Lib Dems becoming a human shield, says Clegg adviser


Norman Lamb claims his party has become "a bit of a human shield"

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The Lib Dems have become a "human shield" in the coalition and are taking "all of the flak" for policies supported by the Conservatives, Nick Clegg's chief adviser has said.

But Norman Lamb insisted his party was in partnership in government with the Tories "in the long term".

His comments follow election drubbings for the Lib Dems last week and come amid disagreements over NHS reform.

Labour said the coalition could not continue amid such "arguing".

On Sunday deputy prime minister - and Lib Dem leader - Nick Clegg vowed to be more assertive in his relationship with the Conservatives after senior Lib Dems said they were being unfairly blamed by voters for unpopular coalition decisions.

He promised to be a "moderating" influence on issues such as the NHS - a marked change in tone from the early days of the government.

It came as Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable said he had never had any illusions that the Conservatives were "ruthless, calculating and very tribal".

'Distinct ideology'

The Conservatives increased their share of the vote in Thursday's English local elections - rare for a party in government at a "mid-term" election.

And in sharp contrast to the Lib Dems, who lost about 700 councillors in England and 12 of their 17 MSPs at Holyrood, where the SNP scored an historic victory.


The current NHS proposals were drawn up not just by the Tory Andrew Lansley but by his Lib Dem Deputy Paul Burstow.

They were reviewed and approved not just by the Conservative Oliver Letwin but by Clegg's soulmate Danny Alexander.

The foreword to them was signed not just by David Cameron but by Nick Clegg too.

So they are, to coin a phrase, all in it together when it comes to the NHS.

Both Cameron and Clegg realised too late the political danger of the reforms they'd agreed to.

Both are now trying to reassure voters that they are not planning to privatise the NHS and to assuage the anger of hospital consultants and nurses who fear that GPs will not fund them as generously as politicians who, down the years, have found campaigns to keep hospitals open hard to resist.

Both know NHS reforms that go wrong could destroy their personal as well as political reputations.

Mr Lamb told BBC Two's Daily Politics: "In a sense we have become a bit of a human shield in the coalition. We have taken all the flak for some of the positions that have been taken by this government.

"Whether that's inevitably the case for the junior partner I don't know... But we are in this for the long term."

Mr Lamb added: "We are a very distinct party and we have a distinct ideology."

Relations between the Conservatives and Lib Dems appear to have soured in the wake of a bitter campaign over changing the voting system - a proposition comprehensively rejected by voters in Thursday's referendum.

Mr Clegg has vowed to halt the government's Health and Social Care Bill, the source of much Lib Dem grassroots anger, if he is not personally happy with it.

'Gathering storm'

The bill, already backed by the House of Commons but still going through Parliament, would give GPs control of much of the NHS budget, remove some tiers of management and open the service up to more competition.

Prime Minister David Cameron "paused" its passage through Parliament in response to mounting anger among some health professionals and a resounding vote to reject it entirely at the Lib Dem spring conference.

Last month, Mr Lamb threatened to quit his coalition role unless changes were made to the NHS plans, citing the "financial risk of doing it too quickly", which, he argued, could damage patient care.

But he is now striking a more conciliatory tone, saying the government should be congratulated for responding to the "gathering storm" about the plans.

Conservative MP Peter Bone says "the sooner we can get rid of the Liberals the better"

He stressed that any changes should "not be regarded as a concession to the Liberal Democrats" and there had to be "agreement between the two parties to get the legislation through Parliament".

But Lib Dem MP Andrew George, a member of the Commons health select committee, said the bill should be "stopped rather than paused".

Some Conservative backbenchers think last week's election results have weakened the Lib Dems and are urging Mr Cameron against any more concessions over policies.

One of them, Peter Bone, said the Lib Dem ministers had to show more "collective responsibility" and stop "bleating" about the Conservatives.

Labour is holding a debate on the future of the NHS in the House of Commons later on Monday, accusing the government of having an "unjustified market-based approach" to reform.

Leader Ed Miliband said: "People don't want to see the coalition govern with this kind of arguments going on.

"Instead of coming along after they had made the NHS bill and arguing about it, the Lib Dems should have argued against it from the beginning."

A group set up to canvass NHS staff views on the government's proposals will report to Mr Cameron by the end of this month, with a response expected by the middle of June.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    64. Steve wrote:

    Liberals are unpopular because they completely failed to stand up for their policies and deceived the people who voted for them by ignoring their manifesto.


    Yet over half of their policies are in the coalition agreement. I wonder who is deceiving who here?

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    @70 Sneezle McWeasel

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news but if Labour were in power they would have acted in the same way on university funding and put up the tuition fees..

    It's only when they found themselves in opposition that decided to change their minds on accepting a report they actually commissioned in the first place.

    Political opportunism at it's worst by Ed Milliband.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    The only way the Lib Dems were ever ging to be in power was to join a coaltion. They've now had their taste of power, don't like it, can't handle it and are now bitching. Would they have been any better going in with Labour? I doubt it. It's time they were back where they belong....the other side of the House as a minority party with no hope of ever being in power again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Anyway, I, and many others, persuaded my parents to vote lib dem in year 11 because they promised us a free education just like Clegg himself got. As a result of our (and many other people's) foolish optimism, we shall now be paying £27,000 for something that Clegg and Cameron were apparently good enough for the taxpayer to give them. When I see Clegg looking sad on TV, my sympathy is limited.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    If they want to stop being a political punchbag, then they should stand up for themselves, and they most certainly SHOULDN'T have voted with the Tories on Labour's bill to shelve the NHS 'reforms'. And if Clegg can't even do that, then I'm sorry to say that what goes around comes around.

    Having said that, it is sickening the way that Cameron's still gaining votes after dismanteling everything.


Comments 5 of 73


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