Chris Lancelot: Splitting opposition vote risks returning Labour

When Gordon Brown first became prime minister I wrote with approval about his decision to have 'a government of all the talents'.

But he didn't do what he promised: his definition of 'talent' apparently didn't extend to Tories, GPs, or even his own party's widely respected Frank Field.

The public perception now is of a deeply unpopular administration grimly holding on to power until May, when it will be kicked out by the resurgent Tories. Only I don't think it will turn out like this. Were I a betting man, I would put my money on a hung parliament: Mr Brown might even remain prime minister.

There are many contributing factors. Because constituencies aren't equal in size, nationwide the Conservatives have to poll about two million more votes than Labour to return the same number of MPs. Then there is the plethora of other parties splitting the opposition vote: Lib Dems, SNP, Plaid Cymru, UKIP and the BNP, to say nothing of Esther Rantzen and other celebrities standing in response to the expenses fiasco.

And now into the arena comes a loose coalition of fifty doctors (including three BMA Council members) under the banner of 'Healthy Independents', standing in marginal constituencies on a pro-NHS ticket and hoping to repeat the success of Dr Richard Taylor in Wyre Forest.

I understand why these colleagues are putting themselves forward and fully respect their motives. However, I fear they may achieve the opposite of their intended effect. Single-issue candidates usually succeed only in by-elections, as a protest vote: in general elections wider issues take precedence.

More importantly, by fragmenting the anti-government vote even further, they risk letting the Labour candidate win, thus condemning the NHS to another five years of talentless government interference.

A safer strategy for the NHS might be for these colleagues to transfer their allegiance loudly and publicly to whichever opposition candidate locally looks most likely to win - assuming of course that their nominee agrees to support a thoroughly pro-NHS agenda.

So if you are contemplating either standing or supporting these Healthy Independents next year, please think carefully: your actions may prove totally counterproductive. The general election is still wide open.

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