Lewisham Hospital is back in the firing line after parliament voted last night to give the health secretary powers to close local hospitals – a clause inserted after Jeremy Hunt’s failure to close Lewisham Hospital.

Despite talk of concessions, there’ll now be renewed worries for the future of Lewisham, which now forms a joint NHS trust with Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich.

The bill was voted through with support from Liberal Democrat MPs, including Southwark & Bermondsey’s Simon Hughes – a slap in the face for local Lib Dems in south-east London who joined in the battle to save Lewisham Hospital (Lewisham Lib Dem leader Chris Maines is pictured above).

Beckenham’s Conservative MP Bob Stewart was among those who joined Labour MPs and rebelled against the government.

While the Lib Dems were never likely to win seats in Greenwich, they form the opposition on Lewisham Council – and last night’s vote, which comes ahead of elections in May, surely now increases the possibility that they’ll be completely wiped out in nine weeks’ time.

In fact, I’d like to know what the odds are on Labour winning every seat on Lewisham Council. While that result will delight local Labour activists, who see the Lib Dems as worse than dirt, a lack of opposition could prove dangerous in the long run – they don’t have to look far to see what can go wrong when councils are dominated by one party.

So the Lib Dem MPs could have put a lot more than healthcare at risk in SE London last night. If I was one of their council candidates, then this morning I’d seriously be wondering why I was bothering.

43 replies on “Lib Dems endanger Lewisham Hospital – and themselves”

  1. Agree. Hardly surprised at Burstow’s caving in – but am disappointed nonetheless. Don’t like where the goalposts are – move them….so cynical. This is what turns off the public from voting.

    I hope Labour or the Greens put up a good candidate to oppose SImon Hughes in time for the general election. I just don’t get Hughes’s politics at all nowadays – he used to be greenish/ centre left, now he just trades on his past reputation and seems to have become an Orange Liberal as his parliamentary career reaches its twilight years (I hope).

  2. Duwayne Brooks still thinks he’ll be elected Mayor of Lewisham, so they’re not all worried…

    Too many #Labour party hopefuls on my case tonight. If I'm so important as a Councillor – imagine when I become Mayor.— Duwayne Brooks (@DuwayneBrooks) March 11, 2014

    (no idea if that link will work….)

    Possible I suppose that the Tories will hold on to their one seat in Grove Park, and the Greens might fancy their chances in Brockley if anyone is standing instead of Darren J. I’d say Forest Hill is probably the Lib Dems’ best chance of keeping any council seats come May.

  3. Also, the reason Lewisham is in (slightly) less of a mess than Greenwich is precisely because, until the last lot of council elections, there was a very mixed council, with (iirc) 6 Greens, a whole bunch of Lib Dems, 2 or 3 Tories, some socialists and possibly an independent or two. They were able to hold Labour to account.

    Come May we will be left with internal opposition being the only thing that will shine a light on anything that’s happening in the council. That has to be a bad thing, however brilliant we think Labour have been on the hospital campaign. (and you have to admit Bullock played a blinder on that one.)

  4. Labour are no longer an alternative – let us not forget that they signed the agreements for the PFI that has endangered the hospitals in SE London – and Labour have cynically linked themselves to the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign to try and put a smokescreen over the fact that Lewisham Council still relies on costly PFI arrangements to finance poorly built and managed projects throughout the borough.
    And a labour government, if elected, will continue the privatisation of the NHS in exactly the same way as the tories. Politicians think nothing of doing U-turns and telling lies.
    There are alternatives to vote for in the next Council elections in Lewisham certainly – people need to think seriously about how their councillors have served them – and whether their deserve a vote.

  5. So basically all politicians are liars and endlessly manipulative? Like the rest of us then when faced with competing demands, compromises and the need for expediency. Democratic deficit is a problem everywhere, and the only people who can truly hold politicians to account are the members of their parties. Or should be.

