Path to Westminster

This blog will follow the ups and downs of the General Election campaign of May 2015, as dentist Pramod Subbaraman stands for Parliament, hoping to be elected for the Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh South

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Pramod Subbaraman

Pramod Subbaraman

Pramod Subbaraman was born in Tiruchirapalli (Tamil Nadu, India ) and raised in Bengaluru( Karnataka, India).
He studied for his dental degree in Bengaluru (1996-2001) and moved to the UK in 2005 following Professor Raman Bedi's invitation to Indian dentists in 2004 to help ease the NHS shortage in England at that time.
He has since lived and worked in various parts of England before moving to Scotland in July 2013. He is married and his wife is a dental receptionist. He joined the Liberal Democrats days before the General Election in 2010 and is now the Lib Dem candidate for Edinburgh South for the 2015 General Election. 
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Where are we now?
Just a few days ago, all talk was about coalitions, the end of single party government and the need to accommodate more and diverse voices in political discourse. Many people must be feelings like idiots now, including myself, for thinking that change could happen even with such a dysfunctional voting system as First Past The Post. 
In any case what we have now is single party government. We have a weakened Labour Party which will take years, if not decades to recover in England and may never fully recover in Scotland. We have a Liberal Democrat Party that has been massacred for bring a junior partner in coalition. The country has spoken. It does not want coalition. It wants single party government and it is happy with division. It is a polarised country now. There will be a referendum on membership of the EU within 2 yrs and there may be a second referendum on Scottish Independence over the next 5-7 years. But has the country actually said this? What about the millions who voted Green and UKIP but see little representation? The system IS broken, but it may not be in the victors' interests to reform it. 
In my seat the Liberal Democrats were a close second in 2010 and are now down to fifth place, not just due to an SNP surge but also due to a unionist attempt to stem that surge. Thousands of Liberal Democrat voters including party activists and members voted for Labour to keep out the SNP. In this seat they succeeded in doing so and returning Scotland's only Labour MP, Ian Murray, to whom I convey my best wishes. 
There are a lot of challenges ahead for governing and non-governing parties alike, and for me the next big challenge is to find a job! I still am a dentist and it will be good to return to a practising life! Anyone out there looking for an associate? 

Tony Jacobs writes: Massive thanks to Pramod for writing this series of blogs against a backdrop of political change both in Scotland and of a backlash against the Coalition's minority partner party. All at GDPUK wish him well in finding a job and settling back down again, I will make sure he keeps us informed!

