Saturday 24 March 2012
Response to Lord Ashcroft's blog and poll on Conservative Home
Lord Ashcroft’s blog on ConservativeHome about doctors standing against coalition MPs at the next election is an interesting read. It relates to a letter I wrote to the Independent on Sunday, which was signed by 250 doctors. The fact that he has written about it and also performed a poll is a clear sign that the coalition Government are worried.
He concludes from his polling results that doctors standing against Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs would result in boosting the Conservative party’s electoral fortunes. However, his article and conclusions are flawed in many respects as I discuss below.
His first key point is about GPs standing on a similar ticket in 1990. He says:
“In 1990, a group of GPs established the NHS Supporters Party, with the identical aim of standing 50 parliamentary candidates; the peak of its success was to achieve ninth place in the Mid-Staffordshire by-election of that year, with 102 votes.”
This refers to Kenneth Clarke’s Working for Patients reforms, which introduced the internal market into the NHS. The BMA launched a major campaign against the reforms, but they did this unilaterally. No other major professional group spoke out. This is very different to the current reforms, where virtually every healthcare professional group came out against the reforms as illustrated graphically here. This level of opposition raised so much concern that the bill was “paused” and more recently, 3 cabinet ministers urged Cameron to drop the bill. There were even No 10 briefings against Andrew Lansley saying he should be “taken out and shot”. Public demonstrations and opposition were also highlighted in the media with the June Hautot heckling episode being the most memorable and damaging. Thus, this is a different level all together. In addition, the GPs in 1990 did not have the weapons of social media that are available now, and the political climate is also very different. Another key point is that Lord Ashcroft’s poll shows that a NHS party would have 18% support. This would be enough to win seats, not merely finish 9th place in a by-election.
Lord Ashcroft also makes the assumption that our NHS party would stand candidates in marginals and would not get other parties to stand down. He clearly has no understanding of our strategy. In fact our party (which is in the process of being formed) is being advised by an expert in voting theory and the placement of candidates will be considered very carefully indeed. For example, the South West of the country would be an good place to target Liberal Democrats with significant majorities.
He also extrapolates his poll percentages to an overall electoral result, but if we only field 50 candidates, then we would not see a swing to the Conservatives in the way he describes. In addition, this is not just about taking seats. Even if we don’t take a single seat, we will raise publicity to make the NHS a toxic issue for the Tories and the Liberal Democrats at the next election. They are likely to lose votes even in constituencies we don’t contend. Our repeated message will focus on the undemocratic dismantling, denationalisation and privatisation of the NHS. We will focus on the key messages, which came from the professional associations that stated that the reforms will damage the NHS, fragment care, widen health inequalities, be detrimental to education and training and ultimately harm patient care.
The phrase “No top down reorganisation” will reverberate around the corridors of Conservative Central Office.
So my own conclusion is that the coalition is rattled by the formation of this new group. We will not be frightened off by Lord Ashcroft’s mistaken claims that we will boost the chances of the Conservative Party being re-elected. We will plan carefully, avoid splitting votes, and try to take as many seats as we can. We don’t fear failure. In fact we are spurred on by the fact that we are in 3rd place in Lord Ashcroft’s poll before we have even registered with the electoral commission. We don’t even have a name yet, but one thing is certain, that name will contain at least three letters.... N H S