This morning’s Observer splash warns of a ” ‘worst winter’ in hospitals as A&E crisis grows”. I have been sketching the same prospect for some time. Like a weather forecaster predicting rain, I will be proved right sooner or later.
But whether or not there is an old-fashioned NHS crisis this winter, the paper’s story raises a spectre which is haunting Downing Street – namely, a horror film first six months for David Cameron in 2014, as follows.
- Late December and early January see an NHS national drama, complete with ambulances parked outside A & Es, closed wards, shroud-waving doctors, nurses, ancillary staff – and so on.
- Late January and early February are dominated by media reports – whether exaggerated or not – of a far bigger influx of Romanians and Bulgarians than expected, in the face of which the Government seems (and is) helpless.
- From February until the European elections, Nigel Farage’s one man tour draws curious crowds and sympathetic coverage from a media hoping for a lively story to emerge from the poll.
- UKIP tops the polls during the Euro-elections – although it doesn’t win many more seats (which would be difficult under the proportional system used). The Conservatives come third.
- Tory MPs, as prone as ever to the mood swings that somehow seldom grip their Labour counterparts on the same scale, rush to the studios and the oped pages. In short, they panic.
- Poll findings and pact talk follows – polls showing UKIP surging and Cameron’s ratings falling; talk of UKIP pacts formal and informal. The leadership, having taken one step forward in 2013, takes two steps back.
I doubt if it will all be anything like as bad as this (though Number 10 is concerned). The economy is recovering. Miliband’s ratings are dire. The poll gap between the two main parties is closing. The best thing the Party can do is to hold its nerve.
And it may – but here’s the rub. The vote distribution alone makes a Conservative majority in 2015 most unlikely: indeed, the problem has been a millstone around the Party’s neck, since 1992 at least, the last year we won a majority.
So even if the nightmare never happens, what’s Cameron’s longer-term plan to get the Party back in the game? The door to boundary change is closed, at least for the time being.
As this site never tires of arguing, his strategy should instead be to push for a rebalancing of power between England and Scotland (once the independence referendum is – crossed fingers – won).
The Liberal Democrats have blocked justice for England in this Parliament. That may change after the results from Scotland in the 2015 election. Downing Street should be putting its thinking cap on.