The value of expert opinions bursting the general election ‘bubble’

By Chris Rogers April 16, 2015 5:02 pm

The election campaign has become all-encompassing. For some, it’s even a little suffocating. And that’s with three weeks still to go.

Such is the barrage of party political broadcasts, speeches, interviews and debates, it’s easy to get sucked into the election bubble, within which the parties set out their visions for future and challenge each other’s policies. And while this contest will highlight some inevitable flaws in each party’s approach, it’s all very insular.

So the intervention of various experts and authorities is not just welcome but needed in order to put the party rhetoric into perspective – serving as a reminder of the issues that the government, whatever its makeup, will have to tackle after 8 May. And these external non-party figures also provide perhaps the most robust challenge to the policies of every party.

The latest of these is Sir David Nicholson, the former chief executive of the NHS, who has taken to the airwaves to highlight the funding crisis facing the health service. You might not like the messenger (for so long described as the ‘Man with no shame’ by the Daily Mail), but Sir David’s intervention is significant in showing that the election issue of health isn’t as simple as who will meet the £8 billion funding demands of the new NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens. There are broader issues to address: how will the NHS also make the £22 billion in savings that are required by the end of the decade? And if it doesn’t, where will the extra money come from, given that £8 billion a year might not be enough?

Defence is another policy area that, in the context of the election, seems to have been boiled down to two fundamental issues – Trident and the NATO commitment on defence spending. But the interventions of the likes of General Sir Richard Dannatt and General Sir Mike Jackson in recent months have also highlighted that it’s not simply a case of funding, but how that funding is applied to address threats in the modern world. And of course, the IMF has joined in when it comes to the economy – suggesting the UK will fail to balance its books by 2020, which has implications for the spending plans of all the major parties.

The main political parties were quick to dismiss Sir David Nicholson’s comments, which in many ways is sad given that for the better part of a decade Sir David was trusted with the running of one of the UK’s most fundamental institutions. They might be better served by embracing some of the questions and comments raised by the experts – using them as an opportunity to demonstrate that their policies are comprehensive.

This would surely give reassurance to the electorate that they’re voting for a party that’s up to the challenge. Hopefully, the interventions of some of these experts will penetrate the election bubble.

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