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Brexit, The NHS And The Question Of Which Leader Is Fit To Govern Will Dominate The General Election Campaign

25/04/2017 16:44 BST | Updated 26/04/2017 10:48 BST
POOL New / Reuters

Three core issues will be central to the general election campaign in the weeks ahead and will determine where the general election is won and lost.

The Brexit factor

The Conservative Party's commitment to securing the right deal for Britain abroad and a better deal for ordinary, working people here at home will appeal to pro-Brexit voters many of whom have traditionally voted Labour or have opted for Ukip (it's good night for them) in recent years. Theresa May will stress that a strong vote for her party will enable her to "get the job done" on leaving the EU and give her a mandate to make a success of the process.

Buoyed by taking Copeland earlier this year the PM will be confident of sweeping up many more Brexit-leaning Labour constituencies with a narrow Labour lead. These include Halifax (428 Labour majority and 21,579 Brexit majority); and Barrow and Furness (795 Labour majority and 11,862 Brexit majority). Any Labour MP will a majority of less than 5,000 in a pro-Brexit constituency (there are 36 of these and 26 are in the midlands) will struggle although the allegiance many traditional supporters feel to the Party, if not to Jeremy Corbyn, must not be underestimated.

The Lib Dems meanwhile are the party fighting Brexit and will use this narrative to exploit the pro-Remain constituencies in the south and west where they just lost out in 2015 such as Twickenham, Bath, Kingston and Surbiton and Lewes.

NHS

The Labour Party made health a core part of its 2015 general election campaign and we can expect the NHS to feature heavily again in the coming weeks.

Shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth, believes that satisfaction with the NHS has decreased since the last election with rising anger over A&E delays and longer waits for routine operations. The Party will want to show that on some benchmarks NHS England has seen its worst ever winter as hospitals have struggled to keep up with rising patient demand. The Party may seek to highlight the likelihood of service closures stemming from Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships, and will be keen to capitalise on any indication that the Conservatives will row back on plans to recruit 5,000 more doctors into primary care by 2020.

Meanwhile sources at CCHQ suggest that the Conservative Party will put up an "aggressive case" for its record on health and rebut "scare stories" about the state of the NHS. The Party will be quick to accentuate the recent update on strategy by the head of NHS England, Simon Stevens, in which he pointed to cancer survival being at a record high, improved dementia diagnosis and safer patient care.

It remains to be seen how much attention will be given to the seven-day NHS pledge made by David Cameron in 2015 and the £50million "challenge fund" to deliver it. Some surgeries have begun opening at weekends, however others have scrapped the experiment because of the small number of patients seeking appointments on Saturdays and Sundays.

Fitness to govern

According to a recent Opinium survey for the Observer less than half of Labour voters believe Jeremy Corbyn would make a better PM than Theresa May. Among all voters only 14% of voters said they would choose the Labour leader, while 47% backed Mrs May. In view of this it is no surprise that the Prime Minister's strong leadership credentials will be at the heart of her campaign promising stable government in the national interest in contrast to the incapable and incompetent Jeremy Corbyn.

May will continue to maintain that a vote for her is a vote for economic stability and a secure Brexit process. On the other hand the PM will assert that a vote for Corbyn's Labour is a vote for a divisive and unstable government propped up in coalition by Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, and the Lib Dems. This message will resonate with vast swathes of the electorate.