BBC News: Election 2010 BBC News

Page last updated at 10:57 GMT, Tuesday, 6 April 2010 11:57 UK

NHS 'most vital London election issue', BBC poll finds

Ed Davey
BBC News, London

Graph of voting issue importance
Source: Comres for BBC London

The NHS is the single most important issue for Londoners going into the general election, according to a poll carried out for BBC London.

But in what experts said was a surprise, the 1,507 Londoners surveyed by ComRes said immigration was the least most important major issue.

Some 83% of respondents said the NHS was "very important" when deciding how to vote, ahead of education on 78%.

But just 47% of people said immigration was "very important".

The survey showed 48% disagreed immigration is good for London, with 45% happy for it to continue at current levels.

About 44% of people agreed public services are suffering because there are too many immigrants in London, compared to 47% who disagreed with this.

And 28% agreed the main political parties are doing enough to address the issue of immigration, compared to 61% of all people who disagreed.

It is going to be surprising if the Conservatives do not win seats from Labour in London. But they need to be winning well into double digits.
Professor Tony Travers

But the poll showed a big difference in opinion between the age groups on the issue.

Some 59% of people aged 18 to 34 agreed with the statement, "immigration is good for London and I am happy for it to continue at current levels".

A total of 22% of people aged 65 and over, however, agreed with the same statement when it was put to them.

Professor Tony Travers, director of the London School of Economics's London group, who has studied immigration into the city, said: "A big part of the immigration issue is fear of the unknown.

"But if you are at school with people from all over the world you are more likely to feel comfortable with them in your neighbourhood."

But he was not surprised that the NHS was people's top priority going into the election.

The NHS was also the service most people wanted to see protected from cuts (51%) with education in second place (20%) and then the police.

Professor Travers said: "It does tell you exactly why politicians say they will protect the NHS [from any cuts].

NHS 'vital issue' for Londoners

"On the basis of this poll, which will not be radically different from polling political parties have done, it's easy to see why politicians came to that conclusion."

Labour Minister for London Tessa Jowell told BBC London: "The survey shows that our concerns as a party are closely aligned with the people of London.

"The election is a choice between securing the economic recovery and protecting frontline services, or a change that will put this at risk and make life tougher.

"That's why we will continue to support the economy and have pledged to protect frontline investment in schools, childcare and the NHS."

Graph of services voters want protected
Source: Comres for BBC London

Two-thirds of people said their biggest health priority was keeping hospitals and A&E services open.

The second-most important health issue was reducing waiting times - a key pledge when Labour was elected in 1997 - with a quarter of respondents highlighting them.

Conservative Justine Greening MP, shadow minister for London, said: "The government is planning far reaching changes to care in the capital, with hospitals facing being downgraded and even closed down and cuts to A&E services.

"We need to trust local healthcare providers to determine what their own priorities are.

Funding pledge

"A Conservative government will empower them to make the decisions about how money should be spent locally."

She added: "We have pledged NHS funding will be maintained in real terms."

Tom Brake MP, Liberal Democrat spokesman for London, said: "With health being the number one priority for Londoners, the Lib Dems are committed to safeguarding frontline hospital services.

"As NHS budgets come under further pressure as a result of an ageing population, Liberal Democrats will cut back on top-heavy NHS management and health quango budgets."

Ballot box
Just half of voters considered immigration to be of importance

The poll suggests Londoners still feel nervous about the economy, with half of middle-aged people and 61% of young people afraid they may lose their job.

And 65% of people felt that London had become too expensive for them to live in.

As the election campaign begins proper, Professor Travers said that by current levels of support the Conservatives stand to win six or seven more London seats than Labour.

He continued: "It is going to be surprising if the Conservatives do not win seats from Labour in London.

"But they need to be winning well into double digits [more London MPs than Labour] to secure a general election victory."

At the moment Labour have 44 London MPs, the Conservatives 20 and the Lib Dems eight.

ComRes interviewed 1,507 adults (spread equally between inner London, outer London and the Home Counties) by telephone between 25th and 29th March 2010. Data was weighted to be demographically representative of all adults by age and gender.

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