This morning’s YouGov/Sun poll has got a lot of attention because it shows an extreme – CON 30%, LAB 45%, LDEM 11%, UKIP 9% – the biggest Labour lead since YouGov started doing their regular polls in 2002. Usual caveats apply – the polls that show striking figures normally end up being outliers, it’s the underlying trend that counts. Even there though, it certainly looks as though the Conservative bounce from the referendum pledge has unwound and Labour are back into a comfortable double-figure lead.

More enlightening are the other figures from YouGov today. As usual a majority of people support the introduction of gay marriage (54% to 38%), and as I wrote on Sunday, the issue itself is not one that has particular salience or will move many voters come the general election in two years time. However, the damage that prolonged coverage of Conservative infighting (on gay marriage, and presumably the leadership plot rumours) is clear – 71% of people see the Conservatives as a divided party, only 10% see them as a united party. This is a question YouGov have been asking since 2003, and this is the highest ever proportion of people who have seen them as divided – more than during the 2005 leadership challenge, or just before IDS was defenestrated.


439 Responses to “71% see the Conservatives as divided”

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  1. it is a big ask for Labour if you look at local and pcc results however if you look at 2005 figures no quite so. If the area contains anti Tory and Labour areas (and I think it does as although it is within the blue sea it is adjacent to labour constituency) I would reckon a good candidate and a good campaign could make all the difference, a big ask but not hopeless

  2. @Paul C

    You’re from Hastings, aren’t you? (Or was that just the conference venue?)

    I recall (*) that the Lab vote there increased from 13.1% in 1987 to 34.4% in 1997 and then to 47.1% in 2001. Meanwhile the LD vote collapsed from 35.3% in 1987 to 28.0% in 1997 and then to 10.3% in 2001.Shows what can be achieved when left-inclined tactical voters give up on the LDs. The movement after 1997 is the most interesting aspect in that respect.

    That said, it’s all about getting the initial momentum and I don’t consider Labour are doing enough to talk their chances up at the moment.

    (*) Actually, I looked it up.

  3. Phil

    Close – I live in Barnard Caste, Co. Durham.

    Hastings Travelodge was the venue for the Senior New Thread Monitors’ Conference – well, Monitor’s Conference to be more accurate.

    I should think for labour it must be like me watching Spurs play Chelsea and hoping they both lose.

  4. Let me get my Eastleigh prediction in nice and early: –

    Tory gain.

  5. @Richardw – you should post more often – rarely have I read such an erudite offering.

    You also said this – “Despite my opening moan I never cease to be impressed by Anthony’s analyses and by the detachment from personal prejudices that some contributors display.”

    I would whole heartedly agree with your comments on the God Like Anthony (TGLA) but I would urge forgiveness for the hot headed sinners you describe.

    I’m of the view that some spirit, passion and belief is needed in politics, and if that means a bit of tribalism, then so be it. I actually don’t like ‘independents’ in elections. No one is ‘independent’ – they all stand for something, and I’d like to know what that is. A bit of partisanship is fine by me, so long as it’s politely done. (Doubt that TGLA would agree here though).

    I’m reminded of Rory Bremner on a TV special just before the 1997 election, when he asked the live audience to put their hands up if they wanted Labour, Tory or Lib dem. He then asked who was undecided, before berating them, saying they’d had 18 years to make their minds up.

  6. I find this a bit disturbing – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/9853495/US-media-kept-Saudi-drone-base-secret-for-two-years.html

    Not so much the fact that there is a drone base in Saudi Arabia, but that the US media sat on the story.

  7. Re the thread title: the gay marriage squabble has many more months to run through both houses, so plenty more division to look forward to.

  8. The Lib Dems obviously feel that a long campaign is not in their interests and rightly so, IMO. The same is true, to a lesser extent, for their coalition partners. This way the outsiders, Labour and UKIP, have less time to organise, gain momentum and potentially eat into their respective vote shares. I imagine the Lib Dems are hoping that they can bank as much of their pre-existing position of strength as possible, while Labour are still getting their shoes on.

