I recently received a letter from an MP/parliamentary candidate* where I live. If you haven’t had one similar, then it’s probably coming soon. The letter went on for a whole page describing all the things wrong with the local NHS, ‘explaining’ all the reasons why this was the fault of ‘the other guy’ and no explanation at all of what this individual had/would do should they be/continue to be in Government following the general election.It appears that “despite concern re NHS, parties are neck and neck” Ben Page, CEO, Ipsos MORI:
Despite concern re NHS, parties are neck and neck pic.twitter.com/7CPWmw92tC
— Ben Page, Ipsos MORI (@benatipsosmori) January 15, 2015
It is also likely that the NHS will be one of, if not the, most significant debating points in the run-up to this general election. Ben Page of Ipsos MORI again: “NHS goes to the top of issues voters say will use to cast their votes in May”:
NHS goes to the top of issues voters say will use to cast their votes in May http://t.co/jtq9OuuWR8 pic.twitter.com/lpBfAVbS6n
— Ben Page, Ipsos MORI (@benatipsosmori) January 15, 2015
The Kings Fund Election Tracker already allows you to follow how issues relating to health and social care are being played out throughout the respective parties’ campaigns.Personally, I don’t have much time for party politics due to the school-boy/girl-like behaviour of many politicians both within and outside The House. In spite of this, I take politics seriously and fear for the NHS during the coming months of the election campaign. Therefore, I want to address three main points through this blog-post to the politicians as they embark on their election campaigns: firstly, on positivity about self being more productive than negativity about others; secondly, being respectful about those who are being used for political gain; and thirdly, use of honest evidence-based argument, if you don’t know, don’t make it up!
Be positive about yourselves, not negative about ‘the other guy’
In making our decision as to who to vote for, we are more likely to be attracted by positive people who set out a clear vision for what can be achieved than to negativity about what ‘the other guy’ is doing/will do wrong. It will therefore be much more popular if you clearly explain what you will do different than ‘the other guy’ to benefit us rather than rubbishing what he/she did or didn’t do whilst in power/propose to do if they get in power. I know you will argue “but it’s important to state what difference our policies will make to the mess ‘the other guy’ left behind/will make”, but it is the constant and unrelenting school-yard criticism of each other that is contributing to people’s negative attitude towards politics!
Be respectful of those working hard in the NHS
It is already clear that the main political parties will use the NHS as a football throughout the election campaign. There are more than 1.6 million people who working in the NHS, all of whom, I’m sure go to work aiming to do a good job with the interest of the people we serve at heart. It is unfair, unreasonable and unhelpful to continually criticise the NHS, i.e. staff, for what ‘the other guy’ might have done in the past/be doing now/may do in the future. Tell us what you will do; how this will make things better for those who use and work in the NHS. A positive message about the good you will do if you get into/continue in power should be more effective than constant negativity and criticism over what has gone before. Negativity about the NHS risks alienating people, i.e. voters, who work in, have family-members who work in, use or have family-members who use it; so basically, the whole electorate!
Be honest and use evidence-based facts and stories
My final request is that in all political debate about the NHS that you talk honestly, based on facts and evidence, i.e. don’t make it up! If you don’t know, say so. If you enter any kind of debate about the NHS, be sure of what’s true and what’s not. For issues where you don’t know the facts, but they are there to be known, go and find out. Visit the front-line, talk to people who use and work in the NHS, get first hand stories, as well as evidence-based facts. There are areas where there is no definitive evidence; the NHS is complex and complicated, I do get that, but this isn’t an excuse to simply criticise or make things up. Also, ‘the NHS’ is not one single simple organisation, it is a complex system made up of many different organisations and structures, so avoid wild generalisations where they are not true. Finally on this point, individual people’s stories are really powerful and important to bring complex issues to life for voters, but please tread carefully in your use of stories. Don’t take advantage of those who are kind enough to permit you to tell their story and be extremely careful not to represent single instances as the norm where evidence clearly shows this not to be the case.
Adopt these principlesIn summary; please adopt these principles in your use of the NHS for your campaigning purposes: 1. be positive about what you can do, not negative about what ‘the other guy’ might do or not do; 2. be respectful of those working hard for better outcomes for people through the tough, but rewarding roles we have in the NHS; and 3. be honest and accurate, base what you say on evidence and stick to the facts, where they are available.
Please follow this 'simple' approach and the debate about the NHS during the election campaign may be a bit more sensible than I otherwise fear it will be!
(*You may note from how I have written this post that I’ve been deliberately evasive about the individual and political party whom the letter I received originated from, as I want this blog to be heard equally and recognised for what it is; politically neutral. I don’t want anyone who is a supporter of, or opposed to, any particular political party to dismiss what I have written as rhetoric in favour of or against their personal political persuasion. I hope I have succeeded in this?)