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EDITIONS
Vote2002 Friday, 3 May, 2002, 12:08 GMT 13:08 UK
Poll success for health campaigners
Dr Richard Taylor
Dr Richard Taylor was elected MP on a single issue

A group battling to restore services to its local hospital has taken control of Wyre Forest council in the Midlands.

Kidderminster Health Concern now has six extra seats in addition to the 20 won at previous council elections.

The result is proof positive of the power of single-issue politics to grab the imagination of the voter.

But, as the campaigners have formed the dominant group on the council for the past few years, it may also be testament to public satisfaction with its performance so far.

They are calling for the reversal of a decision to downgrade Kidderminster Hospital in favour of a new "super-hospital" in neighbouring Worcester.


The new councillors we have come from a wide background of skills

Dr Richard Taylor
However, there is more to the group than simple banner-waving on one issue - its platform covers a spread of issues broadly centred around improved public services.

And it has enjoyed unprecendented success.

At last year's general election, voters in the Wyre Forest constituency chose Health Concern independent Dr Richard Taylor in preference to a Labour minister by an overwhelming majority.

Good job

He said that his presence at Parliament had raised the profile of the issue.


People who don't care about the hospital, or who agree with what has happened to it, now find themselves in a very curious position

Tony Travers, LSE
And he denied suggestions that Wyre Forest's single-issue councillors were incapable of running other services from the local authority.

He told the BBC: "We have had councillors on this authority since 1999 - they have been running the council since then.

"The new councillors we have come from a wide background of skills.

"I suspect they will be like me - I have voted in the past for all three political parties."

Criticised

However, London School of Economics local government specialist Tony Travers told the BBC that the situation was far from ideal.

He told BBC News Online: "They won't be able to avoid doing the job - they have a legal obligation.

"However, people who don't care about the hospital, or who agree with what has happened to it, now find themselves in a very curious position of having a council elected on a single issue trying to run a range of services in which, almost by definition, they have little interest."

The issue at Kidderminster Hospital revolves around whether a town of its size deserves to have its own hospital capable of dealing with emergency cases or major surgery.

With a population of over 100,000, Kidderminster would be one of the largest towns not to have such provision, and the new hospital at Worcester is at least 16 miles away.

Unlike the new MP, many local doctors support the changes, saying it is more efficient, and safer for patients to concentrate "acute" services such as these in a bigger, regional hospital.

Small change

Since Dr Taylor's election, a review of hospital services in the area has recommended a partial reversal of the downgrading of Kidderminster Hospital.

It called for more beds, operating theatres - but still no accident and emergency department or "acute" beds to deal with major surgery.

The Health Concern group has already exceeded expectations - many "single issue" groups achieve only modest success and fade quickly afterwards.

According to another London School of Economics expert Professor Patrick Dunleavy, their longevity is dependent on the motivation of leading members.


If people leave, they (independent groups) can crumble pretty quickly

Professor Patrick Dunleavy, LSE
He told BBC News Online: "This group is much more organised than many - it's unusual to gain control of a council, let alone get a member elected to Parliament.

"These groups usually persist as long as key personel remain motivated.

"If people leave, they can crumble pretty quickly."

He said that the UK was unique in Europe to the extent that local government was run on party lines.

In other countries, local representatives were often or even always independents elected on the back of their stance on local issues, rather than major political party candidates.

Local Election results


After 174 of 174 councils

Councils
Party Total Net
Lab 63 -8
Con 42 9
LibDem 15 2
Ind 0 0
Oth 2 2
NOC 52 -5
Councillors
Party Total Net
Lab 2402 -339
Con 2005 237
LibDem 1263 45
Ind 136 -79
Oth 101 2
Local Election results
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See also:

27 Sep 01 | England
08 Jun 01 | Vote2001
12 Jun 01 | UK Politics
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