The Tories win a conference poll bounce

Labour lead reduced from 12 points to seven following Cameron's speech.

As I've noted before, the party conferences are among the few political events that can have a visible effect on the polls (the Budget, which led to a sustained fall in support for the Tories, is another). Labour won a bounce from Ed Miliband's bravura speech and it looks as if the Tories have won one from David Cameron's.

Two successive YouGov polls have put the party seven points behind Labour, compared to 10-14 points before the conference, while Cameron's lead as "the best prime minister" has risen from four points to 14. It remains to be seen, of course, whether this is a temporary or a permanent shift (one suspects the former).

The latest figures (Labour 42%, Conservatives 35%, Lib Dems 8%) would still see Miliband enter Downing Street with a majority of 90 seats, but the Tories are comforted by the fact that the party has overturned much larger Labour leads in the past. In addition, they note that support for governing parties tends to increase in the run-up to an election (as it did for Labour and Gordon Brown).

However, as things stand, it's hard to see the Conservatives remaining the single largest party, let alone winning a majority. It cannot be emphasised too strongly how difficult the loss of the boundary changes has made it for Cameron's party to win. Based on a Labour vote of 35%, the Tories would need a lead of around seven points to win a majority. In the absence of a Falklands-style bounce, it's hard to see Cameron succeeding against Miliband where he failed against Brown. After all, no sitting prime minister has increased their party's share of the vote since 1974.

David Cameron address a gathering at the Imperial War Museum in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

CREDIT: CREATIVE COMMONS
Show Hide image

Prostate cancer research has had a £75m welcome boost. Now let’s treat another killer of men

Each week in the UK, 84 men kill themselves – three times the number of women.

The opening months of 2018 have seen a flurry of activity in men’s health. In February, figures were published showing that the number of male patients dying annually from prostate cancer – around 12,000 – has overtaken female deaths from breast cancer for the first time. Whether coincidence or not, this news was followed shortly by two celebrities going public with their personal diagnoses of prostate cancer – Stephen Fry, and former BBC Breakfast presenter Bill Turnbull.

Fry and Turnbull used their profiles to urge other men to visit their doctors to get their PSA levels checked (a blood test that can be elevated in prostate cancer). Extrapolating from the numbers who subsequently came to ask me about getting screened, I would estimate that 300,000 GP consultations were generated nationwide on the back of the publicity.

Well-meaning as Fry’s and Turnbull’s interventions undoubtedly were, they won’t have made a jot of positive difference. In March, a large UK study confirmed findings from two previous trials: screening men by measuring PSA doesn’t actually result in any lives being saved, and exposes patients to harm by detecting many prostate cancers – which are often then treated aggressively – that would never have gone on to cause any symptoms.

This, then, is the backdrop for the recent declaration of “war on prostate cancer” by Theresa May. She announced £75m to fund research into developing an effective screening test and refining treatments. Leaving aside the headline-grabbing opportunism, the prospect of additional resources being dedicated to prostate cancer research is welcome.

One of the reasons breast cancer has dropped below prostate cancer in the mortality rankings is a huge investment in breast cancer research that has led to dramatic improvements in survival rates. This is an effect both of earlier detection through screening, and improved treatment outcomes. A similar effort directed towards prostate cancer will undoubtedly achieve similar results.

The reason breast cancer research has been far better resourced to date must be in part because the disease all too often affects women at a relatively young age – frequently when they have dependent children, and ought to have many decades of life to look forward to. So many family tragedies have been caused by breast malignancy. Prostate cancer, by contrast, while it does affect some men in midlife, is predominantly a disease of older age. We are more sanguine about a condition that typically comes at the end of a good innings. As such, prostate cancer research has struggled to achieve anything like the funding momentum that breast cancer research has enjoyed. May’s £75m will go some way to redressing the balance.

In March, another important men’s health campaign was launched: Project 84, commissioned by the charity Calm. Featuring 84 haunting life-size human sculptures by American artist Mark Jenkins, displayed on the rooftops of ITV’s London studios, the project aims to raise awareness of male suicide. Each week in the UK, 84 men kill themselves – three times the number of women. Suicide is the leading cause of male death under 45 – men who frequently have dependent children, and should have many decades of life to look forward to. So many family tragedies.

I well remember the stigma around cancer when I was growing up in the 1970s: people hardly dared breathe the word lest they became in some way tainted. Now we go on fun runs and wear pink ribbons to help beat the disease. We need a similar shift in attitudes to mental health, so that it becomes something people are comfortable talking about. This is gradually happening, particularly among women. But we could do with May declaring war on male suicide, and funding research into the reasons why so many men kill themselves, and why they don’t seem to access help that might just save their lives. 

Phil Whitaker’s sixth novel, “You”, is published by Salt

This article first appeared in the 18 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Enoch Powell’s revenge