    Council of despair.

  6. Every local party has to deal with the conflict between national and local policies, decisions and views. This is true across the spectrum.

    As you say both Greenwich and Lewisham Lib Dems were big supporters of the Save Lewisham Hospital issue and campaign. We clearly had no influence over what happened last night. Paul Burstow led on the 119 amendment to last nights bill and he secured concessions from the government which were good enough for him to be happy that services in well-run trusts were safe from meddling by neighbouring TSAs. It is too early to know whether these are good enough, but it was not what our local party would have preferred as the amendment itself was more secure.

    Sorry to get partisan but without Labours PFI we wouldn’t have been in the mess in the first place so they are not without blame on this.

    Your point about one party councils is well made. Whatever the likely result local Greenwich Lib Dems will continue to campaign in their own time and with their own funding and with their own personal integrity intact. Democracy is under huge pressure in Greenwich but we will continue to give the people a choice. They can choose something different locally to the decades of Labour rule locally, or they can give us a good kicking for our national decisions. The people have the power and I believe that they will have more power, much more power, if they have a council that is not a one party state. That is their decision in May.
    Chris Smith Chair Greenwich Lib Dems

  7. Thanks for commenting, Chris.

    Just heard Nick Clegg talk about Labour council election candidates on PMQs – “…and did they apologise on the doorstep for the mess in which Labour left this country?”

    How does this stand with your talk of local Lib Dems’ personal integrity? Will you be apologising on the doorstep for Clegg and co?

  8. Sorry, we have a one party state, Chris, at the moment – it’s the Tory-Orange-Liberal party the TOLs. And local politicians and council and hospitals everywhere can find themselves dire straits trying to provide services, because of the way this undeclared national party has removed and shifted funding to their preferred areas and suppliers, while pretending it’s all the fault of local politicians – or more often the Labour Party – who are to blame for everything they don’t like since they were founded a century ago.

    Sorry, folks, the “apologising” game really infuriates me.

  9. PB4P have done more to try and hijack the Lewisham hospital campaign than anyone else. Wouldn’t vote for them if they were the last party on earth.

  10. sorry clogsilk, that’s utterly not true – can you give your reasons for making this statement?

  11. Thanks Daryl for replying. I am very public in my opposition to tuition fee rises and the changes to the NHS. I have already made my views clear and my personal differences with the national party in these areas. This doesn’t mean that there are not more general political philosophies that draw us all together however.

  12. Yes – they tried to add the name Save Lewisham Hospital to their party name for the council elections – how much more hijacking than that can you get?

  13. Being founder members of the SLH campaign (something the Labour party in Lewisham wasn’t) they had the perfect right to do this – and I can also add that it was done as a message of support for the campaign – the name itself isn’t copyright – in fact it’s on the back of every worker for Lewisham Council who wears a high visibility tabard – if that isn’t the Labour party taking advantage of the SLH for electoral purposes then I don’t know what is?
    I also know this for a fact, the Labour party have done *almost* nothing to support the campaign, in Heidi Alexanders case, only plastering the windows of her office in Lee with campaign posters. The same Heidi Alexander who would have been instrumental, as deputy mayor at the time, in many of the PFI agreements in Lewisham for which the residents will be paying for years to come. Any action taken by local Labour MPs, (Ruddock was a part of Browns government that signed the PFI agreement for the SE London hospitals yet she never mentions this) councillors and the Lewisham mayor to back the campaign have been purely for sectarian purposes and to try and defuse the PFI scandal in which they have been complicit.

  14. I didn’t say I wasn’t anything to do with PBP clogsilk – and I’ll also say that I probably did far more for the SLH campaign than the majority of many other people

  15. It’s rare that I comment on national politics as there is usually more than enough to get angry about locally in Greenwich, and across London as a region, but in this instance I have to respond. The truth is rarely as black and white as the latest headline, especially in this case.

