David Cameron is trying to woo NHS woman.
Women are the section of the electorate that are moving to the Conservatives, and the Tories now want to ensure they gain the support of women who care about the NHS.
The Times (and other papers) reported at the weekend that David Cameron is deliberately setting out to woo “Holby City Woman”. She is the modern version of 'Worcester woman' who Tony Blair wooed in 1997. Interestingly, it is women more than any other group that is deserting Labour and switching to the Conservatives.
The strategy was in evidence on the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1 on Sunday, where David Cameron made two quick comments on the NHS. He pronounced himself worried about the number of critical care beds should the incidence of Swine Flu worsen. More politically, he said he didn’t want to see an extension of charges in the NHS, setting himself against the idea of paying £20 to visit a GP, an idea from the right of his party.
A Conservative Party strategist told the Times that they are particularly after the votes of women with responsible clinical and clerical jobs in the NHS. The Conservatives are not so worried about doctors or managers, who they think will come back. They are interested in the sister on the ward or the outpatient department manager.
They want to give the message that under the Conservatives, the NHS will be run by people who care.
Ring-fenced NHS budgets playing on the left, but blowing on the right
Interestingly, the message plays better with left- rather than right-minded voters. The Daily Mail today reports a poll from Politics Home.
The Politics Home poll asks respondents to divide themselves into left and right, before asking their views on various issues. The poll shows that while two-thirds of left leaning respondents think the Conservatives plan to ringfence NHS spending is a good idea, a whopping 81% of those on the right are opposed to the idea.
David Cameron's and the Conservative Party's support for the NHS is not playing well with all Conservatives, who worry the Tory leadership is giving the impression that all is well with the NHS, and that it is not in need of radical change.
The editor of Conservative Home, Tim Montgomerie, worries that “the NHS is being allowed to carry on as if there is no age of austerity".
Last night BBC2 screened a Newsnight special on the NHS, hosted by Nick Robinson. There was little new, either in content or guests – Karol Sikora and Niall Dickson plus politicians. What was interesting, however, was that all seemed to agree that the political parties were not being straight about the future of the NHS.
The editorial line was that politicians on all sides are failing to prepare the public for leaner (even lean) years ahead.
By promising to protect the NHS David Cameron is getting it in the neck from his own supporters for cosying up to a system that in their view needs to be challenged.
Worse could come, though, in the form of a public backlash if the Conservatives are not able to give the impression that the NHS is stable in difficult economic times.