Another day, more rather over-exaggerated reporting of public opinion on the NHS. The HSJ headlines some MORI polling as showing “Public split over use of private firms in NHS as Labour doubles poll lead on health”. It’s behind some big paywall so perhaps the article itself gives a much better picture (it would be far from the first time that a headline makes a story seem more exciting than it is), but essentially it shows Labour’s lead on the NHS is double what it was at the election. However, it shows very little change since the last time MORI asked the question in June 2011. As we’ve seen in the more regular issue polling from YouGov, the big drop in people preferring the Conservatives on health happened in late 2010 and early 2011, it isn’t a recent thing.

Here is what we actually *know* about attitudes to the government’s health policy, stripped of all the exaggeration and hyperbole.

1) Amongst people who actually have an opinion it isn’t popular. If you ask whether or not people support the government’s health policy based on what they know, more people are opposed than support the policy. However, an awful lot of people don’t seem to know enough about the policy to have any opinion. The last time YouGov asked at the end of last month only 14% supported the policy, 48% were opposed, but 38% didn’t know.

2) Questions about the actual contents and principles behind the Bill also generally show public opposition. When YouGov asked last year about GP consortiums in May last year the public were opposed by 55% to 25%, more recently they found that people thought more competition in the NHS would make things worse rather than better (by 46% to 18%), as would giving doctors more control over their budgets (albeit, by a smaller margin – 36% worse, 26% better, 17% no difference)

However, the Ipsos MORI poll today showed a more even divide on whether people agreed with the statement “as long as health services are free of charge, it doesn’t matter to me whether they are provided by the NHS or a private company” – 44% agreed, 41% disagreed.

3) What little evidence we have suggests most NHS workers don’t support it. There have been a large amount of voodoo polls and claptrap cited as evidence of NHS workers not liking the NHS reforms and an almost complete absence of any proper polling of them. There was a proper poll of doctors commissioned by the Kings Fund, but that was back in 2010. More recently there was a YouGov poll of NHS staff in general for 38Degrees which found 66% of staff questioned thought the reforms would make the NHS worse.

4) It hasn’t necessarily damaged government support, nor further damaged people’s trust in the Conservatives on the NHS. We have seen Labour move ahead in the polls of late, but as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, this is just as likely to be the unwinding of the European veto effect, or Ed Miliband getting less bad coverage than in January.

On the NHS Labour re-established a strong lead on the issue of the NHS back in 2011, since then there has not been any obvious trend in the data on which party people prefer on the NHS in YouGov’s regular tracker (graphed in this post). The MORI data today also showed little movement since they last asked in June 2011 – back then Labour lead the Conservatives on the issue of the NHS by 37% to 21%, the figures are now Labour 37%(nc), Conservatives 19%(-2). Essentially not many people trusted the Conservatives much on the NHS anyway, they don’t have much of a reputation to lose.

(While I’m here, it is worth noting that “best party on issue” questions tend to move in tandem with one another, if a party becomes less popular overall the proportion of people preferring them on crime, immigration, the economy, health, etc tends to go down at the same time – hence even the big drop in people preferring the Conservatives on health since 2010 isn’t necessarily anything to do with health. They’ve also dropped on all the other issues, and a significant part is just a more negative perception of the Conservative party overall)

This is not to say the issue of the NHS could not do more damage to the Conservatives in the future, that it isn’t doing deeper damage to perceptions of whether the Conservatives care about public services, or that not being trusted on the NHS isn’t preventing the Conservatives gaining support they might otherwise be getting. All these things are perfectly plausible… we just don’t have the evidence to confirm or deny them.

147 Responses to “Public opinion on the NHS reforms”

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  1. @Chrislane1945 – once Newsnight starts talking of a recovery, you can be sure it’s about to tank. From the Telegraph;

    “America’s Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI) said its black box shows “pronounced, persistent and pervasive” signs that the US economy is sliding back into recession. ” and;

    “Fed chair Ben Bernanke warned last week that the US faces a “massive fiscal cliff” at the end of 2012 as tax cuts expire and the axe falls on $110bn of spending due to “sequestration”. Medicare taxes also kick in. “All those things are hitting on the same day, basically. It’s quite a big event,” he said. ”

    Meanwhile Europe is visibly tanking, with even German export and industrial orders shrinking, and the real money supply shrinking sharply in many countries. Even the great news of 400 new jobs at Nissan Sunderland yesterday was trumped by the loss of 500 jobs at the Ashington Alcan plant.

