THE BLOG
30/01/2015 06:46 GMT | Updated 31/03/2015 06:59 BST

Why the General Election Needs a Risk-taker

When I was a MP, one of the most stressful issues was not knowing when the General Election was coming. It was impossible to make plans and you didn't know if and when you would even have a job.

But with fixed Parliaments, we now all know that there are less than 100 days to go. Whilst it might make for easier planning, the downside for voters is the reality of three months being bombarded with the pre-campaign, launches of this and that, and then a really intense April with wall-to-wall coverage.

This pre-campaign stage is a chance for the parties to test out policy ideas and dummy-run some of the campaign trips. Frantic polling will show what works and manifestos will be ready to hit thepresses. But do the parties actually listen to their feedback?

My own experience was that by this stage, plans were already in place and going off the grid was frowned upon. And with such a close contest, nobody wants to make a mistake or score an own goalfor opponents to exploit. But that's a big mistake. With such a long election period we need something to keep it fresh, some surprises and even some risks.

When it's close, you need to step out from the pack and capture the voters' imagination. Taking risks and having fun could be the secret to success this time round. For example, this could be the chancefor Nick Clegg to break out from the Deputy PM role and remind the voters why they loved him last time round. After all, Liberals have a long tradition of saying what's not always popular. The pennyon income tax for education, the legalised drug policy or backing Europe may not poll well, butthey've gained the party credit for being more radical and honest in the past.

Despite the constraints of being in Government, there is still time for Nick and his colleagues to take some bold positions - while making it clear that not everything can be delivered if they find themselves again round the cabinet table.

I'm convinced the one policy area that needs new thinking is the NHS. The winter A&E crisis showed how a failing health service can hit the headlines, and down on the ground there is real concern at the time bomb of new technological advancement matched with a growing population. We simply have to rethink how we deliver health going forward.

So step forward Nick. For one, why not abolish National Insurance and set up a separate health tax?Put the money raised from tobacco and alcohol tax directly into it, so voters know that at least future increases on beer are going into health. At the same time - and this is the risky bit - abolish the £3.6 billion TV Licence and find a way to link this money into health.

Of course the BBC will give Nick a hard time, but in an era when we all watch TV in so manydifferent ways and pay to view online, it's frankly time to end this old style tax and shift it into something that matters. I would rather my £11 a month went to help ensure I have cancer treatmentwhen I need it than to subsidise the World Service or more repeats of Dad's Army.

It's a tough choice, but I think a bold plan like this could help capture the imagination and address the silence all parties have on the real underfunding of the NHS. So come on Nick, there are still 100 days left - time enough to rip up the plans and throw in some new ideas to help stop this election from becoming too safe.