    I am on record, both here and elsewhere, as saying that the best solution would be to cancel PFI debts and start again – I still stand by these comments. While Boris Johnson has found this possible with the PFI deals he inherited at TfL this is clearly unpalatable at a national level or we would have Ed M & Ed B advocating the same.

    Nobody is blameless in this whole sorry mess – from Major’s initial PFI deals and NHS restructuring of the 90s, Blair and Brown running with both ideas and legislating for TSA (Trust Special Administration) in the last decade, and now through to the Hunt’s over-reaching on Trust insolvency and the Lib Dems possibly not pushing far enough for concessions.

    The Commons can be much like our local Council with voting happening down party lines. Witness this comment from Julian Huppert about another amendment to the Care Bill:


    Paul Burstow and 38 Degrees may not have managed to gain everything we would have wanted but the concessions gained do offer at least some protection. It’s not ideal but at least local authorities, trusts, staff and local CCGs will now have a say in any Special Administration. Without Burstow, 38 Degrees and 159,000 people speaking out we may not even have achieved that concession. However it does beg the question – after Greenwich’s inaction over the fate of QEH and Lewisham can we trust our own local authority on this matter? Even before the implosion of our SLHT there was much talk about securing funding offered by central government to shore up the Trust but I’ve never seen anything that says this was followed up.

    There are three underlying problems for the NHS as a whole and all parties will have to deal with it at some point in the future. The first is our ageing population, the second is the PFI deals hanging over many Trusts and the third is a lack of money. I honestly don’t know what the answer is but I know the NHS has to stay.

    I won’t be “apologising on the doorstep for Clegg and co” as the next elections are about the local situation, the local Council and local accountability, and we have enough problems that I can offer solutions for if I’m lucky enough to be elected.

    And yes, I do survive with my personal integrity intact – I wouldn’t be fighting against things like Silvertown and Gallions crossings, for Community Councils and questioning spending on vanity projects otherwise.

    If everybody conflated national issues with local we may as well do away with local elections and just have everything dictated from the centre. I give people more credit than that, even if you don’t appear to.

  16. But this is local, Stewart. Just as Labour’s crocked PFI wrecked the local NHS trust, this is a local issue too.

    And it was a local MP, Simon Hughes, who lined up in the lobbies to support the coalition, when even a SE London Tory, Bob Stewart, rebelled.

    This is inevitably going to reflect badly on SE London’s Lib Dems (despite individual activists’ and councillors’ actions) just as Greenwich Council’s inaction on the issue reflects badly on Greenwich Labour (despite individual activists and councillors’ actions).

  17. Yes, this is a local issue but not something that the local Council has any control over (ironically, until Burstow gained some concessions).

    There’s some deep rot in Greenwich and with the local elections coming up and Greenwich Time still being published there’s a real danger here of one of our last remaining bastions of free speech clouding the issue with headlines such as this.

    You’re in danger here of falling into the trap of conflating national with local over what can be done and you’re far better than that. Saying that “Lib Dems endanger Lewisham Hospital – and themselves” and “if I was one of their council candidates, then this morning I’d seriously be wondering why I was bothering” isn’t really helping.

  18. Whats missing in this debate is that, Lewisham University NHS Trust were quite happy to amalgamate….actually thats not quite true – take over QEH with a proviso that they didn’t have A&E and Maternity downgraded. I am sure Mr Hunt took that as a green light to carry on and that he would deal with Lewishams’ issues in the margins – which meant he couldn’t give a glucose drip about what Lewisham thought. Sure Lewisham won the Judicial Review, they even won the the Appeal but these were battles – they have however, lost the war. Hunt won with the support of his Libdem friends. No PFI hospital breaks even and I’m not interested in he politics of that……Im interested in healthcare for local people. QEH will sap money out of Lewisham because of the ridiculous PFI contract they have…. Hunt will claim its failing, A&E and maternity will be downgraded… I expect an announcement about that before the end of 2014. Curiously, I don’t blame Hunt, I blame Lewisham for its narrow mindedness and its tunnel vision and thinking only of themselves. The NHS safe in LibCon hands ?….don’t make me laugh…. next it will be privatisation of Hospital Pharmacy, Imaging (X ray etc) physiotherapy…. all soft targets. Mind you, I don’t feel safe with Labour either, they vacillate far too much.