    I see no signs of short or medium term economic hope at present. Mason does disaster much better than optimism – he should stick to what he’s good at.

  2. Barney

    You are indeed “hard at it”.

    If “hate comments emanating from the SNP” is relevant, then so would be “Violent assaults on opposing politicians emanating from Labour” would be equally appropriate.

    In reality, both our parties (as do all others) have idiot supporters. Sensibly, both our parties (as do most others) immediately remove such people.

    You may be campaigning to keep your seat on the cooncil – but UKPR isn’t the place to do it,

  3. @Jim Jam – “Hague… clearly is a capable man and, regardless of political differences, would make a decent PM.”

    Possibly his age (36 when he became Tory leader) had something to do with it, but he really was all over the place – started on a listening compassionate conservatism path (under the wing of Francis Maude), then luched Ukip-right and every which way after passing bandwagons, taking up with Coe, Archer, Platell. Portillo ran rings around them, directing policy in public for the sheer fun of seeing their reaction.

    Tory Wars by Simon Walters is a good account (from a Tory perspective) of the meltdown.

  4. @OldNat

    Indeed, the churn since Jan (7% swing) is from SNP to Lab in Westminster VI, other parties remaining unaffected. But compare the same Feb figures against the 2010 GE benchmark instead, and the net shift is entirely from LD to SNP, with Lab and Con shares remaining static.

  5. @Alec

    Have you seen those Greek bond prices? 42% for 10 year yields tonight is well above the mid-high 30s they had settled around for several months. Looks like things are brewing up again.

  6. @ Old Nat

    You know how I’ve been steadfast in arguing that there’s an American version (or American twin) of Margo MacDonald? I think I figured out the American version (or American twin) of the late Donald Dewar.

    Of course Judith Rogers has never held elected office unlike Dewar.

  7. Phil

    That the LD vote in Scotland has collapsed massively since they entered the coalition with the Tories has always been clear.

    On the Westminster VI figures (on the old boundaries) Scotland Votes suggests that they would lose 2 constituencies each to SNP, Lab and Con.

    On the “churn”, it operates both ways. if you look at two polls only then it is inevitably unidirectional.

    YouGov does have a problem with its Scottish polling since it relies essentially for its weightings on Westminster Party ID

    Previous to the last UK GE. it recognised a problem with that in their Labour ID, and needed to distinguish between Labour Loyal and Labour Disloyal. They have sorted that out in “GB”, but not yet in Scotland.

    YouGov can’t distinguish between Labour and SNP supporters who are constantly loyal, and those who switch their support between these two parties depending on circumstances.

    The January and February polls may be virtually identical in terms of underlying VI, given moe and YouGov’s methodology. polling suggests. It doesn’t predict!

  8. If I express my opinion that Lab will win a comfortable majority next time, and why, I don’t think that is partisan. I could be wrong, obviously (unbelievably, it’s happened before).

    I thought that Con vote would be slipping by now, so I was wrong there. But I am sure it WILL slip and Lab will remain ahead.

    But then public opinion and mine aren’t always a perfect match.

  9. An now for something completely different…well, the topci has been regularly discussed on UKPR threads.

    I note that the FT carries a report that QE is being blamed for an increase in the shorfall in defined benefit pension scheme funding. Since the Bank of England resumed gilt purchases last October in an effort to drive down interest rates, according to the National Association of Pension Funds the shorfall has increased by £90bn.

    Interesting piece by Peter Oborne predicting a 2013 break-up of the coalition and general election.
    I think he’s wrong for the simple reason that if we’re heading for a coalition break-up then the LibDems hold all the power.

    Labour wouldn’t want a GE if it’s clear that the Tories would win.. and could form that rainbow alliance for 2 years.
    And the Conservatives wouldn’t want a GE if it was clear Labour would win, so wouldn’t rock the boat.
    And the LibDems wouldn’t split unless it was very clear that they’d recovered significantly.

  11. @Phil – “Have you seen those Greek bond prices? 42% for 10 year yields tonight is well above the mid-high 30s they had settled around for several months. Looks like things are brewing up again.”

    My understanding iss that the deadline for the debt deal is today, and that the Greeks are going to impose the bond devaluation deal on those investors who haven’t yet agreed to it. This will signal a technical default and release the CDS insurance claims – effectively this will be a bond default within the Eurozone, something which everything has been designed to avoid.

