The doctors planning to run over the NHS would bolster Tories


9:23 am - March 25th 2012

by Mark Thompson    


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On Friday, Lord Ashcroft published an interesting poll on Conservative Home analysing the potential threat from a group of doctors who are planning to field 50 candidates at the next General Election against senior Lib Dem and Conservative MPs on an “anti-NHS reform” ticket.

The absolutely fascinating finding is that whilst the doctors apparently have 18% support, they would only shave a little bit off the two coalition parties. By far the biggest loser from their entry to the parliamentary race would be Labour.

Here comes the numbers bit:

Before:
Labour: 41%
Conservative: 36%
Lib Dems: 9%

After:
Labour 30%
Conservative: 33%
Lib Dems: 7%
Doctors: 18%

So the mere presence of these candidates in the race would take 2% points from the Lib Dems, 3% points from the Conservatives but fully 11% points from Labour according to this poll!

This is not really that surprising though. Labour (despite their record in office of involving the private sector in the NHS) have been the most vocally opposed to the reforms and are pledging to repeal the bill. The doctors are fishing in a pool for voters where many of them sympathetic to their cause are already likely to be intending to vote Labour.

Their presence on the ballot paper would act as a spoiler for Labour. Its effect would be to split the anti-NHS bill vote and could actually lead to a strengthening of the position of the Conservative and Lib Dem MPs that they are targeting.

The reason for this is our electoral system. First Past the Post makes it very difficult for candidates with similar aims to stand against each other without risking reducing the barrier to winning for opponents.

The only truly independent MPs elected in recent years (Dr Richard Taylor and Martin Bell) only succeeded because the party(ies) they were ideologically closest to stood aside to give them a clear run. And that aint going to happen this time.

No wonder the Conservatives campaigned so ferociously against AV last year. A party that wishes the status quo party system to remain in place of course wants to make it nigh on impossible for any upstarts in the political process to gain any traction and the threat of shoring up Labour’s opponent’s positions will likely be enough to kill this idea on the starting blocks.

Any members of the public who lament this should ask themselves how they voted in the referendum last year. Because not enough of them did to make any difference and thus paradigm shift moments like this in politics almost never happen in elections to the Commons. They are simply not allowed to by design.

An interesting twist here though would be if the doctors decided to do it anyway despite the potential political consequences. Because it could deny Labour the chance to form a majority in 2015 if they pushed their campaign hard.

I wonder how those within Labour who pulled out all the stops to ensure AV failed last year would then feel about the part they played in ensuring a good chance of a Tory majority post 2015. Because then they could do what they liked to the NHS without any restraints.


cross-posted from Mark’s blog

UPDATE: Clive Peedel has written a response to Ashcroft’s polling which says:

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.

So the effort will be more sophisticated than Tories and Libdems assume.

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About the author
Mark Thompson is an occasional Liberal Conspiracy contributor. He is a Lib Dem member and activist and blogs about UK politics here
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Reader comments


Shame so many in Labour lobbied so hard against AV.

Has Ed Miliband actually stood up and said he’ll reverse the bill yet?

Andy Burnham is not the leader.

If so, Peter Cruddas is probably already working out whether it’s worth organising a whip round to donate funds to the election campaigns of the dissident GPs.

Ho-hum.

“Lord Ashcroft published an interesting poll on Conservative Home…”

Well that’s an unbiased source, then. Especially as Lord Dodger says in the piece you link to:

“Earlier this week I conducted a poll…”

Presumably by phone from Belmopan.

“By far the biggest loser from their entry to the parliamentary race would be Labour.”

Not if Labour either:

a) agree to stand aside in those constituencies; or
b) change their policies so as to overturn any private involvement in the NHS which is inimical to the interests of the integrity of the service vis-à-vis those who need it.

a) is unlikely because Labour will now always put its own perception of its own self-interest or amour propre before the public good; and
b) is unlikely because of the capture of the Labour Party post-94 (one might claim post-87) by those who are either intrinsically partial to the neo-liberal economic ‘consensus’ or don’t have the Balls publicly to voice an alternative.

So what else is there? “One more heave, comrades, one more heave?” Yet another Toynbee ‘nosepeg’ election?