  19. Amanda – that was pretty much the first thing I said. The elephant in the room is PFI. Until that’s tackled we’re just pushing the problem down the road.

  20. The thing is Stewart, that local elections aren’t just about local politics and people do consider national issues when voting. I am not going to give my vote to a party that nationally has betrayed the NHS and shored up an evil Tory government. I’m just not going to do it.

    Many people wouldn’t vote Labour because of Iraq. It’s the same thing.

    Realistically the LibDems have no chance in Greenwich and their chances in Lewisham are fading by the second (which is the main thrust of this blog post after all). People like you, Chris and others who I respect and value as friends and colleagues are doing a good thing in standing up to the rotten leadership of Greenwich council, but I think you’ve picked the wrong party to stand with to do that. Why not choose one that at least has an ounce of credibility at a national level instead (too late now obviously)?

    And also it isn’t Darryl’s job to help or hinder anyone’s position in the local elections, rather it is to report on it how he sees fit.

  21. European, national, regional and local elections are all different beasts and each institution has its own powers to change different things. If everyone decides to vote on tribal lines in the face of very real problems in each then, quite frankly, we’re all doomed.

    I’d be interested to know what party you’d suggest I should be standing for. The local Labour Party with its “rotten leadership” or Hunt’s Tories who created this bill? Unfortunately, without party backing there’s not a hope of getting elected locally and having a chance to change things. I’d rather be standing for a local party that allows free thought and tries hard to facilitate change from the outside (even outwith the election period).

    As I’ve said already – the changes made weren’t ideal but to have pressed ahead with the full amendment and risk the concessions already granted would have been foolhardy. Given the votes on other clauses there was a very real risk that the vote would have been lost and the concessions along with it. We can only hope that it is enough and that other trusts don’t suffer in the same way as those in SE London – I’m not a lawyer and people are still looking at the bill and concessions closely but it appears to me at the moment that at least there is more community involvement and powers of blocking than leaving it solely in the hands of a Government appointee.

    Yes, every party is guilty in many different ways but to single out one over the others is far from fair. Darryl’s well within his right to report as he sees fit, just as I am to air my own views. I’m glad 853 exists for that very reason.

  22. I was thinking of the Greens, about as likely to gain a seat in Greenwich as the LibDems and with some nice policies nationally (because like it or not people do consider what parties purport to stand for as well as issues (national or local) when deciding how to vote).

  23. I note that Chris Smith has accused this website of “encouraging local Lib Dems not to stand” and of “causing problems”. I’d suggest Simon Hughes, Danny Alexander and Nick Clegg are the ones causing problems.

  24. Daryl, I have no problem with the bulk of your article – I have said on your blog and on my own what my opinions are of it. Free speech, and attacks on Liberal Democrats local or national when deserved, are things I support 100%. However to finish with a call to arms for people not to stand for us – and you know many of them – is a call to finally finish off democracy in this democracy free zone. If we were nasty extremists (and I’m sure some people think we are) then I would agree that we should have the less candidates the better – preferably none – but if you want uncontested seats in Greenwich then carry on.

  25. Daryl. Exactly. We are partly on the same page. Whilst understanding the realpolitik of what happened, I am not in agreement with the decision and I have been very public about my views both publicly and on party websites as you have seen. I make no apology for that and this is in contrast to most of the mute dummies that tow the party line whatever – look to Greenwich Council chamber for the best examples. OK, my own personal political career is not enhanced by this stance, but I feel it is important.