©Pramod Subbaraman, GDPUK Ltd 2015
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Decision time!
Now we have all the manifestos. We've had all the debates. We've had more hustings than in normal years. I've had over 10 in my constituency and some candidates in other seats have had over 20. We've had independent and "independent" reports. It is now decision time. 
I know that I had planned to report on the various manifestos, but having seen this post manifesto drama play out over the past few days, it has become clear to me that NONE of the parties can implement their manifestos in full and that ALL manifestos are more likely Talking Points for coalition negotiations. What we are seeing are not set-in-stone manifestos, but pre-negotiation posturing. That is an observation I hold as a candidate who is not from the world of career politics. Obviously all parties have their Red Lines and things they will not compromise on, but hey, if all stay rigid on everything, there will not be a government formed unless there is a single party majority which we know will not happen! Manifestos made sense when there was single party government, but in this new world, unless parties fight elections as coalitions with a common programme, individual manifestos can be seen as starting points, no more, no less. I think any business or any individual who has ever gone into any negotiation of any kind will understand this simple reality. Whatever else any party leader says is just part of the script of electoral theatre! 
We can only know what levers any party can use when the final figure of votes and seats is known. Any party that sits in opposition or refuses to negotiate to form a government will have NONE of its manifesto commitments implemented. This is a message not only to Liberal Democrats, but to any voter or activist of ANY party who may be wedded to a particular manifesto commitment or any voter who pretends that some party that will not participate in government formation will magically achieve its objectives just by being there in parliament! I say this knowing fully well that we are not only electing the next government but also the next opposition, we are not only electing an individual to represent the constituency but also someone who may play a substantive role on many parliamentary committees, the work of which is as important if not more important than the work of governments and oppositions. Finally, the power of an individual voter is limited to voting for one person. It is then up to a collection of such elected persons to decide who will form the next government and the next opposition. 
We are entering a new phase in our democracy. Gone is the 2 party state. We are now a multi-party democracy. It may not feel that way to a reader who is in a safe seat, but where I'm standing, Edinburgh South, it has been marginal for years! This time, thanks also in part to local factors, the seat could well be a 4 way marginal with the balance tipping only if tactical voting comes into play. A state of affairs that shows how unfit our First Past The Post system is for a multi-party fight. Strangely enough, it is that very system, which was designed for a two party fight and one party rule that has brought this about! But it has brought with it the spectre of tactical voting, which means that we can never really truly assess what people want or the parties and policies they really support, and we have to go more by what they DON'T want or their lesser of the evils choice. Surely, a big failure of our democracy. In Scotland, there is the likelihood, as much as I hate the idea, of tactical voting in favour of the SNP by voters who voted YES to independence, and tactical voting in favour of the party best positioned to defeat an SNP candidate by voters who voted NO in the referendum. Can you even imagine the pain on the faces of Labour and Conservative voters facing the prospect of voting for each other's candidates? 
What I'm also seeing is support for coalition. I could never have imagined that there would be so many Conservative voters so keen to vote for me, a Liberal Democrat. It does help that I stand for fiscal responsibility and that I'm strong on defence, but what I see is a possibility that moderate Conservative and Liberal Democrat supporters have warmed up to each other due to the shared experience of coalition. We have travelled together a long way these past five years and though there remain fundamental and wide differences on many issues, there is recognition of the fact that the coalition has worked for the country and we have surprised ourselves and each other on our ability to work together in the national interest, setting aside differences and making the necessary difficult decisions. I'm sure that there may be Conservative candidates in other seats that have seen some reciprocity too. 
This spirit of co-operation and consensus is to be welcomed and I do hope that the next government, whatever its combination of voices can work in the same way. 
I will give you a post match analysis next weekend, but for now, I have voters to meet! 
Image credit - André Zehetbauer  under CC licence - not modified.
©Pramod Subbaraman, GDPUK Ltd 2015
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I had originally planned on discussing manifestos this week. Something that would have a lot easier if I actually had the manifestos to hand! Unfortunately none of the parties has released theirs so far and we will have to speak instead of the Battles of the Hustings'
Three such events have been on my agenda so far. My first was on the 26th of March for the Edinburgh North Lib Dem candidate who could not attend his Common Weal Hustings as he was stuck on an oil platform overseas! It was a good first experience and a good though mildly hostile audience as they were mainly YES voting and far left leaning. A good audience for Left Unity( a new party ), SNP, Greens and Labour in descending order. Ranging from mildly receptive to indifferent to mildly hostile to the Lib Dems and very hostile to UKIP and the Conservatives. 
My best received comment was about increasing diversity of representation in parliament, both of people and of parties. My worst received comment which I had expected of a far left audience was my opposition to a position by the Greens and Left Unity that a £10 minimum wage should be legislated for in the next parliament. Yes you read that right, a £10 minimum wage!!! Yes practice owners, I just heard you drop your iPads, iPhones and laptops to the ground! I did make the point that it would be very difficult for small employers and that many services would either have to be sacrificed of reduced to fund such an idea! I was open to raising it to £8 by 2020, but £10 is just a step too far for anyone not in London! In any case it would make it tricky for NHS dedicated practices and fledgling private ones too. I got a hear, hear from the conservative candidate when I was speaking about the benefits, values and achievements of the coalition. He gave a non response to the suggestion that coalition governments will be the norm from now on! But that is something that is looking likely with the way the polls are heading. 
My second hustings was with students at Edinburgh University on the 30th of March. This was an Edinburgh South hustings and a very interesting one as each candidate was accompanied by a student of their party! Law student Jonathan Ainslie joined me. 
As expected, we got abuse over tuition fees  and the audience laughed at us when I said that there were limitations to what a smaller party could achieve in coalition, that we could not win on every policy. Then I got applause for support for the post study work visa. Obviously! You do not mine a diamond, shape it to brilliance and return it to the mine! The Labour and SNP candidates had a lot of support from the audience as their student associations attended in full strength. 
My most recent one was a pan Edinburgh hustings with the English Speaking Union in Edinburgh on 7th April. This was a well balanced audience with all parties' supporters in the audience. 
I got thunderous applause and laughter when I turned to the SNP candidate and said " the Lib Dems lost a referendum ( AV ) and moved on, it would be good if certain other people who lost their referendum moved on too! " very well received that! Excellent questions about TTIP, post study work visa, Human Rights, Austerity, Trident,  and so many other areas. It was a balanced  debate and a balanced audience. Young journalists from the wonderful website were in attendance. It is a website following the 50 most marginal seats at the election. 
Now let's hope that all parties get their fingers out and release their manifestos next week! 
©Pramod Subbaraman, GDPUK Ltd 2015
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This week marks the beginning of the election period. Parliament has been dissolved, there are no longer any sitting MPs and the most unpredictable and arguably the most interesting election begins! I have had a busy month leading up to this.