If it serves no other purpose, then the proposed campaign by these doctors might (but only might) force Labour into stopping being the Little Sir Echos of modern politics. If they won’t do that, then they will deserve what they get electorally – and deserve it good and hard.

4. the a&e charge nurse

“I can make three confident predictions from the outset. First, there will be no shortage of people in 2020 proclaiming a crisis of democracy in the UK. Second, the democratic pessimists of the near-future will have plenty of evidence to support their claims and, aside from the lunatic fringe, they will mostly be right. Third, while the pessimists will have their critics, those predicting a better future for democracy will mostly be clutching at straws, including the unhelpful retort that the problem with the pessimists is that they are not being optimistic enough”.

“No country which was already a democracy in 1945 bucks the trend of declining engagement and growing popular cynicism. It is scarcely necessary to trawl through the vast reams of evidence from comparative political science; a solitary, but exhaustive, Scandinavian case study tells us just about everything we need to know. From 1998–2004, generously funded scholars undertaking the Norwegian ‘Power and Democracy’ study scrutinised the state of democracy in a country which ranks in the global top three on just about every indicator of democratic quality. The conclusions they reached were damning: ‘the democratic chain of command in which governance is under the control of voters has burst and the very fabric of rule by popular consent is disintegrating before our eyes […it is…] not only that there are weak points in the chain but that a chain that was once solid has fallen apart’. For the UK, which ranks in the bottom quartile of established democracies, the Norwegian study poses serious questions.”
http://www.dhacommunications.co.uk/pdf/Ch%2019%20-%20Dr%20Stuart%20Wilks-Hegg.pdf

In short, the public, in ever growing numbers, are disengaging from the political process, while the politicos themselves are increasingly becoming sock puppets for those who wield real power.

What Lord Ashcroft ignores – for obvious reasons – is that the doctor candidates would be standing in constituencies where the two front-runners are either Tory or LibDem. (Or so I understood their plan to be.)

In those constituencies, Labour voters know their candidate won’t get in.

A doctor standing for the pro-NHS interest in those constituencies would certainly take away Labour’s overall share of the vote nationwide, but not diminish the number of Labour MPs likely to get in.

These doctors standing for election threaten a Tory majority in GE2015 – since the Tories must hold all the seats kept in 2010 and gain at least nineteen more to form a goverment. They can’t do this if in every constituency where the Tory candidate lost to the LibDems, or where a Tory MP is challenged by a LibDem, there is an alternative candidate who is: Locally known and personally popular (a retired GP, for example); who is a credible alternative vote for Labour voters (if Labour agrees to stand aside in these constituencies), for LibDems sickened by their party’s betrayal: and even by Tory voters who loathe what their party is becoming under the Bullingdon boys.

There are a dozen constituencies where LibDem MPs held their seats by a narrow margin and the next front runner wasn’t Labour. The LibDems only fielded 57 MPs in 2010. The loss of even 12 will make their party even less credible – and that’s just the threat from the doctors in support of the NHS.

Why the pretence that this will affect Labour more than any other party? Because it really won’t.

Tim Hardy: Shame so many in Labour lobbied so hard against AV.
Has Ed Miliband actually stood up and said he’ll reverse the bill yet?
Andy Burnham is not the leader.

I don’t mind criticism of Labour but this is somewhat desperate. Labour were mostlyu pro-AV and the leader himself campaigned for it (remember, a lot of lefties were against it – perhaps criticise them?).

Ed M is leader and Burnham’s pledge is sanctioned by him. This is a moot point.

I suppose it depends where the doctors will contest the seats. If they contest them where Labour doesn’t have a chance in winning then it doesn’t really matter.

When then labour better get real and understand that their silence on welfare, and sad sorry drift to the right of centre is alienating many voters.

@Sunny

I’m not bashing all Labour members on AV – only those who lobbied against it. It’s a shame that they did so.

FWIW I think Labour will benefit enormously from the Health and Social Care bill and the doctors’ campaign will serve to keep the issue prominent in the eyes of the electorate come the next election. My issue is that I don’t really think they deserve to do so and my fear is that they’ll wriggle out of actually doing anything if they win the next election.

Ed M is leader and Burnham’s pledge is sanctioned by him. This is a moot point.