    I think it is vitally important that local people are given a choice – even if it means they get the chance to draw nasty comments all over our candidates names. Maybe I am too naive in wanting this but it is not a level playing field and I felt that your candidate comment ahead of the election tips it further against us. I got very upset by this, and should man up I suppose – as I have said many times to myself, usually when getting sworn at on the doorstep – if it’s too hot I should get out of the kitchen and I am still, probably stupidly, still at the stove.

    Thanks for giving me the space to reply without moderation. I will leave it there.

  26. Chris, the reason I think (and can’t help hoping) that the Liberals get smashed at any election that comes along, local, national or international, is that they have kept these appalling Tories in power and by doing so have helped to fundamentally decimate local politics (good, bad indifferent), planning law, protection of habitat, environmentally responsive policies, health (don’t get me started) and social care, welfare policies, any chance of equitable education accountable to local authorities (I could go on), and by doing so have effectively contributed to the hollowing out of local democracy in this country. Liberals at every level look like ninnies to us voters, by toadying up again and again to the Tories rather than Labour…

    Sure New Labour policies were right wing too but a minority Labour government might really have been effectively reined in by Liberals. But not this lot

  27. @ Chris Smith. I admire your tenacity and your opposition to some of what your party in coalition is doing. You seem to be sincere and I don’t mean that at all in a condescending way and for my part, you should stand to be counted by the electorate. However I think your count may turn out to be rather low and that has more to do with national politics rather than your own. That said, the grim reaper in the cloak of UKIP will probably torture many of those seeking election in the upcoming European Elections too, including many of those in your own party but you wont be exclusive….. they will take seats from others which were considered safe seats. I would never deny your right to stand for election or suggest that you walked away….that would be wrong and a denial of your democratic right but for all of the above, I just wonder that this may be not your time – but good luck all the same.

  28. To be fair, I think it was me that suggested perhaps people could have stood for other parties rather than choosing the LibDems. I’d hardly call the content of the blog post itself a call to arms. And quite frankly the LDs nationally deserve a good kicking for the Clause 119 stuff, amongst other things.

  29. Another Lib Dem Council Candidate here (we’re coming out of the woodwork!) Fascinating debate. Reading the comments, one thing that strikes me – here and elsewhere – is the constant repetition, as fact, that the Lib Dems are ‘keeping the Tories in power’, as if it’s some villainous plot. Like it or not, I’m pretty sure the Tories won the most seats in the 2010 General Election, 307 to Labour’s 258 and the Lib Dems 57. To keep the Tories out would have required a LabLib coalition that included many of the 28 remaining minority parties (DUP, SNP, Bus Stop Elvis etc). In short, the LibCon coalition that emerged – however distasteful to many Lib Dems like myself – was not only democratically elected but it was the only workable government available. But, now that Labour have ditched Gordon and started to get their house in order, the Lib Dems are expected to pick up the ball, leave the field and return it to the rightful Labour owners!

    The second expectation behind the ‘keeping the Tories in power’ claim is that if the Lib Dems precipitated a General Election tomorrow, then the Ed’s would sweep to victory. That may well be what would happen, but I wouldn’t take it for granted. Personally, my hope would be for a Labour-Lib Dem coalition. Having spent nearly 4 years being told that the Lib Dems are equally responsible for every coalition policy, it would be great to be in government with Labour who clearly believe coalitions – however lopsided electorally – are all 50:50 power shares.

  30. I would rather a minority government with MPs voting as they feel they can agree than a coalition which has this view of politics – the only workable government???? So that’s what this is all about then? Not about policies then – just about hitching a lift on the coat-tails of those you can? So, it’s just about the fun of being in power. So that what the political purpose of being a party has become?

    Makes me despair.

