But is this good news for Labour?
Almost every month for getting on for three decades MORI has asked its “most important issues facing the country” questions in exactly the same format. Two points are put, both completely unprompted. Firstly they are asked which is the “most important issue” then they are asked to name, without a limit on numbers “other important issues”
A striking feature of the latest poll is that the NHS, a long-time political football and an issue on which Labour has very much claimed to be its own, scored it’s lowest rating for more than a decade. Just 2% of the interviewees put it as the most important issue with a further 10% naming it amongst other issues.
Just look at the trend in the Ipsos-MORI chart to see what it has been in recent years.
Clearly the health service has seen a step change in government spending and this appears to be showing through in the polls in that the public are less concerned about it. The question is whether as we get closer to a general election this is good for Labour or not?
Will, come the day of the general election, a grateful electorate thank Brown for what has gone on – or will they say “well we’ve put the extra money in through higher taxes and we expect a better service?”
For is one of the consequences of the post-2001 election tax hike specifically for the NHS that the relationship between tax-payer and government is different? You pay the extra tax but you get a better NHS – it’s almost like a consumer transaction.
It’s here that the almost knee-jerk reaction of politicians to try to take the credit for everything might not be the smartest move. For a lot of that tax hike has gone on things that have been controversial – particularly the enhanced terms and conditions for GPs who have seen rapid advances in their earnings.
And, also, claiming credit for what the tax-payer is doing could produce negative responses. There are lots of questions about how Labour has mortgaged the future through PFI schemes – something that’s likely to become a bigger issue as the economy takes even more a centre stage.
For me what the MORI data suggests is that the NHS might not be the political football that it was.