The political cost of the health and social care bill to the Conservatives grew today with a new poll revealing a four-point drop in support in the past month.
The news heaps further pressure on David Cameron and his embattled health secretary, who was yesterday jostled and shouted down on Whitehall on his way to the prime minister’s well-choreographed summit of believers – which turned out to be anything but the glad-handing gathering of ‘yes men’ critics had feared.
As today’s Times reports (£):
The idea was for David Cameron to emerge from low-key talks in Downing Street and proclaim the backing of medical chiefs for the government’s NHS reforms. It didn’t happen quite like that.
Inside, the prime minister received an “earful” from the health professionals. Outside, Andrew Lansley was harangued at length by a pensioner as he tried to push through protestors.
On a bruising day of PR disasters, the image of the health secretary being accused of talking “codswallop” as he arrived in Downing Street is likely to stick…
The encounters left Mr Cameron admitting that he had failed to make the case for the reforms and would spend the coming weeks trying to reassure a sceptical public that he was not about to privatise the NHS.
The Downing Street aim was to counter the idea that the medical professions were against the changes en masse, and to build a sense of inevitability about the reforms, which are still going through the Lords. However, those present raised a series of concerns about the bill. Jeremy Taylor, head of the health charity coalition National Voices, said there was “lots of patient group unease” over the bill.
Mr Taylor told The Times that “the PM got a bit of an earful of all the things people have been saying over the past few months” and if he had expected strong support from the meeting he would have been disappointed.
“There were some tense moments,” he said, but the hour-long meeting was “reasonably good natured”. He added that the prime minister had led the discussions with a good grasp of policy detail. “Andrew Lansley was sitting next to him and didn’t say very much – and wasn’t invited to say very much.”
To add to the Tories’ woes, the latest Guardian/ICM poll puts them down four points on 36 per cent, with Labour up two to 37 per cent. Cameron’s coalition partners have also suffered a drop in support, the Lib Dems down two points to 14 per cent.
However, just as Left Foot Forward revealed yesterday, it is on health that trust in the Conservatives takes the biggest hit.
The Guardian reports:
There are signs that the Conservatives’ failure to persuade the public about its NHS reforms could contribute to a “retoxification” of the Tory brand.
Cameron – who once said his priorities could be summed up in the three letters “NHS” – initially invested a great deal of effort in overcoming the Conservatives’ historic difficulties on the terrain of health.
One year into his leadership, ICM found he had made progress – in October 2006 only 31% said they did not trust the Tories at all to run the health service, as against 32% who said the same of Labour. In the latest poll, however, 40% of respondents said they did not trust the Conservatives at all, against 25% who say the same about Labour [see Chart 1].
Only a minority of voters trust either of the main parties “a lot” on the health service – 23% for Labour, and a mere 13% for the Conservatives. Labour is trusted “a little” by 46% of respondents, while 42% say the same of the Conservatives.
No matter how unpopular the reforms, no matter how many professional organisations and ordinary people line up to oppose them, David Cameron seems intent to plough on – whatever the cost to the health service and even his own party.
• Tory voters trust BMA and co. over Cameron and Lansley on the NHS – Neil Foster, February 20th 2012
• Look Left – The fight for the soul of the NHS goes on – Shamik Das, February 17th 2012
• Sign my petition to drop Lansley’s monster – Dr Kailash Chand OBE, November 24th 2011
• Safe in Cameron’s hands? Waiting times for treatments, tests, and A&E all up – Shamik Das, September 4th 2011
• Despite the policy changes, public still don’t trust Cameron on the NHS – Shamik Das, June 14th 2011
• The truth behind the coalition’s NHS proposals – Jos Bell, January 25th 2011
• Experts, doctors and commentators turn on health reforms – Will Straw, January 18th 2011