Has Ed in public said he’ll reverse the bill? No.

I know you think Ed’s heart is in the right place and that his big problem is failing to get his message across (not my opinion but to each their own) but for god’s sake if he can’t show leadership on this when there’s an open goal right in front of him you then it really is time for the Labour party to start looking for a new figurehead.

Support behind closed doors is not enough. If he’s not willing to stick his head above the parapet on this one in public then why should the public trust him to do it?

Call my cynical but it feels like he’s leaving himself an opt-out for the future.

On Twitter, Mark has tried to claim he’s not concern trolling and he really wishes the doctors could succeed.

But that’s impossible for me to believe, because he repeats unchallenged Ashcroft’s central lie: that this campaign could damage Labour as a party.

Let us suppose that in the Sheffield Hallam constituency there is a well-liked GP in a busy practice who’s on the verge of retirement and deeply concerned at what the Tories and LibDems have been doing to the NHS.

She joins the Independent Doctors for Parliament group, pledging that she will vote to restore the NHS in England if elected.

Sheffield Hallam is not a constituency where Labour can win. The Labour party agrees to stand down its candidate this one time to let Doctor Independent campaign for the NHS. By 2015 the reforms will be biting hard.

Nick Clegg won with 53.4% of the vote in 2010. Conservatives got 23%, Labour got 16.1%.

Say the Independent Doctor can get 90% of the Labour vote given a Labour stand-down. How much of Nick Clegg’s vote does she need to win away from the LibDems to take the constituency? Something under half – if 20% of the voters who would have voted LibDem in 2010 decide they can’t bear to vote for Nick Clegg in 2015, she gets 34.5% of the vote, and judging by Ashcroft’s figures, she might even get 2% more from disgruntled Tory voters.

This depends on LibDem support dropping by at least half – which is not unlikely, given the depths to which it has fallen as the LibDems prop up the Tories. It also depends on the formerly-LibDem voters being willing to oust Nick Clegg with an Independent Doctor candidate rather than just stay home. A lot will depend on how LibDem activists react to this plan: if they try to defend the LibDems against the doctorly challenges, that will help the Tories.

But if the LibDem activists decide to stay home then Nick Clegg is out, LibDems are down one seat (and one leader) and Labour haven’t lost a single winnable seat – and that’s true whether the Independent Doctor wins or loses.

Rinse, repeat.

If the doctors choose their constituencies carefully – and I’m certain they can do electoral arithmetic as well as I can – they will damage the Tories as a majority party and they will damage the LibDems existence as a party. They will cut into Labour’s overall national share of the vote.

I could assume that Mark Thompson didn’t bother to think about electoral arithmetic. That he was ignorant of the fact that so many constituencies have Conservatives and LibDems as the front runners. Or that he is aware of all of this but somehow believes the doctors aren’t.

Or that he’s just a concern troll.

11. George Hallam

It is interesting how so many who see themselves as being on ‘the Left’ of British politics are so narrow-minded.
I
t is undeniable that an enormous gap has open up between the mass of the population and the whole of the political establishment as represented by the parliamentary parties.

We are in the fifth year of a global economic crisis and faced with a government that is cutting services, dismantling the NHS, undermining trade unions and generally attacking the standard of living of the majority of people. The parliamentary opposition to this assault ranges from feeble to none because, fundamentally all the parties accept the neo-liberal thinking behind these policies and, up until May 2010, were implementing them themselves. This acceptance of the ‘Holy Trinity’ of neoliberal policies – austerity, privatisation and deregulation – is reproduced and reinforced by the mass media. The political establishment has nothing to offer the majority of people.

The gap between the people and their political masters is not just a potential one: it is becoming a real one. The “Occupy” movement, for instance, proved to be surprisingly popular. Another example is the way public opinion polls show that, despite absence of any public discussion of alternatives, a significant proportion (between 28 to 30 percent) of the population, reject the idea that any cuts are necessary. Similarly there is hardly any support for the Government’s plans to ‘reform’ the health service.

It would seem that the only thing that protects the Government from the consequences of their unpopular policies is a general apathy and atmosphere of resignation and despair.