  9. Eastleigh is a rarity – a genuinely interesting by election, with very major potential ramifications.

    I would say that Labour probably go into this as the most relaxed party. Past results place them a distant third, so expectations are probably quite low. A Lib Dem hold would be very good news for them, and blow apart the idea that Tories can seek a majority on the back of a southern Lib Dem implosion. A Tory win is the worst result for them, but in electoral terms would be as expected. The political implications could be more problematic though, with Cameron getting some momentum. A Labour win though – utter and complete demoralisation for the Tories, and quite probably the end of Cameron’s ambitions to lead his party into 2015. More soberly however, I think Labour will be keenly watching for signs of anti Tory tactical voting. They will happily accept a distant third place if Lib Dems hold.

    For the Lib Dems, this is a worry, but not terminal. If they lose, it’s not unexpected, but it will be painful to see a Tory win. They know their support has been hit, and this is a bit early in their putative recovery. If they win, then people like @Chrislane1945 will be confounded and Clegg can look forward to a better 2015 than many predicted.

    For Tories, this is a bigger worry. I think they need to win this, if they are serious about 2015. I don’t think they can expect a great deal of advancement in Labour areas, so they have to hold what they’ve got and eat up some Lib Dem seats. If they don’t do well here, Cameron will face further challenges. If they do win, it won’t be much of a surprise, and as the real enemy is Labour, not too much benefit. All to lose, little to gain.

    Then of course, there are the Greens. There are a surprising number of badgers in Eastleigh, and while we sometimes baulk at their more violent treatment of ground nesting bird (@Colin take note) and we are trying to educate local badgers in the art of pulse eating vegetariansim, they are on our side.

    Expect a Green surge, with violent black and white overtones.

    It’s all to play for.

  10. Eastleigh will be interesting because its seats like it that will be the key battleground for LibDems at next election. It doesn’t actually matter electorally if zillions of LD voters defect to labour or elsewhere in the mass of constituencies where LDs are 3rd place. Given the low exoectations, it won’t matter too much if they lose some marginal seats; thye just need to hang in so they are still a factor in next parlaiment and maybe hold the balance of power at some point.

    What they need to do is to hold on to seats in their strongholds, most of which are LD/Con contests rather than LD/Lab. I’m not convinced that in those seats the LD vote is going to fade as much as people seem to think – my impression is that it has held up quite well in council elections in LD/Con contests.

    Some on here seem to assume that any seat the LDs hold is partly down to massive tactical voting by Labour supporters who will desert. I’m sure that’s’ true in some cases but my limited experience of LD councils is that they contain quite a lot of people who actually like the LDs

  11. @Hannah – absolutely agree with your post and that article. Labour should absolutely tear into this one, and I strongly suspect that is why the date has been settled so quickly – the coalition is frightened of Labour getting organised.

    A win would be massive for Labour, a third place of no consequence. Hammer it!

  12. @Phil

    I really should track down that 1997 Hastings Observer poll which reportedly showed Labour best placed to beat the Tories.

    Without wanting to be too downbeat though, in 1997 the Hastings town council makeup (admittedly not the whole constituency, but a good chunk) was something like LD 17, Lab 15, Con 0… moving to Lab 18, LD 13, Con I in the following year. So it wasn’t like it came totally out of the blue.

    In Eastleigh 12,000+ turned out for LD, and 7,000+ turned out for the Tories just a few months ago, while barely 4,000 voted Labour… can that mountain be moved in less than a month? It’s worth a try.

  13. The only problem Labour has is that in order to win they need to sound as though they CAN win – in which case it will look worse if/when they don’t. – especially if, by eating into the LD vote they gift it to the Tories.

    A difficult balancing act.

    As I said before a lot will depend on how angry Cons are at Cameron over gay marriage etc etc.

    Ramifications everywhere!!

