Ashcroft Warned the Tories About the Health Bill a Year Ago

February 11, 2012 9:00 am

Over the last 12 months Michael Ashcroft has been conducting a range of focus groups and polling on how the Conservative Party can build a majority in a 2015 general election. They should be required reading for all involved in understanding public opinion and the electoral terrain. His ‘Wake Up and Smell The Coffee’ study had a significant albeit delayed impact on his party encouraging it to modernise, reposition itself and neutralise a number of ‘toxic’ issues for the party.

The first instalment of Ashcroft’s ‘Project Blueprint’ report was published in May 2011, and included a range of opinion polls and focus groups of voters who had previously said they were inclined to support the Conservatives at the 2010 general election but then failed to for a range of reasons. This group effectively denied David Cameron a majority so Ashcroft has wisely sought to interrogate their views further.

The results are particularly interesting in the context of the growing opposition and Conservative nervousness to the Health and Social Care Bill. What is most extraordinary is how little care and attention appears to have been given by David Cameron to his former Party Treasurer’s findings. It is perhaps no surprise that the ConservativeHome website Ashcroft sponsors is so vociferous about the electoral risks their party is taking over health.

I have written elsewhere of the significance of polling showing doctors’ incredibly high trust levels and the difficulty this would bring the Government over their Health and Social Care Bill. Ashcroft’s subsequent findings demonstrate this to be the case:

“Many in our research believed the NHS was subject to cuts, though the government maintains its budget is being protected and increased. Most people were sceptical of the proposed reforms, and those who had noticed that some health professionals opposed them tended to take the same view. Nobody seemed to know is why the reforms were
needed and how, even in theory, they were supposed to improve things for patients.”

Worryingly for the Conservative-led Government in the nine months that have followed this study, opposition to the Health and Social Care Bill from bodies representing health professionals has increased not diminished.

Ashcroft’s research also discovered that 1 in 8 who voted for the Conservatives at the 2010 general election would no longer do so again. He rightly points out that some of this has been offset by new support however it’s worth noting what are the reasons given for these ‘deserting voters’ after just a year of Conservative-led Government:

“For half of these, the most important factor was that they did not think the Conservatives had the best approach to the economy; the great majority also felt the Tories were not the best party on the NHS. Given the other evidence, these were likely to include a high proportion of first-time Conservatives, who were worried about the cuts and had been wary of trusting the party on public services. For the other half, the strongest common factor was that they did not give high marks for David Cameron’s performance.”

The focus group reports highlight a range of voter anxieties over Conservative health policy:

“There was a good deal of uncertainty and concern about the proposed structural reforms, particularly over whether GPs were the right people to be managing such large budgets, and some were worried that the plans would involve “privatisation”. Nobody understood how the proposals were intended to benefit patients: “They’re scrapping PCTs and giving more power to GPs. I think it’s a bad idea – they’ve got a lot on their plate”; “I think they think they are improving it, but they are cutting at the rock face rather than the bureaucracy. When wards are losing beds, they are the wrong cuts”; “GPs will control the budget. It will tie them up with things that are not their job”; “They’re talking about putting GPs in charge of everything. It’s OK if you’ve got a good GP, but what if you’ve got a rubbish GP?” “In the end it was because of the NHS. When I hear the Conservatives are going to reform the NHS it sets alarm bells ringing, because I think ‘privatisation.””

Project Blueprint reveals that even ‘Conservative voters tended to think the NHS was a higher priority for them than it was for the government’. Returning to the business of building a majority in 2015, Ashcroft ominously concludes that ‘for many potential Conservative voters who doubt the party’s intentions, the NHS serves as a litmus test.’

That is why Michael Ashcroft was worried about the Health and Social Care Bill in May 2011 and why David Cameron should be very worried about it in February 2012. The Prime Minister would be wise to read Project Blueprint findings again and look closely at fresh NHS opinion polls due in the coming days.

Neil Foster, Progressive Polling – Follow Progressive Polling findings on Twitter at @progpoll

  • Anonymous

    Just how many more warnings will Cameron be ignorant enough, and stupid enough to ignore?