    @MikeN – indeed -these low bond interest rates are a disaster for pensions.

    Personally, I think all talk of an improving economy when we have interest rates absolutely on the floor yet oil is $120 a barel is way off the mark.

    It’s worth remembering that while we might be used to a base rate of 0.5% as we’ve had it for ovr three years, prior to this it has never dropped to these levels in the entire history of the Bank of England. It’s a sig of incredible weakness, yet commodity prices are pushing up again.

  12. I suspect that every time the BoE pumps new money into the other banks, instead of lending it to small business start-ups (which would probably be risky) the banks use the money to buy commodities thus pushing the price up, fueling inflation and reducing debt and creating a bubble.

    If you are going to print money it needs to get to the end user, not the broker.

  13. TF, discussed before, all 3 parties want to wait.

    LD – poll ratings obv

    Lab – need to get policy review in place and need to time to try to improve EDs profile and/or ratings.

    Cons – want the seat reduction and boundary changes in place to give them a better chance of an OM nit just this time but going forward. Also more time for Economy to recover in part at least.

    If the coalition does collapse, which I doubt, I reckon C&S would follow.

  14. That seems to be a good summation of current policy, inflate the debt away by printing and keeping rates high and cut public spending. All those things would probably have happened under Lab too. Makes a mockery of the supposed independence of the Bank of England with a target to reduce inflation.

    All that printed money could have gone to infrastructure or jobs instead of the black hole of banks.

  15. Sorry…keep interest rate low.

    I wonder if they will have the courage to ever destroy all the gilts we “own” and REALLY wipe off debt?

  16. Alec
    I recall you saying (time and again) that GO’s fiscal plans for this Parliament are/were based on an increase in personal debt (or sumfink like that) but clearly the lack of demand we’re seeing it which is affecting GDP, the moves by joe public to reduce their debt, and the further reductions in disposable income arising from higher fuel, food and housing costs will further impair growth in the UK economy. Oh, and the low value of £ surely has an impact too.

    Of course, such economic crises are commonplace under Con govs.

  17. Over at Libdem voice ( on phone so can’t post link sorry). Mark Pack and others are making a big play of a LD VI revival using local election results. I have looked at the ALDC site for the data and it looks far from convincing (2012 data is based on 19 seats). The argument used is that these are real votes whilst the polling organisations ask hypothetical questions.

    I think their approach ang arguments are flawed. What do others,better versed in the subject, think?

  18. Mike N,

    The point is not everyone can save at once. If I save a pound, someone else’s income goes down by a pound and they save a pound less.

    At the moment everyone is in a mood to save. The public are trying to pay off excess debts, the corporate sector does not see any reason to invest due to the lack of demand, and the government wants to save due to ideology.

    But not everyone can save at once. So if the government succeeds in eliminating the deficit, then either the saving of the public must collapse – via higher unemployment (unemployment is a great way to make you spend your savings), or by the collapse of corporate profits (by the way, the FT thinks this is Osborne’s plan).

    My view is the government won’t manage to eliminate the deficit but in trying will both dent corporate profits and create more unemployment.

    The obvious way out is to maintain a healthy deficit until demand recovers. I suspect the government have actually realised that but don’t dare say so. So expect many expressions of regret at missed targets, we must redouble efforts to cut the deficit etc. etc. But it won’t actually happen.

  19. MIKE N…………….Of course economic crises are common under Con govs., because they are always inherited from Lab govs., which in turn are defined by economic irresponsibility. :-)

  20. Bazsc
    Their analysis of vote share ignores entirely the nature of the seats contested. It shows little more than the act of joining with the Cons in coalition hasn’t put off some Con voters from supporting the LDs in local by-elections in seats contested between the Cons and LDs. Only 3 of the 20 seats contested so far in 2012 were ones Labour was defending.

    The scorecard for 2012 to date in terms of net gains/losses is Con 0 Lab +3 LD 0 Other -3. A lot of these were relative to May 2011 results.

    There’s also some over egging of the parish council pudding. This piece “Nick Clegg to be saved by parish council election miracle” takes the p**s out of one such attempt.

  21. Ken

    I knew someone would bite.

    But seriously, er, there were several crises during the 18 years of Tory rule from 79 to 97, weren’t there … and surely they could not all be pinned on the previous Lab gov?

