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The NHS Remains Central To The Battle For The Conservative Party’s Reputation

Last Updated: Friday, November 15th, 2013

The NHS has always been a totemic issue in David Cameron’s political message. From the outset, he viewed it as central to the Conservative Party’s reputational problems, and therefore made it central to his detoxification plans.

That’s why he pledged to protect its budget even when all around were facing spending cuts, and why he personally intervened to pause the NHS Bill when it became mired in controversy.

It’s also why Jeremy Hunt enjoys the Prime Minister’s full backing for today’s new GP contract.

The headlines aren’t about radical reform, managerial shakeups or budget changes – they’re about the return of the “traditional family doctor”, a more worldly, emotive idea.

Cameron and Hunt want to show that they understand the public’s most fundamental expectations of the Health Service.

They know that the Conservatives still aren’t fully trusted with the NHS, but they are also aware that, post-Stafford, public concern about the future of the service is about two issues, not one. It used to be solely that voters feared the dissolution of the NHS, but now that has been joined by popular demand for an end to poor care and low standards.

By discussing a return to a bygone age of personalised GP services, they hope to satisfy both strands of opinion.

The new contract also offers an opportunity to highlight the stark contrast with Labour’s mishandling of the GP contract in 2004, which was essentially based on paying more money for a poorer service.

To their annoyance, this is proving harder to do than expected. It ought to be quite simple – Labour let down patients and taxpayers by agreeing excessively generous terms with doctors a decade ago.

But, as with the Stafford scandal, Andy Burnham is demonstrating his ability to slip out of tight spots.

The Conservatives remain convinced that in the right circumstances, Burnham can be discredited by his and his party’s dismal record. The fact that it is yet to happen as planned is a sign that Labour still retain a decent level of popular gut trust on the topic of health.

Today’s news isn’t a standalone announcement – we should expect a series of similarly couched releases from Hunt and his Department. Each will hope to add a little bit more credibility to the Blue side, and chip a little away from the Red team.

Whether that approach works will be measurable by whether Andy Burnham is still as hard to pin down in a year’s time.

By Mark Wallace



Peter Hoskin: Under cover of his euro-scepticism, IDS launches a new offensive against pensioner perks “The minister’s response is still worth noting, not least because it adds to the standard centre-right argument against pensioner perks. Now, it’s not just a matter of protecting “hard-working taxpayers’ money” – aka, deficit reduction – but also of repelling rule from Brussels. It’s almost as though he’s reaching for the collective hand of reluctant Tories.”

Mark Wallace: For Israel, there is one thing worse than no deal over Iran’s nuclear programme – a bad deal “Israel’s objective is simple: Iran must not have nuclear weapons. A fudged deal would, they believe, allow that to happen. The conversations I had last week left me in little doubt of the outcomes they would find acceptable. A good deal, in which Iran’s nuclear programme ends. Or an air strike.”

Tim Montgomerie: New Times polling confirms the Conservatives’ northern problem “There are no easy solutions to the challenge, however, other than hard work. Whether it’s building more support among ethnic minorities, in urban Britain or throughout the North, the Tories just need to be ever present – attending events, appearing on radio phone-ins, promoting local candidates and targeting policies.”

Andrew Gimson: Help to Buy is immoral because it encourages ordinary people to risk ruin “Tory backbenchers are in private less reticent. “We call it Help to Vote,” one of them says. They compare what is happening now to the Barber boom set off by the Budget of March 1972. Exports and business investment are currently at disappointing levels. The Chancellor has instead launched a credit boom.”

Mark Wallace: Now we know how many members the Conservative Party has, work begins to rebuild the machine There’s evidently a lot of work underway. There certainly needs to be if the Conservative Party is to return to the status of a genuinely mass movement, able to deploy activists in large numbers whenever and wherever they are needed. The full debate is still to be had about quite what a 21st century political party ought to look like.”

Paul Goodman: The Conservatives’ real class problem   “Until recently, the dominant class wasn’t a political class – supported by the taxpayer, rather than political parties with a mass membership and a social base. It is here that Britain’s class problem really lies, at least when it comes to Parliament and government.”

Michael Fallon MP: A Conservative business policy – competition, entrepreneurship, deregulation
Conservative governments always have to clear up the economic mess created by Labour.  But we are about more than dry fiscal plans.  Increasing competition; backing entrepreneurs; and scrapping regulatory barriers are our priority. Markets are the most efficient way to deliver benefits to consumers.”

By Mark Wallace

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