In this situation the move by a group of doctors to field 50 candidates at the next General Election against senior Lib Dem and Conservative MPs on an “anti-NHS reform” ticket would be seen as a chance to break the cycle of apathy and defeat. This is not the way the ‘Left’ blog “Liberal Conspiracy” sees it.
“The doctors planning to run over the NHS would bolster Tories” is the headline.
Their story quotes a poll for Lord Ashcroft that shows that the doctors apparently have 18% support.

The reason for Liberal Conspiracy’s dismay is that the doctors would ‘only’ take 2 or three percentage points from the collation parties (2% from the Lib Dems and 3% from the Conservatives) but 11% points from Labour.

What Liberal Conspiracy fails to mention is that the doctors have yet to start their political campaign.

What Lord Ashcroft’s poll did was to put the “anti-NHS reform” ticket up as an option – something that has never been done before. It is a measure of the level of popular discontent that 18 percent of those polled went for it.

If the doctors actually mounted a campaign then the level of support might well be much bigger as it would involve people who had never been involved in politics before.

@4: “In short, the public, in ever growing numbers, are disengaging from the political process, while the politicos themselves are increasingly becoming sock puppets for those who wield real power.”

Who are those people, besides the bankers, of course?

I wondered if there’s a message implied in that sting operation by the Sunday Times: Go soft on dealing with NI and setting up the propsed new press complaints commission or there could be more sting operations with embarrassing consequences.

I certainly agree about the electorate becoming disengaged from mainstream politicians and the political process, which could as easily result in even lower turnouts at elections, electoral swings towards extremist parties or more rioting on the streets. How many more hand-wringing speeches will Cameron be making about unacceptable conduct by people he has appointed? There was a time when political leaders accepted responsibility for the actions of staff answerable to them.

Isn’t it time that Cameron considered his position?

The LibDems think the answer is for taxpayers to fork out more money to fund the political parties – in addition to the taxpayers’ money already being spent on maintaining all those watchdogs with functions of enforcing standards and integrity in politics. Recap: in the last Parliament, more than half of the MPs were obliged to repay expenses.

@10: It is quite impressive how determined you are to somehow “prove” that my post is intended as “concern trolling”.

Rather than accept either of your characterisations of my view how about a third secret option? I actually wrote the post in order to highlight how rotten our current electoral system is and how had AV passed last year, a campaign by these doctors would have had a better chance of gaining traction and there would have been zero chance of damaging Labour through vote splitting.

You highlight the example of Sheffield Hallam. I’m not denying there is a theoretical possibility that seats could be won but there are an awful lot of what ifs. There is a reason why in the last 30 years, given all the thousands of individual constituencies fought in aggregate, only two people have been elected as independent MPs. Our electoral system is massively, massively stacked against it.

Here’s another possibility for Sheffield Hallam. Nick Clegg stands down as an MP before the end of the parliament. A “clean skin” Lib Dem candidate is selected who is not directly implicated in any of the activities of the current government and the Lib Dem vote holds up well enough in the face of any independent challenge and the party retains the seat. I’m not saying Clegg is likely to stand down but in this game of fantasy what-ifs I would contend that scenario is far more likely to happen than your scenario. Something similar to this happened in my own constituency of Bracknell in 2010. In 2009 our Tory MP Andrew MacKay was implicated in a big expenses scandal. For a while, given that the Lib Dems were placed second in 2005 I thought there was a chance that given he was desperately trying to cling on as the candidate for 2010 that if he succeeded we might be able to take the seat from him. Of course that didn’t happen. He eventually (under pressure) stood down and his successor as Tory candidate wiped the floor with us.

I have been active in electoral reform for many years and have blogged incessantly about it since 2008. Check out my blog for many examples.

I’m not going to further try to defend my motives here though as you seem determined to not believe me so believe what you wish.