  22. Ken

    Both sides of this argument are too simplistic. A significant amount of the 70s problems were linked to the ‘Barber Boom’ and Labour cannot be lamed for the early 90s recession. Neither party can claim success on the economy!

  23. Phil

    My feelings exactly. I have tried making this point on previous threads over there but get shouted down. I am sympathetic to most LD (except the leadership) and find this optimistic use of data worrying. It avoids them having to say that their strategy is wrong.

    The most important single result since 2010 has surely been OE and S which was a 3 seat marginal and shows how difficult it is for the LD if they dismiss their lost votes to Labour as not being a serious problem

  24. MIKEN

    @I note that the FT carries a report that QE is being blamed for an increase in the shorfall in defined benefit pension scheme funding. Since the Bank of England resumed gilt purchases last October in an effort to drive down interest rates, according to the National Association of Pension Funds the shorfall has increased by £90bn.”

    Entirely unsurprising.

    Ross Altmann has been banging on about this ever since QE was started.

    The PURPOSE of QE is to create demand for UK Gilts , pushing their value up & depressing their yields.

    Pension Funds hold UK Gilts in huge quantities.

    QE helps Borrowers ( Mortgage holders & The UK Government) and punishes Savers ( THe retired & Pension Scheme members )

  25. MIKE N / BAZSC……….I put it all down to Cromwell, trying to spread wealth too evenly always results in disaster. :-)

  26. Colin
    Yes, Ros has been banging on about this for months. She used to head the NAPF IIRC.

    And now as head of Saga she is rightly arguing the case for the elderly savers in the UK.

    The point of my original post was to echo arguments in earlier threads about the cause(s) of funding problems for DB schemes. Simply blaming everything on one aspect (ie removal of advance corporation tax credits, IIRC) ignores other significant issues and causes. But let’s not go there again.

    I guess the other point is that QE is having ‘unexpected’ effects, and could well mean that more employers choose to close DB schemes.

  27. No-one has an automatic right to interest on their savings. If there are no decent investments to be made because of the state of the economy, then it is not surprising there are no returns.

    QE is not the cause of low interest rates, just one of the symptoms of the lack of demand in the economy. Interest rates should actually be negative at this point in the cycle but legal constraints prevent this. Be thankful for small mercies!

  28. Hal
    “Interest rates should actually be negative at this point in the cycle but legal constraints prevent this.”

    Arguably interest rates on savings are already negative…in the sense that inflation is running at a level that is reducing the value of money at a greater rate. But hey, what do I know about economics.

  29. Well judging by the doom and gloom discussed above about the state of the world economy, perhaps the ‘solar storm’ due in about an hour, will put us out of our miseries.

    ‘ The end of the world is nigh’

  30. The end of the world is nigh’

    I was hoping to be here to experience the asteroid strike in 2036…!

  31. ‘ The end of the world is nigh’
    Aaawww shucks! Just when I had it all planned for a great weekend. I just bought a couple of lottery tickets and my footie team would have had an easy home match.

  32. @ Hal

    ‘But not everyone can save at once. So if the government succeeds in eliminating the deficit, then either the saving of the public must collapse – via higher unemployment (unemployment is a great way to make you spend your savings), or by the collapse of corporate profits (by the way, the FT thinks this is Osborne’s plan).’

    Your original premise is correct in that a flow of funds analysis dictates that in the abscence of external flows then the public and private sector flows match each other.

    If the govt starts to reduce the deficit then the private sector surplus must fall as well. The personal sector can either reduce its savings or increase its borrowing and both would lead to an increase in consumption. Your comment about unemployment does not follow. Taking that to its logical conclusion you are suggesting an increase in unemployment as a means of boosting consumption. The effect on the rest of the working population of seeing rising unemployment is the exact opposite as consumption falls.

    The corporate sector has a massive surplus and this can be reduced by an increase in investment rather than waiting for companies to actually see their profits fall. Many blue chips are so flush with cash that they are buying back their own shares which they believe are a sound investment. Some companies are building up reserves so that they won’t need to use the impaired banking system in the future. Some companies are looking around for cheap assets of companies that have not fared well. Vodafone are said to be bidding for Cable and Wireless. Corporate profits may well fall but to suggest that that is the plan is far-fetched. Of course IMHO.

  33. The end of the world is nigh’

    Hmm, I haven’t felt well for some time.

