My mission statement

The times we are working in now need a great deal of accelerated change and there must be no negotiating that down. So my mission statement for this part of my consultancy career is to be clear that there needs to be and will be a lot of change from the work that I do with individuals and organisations and if organisations don’t want that, then it is probably best to go somewhere else.

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MORI poll shows Labour lead on health policy

Filed Under (Coalition Government, Health Policy, Labour Party) by Paul on 28-06-2011

Yesterday I was hypothesising about how Number 10 would be thinking about the politics of the NHS in its overall political strategy for the next election. I suggested that given the failure of the last year it will now not be able to do as well in comparison with the Labour opposition on the issue of the NHS as it did at the last election. If it were wise it would try and discount the extent to which it could neutralise the NHS as an issue and get used to the fact that at the next election it would be 15 points behind the Labour Party in answer to the question, “Which Party has the best policy on the NHS?”.

Yesterday someone pointed out to me that a MORI poll last week gave the Labour Party a 16 point lead on that question.

This is not an example of my being prescient and knowing where public opinion lies ahead of the polls! I used the figure of 15% as an example of what, if I were the Government, I would see as a big and problematic figure. The fact that this is the lead at this moment in time would disappoint the Prime Minister – given the level of cuts that all other domestic public expenditure has taken in order to protect the NHS budget.

Helen Cleary, head of political research at MORI, commented on their web site,

“The Reuters/ Ipsos MORI Political Monitor out today shows that Labour has extended its lead over the Conservatives as having the best policies on healthcare. Labour has always led on this issue, and our latest data shows the largest Labour for almost ten years. However, it is nowhere near the dominance they held on the NHS throughout the 1990s and it has not translated into more people saying they will vote for the party, so far at least.

There are certainly concerns about the Coalition’s proposed reforms. Many people think that waiting times will increase over the next year, but our trend data shows that waiting times are rarely seen as getting better. A third thinks that standards of treatment will get worse, but half of the public thinks that they will not change (and two-thirds of us think that the NHS provides patients with the best possible treatment at present). Two in five people think that efficiency in the health service will get worse, but a significant minority – one in five – are optimistic about the Coalition’s plans to increase value for public money. And crucially, over half of the public think that the service provided by GPs – the key touch-point with the NHS for most people – will stay the same.”

These figures – underneath the headline figures – are very interesting. They show that whilst the political confusion about NHS policy of the last year has hurt the coalition, two thirds still think the NHS provides the public with the best possible treatment.

The fact that the public think the NHS is providing such good services is a really difficult result for the coalition.

If their policy is that the NHS needs reform then the public disagree with them. They are in the same position that they were in last year – with a public that does not see a problem – and which will therefore still be sceptical about whether any NHS reform programme is necessary.

If the policy of the government is that the NHS does not need reform, then the Coalition is at one with the majority of the public, but why then have such a large, reforming Health and Social Care Bill going through Parliament?

But all is not easy for the Labour Opposition either.

Their difficulty is that the question that the public are asked is “Who has the best policy for the NHS?” There is a strong reaction against the Government non policy and therefore the Labour Party does well. However, as MORI observe, this does not lead to more people saying they will vote Labour. So why is that?

It’s because whilst more of the electorate are negative about the Coalition policy mess on the NHS, they are not, in 2011, in a position to be positive about the Labour Party’s NHS policy – because there isn’t one.

4 years before an election, the Labour Opposition may not need one. But two years before an election they certainly will, and it will need to go beyond, “We will protect the NHS”.

They will need one to demonstrate how, in Government, they will tackle the imbalance between demand for health care and the resource provided for the NHS.

Their policy will need to answer the Times’ question of 10 days ago on what to do about surplus NHS hospital services.

They will need one to answer the question about how they will improve innovation and efficiency in the NHS.

At the moment the question of which political party has the best set of policies for the NHS is a bit artificial because neither the Coalition nor the Labour opposition has one.

This will change. .

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