  14. Now there’s a thing. Chris Huhne took the position of Steward and Bailiff of the Three Hundreds of Chiltern on Tuesday this week, the 5th of February. This is the exact date of the unfortunate death of the Eastleigh Tory MP Stephen Milligan in 1994, that led to the Lib Dems claiming the seat in the by election.

    The nature of Milligan’s passing was also a key part of the unraveling of Major’s ‘Back to Basics’ campaign, as the sexual connotations of Milligan’s death were hard for the press to ignore.

    It looks like February 5th is a date of significance for Eastleigh politics, and previously it hasn’t been good news for the Tories.

  15. @Hannah

    Ta for that. I share that view too.

    This is also worth a read. Makes you realise why the LDs want to get it out of the way asap.

    http://labour-uncut.co.uk/2013/02/05/beastly-eastleigh/

  16. @Alec
    “They will happily accept a distant third place if Lib Dems hold.”

    On the contrary, that would be a disasterous outcome for Labour. I suggest that for Labour it’s all about beating the LDs into a humiliating third place, or at the very minimum getting within spitting distance of the LD vote. That matters nationally as well in terms of demonstrating and thus giving momentum to the switch of LDs to Lab. And it’s also about demonstrating that Labour is again competitive in the South, which is pretty much the same scenario as that faced in 1994. Whether the Conservatives win the seat is very much a secondary consideration, given the present parliamentary arithmetic.

  17. How can the LibDems have the by-election so soon? They’ve no consideration for poll addicts. There’ll be hardly any time for pre-election polls!

  18. @ Blue Bob

    “Why on earth does every moronic conservative mp that opposed this vote feel the need to go on the radio and tv stations and spout thier views on how terrible gay marrige is when it will have no bearing on the actual outcome of the vote.

    All it does is show the public that we “are at it again””

    Cause’ they’re bozos or, as Governor Chris Christie would say, “IDIOTS!”

    I think that the public is used to the Tories splitting themselves apart over certain issues. If anything, it simply reinforces what Cameron did and what his leadership role on this was.

    I wish he could get invited to some LGBT Civil Rights organization (like Lambda Legal or Human Rights Campaign or GLAAD or something) to give a speech and he got the same 3 to 5 minute standing ovation to start his speech that Kamala Harris, Eric Holder, and Tammy Baldwin now customarily get.

  19. @ Martyn

    “Actually I *can* be bribed by “…glittering bourgeois prizes…” Or money. Or chocolate cake. But let’s face it, mostly money”

    Chocolate cake is the most dangerous kind of bribe of all. Especially for anyone trying to maintain a strict diet regimen. Of course it needs to be good chocolate cake. None of that Entemann’s crap.

    Regards,
    SoCalLib

  20. Good Morning all.
    Reveille call for monitors. [loud trumpeting noise]

    Thursday:

    CON 31%
    LAB 42%
    LD 12%
    UKIP 9%
    APP -34

    http://cdn.yougov.com/cumulus_uploads/document/p342qqcvbo/YG-Archive-Pol-Sun-results-060213.pdf

  21. YouGov
    Con 31, Lab 42, Lib 12, UKIP 9

    Statgeek (wherever you are)
    Are your graphs all up to date? I’d be interested in seeing the Lib MAD graph of recent times.

  22. CB11

    @”Thanks for providing us with the Daily Telegraph’s thoughts on the Mid Staffs Hospital scandal. ”

    PLeasure.

    @” I wasn’t at all surprised that they fingered Andy Burnham amongst their rogues gallery.”

    Glad you agree that he bears some of the responsibility.

    @”I see Sir Liam Donaldson is also named and shamed. What did you think of Jeremy Hunt’s staunch defence and effusive praise of Donaldson today? It was interesting, didn’t you think?”

    I did think so. Nicholson should resign in my view.

    I don’t hear too much from the nursing “profession” either.

  23. ALEC

    @”we are trying to educate local badgers in the art of pulse eating vegetariansim, ”

    It isn’t working.

