Saturday News Review

Lib Dem rebels get ready to challenge Clegg on NHS

Nick Clegg is facing possible defeat over the government’s NHS changes at his spring party conference next weekend when a heavyweight group of Liberal Democrat figures table an amendment opposing the “damaging and unjustified market-based approach”. Evan Harris, a doctor and former MP and vice-chair of the party’s ruling federal policy committee, will table the amendment, supported by the former cabinet minister Lady Williams, registering their concerns that the current legislation will lead to a widening of UK health inequalities if left unchecked. The government is proposing to give GPs control of more than 80% of the £100bn NHS budget at the same time as driving through efficiency savings of £20bn. The package includes the abolition of primary care trusts. Defeat at his own conference on a central plank of the government’s public service reform agenda would mean Clegg would have to choose between ignoring a vote by his grassroots and negotiating concessions from the prime minister. – the Guardian

Clegg forced into internal fire fighting

Nick Clegg is engaged in a series of last-minute talks with senior Liberal Democrats in an attempt to head off a rebellion at the party’s spring conference in Sheffield next week. Mr Clegg has met a number of backbench MPs, council leaders and peers to shore up his support and limit the damage from Thursday’s disastrous by-election result in Barnsley. The Liberal Democrat leadership fears that anxiety over the party’s poor poll ratings and the prospect of losing control of several large city councils in May’s local elections could spill over into open revolt. It is expecting rank-and-file rebellions over the Coalition’s NHS reform policy and condemnation from the floor over tuition fees. On top of that, thousands of union members and student protesters are set to picket the conference, which will be particularly embarrassing for Mr Clegg as he is a Sheffield MP. One of those Mr Clegg is understood to have met is Greg Mulholland, the head of the newly formed Liberal Democrat Backbench Group. He has also spoken with Warren Bradley, the Liberal Democrat leader of Liverpool council and a critic of higher tuition fees. Mr Bradley has warned that the Coalition’s cuts could result in the Liberal Democrats being wiped out in the North within five years. – the Independent

NICK Clegg was yesterday warned to expect a leadership challenge – after his by-election disaster revealed the full extent of the damage he has done to the Lib Dems by backing Tory cuts. Senior colleagues admitted the party took a humiliating kicking in Barnsley – where they finished SIXTH behind rivals including an independent and the racist BNP – as Labour romped to a comfortable victory. Ex-Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown warned years of “hard pounding” lie ahead. And party official Sue Gymer predicted activists could launch an attempt to topple Mr Clegg within days. With the Lib Dems facing meltdown in May’s local elections, she said people should “wait and see what happens” at the party’s spring gathering in Sheffield next weekend. The chair of the South Cambridgeshire constituency party, added: “I think if it is not at this conference then perhaps the next.” Glum Mr Clegg admitted that opponents would try to “write off” his party in the wake of the devastating result in Barnsley Central. – the Mirror

Is there life left in the Lib Dems?

How the Lib Dem activists react to this reality will be critical in determining whether and, if so, how quickly they recover. Defending a government’s actions will be a new and uncomfortable position for many, especially a Tory-led one that took office with a £150bn+ a year hole in its books. It is hard enough for the Conservatives or Labour to suffer the kind of reverses normally seen mid-term. It will be even more so for the Lib Dems, with their smaller base and previous successes built on a huge amount of hard work. To that end, the AV referendum result really is assuming tremendous importance, not least because of the timing, which will mitigate or exacerbate the gloom on May 6. A No would surely lead many to question whether their achievements in government have been worth the candle; a Yes would give potent answer each time that question was raised. As for rebuilding the machine, the answer’s simple to identify but difficult to do. Like other parties of government, it’s about delivering the policies that the core vote and a large enough segment of floating voters will appreciate. For the Lib Dems – who used to have a huge number of floating voters, including many ‘anti’s – that’ll be no easy task. But what’s the alternative? – Political Betting

Daily Star criticised over EDL stories

The Daily Star has been accused of printing fictional stories by a disgruntled reporter who has resigned over its “hatemongering” anti-Muslim propaganda. In a resignation letter, Richard Peppiatt said he was leaving after the Star gave sympathetic coverage to the far-right English Defence League last month. Peppiatt admits producing a number of fictional stories about celebrities during his two years at the tabloid, a practice he implies was sanctioned by his seniors. The reporter, who was once made to dress up in a burqa, now accuses the paper of inciting racial tensions and Islamaphobia. “You may have heard the phrase ‘the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil sets off a tornado in Texas’,” Peppiatt wrote to the proprietor, Richard Desmondin a letter seen by the Guardian. “Well, try this: ‘The lies of a newspaper in London can get a bloke’s head caved-in down an alley in Bradford.’ If you can’t see that words matter, you should go back to running porn magazines.” – the Guardian

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