Thursday, 14 January 2010

"The gloves are off"

So said a senior Conservative Councillor to me following the revelation that nascent plans to close the newly opened Stroke Unit at Darlington Memorial Hospital had been leaked to the Labour Party's candidate in the General Election - a backbench councillor with no reason to be informed ahead of the rest of us, other than the naked desire for party political advantage.

In a statement to the Cabinet on Tuesday evening, the Chief Executive of the Council said she had been informed late last week, by the Chief Executive of the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, that consideration was being given to the possible closure of the Stroke Unit. This information was shared with Labour Councillors and leaked to the Labour Party's Parliamentary candidate. She took it to the Echo, which blazoned her across its front page. The Echo chose not to approach opposition parties for their views.

At the Cabinet meeting, the Leader of the Council asked for cross-party support to oppose this plan: support which Heather Scott and I were pleased to give, though the bare-faced cheek of the Labour Leader calling for support from the opposition parties so soon after disgracefully excluding us from this issue takes my breath away.

As I said in Cabinet, any such closure would be completely unacceptable. The tendency to remove health services from local areas and place them in centres often many miles from patients is not good for local patients and is too often carried out as a cost-saving exercise with no consideration of the effect on health provision where it is actually required.

I am happy to give my unqualified support to any attempts by the Council to stop the closure of this unit, though I remain deeply unhappy about the way in which the issue was used by people at the very highest level within the Council for party political advantage, especially when this sort of health issue affecting our town is one which should be fought by all political parties without trying to score points off each other.


Anonymous said...

This the way they do business, they are desperate, they will stop at nothing. You know what they say if you can't beat them join them!

james said...

This is the nature of party politics, no?

The Tory and Lib Dem leaders in Westminster are calling for huge spending cuts so that we will pay the price for the bankers' crisis.

Will it not be a bit odd if we end up with a Tory-Liberal coalition at westminster pushing through huge spending cuts - can we assume that you and Heather Scott will be uniting against cuts and closures?

Mike Barker said...


As soon as they were made aware of the proposal to close the Stroke Unit, officers should have brought the matter to the attention of the Council's all-party health scrutiny committee so that a cross-party consensus could have been achieved and an effective campaign launched.

The closure of this Unit is of a degree of importance to the town such that it should not have been used for party political advantage by a backbench Labour councillor.

By restricting this knowledge to the Labour Group, senior figures within the Council acted inappropriately. The result has also been that the issue has been mismanaged, incorrect statements have been made to the press, on various websites and on Twitter.

If the Labour Party wishes to make this a party political issue it simply shows they value the gaining of a narrow political advantage more highly than building an effective campaign against these proposals.

As for your second point, I think you'll find that Alastair Darling has been urging the PM to adopt a more honest approach to the issue of public sector cuts. Even the Labour Party, desperate as it is to cling on to power, is finally having to admit that Vince Cable and the Lib Dems have been right all along. And, don't forget, it was Brown's policies which encouraged the British public to rack up an unsustainable amount of debt which has contributed to the depth of the economic crisis in this country.

Finally, the Lib Dems are a mature and independent political party. Our positions on issues which come before the Council are determined democratically by our Council Group - not by any thought about what Heather Scott might have to say.

james said...

Given that you agree with the analysis of Cable, can we assume you also agree with the demolition of Liberal Democrat policies by Clegg? It is not a matter of honesty - it's a matter of who pays for the crisis.

"an unsustainable amount of debt which has contributed to the depth of the economic crisis in this country"

In what way unsustainable? The problem was the need to recapitalise the banking sector. Talk of debt being unsustainble before this is just Tory rhetoric - in fact, talk of it being unsustainable now is Tory rhetoric. Right now, public spending is holding off depression.

During the Second World War, the government made the banks fund the war effort. The same measures could be used to fund an economic recovery - both from this crisis and the legacy of past recessions which still weigh heavily upon us, and to invest in the transition to a low carbon economy.

Mike Barker said...

I don't usually resort to quoting other politicians on here, but young James' constant suggestions that there is little more han a cigarette paper between ourselves and the Conservatives on economic policy is begining to bore me, so I offer just one quote from yesterday from the blessed Vince:

Responding to George Osborne's admission that the Conservatives would begin to cut spending immediately after the General Election if they won, Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor, Vince Cable said:

"Nobody doubts that serious budget discipline will be required in the coming years in order for Britain to maintain its credit worthiness, but it's foolish to set a political timetable with no regard for the state of the economy.

"There's a big risk that if cuts begin suddenly and on a purely political basis that the economy will be plunged back into prolonged recession.

"What is needed is a set of clear economic tests, which include the growth of the economy and employment, as well as conditions in international markets, to judge when contraction of spending should begin or be accelerated."

james said...

I wasn't suggesting that, as Cameron has tried to put about, there are policy similarities, Mike. Although given the fact that Clegg is on an austerity kick - ripping up the Liberals' longstanding policy commitments...

I realise Mike that there are folks like Vince, and yourself, who were in the SDP (and before that Labour).

But Clegg refuses to state clearly - like for example, Paddy Ashdown - that he would prevent a Tory government and thus prevent the reckless economic policies that could lead us back into recession.

It wouldn't be too much to ask. Paddy Ashdown was pretty keen on coalition to kick out the Tories - why won't Clegg be firm in telling us that the Liberals would stop Cameron and co.?