In Depth

Why the Lib Dems are being branded ‘Yellow Tories’

Jo Swinson’s party angers Labour supporters over NHS privatisation vote

“Yellow Tories” was trending on Twitter this morning after the Liberal Democrats refused to back a Commons motion preventing NHS privatisation.

The Labour Party put forward a motion to amend the Queen’s Speech to include protection for the NHS from being up for grabs in future trade deals that would “put profit before public health”.

Labour lost the vote 282 to 310 after the Conservative Party voted against the proposal and the Lib Dems abstained.

When was the term first used?

“Yellow Tories” entered mainstream use in 2010, after the Lib Dems agreed to prop up a Conservative government when David Cameron failed to win an outright majority in the May general election.

The Lib Dems entering into coalition with the Conservatives was seen by many as a betrayal, and Lib Dems’ opinion poll ratings dropped from 27% at the general election to around 14% a few months later, says the BBC.

In an August 2010 letter to the then Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband, the Labour leader at the time, said: “It is no surprise that people, even within your own party, feel that you have betrayed those who voted for you just a few months ago.”

That year, Socialist Review magazine said the coalition was evidence of “yellow Tories exposed”.

But the term had been used by Labour and the political left before the coalition. Labour MP Wes Streeting branded Nick Clegg a “yellow tory” in 2009 after the then Lib Dem leader advocated “savage” cuts.

Why have accusations resurged?

The Lib Dems’ decision to abstain on the NHS motion is seen by Labour supporters as evidence that Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson and her party do not oppose NHS privatisation.

When the result of the vote was announced, MPs in the Commons could be heard asking “where are the Lib Dems?”

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said those not backing the motion had “refused to safeguard the NHS from a Trump deal sell off that locks in privatisation.

“The actions of Tory MPs and inaction of Lib Dems who abstained, risks further privatisation of our health system and could open the door to US pharma forcing our NHS into buying more expensive medicines. This yet again shows only Labour can be trusted with our NHS.”

However, Caron Lindsay, editor at Lib Dem Voice, insists the party does not want to see the NHS undermined by Donald Trump and had concerns about the Health and Social Care Act 2012. But she says the Liberal Democrats could not back Labour’s amendment, which sought to repeal the act altogether, as “there was some good stuff in there, on social care and on mental health, both issues very important to us.

“So even if we think that the Act isn’t perfect, we would go with amending rather than appealing it,” she says.

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