  31. I genuinely don’t understand how you can read my comment and get that ‘hitching a lift on coattails’ and ‘fun of being in power’ stuff out of it. Again, my own view is that a minority government – where only the things that everyone liked got turned into law – would not have lasted long at all. And it would have been very very easy for Cameron to go to the electorate and say ‘only parties with big majorities can get the job done, the Lib Dems clearly aren’t a party of government, Labour are in the middle of a leadership election now Gordon has (grudgingly) gone, we Tories are the only option’. And then welcome in a majority Conservative government (who incidentally are the ones who are writing these bills about hospital closures). The Lib Dems are going to pay a massive price for being part of this government, but I am pleased with a lot of the things they are taking the time to achieve. God knows we won’t have a chance for a good few parliaments afterwards.

  32. Ok, no doubt I have left out some obvious ones but the key achievements imo are:

    – Taken 2.7 million low earners out of income tax
    – Free school meals available for all infant school children and disadvantaged college students from September 2014
    – £2.5bn pupil premium to bring extra funding to disadvantaged students.
    – Changed immigration policy so that children are no longer detained in places like Yarl’s Wood
    – Defamation Act 2013 came into effect on New Year’s Day (intended to end libel tourism, and other libel abuses)
    – Green Deal and Green Investment Bank
    – Investing nearly £1 billion to crack down on tax avoidance
    – Increase Capital Gains Tax to 28% for higher rate taxpayers
    – Driving force behind Gay Marriage legislation (first major party to support it)
    – Restored link between pensions and earninigs

    Obviously people can and will pick holes in all of the above, but I don’t think any of them have anything to do with ‘enjoying’ the coat-tails of power.

    We’ve also blocked some Tory heartland policies, such as Inheritance Tax cuts, scrapping HRA and secret courts allegedly. We have also failed to block some very nasty Tory policies, although at least in the Hospital Closure clause we rung some concessions. Which brings us back to where we started!

    I’ll butt out now, no wish to monopolise an interesting thread. I’m clearly not claiming the Lib Dems are the answer to the worlds problems, but equally I resent the idea that the Lib Dems should just get out of the way, bring a close to their own legislative ambitions, and just let the major parties get on with running the country.

  33. Thanks for this – haven’t got time to crit it except that without a publicly accountable, publicly funded NHS this just doesn’t seem to balance out the equation.

  34. I don’t think I was suggesting the LibDems step aside, just that, in my opinion, they are so damaged nationally as to be unelectable locally and therefore not able to challenge Labour in Greenwich or Lewisham.

    This is a shame because I think pre-2010 they had been an effective opposition, along with the Greens and others, in Lewisham. I think these oppositions are needed as fundamentally one party states are a bad thing.

    But I am very angry with Clegg and his power hungry cronies propping up this Tory government, and I suspect I’m not alone.

    If I were planning to challenge Labour in Lewisham or Greenwich, I wouldn’t pick the LibDems as the party from which to do it.

  35. What about the proportional representation issue?

    Quite a few Liberal party defenders here have made a fair stab at excusing the choices made by their party leaders in effecting compromises and mitigating the worst of Tory policies, but back before the last general election the question of the inadequacy of the political system as it stands was clearly on the agenda – now this has been subsumed and decisions are being taken according to what is seen as achievable given the status quo.

    Entering the coalition the LibDems must have known this would happen – would it have been more politically naive to actually try to see how a parliament with no clear majority would function, or not?
    If substantial change in the direction of democracy and accountability is what we essentially need – which is pretty uncontroversial, both nationally and locally, at least for people without a financial stake in the present corporate-led asset-stripping fiasco – why didn’t the LibDems bite the bullet?

    A dysfunctional parliament is not as frightening to me as a propping up of a paradigm that continues to prove itself destructive environmentally and economically, while persecuting the poor apparently for the pleasure of it.

    Technology would now allow us to work shorter hours, distribute resources more fairly and live more fulfilled lives, if it weren’t being targetted for the opposite aims. There is a massive truth deficit being obscured, whatever your legislative ambitions.


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