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Editorial Thursday 8 March 2012: Gustav Mahler and the rival Lib Dem Spring Conference motions

The text of Baroness Williams' Liberal Democrat Spring Conference motion this weekend has been published by Lib Dem councillor Gareth Epps.


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"Conference notes:
- That during the Lords Report Stage of the Health and Social Care Bill in February and March 2012 Liberal Democrats, in conjunction with peers from other benches, have achieved significant changes to the Conservative Health Secretary’s original Health and Social Care Bill;
- Taking the lead from the motion passed at Spring Conference 2011 Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords have worked successfully to:
- guarantee the Secretary of State’s responsibility for a comprehensive health service, his power to intervene if things go wrong and his accountability to Parliament;
- ensure that competition in the NHS is in the interests of patients, based on quality not price;
- secure the commissioning process against damaging conflicts of interest;
- ensure that any profits from treating private patients in Foundation Trust hospitals are invested in the NHS;
- underpin the independence of public health;
- Place a duty on the National Commissioning Board and CCGs to address and report on progress in reducing health inequalities as part of how their performance is assessed;
- place on all service providers an equal duty to provide NHS education and training; and
- put the NHS in the vanguard of medical research.

"Conference further:
- Confirms the commitment of Liberal Democrats to a comprehensive national health service accessible to all and free at the point of need;
- Welcomes the changes made to the Bill, which meet the main demands made by Conference at Sheffield, including :
- making Monitor’s top priority the interests of NHS patients, not competition;
- ending Labour’s policy of giving preferential terms to the private sector
- Supports the Liberal Democrat team in the House of Lords in its endeavours to ensure that the Bill is further amended to:
- Remove reviews by the Competition Commission from the Bill;
- Retain Monitor’s regulation of Foundation Trusts after 2016;
- Ensure that individual Foundation Trusts have to justify in advance any substantial increase in their private income;
- Calls on Liberal Democrat peers to support the Third Reading of the Bill provided such further amendments are achieved;
- Calls Liberal Democrats nationally and locally to work with Royal Colleges, NHS staff, patients and carers groups and local authorities in the interests of upholding the NHS as a public service, ensuring its ability to meet the challenges of an ageing society despite constrained financial circumstances, and securing better health outcomes for all".

Another motion has been tabled by Dr Charles West, which reads:
"Conference applauds:
- the excellent work by Liberal Democrat peers in scrutinising and removing some of the most damaging elements of the Health & Social Care Bill at Report Stage in the House of Lords.
- the new amendments announced by Nick Clegg and Baroness Williams on February 28th to reduce the threat of US-style marketisation of healthcare posed by the competition clauses of the Bill.

"Conference notes however that, despite these changes, the Government has failed to convince the public or NHS staff that the NHS will be improved by the Bill, and that since January 11th ever more health organisations and professional bodies have moved from critical engagement to outright opposition to the Bill.

"Conference further believes that:
- the implementation of the Bill will be deeply disruptive and distracting to efforts to achieve the unprecedented efficiency savings required of the NHS each year.
- the Bill will make essential re-structuring of hospital services and true integration of health and social care more difficult.
- the increasing opposition to the bill as it reaches its final stages, even among those who were formerly supportive, makes it clear that Andrew Lansley’s original Bill was so deeply flawed that it is not possible to make it fit for purpose through amendment.

"Conference therefore calls on all Liberal Democrats to work together to achieve the withdrawal or defeat of this flawed and unpopular Bill and ensure that future reform:
- builds on those elements of the bill introduced by our parliamentarians that have gained wide support.
- guarantees an equitable, publicly accountable, universal and comprehensive health service as set out by Conference last Spring.
- excludes further unnecessary and disruptive top-down reorganisation as explicitly ruled out by the coalition agreement".

Not going through the motions
There is no particular point in going through the motions, literally speaking.

Metaphorically speaking, however, the supported motion will define the Lib Dems for some time to come.

The composer Gustav Mahler described tradition as 'schlamperei' - slovenliness. Although what he meant by the remark is debated, it's a great line.

Lib Dems have a tradition, and they should feel its eyes upon them as they decide. The empiricist John Locke famously believed in the social contract and natural rights.

John Stuart Mill presents another tradition, focused on the social contract, and the Liberal welfare reforms of 1906-1914 of David Lloyd George and Henry Campbell-Bannerman encapsulate another.

There is also a certain William Beveridge to remember. His dying words were "I have a thousand things to do".

Lib Dem party member voters don't have a thousand things to do this weekend.