8-10 Great George Street
Dear Gordon Seekings
Resignation from Liberal Democrats
With great regret I return my Membership Renewal Certificate which you sent to me on March 12th.
Whilst I an certain that my letter will have all the force of the famous headline ‘Skibereen Eagle Keeps an Eye on the Czar’ it will greatly ease me in writing it.
I am one of the original members of the SDP and thus the LibDems. I was hardly a political virgin when I joined, having been President of a Student Union and Chair of a University Labour Club whose foot power won Lancaster for Labour in 1966. I have tramped many city streets and rural tracks canvassing for Labour often with hilarious results. I left Labour when entryism, particularly from the SWP, had become acute. I still regard Labour with immense affection and I know how difficult it is to resign. However, loyalty can be traded on too far, and conscience compromised too far, to offer any other route than through the exit.
There are four issues which have persuaded me to leave the LibDems:
1) Higher Education Funding.
I am a graduate of the Universities of Lancaster and Manchester. I am a life member of the Principals Professional Council, a former Institute Principal, a former Head of Department in a college of FE, a one time lecturer in a college which is now part of Manchester Metropolitan University, an Intern in the Institute of United States and Latin American Studies at University College London, now the Institute for the Study of the Americas, occasional assessor for adult students, Kingston University etc etc.
I am sure you can guess my reaction to the Bill/Act on university funding. Before the election we had promised to oppose an increase in student charges, and we ratted on this in the most deplorable fashion. We offered no constructive solution to FE/HE in terms of the structure of degrees and the funding of institutions, but placed the onus for greater funding via fees on students, with no evidence that they can bear it.
2) National Health Service.
As well as being a client of the Service, I was for most of my career responsible for education units in establishments for people with severe learning difficulties, and establishments for people with mental illness. My attitude to the care given was summed up in a letter to The Independent when I wrote listing a whole series of failures in establishments I had had to deal with. The management failures included staff intimidation, the jailing of the Finance Director of one Trust and the CEO of the PCT of another, both for fraud. I wrote, ‘How corrupt and incompetent must an NHS trust be before the Secretary of State investigates it?’
Nothing has changed over the last few years: recently a local GP was jailed for sexually molesting his patients. He worked in a practice which has long been a matter for local comment. In addition, one of the units I mentioned in a letter to the national press has recently had to have a patient treated for rodent bites. My mother, in forty years of midwifery, had one patient bitten by a rat: obviously matters are worse in hospital units in Epsom than in downtown slums in 1950s Birkenhead. The management failures mentioned here will not be addressed by the new structures, and could have been met by the original system working well and rigorously applied.
The Bill/Act was not mentioned either in party manifestos, or in the Coalition Agreement. It has been strenuously denied that its main purpose is not a licence to privatise. Already, unannounced, areas in Surrey (North West and South West) have been handed over to Virgin Care. With the history of Care Homes being handed over to private enterprise, it is astonishing that the LibDems have not fought this matter tooth and nail, and that they have not insisted on water tight controls against abuse.
I am the former Chair of the Quaker Central Committee for Social Responsibility and Education. This was not simply a committee, but was a charity in its own right, administering numerous trust funds. Since I stepped down in the early 1990s much has changed in the charity world: the Charity Commission has made many innovations which have greatly improved the management of charities. There is however a considerable distance still to go in improving management and closing loopholes. The changes proposed by the government concerning tax relief on donations, address none of these issues and will harm charities greatly. This is just one more issue where the government has failed to understand an issue and has proposed or introduced destructive measures.
4) Housing Benefit
I find the failure of the coalition to address this matter in a proper and humane fashion both disgraceful and distressing. We are hitting at some of the poorest people in the community and putting much housing in highly urban areas beyond their reach. As well as the human anguish that this will cause in terms of poverty, disruption of family networks, schooling for children, and the like, it will also cause heavy social disruption as teachers, nurses, postmen etc., will no longer be able to live near, or to serve, complex urban areas.
As a Quaker Christian both myself and my partner are allocating a larger and larger part of our income as pensioners to give private and discrete help. Discrete, because poor people have dignity, and it should be respected. On that note I end.