    Another Green Party fantasy.

  24. ADAM

    @”Some on here seem to assume that any seat the LDs hold is partly down to massive tactical voting by Labour supporters who will desert. I’m sure that’s’ true in some cases but my limited experience of LD councils is that they contain quite a lot of people who actually like the LDs”

    A very interesting observation . ( though it won’t get much of a hearing here these days)

    I think you may be nearer to the Eastleigh outcome than the less thoughtful “expersts”.

    But who knows?

  25. Watching News Night yesterday I was struck by the fact that the presenter din’t appear to Understand that the Royal College of Nursing (not Nurses as She kept calling it) is a nurses trade union, not the governing body of the NHS or the organisation responsible for professional standards in the NHS or the management of Hospitals within the NHS.

    It is akin to bringing on a trade union representative from the railway unions and blaming them for the Virgin franchise fiasco.

    Cameron has previously described the RCN as “Just another Trade Union”.

    Overnight it apparently is responsible for everything within the Health Service.

    It strikes me that this is evident buck passing by the Government aimed to abrogate responsibility and soften the public up for further cuts in both nursing numbers and pay.

  26. Interesting on Gove’s ‘damaging’ GCSE ‘U-Turn’ – looks like it was the LibDems that leaked it to the press.

    Are the next 3 weeks going to get really nasty?

  27. STEVE

    @”Overnight it apparently is responsible for everything within the Health Service.”

    Not everything.

    Just ensuring that patients in hospital don’t lie in their own faeces-or die of dehydration.

  28. Odd comments by both: in Eastleigh tactical voting is self-evident from recent history.

    How one extrapolates “any seat” “massive defections” and all the rest je ne sais pas – ‘cos nobody has suggested that in the posts I have read.

  29. …. and old omni-sh continues with Gove scrapping plans to scrap GCSEs having failed to work out logistics in advance.

    Oh dearie me………………..

  30. “Some on here seem to assume that any seat the LDs hold is partly down to massive tactical voting by Labour supporters”
    Adam, Lord Ashcroft’s polling found that 10% of 2010 LibDem voters, in seats that the LibDems won were tactical Labour voters.
    That’s not including the people who are now ex-LDs who were quite enthusiastic LD voters pre-2010 (for example, before 2010 I had exclusively voted LD).

    The last Eastleigh poll with fieldwork from 2nd-5th Aug 2010, it had –
    Con 42 (+3), Lab 21 (+11), LD 31 (-16)
    At a time when the nearest Populus (who does Ashcroft’s polling) was at –
    Con 39 (+3), Lab 37 (+7), LD 14 (-9)

    Populus currently has –
    Con 29 (-8), Lab 40 (+10), LD 11 (-12)

    So from the only data we have, the LDs need to get back those tactical voters – just the loss of Lab tactical voters means that it becomes extremely close between Con and Lib – if they haven’t regained the LD-LAB switchers from Aug 2010, the LDs have lost.

  31. Colin

    Really so that’s a Trade Unions fault is it?

    The fault lies in those responsible for the behaviour perhaps you fail to grasp that that isn’t the RCN.

    Peter Carter the CE of the RCN was unwise to be so vociferous in His support regarding Stafford after a 3 Hour visit to see members However, He had no remit to instruct change or govern professional standards and could only comment on what He had seen during His visit.

    That is the extent of the RCN’s culpability in this terrible failure.

  32. Eastleigh – Labour needs to come second. Looking at it realistically a win is unlikely but Labour needs a repeat of 1994 – where it was a Tory seat the Lib Dems won with Labour second and Tories third. So 2013 LD seat which the Tories win and Labour come second.

    This I think is the best Labout can hope for – but they should certainly throw the kitchen sink.

  33. ozwald

    First by one minute!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Well done.

    You will be mentioned in dispatches and may wish to present a paper at the next Hastings Conference.

  34. TF

    Sounds ike you’re one of Colin’s less thoughtful “experts”.

