It’s been a hectic election day for the two main parties. Labour managed to move the conversation to their preferred turf – the NHS – following the story of a four-year-old boy forced to sleep on the floor of an overcrowded A&E unit. As Isabel reports, Boris Johnson’s refusal to look at a photo of the boy during an interview has escalated the story further. Health Secretary Matt Hancock was then sent in to calm things down. But that only ignited tensions further after a row ensued over unconfirmed claims a Tory aide was punched leaving a Leeds hospital with Hancock – which were later shown to be false.
Labour has released a new party election broadcast this evening which attempts to keep this topic in focus. In the video, NHS staff discuss their worries about the effect of more years of Tory rule on the health service. It also features edited clips of the Catastrophe actor Rob Delaney – from a video he made earlier on in the campaign. As I say in this week’s Spectator, that video has already been viewed 10 million times on social media. Just as the Tories want to spend the final days of the week talking about Brexit, Labour wish to do so talking about the NHS. As an election issue, the NHS and Brexit compete to be the issue voters care about the most. Labour’s attack line – and the one pushed by Delaney – that the NHS could be privatised in a UK/US trade deal under Trump has had mixed results. For some voters, it seems too far-fetched. However, where the Tories have a potential weakness with wider impact is if voters conclude Tory funding of the NHS is insufficient full stop.
Holding an election in the winter was always going to create problems for the Tories. There were worries in CCHQ and beyond that the party could be hit by a winter crisis mid campaign. However, given that the Tories were not in possession of a working majority, a trip to the polls looked inevitable. There was a calculation made by some senior Tories that it was better to have it now than risk an election in January or February when the chances of a crisis would be higher. Today’s events have shown that despite Tory efforts the NHS remains a risk to the Conservative pitch. The Conservatives will hope that they can move back to their preferred terrain for the final remaining two full days of campaigning.