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Editorial Tuesday 10 June 2014: Tin hats on - Lord Ashcroft's national polling finds NHS a high priority for voters

News versus not-news can be defined very simply: 'dog bites man' is not news; 'man bites dog' is news (or possibly a result of overstretched food banks).

So why is the finding of Tory squillionaire Lord Ashcroft's latest national opinion polling vaguely worthy of comment, I hear you ask?

We know the NHS is important, but ... this is going to be an economy general election, isn't it?

Well ... mmmmm. It's a fooolhardily brave person who claims to have a clue about what'll happen in May 2015.

Among the known unknowns are the timing of a Bank of England base rate rise in the context of more positive economic data; and how the UKIP 'stop the 21st century, I want to get off' protest vote splits the support for the Tory and Labour parties in key marginal seats.

The latest Ashcroft polling
55% of respondents rated 'improving the NHS' in their top three priorities for Britain as a whole, putting in second place after 'improving the economy'.

Interestingly, when asked to prioritise for 'me and my family', the NHS was in first place with 57% and improving the economy went second.

So an obvious question is, when marking your cross in the pooling booth (or postally), do people vote for themselves and theirs, or for the country as a whole?

It would of course be fallacious to assume that some of these voters don't think the Conservative party aims to improve the NHS. However, longstanding and methodologically sound pollls repeatedly suggest that Labour has a convincing lead on the NHS among voters.

This is the Government's main problem with the NHS: the pressure is starting to show. It is implausible that this trend will not manifest itself more clearly over the coming months.

The scale and scope of the reforms leading to the 2012 legislation, and the associated noise, mean that many voters know that the Coalition 'did something to the NHS'. (Most voters probably don't understand, or indeed frankly care much, what that 'something' was: that's public policy, by and large.)

They are used to an NHS which has for over a decade been improving and then sustaining its performance, on the back of a huge increase in funding to 2010-11 and a wide range of reforms, of widely-ranging utility and durability.

And the Coalition 'did something to the NHS'. A 'something' that is infamously hard to explain. Protected - flat real-terms - funding during rising demand may not be the political ace it seems.

The 'Mid-Staffs is YOUR fault'/'No, YOU didn't implement Francis' dialectic may rock the Westminster faithful, but it's that old-time religion.

The NHS may not be thrilled to be a political battleground in the long campaign to May 2015, but it's clearly going to have to get used to it.