be announced today. He said that it was impossible to sort out people being held back by their backgrounds overnight, but the Government was going to put down some strong foundations to improve that for the future. He talked about giving 2 year olds from poorer backgrounds 15 hours of free support, of the implementation of the landmark Lib Dem policy of the Pupil Premium, of an end to informal internships in Whitehall so your parents can't fix up a position for you down the tennis club.

Nick's always been absolutely passionately committed to breaking down the barriers which stop people from poorer backgrounds from getting ahead. The presence of the Liberal Democrats in Government has, I'm sure, been an education to the Tories who don't really get these issues - and some of them, like David Willetts, need it. I was not best impressed when I read his comments about how working men had suffered because of feminism. I'd tend to blame the Tory Government in the 80s for smashing manufacturing, myself. Oh, and the Trade Unions whose belligerent and combative attitude did little to help their members.

Despite all my concerns about this Coalition, I still feel more comfortable with it than about any Government in my lifetime. Its efforts to give real life chances to the poorest who have been ignored by every other Government I've ever known should be commended.

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