    [No, I dunno where the “expert” bit comes from either]

    Anyway, as I expertly said yesterday there are ramifications for all three main parties which complicate everything. Fly-in-ointment will be how angry local cons are at the leadership and especially gay marriage.

  35. Regardless, it actually IS mostly about what the anti-Con tactical voters decide to do. There are a few other unknowns:

    How many Con voters will go UKIP or abstain?

    Will Lab voters be enthused to actually turn out?

    But that first question, where will the anti-Con vote go, is the key one. The problem the LDs have is that some part of the voting public will be anti-Government (anti-coalition) and won’t be voting LD because they are in that Government.

    Another unmentioned unknown, is how many natural Tory voters will vot LD to preserve the coalition (a la Oldham & Saddleworth). I tend to think there won’t be many…but there could be enough to hoover it up.

    If there is a low turnout, lots of UKIP and abstentions and Lab get some momentum, we could see an upset. Time is a factor now.

    Those first couple of polls might influence things. If Lab is in contention (or if Con is in the lead) we might see some movement.

    Exciting times.

  36. Yeah – first poll is vital…

    28% each would be cat-among-pigeons time.

  37. Oh – and low turnout seems unlikely given the context and media interest.

  38. Colin
    Just as a courtesy and so you might be a bit better informed before commenting.

    As a trade union and professional organisation the RCN does not have any powers to inspect or regulate standards of care. It has no statutory functions or powers and it isn’t a public body.

    RCN full time representatives can not turn up unannounced at a Hospital and have absolutely no rights to inspect records or instruct staff. Indeed they can only enter the premises with the consent of Management as they are visitors.

    The same applies to other health trade unions such as RCM, BMA and Unison.

    Neither is it responsible for the enforcement of professional standards of members this is the responsibility of the Professional standards organisations (set up by statute) such as the NMC and the GMC

    It is the responsibility of the trust Board and regulators to make sure that hospitals are running safely and to take action where they see failings.

    Regarding the RCN the Francis report suggested that the RCN should consider splitting it’s Professional and Trade Union sides. To clarify it’s role as a Trade Union.

    This is worth consideration but would cost money and resources which have to be paid for by Nurses.

  39. @ Robert Newark

    “But please, It is, …I would have voted … not, I would of voted….

    You are obviously under 25!”
    __________

    I am not really sure what my age has to do with anything, but this is just for you.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4vf8N6GpdM

  40. Eastleigh will be a very good test of my argument that uniting the anti-Tory vote has changed the face of the next election (and an enormous stroke of historical luck for Ed Milliband).

    If the lefty and anti-Con voters who supported LD in 2010 do desert them for Lab then LD cam’t win. They’ll lose half their vote which will take them to low 20s and out of contention.

    If the Tories retain their 2010 vote share they will win. But they won’t. The question is, how much will they lose? Will UKIP take many? They could easily fall from high 30s to low 30s.

    It’s a big ask to get Lab up from under 10% towards the 30s as a percentage of the vote. But they could.

    It’s a by election and the protest vote will go to them and UKIP.

  41. There are some rotten politicians, policemen, shop assistants, teachers, plumbers and nurses and guitarists etc etc etc.

    That probably is not an indicator that they are ALL rotten, so no need to put “profession” in inverted commas, when that appears to denigrate the lot.

  42. Steve

    What can I say in response to you, having read this morning’s papers?

    Perhaps say how much I agree with the Enquiry recommendation that criminal offences be created for neglect of patients of this kind.

    Perhaps to mention that on R4 this morning I heard that a number of nurses in this case are to be “disciplined” by their “union”.

    Other than that , I have too many images from the press reports in my head to make further useful comment about the nurses & doctors responsible for those horrors.

  43. @ Tingedfringe

    Thanks for those figs. Not sure I shift my position. If 10% of the 2010 LD voters defected to Labour in Eastleigh the LDs would win with a majority of 1500 on the same turnout, which would be hailed as a triumph. The 2011 figures look terrible for the LDs but they were in 2011.

