THE political significance of David Cameron’s decision to travel to West Yorkshire to begin the first full day of campaigning for the 2015 general election should not be under-estimated.
This is a pivotal region which the Conservatives have neglected in previous campaigns and the decision by senior Tories to unveil a giant poster in Halifax was carefully chosen for tactical andn strategic reasons.
A target seat which the Tories failed to win from Labour in 2010, it is 18th on the Conservative Party’s target list this year and needs to be captured if Mr Cameron is to have any chance of securing an outright majority.
It will not be easy. For, while the economic outlook is far more positive compared to five years ago, hence the Prime Minister’s message ‘Let’s stay on the road to a stronger economy’, Mr Cameron is still struggling to connect with voters in seats like Halifax in spite of the sharp fall in unemployment.
Two reasons stand out. First, the deep level of unease about the scaling back of A&E provision in the town – and how this is at odds with Mr Cameron’s now infamous promise, prior to the last election, for there to be no top-down reorganisation of the NHS.
Second, it is taking far longer than anticipated to deliver the transport and infrastructure improvements that will underpin Yorkshire’s long-term recovery, and reverse the funding imbalance that has seen this region play second fiddle to London for too long.
This is not necessarily the fault of the Prime Minister. The coalition has found it far more difficult to balance the books than he anticipated when it came together in the national interest, and it is slightly presumptuous of the Tories to claim in their poster that the budget deficit has now been halved.
What Mr Cameron needs to articulate more clearly than yesterday’s stream of consciousness is the type of Britain that he envisages at the end of the decade rather than repeating, parrot-like, that this is the most important election for a generation. Politicians say this about every national poll and there is a danger that this poster will create the impression of an empty road disappearing over the horizon into the unknown.
Significantly, Mr Cameron was at pains to say that Yorkshire is not falling behind Manchester which is the beneficiary of an unprecedented devolution deal. If he believes this, how does he intend this region to compete on equal terms with the North West when so many of the Government’s intended transport improvements for this area are behind schedule and will not be completed in time for the election?
This is the type of nitty-gritty issue which the Tories need to respond to if they are to win bellwether seats like Halifax. For, while Britain’s economy is on the road to recovery, there is still a sense that Yorkshire is in the slow lane. It is a perception that David Cameron needs to change, and fast, if he is to win a second term on May 7 and begin to complete his own political journey.
NHS structures neglect patients
THE current challenges being faced by Yorkshire’s hospitals are indicative of an unhealthy culture in which Britain’s politicians have lost sight of the most important people of all – the patients – because
the main parties cannot reach a consensus on the National Health Service’s precise structure.
This year’s election will be no different after Labour committed itself to reversing many of the reforms introduced by Andrew Lansley in 2010, and which were intended to empower GPs so individual communities could have a greater say over the provision of local services.
Yet this never-ending tug-of-war over the delivery of healthcare is unlikely to help those hospitals where there is now a chronic shortage of beds, not least because more people are visiting A&E units due to systemic shortcomings within the out-of-hours care service.
In this regard, the status quo is not an option and the Government is right, despite the misgivings of the British Medical Association and others, to see whether hospitals can provide a full range of services on a seven-day-a-week basis.
The benefits would be two-fold. First, it would help to address growing concerns about staff shortages, and sub-standard care, at weekends. Second, this approach would lessen the likelihood of ‘bed-blockers’, namely the inability of hospitals to discharge patients on Saturdays and Sundays.
However the problem is a perennial one – cost and staff resources. Yet, in many respects, this will always be the case and must not stand in the way of hospitals looking to change their working practices and shift patterns. If they don’t, the paralysis now gripping A&E will only become more difficult to cure – even regardless of any new structure put in place after the election.