There were two Liberal Democrat conferences ( one Federal and one Scottish ). I had the pleasure of meeting with Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesperson at the federal conference and I informed him of the various concerns of the profession, especially those to do with the GDC.


Obviously, it was too late for anything specific from our discussions to get into a manifesto for the election, but I remain hopeful that Liberal Democrat MPs in the next parliament will be more amenable to our concerns especially to do with proposals for a new NHS contract for dentistry in England.

In addition, I also met with Jim Hume the Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson and informed him of the issues faced here in Scotland. Unsurprisingly, the GDC figured prominently in that chat too! One thing is for sure and that is " The era of single party government has come to an end ". Whatever the combination of parties in the next government and whatever their arrangement ( coalition or confidence and supply ) it surely will not be a government with the agenda of just one party.




There will have to be discussions about policies and no single person or single group of persons can have undue influence on any policy decision. I also spoke at the Scottish Conference where I gave the EMLD (Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats) address.

In this speech, I stressed the importance of diversity. We see it in the dental workforce and industry where there are more women and minorities than ever before, why is parliament lagging behind so badly? And diversity isn't just about ethnic minorities, it is also about the representation of women, sexual minorities, the disabled, in fact anyone who isn't a pale male!

Parliament does need people from non political backgrounds in it and we all lose when there is insufficient diversity. The most successful businesses are those that can represent the diversity of their target populations in their work forces and on their boards. Parliament should be ahead on that count! Not far behind as it is now!


I had a hustings on the 26th of March which I attended on behalf of the Edinburgh North Lib Dem candidate. The hustings was conducted by the left leaning Common Weal. It was a very interesting first experience and I will report on the various hustings' that I attend over the coming weeks. This week, my nomination papers will be filed and I will be working on producing a second campaign leaflet as well as an election address. Interesting times ahead! I now hope to be able to contribute to this blog weekly and then maybe daily in the last few days leading to polling day and afterwards until the formation of a new government with an analysis of what I see on the ground.

Next week, my plan is to discuss the various manifestos.

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The Dental Professions and the 2015 General Election
I write this at a time when I'm a dentist, and a candidate for what will be the most unpredictable General Election that most people can remember. There are just so many factors in this election that only a fool would even attempt to predict its outcome. With such unpredictability also comes power. Power to the voter. The voter can now expect every candidate to work hard for their vote. I never liked the two party state or the disgusting reality of safe seats. The very idea of safe seats is so disempowering! Imagine a seat which is so predictable that your vote doesn't change much locally, that your MP takes their seat for granted and never really has to fight for your vote! The sad reality is that there are too many such seats. But, 2015 could change that to some extent, with the arrival of a multi party democracy like we haven't seen before. Where every candidate and every party will have to fight for every vote. I welcome this new era. 
Now how can dentists benefit from this? What is it that makes dentists vote one way or another? Dentists are a very well educated, articulate and intelligent lot! There will not be one or two issues that sway them, but a range of issues and not always dental issues. But dental issues are important, and not just to dentists who predominantly work in the NHS. 
Here are some issues which face dentistry over the next five years:

1. What do we do about the General Dental Council? 

The GDC is now viewed as being draconian and out of touch with the profession. I can't see any world where it would be acceptable to demand such an extortionate Annual Retention Fee. I have discussed this with many politicians, patients, and other people whom I meet on the campaign trail, and every last one of them is alarmed at the figure of £890. I have contacted the health team of my party and requested them  to include  a line about reform of the GDC in our manifesto. Obviously, there will have to be further discussions about this and I am hopeful that we can do something about this in the next parliament. Reform of the professional regulator is something on which almost all dentists agree! 