14. the a&e charge nurse

[12] ‘who are these people’ – corporations running the likes of the arms or energy industries, and now health in the UK will be given over to them as well.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrb3rJoLu9g

Ask yourself this – how many of our political representatives ended up working for, or on the board of private health firms?
http://www.awrsc.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/private-healthcare-network_spinwatch.pdf

Tim Hardy: but for god’s sake if he can’t show leadership on this when there’s an open goal right in front of him

Erm, “Support behind closed doors is not enough” – that is just silly.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/feb/04/ed-miliband-nhs-reform-bill-andrew-lansley
This is when Labour re-launched their campaign on the NHS in the final stages (though they campaigned against it throughout)

16. Planeshift

Mark, Interesting post but flawed in one respect. The doctors say they are targeting senior tories and lib dems not standing nationally. So what matters is polling in those seats, and whether the labour party are going to stand aside (which they should do as those seats are unwinnable). If that becomes the case then the doctors can win – Richard taylor and Martin Bell both overturned large majorities on this basis, with the former proving that the NHS is an issue that is important enough to the electorate for party loyalties to fade.

Suppose 3 o4 4 doctors get in and we have another hung parliament. That opens the way nicely for a labour/doctors/plaid cymru/green coalition.

17. Chaise Guevara

@ 16 Planeshift

I really don’t see Labour standing aside, though. Even if it would improve their chances of selecting the next PM.

MarkL “It is quite impressive how determined you are to somehow “prove” that my post is intended as “concern trolling”.”

FWIW, my comment at 10 was written *before* we had the conversation on Twitter (comment-modding meant it was still invisible at the time) and you admitted the headline of the article, which explicitly endorses Lord Ashcroft’s concern trolling, isn’t yours – it’s presumably Sunny Hundal’s. I reassessed the article in the light of your original, neutral title, and realised I probably wouldn’t have had the same issue with it.

Of course there’s still the fundamental problem, which others have also noted, that you ignore completely the point that the Independent Doctors plan to stand only in constituencies where the two front runners are Tory and LibDem. Thanks to the FPTP system, this means that while they would change Labour’s overall share of the national vote, they wouldn’t cause Labour to lose a single seat.

Your optimism that the LibDems have not been contaminated as a party by their support for privatising the NHS and the destruction of the welfare system is … noted.

“Here’s another possibility for Sheffield Hallam. Nick Clegg stands down as an MP before the end of the parliament. A “clean skin” Lib Dem candidate is selected who is not directly implicated in any of the activities of the current government and the Lib Dem vote holds up well enough in the face of any independent challenge and the party retains the seat”

I agree that’s another possibility, especially for Nick Clegg: it does look as if the best thing he could do for his party now is to quit before next general election and allow an early by-election in Sheffield Hallan. But it’s not a solution for all the constituencies where the two front runners are a Tory and a LibDem.

“I’m not going to further try to defend my motives here though as you seem determined to not believe me so believe what you wish.”

No, I do believe you now, and I’m sorry I didn’t before. I think you’re being optimistic, and have a blind spot, but not hypocritical. Knowing that you’re not responsible for the concern-troll title of your article clarified that.

19. Mike Homfray

I’m sure they would target ministers in seats where, frankly, we haven’t a prayer. I’m afraid we’re not going to dislodge Lansley in Cambridgeshire South or Teresa May in Maidenhead. It would be counterproductive for them to assist the Tories to hold on in seats where we would win otherwise

20. Arthur Seaton

When this announcement was made I was supportive, but I assumed it would be along the lines of when Martin Bell stood against Neil Hamilton – ie. all the other main candidates (in this case the Labour candidate) would stand aside. Clearly it is the only way it would work, otherwise it is just splitting the Labour vote, and is worse than futile.

I can also well see the argument against several Labour candidates standing down, the democratic deficit this causes, and the frankly odd prospect of a load of GPs in the Commons (well, the Coalition did want them to get more involved didn’t they?) Nonetheless: desperate times, desperate measures. I still think those 50 MPs, Tory scum and Lib traitor alike getting systematically annihilated by anyone who supports the reinstatement of a National Health Service is a great idea.

21. MarkAustin

I share Sunny Hundal’s opinion that Ed Milliband is not promising personally to repeal the NHS bill (see posts 6, 9 and 15) in order to leave cover for a reversal—almost certainly couched in the terms of “We would like to repeal it, but it’s too late now and we’;ll just have to work with it blah, blah, blah”. After all it’s been the covert policy of all three main parties to privatise the NHS for years.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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  38. Dear LibDems, climb out of the window now | Edinburgh Eye

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