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  1. Politics
  2. Labour
20 February 2024

Why the NHS is Labour’s biggest political opportunity

Exclusive polling shows the party’s health plan is by far the most popular of its five missions for government.

By Freddie Hayward

Labour’s plan to invest £28bn in the green economy suffered a torturous death. The demise of the party’s flagship policy invites a simple question: what will take its place? Labour hopes to foreground the proposals the money originally funded – such as Great British Energy, home insulation and a National Wealth Fund. We’ve seen the strategy take effect already. Rachel Reeves referenced Great British Energy numerous times in a speech last week. That probably reflects the popularity of a publicly owned energy company (get Vladimir Putin’s boot off our neck and build British, which is roughly what the slogans promise), which we’ve discussed in Morning Call before.

But is the clean-energy mission Labour’s best option? In the maelstrom over the £28bn policy reversal, Labour’s other missions have received less attention. That may not be good for the party. Exclusive polling from Survation shared with the New Statesman shows the most popular of Labour’s five missions for government – by a healthy margin – is its promise on the NHS.

When asked which of the missions they prioritised, 44.2 per cent of voters put “building an NHS fit for the future” at the top. That’s far higher than the other missions: 13.2 per cent for the highest growth in the G7; 14.1 per cent for clean electricity by 2030; 18.7 per cent for halving serious violent crime; and 9.7 per cent for breaking down barriers to opportunity by reforming childcare and education.

These findings tally with Ipsos’s monthly data on voters’ priorities, where the NHS is often in the top four (alongside inflation, the economy and immigration). I suspect it also reflects how the overarching mission – highest growth in the G7 – sounds abstract and academic, whatever its merit as a policy ambition. The same goes for the mission to extend “opportunity” around the country.

At the same time, there is a lot of potential to gain political ground over the NHS: Sunak’s failure to cut the waiting lists – which he has admitted publicly – offers more space to push the line that the NHS is only safe with a Labour government.

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The usual caveat applies here: campaigns are not won by totting up the popularity of individual policies. Rather, they are built on the general impression that voters have of the leader, the top team, the alternative party, and the policies themselves. Individual proposals, however popular, must fit into a broader narrative that aligns with voter’s desires, fears and dreams. Nonetheless, this polling is another reason for Labour to make itself the party of the NHS.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; receive it every morning by subscribing on Substack here.

[See also: Matthew Elliot: We haven’t made the most of Brexit]

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Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
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