2. What do we do about NHS dentistry in England? 

I have worked with the Unit of Dental Activity ( UDA) system in England. I worked in the North of England ( Middlesbrough, and then Hull ), areas of high dental need where this system just did not seem fair to performer dentists. My bigger problem with the system was a lack of transparency and fairness. With the fee per item system in Scotland ( which was the system in England prior to 2006) the fees were clear for all to see and distribution between owners and associates was visibly fair, also patients knew exactly what they were paying for . But with UDAs, associates having no Idea what the real value of a UDA was, it was easy for them to be squeezed! I struggle to see fairness in the system. Fairness for the patient who does the right thing and may need the occasional filling or crown , but finds themselves paying a lot more under this system for that filling or crown. Fairness for the conscientious dentist who would like to practise the way they were taught dentistry, the way it is to be practised, with emphasis on prevention. There doesn't seem to be any provision for prevention to be done properly!  Fairness for the provider who may be in an area of high need but who may be stuck with a lower UDA rate than the needs of the area demand. 
I'm not saying that fee per item is the best system. I currently work in this system in Scotland and it has its disadvantages, but it is transparent and it is generally fair to all parties concerned. ( Obviously we would like to see higher fees for certain items of treatment, but that must be tempered by the fact that  I'm yet to meet a dentist who would ever say that any particular fee was high enough! ) 
There are many pilots in operation and we must study them carefully. I believe that healthcare planning and delivery in England must be devolved. The needs of the Home Counties are very different from the needs of Wales or Northern England. A one size fits all approach just cannot and does not work! I really hope the BDA takes this change very seriously! It is easy to accept a new system, but when the system doesn't work very well, it does take an awfully long time to change it as we are all seeing. 
If there is one reform to healthcare in England that we must achieve in the next parliament, it must be devolution of planning and delivery ( with protected budgets for areas of high need, and/or deprivation ) 

3. What can all dentists look forward to in the next parliament? 

NHS or private, we can all agree that regulation of all forms has gone insane! We are over regulated! It just appears in some cases to be regulation for regulation's sake! We must review the regulation that currently strangles the profession and do away with unnecessary regulation, definitely with double regulation ( it just doesn't make sense for the same criterion to be regulated by multiple regulators! ) Simplification of Regulation! Another thing that I will bring up with my party's health team. 
In general terms, dentists as citizens care for the same things that most other citizens do. A strong economy, a just and fair society, an environment where we and our children can thrive happily. Whichever party or combination of parties as is more likely the case in this era of coalitions, delivers all that will deserve our votes. 
©Pramod Subbaraman, GDPUK Ltd 2015
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In the heady days leading up to the general election in 2010, when the political tone seemed to be very hostile towards immigration and immigrants,  the only sane voice seemed to be that of Nick Clegg's. Now for someone like me who at that time still was on a temporary work permit, that made a big difference. The UK can seem very hostile to immigrants in their early years here. Especially recently, and I lived for years in fear of that hostility. Nick's calm welcoming voice was a relief from all that I was hearing at that time.
I was so impressed by that first debate that I decided to donate some money to this good party, I went online and made the payment. I also ticked a box which then made me a member of the party. 
Now that made me research the party and then it was a no brainer. 
Liberalism, it really is a no brainer. It sounds right, it looks right and it is right ( well , centre or left of centre we would be more likely to say generally ) 
I found myself agreeing with all of the various liberal strands. Personal, Political, Economic and Social

Personal Liberalism:

Respecting personal freedoms, and protecting individuals from state and majority oppression, from the surveillance state ,from conformism. This is so important now in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo and other killings in France. The importance of freedom of expression, of the freedom to live as we may choose and without the expectation of conforming to any ' norms' defined by any single person or any group of persons, whatever their number.

Political Liberalism: 

Power is best exercised by or closest to the people affected by it. The idea of localism, the idea that brought about devolution, the idea of local and regional structures taking on more responsibility and not being dependant on Westminster and Whitehall. At the same time,the idea of internationalism and international co-operation. A recognition that we are all citizens of the planet and that there are too many artificial barriers that we tend to erect. 

Economic Liberalism:

The idea of the free market, of the freedom to make our choices of work and enterprise. The idea that monopolies, either state or private are bad. The idea that the market can and will find the solutions to our economic problems ( though needing a nudge at times to guard against excesses ). The idea that people should be free in the spirit of enterprise to make their mistakes, but that we should not let anyone sink beyond a minimum level and ensuring that the minimum is always getting better than the day before, the week before, the month before, the year before and so on. The state cannot be better than the individual in deciding what works best for them. The state should help where it can and then get out of the way! Only intervening where necessary to ensure fairness when there is obvious exploitation of the vulnerable.