    I’m not predicting a LD win or saying defections to Labour don’t matter. If the LDs lose badly I think it suggests they face an existential threat. But I do say that 10% tactical voting is not “massive” as another poster suggested and that in turn shows that a lot of what people say is “self-evident” simply means “its what I assume”.

    My overall point is that in any GE, however badly a party does, Lab or Con hold onto their safe seats in Tory shires and Labour northern conurbations. Since most of us live in Lab or Con areas we forget that in some areas – parts of the SW, parts of SW London – there’s a core LD vote which may not like the current govt or party leadership but may still stick by the party, because they subscribe to the party philosophy/ethos. BlueBob above expressed dissatisfaction with his party’s MPs, but it doesn’t mean he will suddenly become a socialist or stop holding Conservative values. IMO holding onto those core voters is the key electoral strategy for the LDs – if they fail they could disappear but if they succeed they could still be a force, though I very much doubt in govt after 2015 GE.

    Apologies for my appalling typing in previous post – late at night I’m afraid.

  44. Colin
    Perhaps to mention that on R4 this morning I heard that a number of nurses in this case are to be “disciplined” by their “union”.

    —-
    Which goes to show you shouldn’t believe everything you read ,see or hear.

    The RCN has no ability what so ever to discipline nurses. Never has , never will and doesn’t want to.

    Perhaps R4 is confusing the Royal College of Nursing with the Nursing and Midwifery Council which does have power by statute to restrict nurses practice or remove them from the register.

    No one, particularly the RCN , are condoning the utterly reprehensible behaviour of those responsible

    I simply wish to make it clear that culpability and responsibility need to be assigned where they should be and not by default to a Trade Union because unlike other organisations or the government involved they are prepared to put up a representative for the media to blame.

  45. Arising from my last post:-

    I think as poll-watchers we read too much into the response to events or policy announcements. Long-term strength of a party depends on people subscribing to its values not individual policies, hence you will find people who are utterly sick of a government they voted for but still find it hard to vote for the opposition.

    All 3 parties are in an interesting place on this. A lot of centre-to-left voters lost faith that Labour really was much different to the Tories, and Ed M has to re-establish this [and simultaneously re-establish confidence in competence]. The Conservatives have to work out whether they are trying to hold onto UKIP defectors or size the middle ground – unfortunately I think they are split on this and risk failing on both counts. For my money Cameron has it right but his MPs have got it wrong, but then I’m a lefty. And the LDs need to show they are neither Tory stooges nor a watered down Labour.

  46. A few Eastleigh stats.

    I wondered how much of a Huhne-as-big-national-name effect there was in the Eastleigh poll results. So I’ve had a look at the previous GE percentages from Eastleigb and normalised them against the national %ages. Effectively, this shows the Eastleigb Multiplier on national performance. Here are the numbers

           C.     Ld.    L
    92  1.22 1.57 0.61
    97  1.10  2.09 0.62
    01  1.09  2.22  0.54
    05  1.16  1.75  0.59
    10  1.09  2.02  0.33

    Interesting that the Tory multiplier is almost constant over 20 years. And the Lab one too if you consider that the 05 result was very close between Con & LD, perhaps leading to gross tactical voting by Lab supporters in 10.

    The LD multiplier being all over the place is interesting. And I don’t have an obvious explanation for that. there was certainly no significant Huhne effect.

    But. As a first order estimate, let’s assume multipliers of Con 1.2, LD 2.0, Lab 0.6.

    Taking YG national VI averages over the last few weeks (Con 33, Lab 42, LD 11) that would give a BE result of
    Con 39.6
    Lab 25.2
    LD 22.0

    But that’s only the first-order guess. Take a few points off the Tories from the inevitable UKIP challenge (they’ve never topped 4% in an Eastleigh GE, but it’d be a surprise if they don’t at least double that this time) and the Tories are catchable if either Lab or LD pull a blinder in the campaign.

