Labour fails to benefit from NHS controversy

By Ian Dunt

The debate over the NHS appears to have failed to provide Labour with any clear advantage, according to the latest polls.

A ComRes poll for the Independent on Sunday – the first in nearly a month – shows all three main parties barely changed.

The Tories dropped one per cent – within the margin of error – to 41 per cent. Labour remained unchanged on 24 per cent and the Lib Dems remained unchanged on 18 per cent.

But the furore over the NHS – triggered when Tory MEP Daniel Hannan lambasted the NHS on American television as part of the debate into Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms – does not seem to have made any difference to Labour’s standing in the polls.

Asked if they believed the NHS would be safer under Labour than the Tories, only 39 per cent agreed, while 47 per cent disagreed.

The findings will make for depressing reading at Labour HQ. The NHS controversy was treated as a gift from heaven by Labour strategists, who saw it as playing directly into their electoral dividing lines.

Both Andy Burnham, health secretary, and Mr Brown were quick to jump on the #welovethenhs campaign on Twitter, with Mr Burnham then going on to lambaste Mr Hannan’s comments as “unpatriotic”.

But a separate ComRes poll highlighted potentially devastating splits in the Tory ranks on the NHS.

It found most Tory MPs opposed Mr Cameron’s promise that funding for the NHS would be ring-fenced against cuts.

Only 29 per cent of Tory MPs said they would support a guaranteed real-term rise in NHS spending, with 62 per cent avoiding it.

Only a third of Tory MPs said the NHS could survive another six decades based on the current model of general taxation and free delivery.

And over half the MPs wanted tax breaks to encourage use of private healthcare.

Smaller parties saw interesting results, with Ukip maintaining five per cent support, the Greens on four per cent and the BNP on three per cent.