    There is a precedent with John Major’s rail privatisation. That was something even Mrs Thatcher baulked at because she knew the difficulties. One of his own backbenchers, the late Robert Adley, who was an expert in the railways and wrote several books repeatedly warned of the bad consequences for the public, and his backbenchers had to be dragooned through the voting lobbies.

    It seems men in a weak position (Major 1995, Cameron 2012) have to make these grand gestures to prove to themselves they have “power”, sadly they are not the ones who suffer when it all goes wrong. Neither seemed to realise that just because you CAN do a thing, you SHOULD do it

    Labour now really have to keep up the pressure on this issue – important enough to be a single issue priority. There should be more coming from the leadership every day, but you get the awful feeling that the scattergun approach will be taken, and it will just take it’s place in the queue, along with the next faux pas of Boris Johnson and other idiocies. This should be if necessary the only opposition focus in the coming weeks. And it might be a good idea to send former Labour health secretaries on long fact-finding trips somewhere suitably distant.

    • Anonymous

      It’s an English Issue of course, but in Wales we have our own battles building, as Labour in Wales make a video delivered to every house hold. I love the words modernisation which as always means cuts.

      The Labour party has stated it’s better to be treated at your home not hospital, this is because lots of elderly in the winter bed block, so treat them at home, but as we know a lot of the elderly go to hospital because it’s cold, they have no heating and they cannot feed themselves . The cuts and the massive cuts to home care have made it impossible for these people to live, the cuts to the council care homes the closure of private homes .

      The battle in Wales to close  many and I’m shocked to see Labour have not stated how many but have stated we only need four major hospital in my are which mean the closure of maybe ten hospital we call the cottage hospitals.

      Boy is the NHS going to change, we are hearing that people like me will be treated at home, but of course if your desperate for  medication given by a nurse what happens when the weather goes bad, can they afford to keep them selves warm.

      battles for the NHS will be hard  all through out the country

  • http://twitter.com/tomdaylight tom

    There’s a reason they ignore everything Lord Ashcroft has to say… (not saying it’s a good reason, but a reason nonetheless)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001102865655 John Ruddy

    Why are Labour doing some similar research? This is exactly the sort of thing the party needs to do – and act on.

    • Anonymous

      The problem is I think Labour may well agree with some of the Tories program, but now need a battle ground so it’s taken so long to decide which is the better a mostly private NHS or being elected at the next election.

      If not why has labour taken so long to act, this has been ongoing for what  fourteen months now.

      • Anonymous

        Partly due to the incompetent who was shadowing health.

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  • Jim

    This is rubbish. Sick people know the NHS works by accident. It is already failed and we need a new sheet of paper rather than pander to the current failure.

  • Anonymous

    I think this is brilliant- explains  a great deal.

    Also, it leads one to wonder if MA founded the site,
    does he or any of the “high command” of the party
    have anything to do with asking for the Bill
    to be scuppered?

    Possibly some of these might be generally
    critical of DC’s approach towards strategy?

    I despair when issues of such gravity as
    meeting the health needs of the nation
    can come down to these kind of wranglings amongst a few
    powerful politicians behind the scenes.

    The whole set up is surely wrong;
    there needs to be inbuilt protection
    against the vagaries of partisan politics imposing
    control and agenda over meeting real needs
    in the population.

    I also think there needs to be a movement against
    this attack on public services in general;
    it’s been framed as purely union/non union rehetoric?

    I’ll bet this doesn’t happen in countries with a more socially advanced
    outlook/approach, where people are valued and services
    taken seriously; in turn- a more civilized and equitable society;
    community based models.

    Thanks, Jo

  • Anonymous

    “Expert challenges “myth” of falling productivity,”
    BBC News Health, 12/2.

    “NHS productivity has risen in 10 years, undermining
    Lansley’s case, says study,”
    Guardian, 13/2.

    “Only one in four back NHS reforms,”
    Indy.

    And much more besides.

    Thanks, J.

  • Pingback: Tory voters trust BMA and co. over Cameron and Lansley on NHS | Left Foot Forward

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