Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Saturday 24 March 2012

The Doctors vs FPTP

Interesting poll from Lord Ashcroft on Con Home yesterday analysing the potential threat from a group of doctors who are planning to field 50 candidates at the next General Election against senior Lib Dem and Conservative MPs on an "anti-NHS reform" ticket.

The absolutely fascinating finding is that whilst the doctors apparently have 18% support, they would only shave a little bit off the two coalition parties. By far the biggest loser from their entry to the parliamentary race would be Labour. Here comes the numbers bit:


Labour: 41%
Conservative: 36%
Lib Dems: 9%


Labour 30%
Conservative: 33%
Lib Dems: 7%
Doctors: 18%

So the mere presence of these candidates in the race would take 2% points from the Lib Dems, 3% points from the Conservatives but fully 11% points from Labour according to this poll!

This is not really that surprising though. Labour (despite their record in office of involving the private sector in the NHS) have been the most vocally opposed to the reforms and are pledging to repeal the bill. The doctors are fishing in a pool for voters where many of them sympathetic to their cause are already likely to be intending to vote Labour. Their presence on the ballot paper would act as a spoiler for Labour. Its effect would be to split the anti-NHS bill vote and could actually lead to a strengthening of the position of the Conservative and Lib Dem MPs that they are targetting.

The reason for this is our electoral system. First Past the Post makes it very difficult for candidates with similar aims to stand against each other without risking reducing the barrier to winning for opponents. The only truly independent MPs elected in recent years (Dr Richard Taylor and Martin Bell) only succeeded because the party(ies) they were ideologically closest to stood aside to give them a clear run. And that aint going to happen this time.

No wonder the Conservatives campaigned so ferociously against AV last year. A party that wishes the status quo party system to remain in place of course wants to make it nigh on impossible for any upstarts in the political process to gain any traction and the threat of shoring up Labour's opponent's positions will likely be enough to kill this idea on the starting blocks. Any members of the public who lament this should ask themselves how they voted in the referendum last year. Because not enough of them did to make any difference and thus paradigm shift moments like this in politics almost never happen in elections to the Commons. They are simply not allowed to by design.

An interesting twist here though would be if the doctors decided to do it anyway despite the potential political consequences. Because it could deny Labour the chance to form a majority in 2015 if they pushed their campaign hard.

I wonder how those within Labour who pulled out all the stops to ensure AV failed last year would then feel about the part they played in ensuring a good chance of a Tory majority post 2015. Because then they could do what they liked to the NHS without any restraints.


Mike said...

The doctors will lose their deposit in every constituency for the following reasons:

1) The NHS will not look different from a user's point of view - Yes, structurally the service may seem different to doctors, nurses, administrators, managers etc... but to the public, as long as they can see a GP, get an ambulance when they call 999, get their children vaccinated at school and not have to get their chequebook out before getting an operation, then the apocalyptic language we are currently hearing like "death of the NHS" will look just a little bit silly.

2) The election will most likely be dominated by economic factors - jobs, taxes, growth, cost of living, and by the evergreen political issues surrounding crime, immigration, border controls, war, identity and britishness (especially after scots referendum). The doctors are standing on a single issue - opposing structural changes to the NHS. Another popular single-issue party are UKIP, who regularly out-poll Lib Dems in questions about europe (and, indeed, the euro elections). Yet they can't win an MP despite having a very popular single issue: leaving the EU. No matter how popular the single issue, voters still want a broader range of policies to vote for.

3) They will have no campaign infrastructure, no local government base, no historic information about voting patterns, very little media coverage compared with the big 3 parties, no staff, little money, and they'll be up against a voting system that destroys small parties as Mark puts so well in this article.

4) £500 per seat is a lot of money that somebody isn't going to get back.

Left Lib said...

It depends what happens in the meantime. If the policy turns out to be a disaster, and given that Tory voters tend to be older and therefore use the NHS more, then the doctors might win over Tory votes