NHS vow: Ed Miliband plans to fight the election with the health service as the central theme
The NHS has catapulted to the top of the list of election issues after weeks of crisis headlines about the state of A&E services.
Almost half of the public now say that the state of the health service will sway the way they vote in May — a big rise since September.
Ed Miliband’s Labour party is surging amid the growing public concern about the NHS, pollsters Ipsos MORI found.
Labour support has rocketed five points since December to take a one-point lead over David Cameron’s Conservatives. The twin findings suggest that Mr Miliband’s alleged vow to “weaponise the NHS” is paying off, with his party benefiting from weeks of headlines about the winter A&E crisis.
In September, health was third in the league table of issues that the public say will be “very important” to the way they vote. Now it is clearly first with 46 per cent citing it. That compares with 29 per cent at the start of the conference season and only 26 per cent shortly before the 2010 election.
Mr Cameron’s strongest issue — the economy — is now in second place, with 33 per cent citing it, compared with 31 in September.
Earlier this week, Mr Cameron was lambasted by Labour for omitting the health service from a list of six election themes, leading instead on the economy and public finances. Immigration has also fallen, from second in the league table to third place at 27 per cent.
After a dramatic New Year of campaigning, Labour is now on 34 per cent, with the Conservatives on 33, up one point.
In other key findings in the monthly Ipsos MORI poll with the Evening Standard:
The Green Party is equal place with Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats for the second month in a row, which will boost Natalie Bennett’s claim to a place in the television debates. Both are on eight per cent, down a point from December.
Nigel Farage’s Ukip has dropped two points to 11 per cent — the third monthly fall since it peaked at 16 in November.
Prime Minister David Cameron has his highest leadership score since March 2012, with four in 10 saying they are satisfied with his performance.
Both the Tories and Labour are up compared with December, at the expense of the smaller parties who are all slightly down. It suggests that the old giants are benefiting as the election contest cranks into life.
Optimism about the economy has risen after a marked dip in December. Some 38 per cent of people think things will improve over the next year, up from 35.
Gideon Skinner of Ipsos MORI said: “The first skirmishes of the campaign have been to Labour’s advantage, with their strongest card of the NHS taking a clear top spot in the public’s concerns.
“But despite the NHS’s dominance and Labour’s rise, the two main parties are still only neck-and-neck, and with half of voters saying they may change their minds there is a long way to go.”
Some 47 per cent say they have “definitely” decided how they will vote in May, up from 43 per cent in August. But 51 per cent say they may change their minds.
Published: 15 January 2015
Updated: 14:38, 15 January 2015