Social Liberalism: 

The idea that more equal societies are also more happy societies. Now absolute equality is impossible to achieve and I would argue that there is no such thing! But we can do our best to ensure equality of opportunity as far as possible, to break down barriers where they exist or where they are artificially erected by vested interests. And while we can never ensure equality of outcome even where we remove inequalities of opportunity, we must strive to keep on getting better. This concept of always, continuous improvement, something that is the cornerstone of our dental CPD also applies to life in general and to society as a whole. 
When I considered all the above, I knew that I had joined the right party. I was a candidate for council in a Middlesbrough in 2011.  When I moved to Scotland, I was made the Scottish EMLD ( Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrat) representative and then I won an internal selection to be selected as the PPC ( for Edinburgh South ) and here I am now, to fly the flag of liberalism in this week when liberal values have been so threatened, and knowing that in early January almost 4 million people marched all over France and in the UK too expressing solidarity with their fellow citizens. Here I find myself, selected as a PPC a mere four and a half years after joining the party, a mere nine and a half years after having moved to the UK. I am definitely happy and proud of the distance that I've covered, but Oh! There's so much more to do and I've barely got started! 
©Pramod Subbaraman, GDPUK Ltd 2015
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Hello All,

Ever since my selection as a Parliamentary candidate, I have been in touch with Tony (Jacobs) about this blog with my thoughts and experiences of the general election 2015, from the viewpoint of a practising dentist.

We have been looking back at my time with GDPUK and there is a fair bit to share!

I was first admitted to the e-group on 10th September 2000. That was a month before I sat my finals. 

I originally joined to follow how dentistry was practised in the UK. To follow advances in the field, to interact with fellow dentists in what was thother part of the world for me. 

I was mainly an observer back then, not much interaction until 2004 when Prof Raman Bedi visited Bangalore during his 2004 FDI India tour. He announced that he would hold a one time only sitting of the part 1 of the then IQE in India. That was an initiative to help solve the problem of a shortage of NHS dentists at that time in England. 

I sat the exam and waited for the promised clinical dental attachment which never came! Then I posted on GDPUK with queries about how things were for left handed dentists. I got some replies and a conversation began with Paul Thompson (Norwich) over the next few months in 2005 I got my clinical attachment  and arrived in the UK on 5th August 2005, a few weeks after the London bombs! I was having nightmares about the Jean Charles de Menezes shooting and as Paul will tell you, I did not wear a rucksack or even run to catch a bus for a few years!

I was to sit part B of the IQE on 8th August 2005, something I was totally unprepared for! It was then that Paul appealed to GDPUK members in London to help me with a few things. Victoria Holden from Chertsey responded, she opened her surgery on a Sunday and showed me what I wanted to learn! Vicki I will always be grateful for that day, thank you.

As expected, I failed that sitting! I had more trials and tribulations until I finally managed to pass the ORE a few years later. During that time I worked as a dental receptionist and dental nurse with Paul who remained steadfast in his support and then even worked as an SHO in Maxillofacial Surgery in Birmingham 2009-2010. I was again in observer mode with the GDPUK during those years. 

I returned to clinical dentistry in 2010 and have since worked in Middlesbrough, Hull and Stirling and now have experience of UDA and fee per item NHS systems and now of some private dentistry too. 

I have a lot to thank GDPUK for, for kindling my interest in the UK and in UK dentistry. For the networking which laid the foundations of a great professional and personal friendship with Paul Thompson. For people like Victoria Holden and Tony Kilcoyne ( good advice and an encyclopaedia of dental political knowledge ) . For Tony Jacobs who allowed me, a final year non UK dental student to join in 2000 and who has now invited me to record this blog. For all the members who have informed and entertained me over the years, and for a lot more in the future. 

I now hope to return the favour by informing and entertaining all of you with my thoughts and experiences during what will be a very exciting time for the country over the next few months as we vote for a new parliament on 7th May 2015.
Merry Christmas everyone. Have a good break.
My next post will be about how I came to join the Liberal Democrats and my journey from then to now as a parliamentary candidate.



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