  34. Since early May 2010

  35. @ Mike N

    The world ended in May 2010 !!

    This means that the coalition is not real, but just an ‘afterlife nightmare’ !!!

    In regard to the economic debate, did anyone see that the Forbes rich list has just been released. The world wealthiest, are even richer than they were last year. The top 1000 are now worth about $5 trillion dollars. They are no doubt buying up a lot of cheap assets and will be even richer next year. Lets just hope that they are paying the correct taxes are are happy.

  36. R Huckle

    “This means that the coalition is not real, but just an ‘afterlife nightmare’ !!! ”

    It feels like a living nightmare. …

  37. Going back a few pages to the discussion on EdM: it really is worth remembering that it’s not a matter of convincing a majority of the British electorate, but rather a matter of convincing a majority of the electorate in a majority of the seats. He could be beloved in safe Labour areas and admired in Tory and LD seats (but not enough that they’d return a Labour MP…) but hated in marginals, and lose the election. Sadly, we’re probably not going to see a chance to install PR in the HoC soon, thanks to the unloved and unsuitable AV being so soundly rejected. This blowing of a once-in-a-generation chance really is the thing I’m most disappointed in the Lib Dems for.

  38. CROSSBAT11

    @”I know, and even sympathise with, where you’re both coming from here, but I don’t think I’ve seen a better illustration of how partisanship can skew a viewpoint. ”

    You need to listen to it before passing judgement.

    I was referring to the views of callers-not my views :-

    without “gravitas”
    “not going to be Prime Minister of this country by any stretch of the imagination”

    …by thoughtful, calm, articulate people who declared themselves Labour supporters.

  39. MIKEN

    @”I guess the other point is that QE is having ‘unexpected’ effects, and could well mean that more employers choose to close DB schemes.”

    Undoubtedly-though not in the Public Sector , where unfunded schemes are unaffected by gilt yields-future taxpayers pay the shortfall between contributions & pensions.

  40. HAL

    @”QE is not the cause of low interest rates,”

    It is one them-in addition to MPC policy on Base Rate.

    @” just one of the symptoms of the lack of demand in the economy”

    QE is an excercise in increasing bank liquidity on a temporary basis.

    It bolsters Bank reserves and/or facilitates commercial credit availability.

  41. I’m amazed that people are making such big deal out if this – from professionals within the health service to pollsters themselves

    Whilst significant in terms of what it does to the health srvice, the political implications are nothing comptred to two other policies the government are considering implementing – namely cutting the 50% tax rate and the closure of most of the Remploy factories

    The problem for the Tories is that regardless of the economic sense behind both mreasures – and there undoubtedly is sense – it looks like the pre-Cameron party – cutting taxes for their rich friends and attacking the most vulnerable in society – which is what Milliband’s Labour have been saying all along

    If they go ahead with both measures I think this will damage the Tories far more than the trebling of university fees or their attempts to reorganise the health service and could possibly end up costing them the next election as it will just reinforce all the toxic elements associated with the party that Cameron spent several years trying to decontaminate

  42. This idea of EM lacking gravitas is one I find amusing.
    How many people even know what it means?Do people
    really say to themselves,well I am not voting for him ,he
    lacks gravitas.If that was the sort of stuff the” life long
    labour” supporters were coming up with it is hard to take
    them seriously.

  43. TF/ JJ et al

    Political veterans know full well that there come points in time when ‘can we win a working majority at the election’ falls from number one priority.

    Oborne’s article states cleverly and clearly what I have been trying to argue on here since 2010: that this coalition won’t last the distance. There are too many elements just piling up on top of each other: as it was always obvious there was going to be (eventually).

    One thing that will possibly stop the split (and an early election/ a minority Con admin) is EdM resigning as Labour leader….

  44. @Aleksandar,

    I agree with your analysis [except that the unemployed save less because their income is lower, not because they consume more! They generally end up consuming less, so the net effect of unemployment is decreased saving by the public and a smaller economy].

    @Colin Yes, Bank of England policy (including QE) is for lower interest rates but my point is this is the standard Bank response to weak demand. Raising interest rates would weaken demand further, so they can do no other.


    You might be more interested in this view, than one from me :-

  46. How do I get rid of the Boris Johnson propoganda , which is the first thing that comes up on what is supposed to be a non0-parisan site?

  47. shropshirelad – I put up my bank account details and you can cough up the running costs of the website that are currently funded by advertising.

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