    Proper politics!

  47. Finally, my thoughts on Mid-Staffs.

    Excellent piece on R4 Today yesterday [Wed] on the NHS and corrosive effect of over-auditing, paperwork to meet audits, working to cover backs rather than actually improve care, senior nurses tied up in paperwork, junior nurses focussed on academic qualification and career rather than patients, and care assistants who just need unskilled work, etc. etc. I’ve yet to hear any recommendations to address this, just greater penalties for screwing up.

    Since I changed career to horticulture 4 years ago, [NOT from health, btw] every course I’ve taken has contained refugees from health, the police, education etc all saying exactly the same. Less commonly heard from private enterprise but not unknown – ex-financial sector or customer support workers.

    There’s a serious problem with the way we judge quality now and two decades of public sector “reforms” have IMO driven the problem not cured it. A party which tried to address this would get my vote

  48. Regarding Eastleigh.

    The seat would be 258th on Labour’s target seat list for 2015. Or to put it another way, if Labour won Eastleigh at a general election, the party would be looking at a 362 seat majority.

    A victory in a Bi-Election here would be outstanding.

  49. @Colin

    “Just ensuring that patients in hospital don’t lie in their own faeces-or die of dehydration.”

    Did you see that debate on Newsnight last night? It featured one of the relatives of a patient who had died in Mid Staffs Hospital, an RCN representative, someone who had been involved in the 2009 Inquiry and a business leader who, I think, had advised NHS Managers in the past. Like the debate in the Commons yesterday, it was thoughtful, civilised and largely devoid of party political rancour; probably because none of the participants were politicians. It was conducted more in sorrow than anger with recognition that some truly wonderful work is carried out in the NHS every day of all our lives, but Mid Staffs was an example where chronic mismanagement had led in systemic failure. The result was a hospital where patient care became subordinate to the self interest of the organisation. This happens in privately run organisations as well as those in the public sector. You only have to look at some of the appalling cases that have emerged recently in privately run care homes for the elderly.

    Mid Staffs was and is not typical of the NHS and anyone who argues that it is may well be trying to make political points. It was, though, a scandalous failure and, if the recently instigated inquiries into four other hospitals are anything to go by, a problem that may still exist in some badly run hospitals. Thankfully there are relatively few such hospitals but, ideally, none should exist, although I’d be careful to always attribute above average death rates to a badly run hospital. There may well be other factors at play that lead to the seemingly worrying headline figures.

    I think Cameron, as he often does on such occasions, got it spot on in the Commons yesterday, as did Miliband. The NHS has been improving over the last 15 years or so but, treating as it does millions upon millions of people every year, and saving and improving thousands upon thousands of lives in the process, it can never will be perfect. Any Government. of whatever hue, will inevitably preside over ghastly failures in the system. What they need to do is learn from the debacles, listen very closely to what people like Francis say (and, by the way, he didn’t blame Mid Staffs on a target obsessed culture. He says in his report how valuable targets are and can be, as did the Manager in the Newsnight debate last night).

    I thought Alan Johnson, a former Health Secretary who might know a little bit about these things, was good on Newsnight last night. He noted the Francis comments on targets and the recognition of their value in driving up standards and he cited the example of how reducing waiting times had saved lives. He quoted an extraordinary statistic that in 1997, such were the waiting times for cardiac surgery at the time, that one in 25 of the patients were dying on the waiting list. That shocked me to the core and it is quite obvious that waiting time targets had saved many, many lives. This doesn’t excuse what happened in Mid Staffs, but a balanced and objective assessment, like Francis’s, is required, not knee jerk generalisations from the particular.

    As the thousands in the Olympics Stadium watching the Opening Ceremony, and the millions watching at home, showed when they cheered the NHS section of the ceremony, we have a tarnished jewel here not a failed concept. My fear is that the failed concept acolytes will be emboldened by yesterday’s events and, no doubt, we shall be hearing quite a lot from them over the next few days and weeks.

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