The Prime Minister announced the six key themes of the Conservative manifesto last week:
- Home ownership
This makes sense. Unemployment is tumbling, the economy is growing and real wages are on the rise. But why no mention of the two most important issues to voters right now – the NHS and immigration?
Labour appear to be more trusted on the NHS and the Tories clearly believe that no such conversation would end well for them. Many in the party say that Lynton Crosby, the party’s Australian campaign chief, thinks talking about the NHS will only benefit Labour.
But the Prime Minister should not be so negative. Many of the current problems with the NHS can be traced back to poor mismanagement by Labour. It was the Labour party that causes the spiraling crises in GPs’ hours and A & E. It was the Labour party that increased bureaucracy. And it was the Labour party that presided over the awful Mid Staffordshire scandal.
On the point of immigration it seems that Cameron has finally decided to give up on trying to out-Ukip Ukip. Many Conservatives worry that the more the Tories talk about immigration the more they persuade voters that there are problems the Tories have not solved. For example, net migration is currently running at 260,000 a year despite the Conservative 2010 pledge to cut immigration to “tens of thousands.” And so the Tories have decided to no longer talk about it.
But this is only adding to the intense frustration felt by vast numbers of people across the country. We need a constructive and mature conversation on immigration. And as Prime Minister David Cameron should be leading it.
Political parties will always fight elections on the battlegrounds the party is strongest on. Play to your strengths, not your opponents. But the subjects of the NHS and immigration are too important to the public to be treated as subsidiary matters.
People care deeply and passionately about the National Health Service. Talking about the practicalities of the future of the health service is laden with emotion. People are right to expect a proper conversation about the subject especially in the midst of crisis headlines. Meanwhile polls suggest the debate about immigration could dominate the General Election campaign.
If the Tories lose in May you can expect to hear a lot from senior Conservatives about how last week’s decision on campaign themes lost Cameron the election. They will have a good point.