James Forsyth James Forsyth

Can Jeremy Hunt make the Tories the patients’ party?

What to do about Ukip is dominating the conversation on the fringe and in the conference bars here in Manchester. But Ukip is only part of the challenge for the Tories. At the next election, they need to hold onto their 2010 supporters and—if they are to win a majority—take votes off Labour.

The Tories will only be able to do that if they can reassure these voters on the cost of living and public services. So, this week we’ll see the Tories trying to underscore their commitment to the NHS. There’s already been the cancer drugs fund announcement and Jeremy Hunt will, as I said in the Mail on Sunday, announce a pilot that will see GPs’ surgeries open from 8am to 8pm.

Hunt’s operating principle is that people shouldn’t be expected to fit their day round a doctor’s appointment but should be able to go when best suits them whether that’s before work, after work or during the day. The politics of this is sensible as it allows the Tories to say that when it comes to the health service, they are standing up for the consumer, not the producer, interest.

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The Tories are never going to win an argument about who loves the NHS most. They’re also unlikely to win a spending auction; their pledge to ring-fence health spending is more of a defensive play than an offensive one.

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