The big issues

Overview: The issues Index is conducted monthly with a quota sample of 1,027 adults. © Tutu

Brexit. The NHS. Crime. Education. Poverty. What are the main topics that will decide this election? Regular opinion polls take the pulse of the nation. But why do issues rise and fall?

  • What will be the big issues in the general election?

    At the start of the election, the main flash-points that might figure can be seen from polling by Ipsos MORI. It conducts a monthly survey of what the public see as the most important issues. Its September poll showed that Brexit was by far the biggest topic for voters. Almost two-thirds mentioned it. So, no surprise there.

    The main parties have all clearly staked out their positions on Brexit, and nothing much will change during the campaign on the choices available, so they will simply be trying to maximise their votes rather than announcing new policies.

  • What about other subjects apart from Brexit?

    Top of the list is clearly the health service — mentioned by more than a third of voters. As the campaigns start, the main health issues are fairly clear. How much money does the health service need and what are the parties offering? The UK already spends £166 billion a year on health, nearly 20% of all spending. How can health and social care, especially for the elderly, be better organised and paid for?

    But winter is coming. The NHS frequently has a winter crisis and health professionals are especially concerned that this year might see a bigger crisis than usual, as a particularly nasty flu virus may be on its way here. A big crisis, caused by flu or something else, could rapidly push health up the political agenda.

    It is important to remember that the NHS in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is organised separately, which might affect the politics. For example, the SNP in Scotland may attract some of the blame if there is a crisis in the health service there, because they are the government in power in Scotland.

  • What about crime?

    Crime, especially knife crime, has been a big issue in recent months. Although overall reported crime rates in the UK have been falling, violent deaths involving knives have increased. Over one in five voters identified crime as an issue.

    Most of the debate on crime will probably focus on how many police are needed on the streets, with the Conservatives pledging to increase numbers by 20,000. The only specific pledge from Labour is to increase police by 10,000, although they have also criticised the Conservatives’s 20,000 pledge as being 13,000 too few.

    Crime seems unlikely to become a bigger issue in the campaign, but events can change that. A sudden spate of knife deaths, a major terrorist incident, or a big blunder by one of the parties could change that.

  • And education?

    Schools rate almost the same as crime in importance for the public but, in contrast to crime, there is unlikely to be anything dramatic that could bring education further to the fore during the election campaign. Both main parties are promising more resources for schools and there will probably be much debate about that.

    There are some other potential education policy flash-points between the parties – the question of grammar schools, private schools and university fees, which are highly controversial, and could blow up.

  • What else might become a big issue?

    Of the remaining top policy issues in the Ipsos MORI poll — poverty and inequality, housing, the environment, the economy, and immigration — any could suddenly become more important during the campaign.

    We have seen recently how quickly some issues become prominent. For example, look at the whole debate about plastic or the bigger environment issues raised by the Extinction Rebellion protests.

    Labour is clearly going to try and make inequality and poverty, housing, and reshaping the economy through nationalisations and other changes, into big issues. The Tories may well try to make immigration and law and order — two of their traditional focus areas — into bigger issues.

    The final issue that reached a new, high level in the polling was the lack of faith in politics, politicians and government. Both the main parties are well aware of this and are seeking to capitalise on it through much more populist rhetoric about elites, them and us, and the 99% versus the 1%.

    Populism will be much discussed during the election.

    This briefing is produced by The Day in association with ENGAGE Public Policy.

You Decide

  1. Do people vote on the basis of one big issue — or several smaller ones?


  1. Make your own list of the top three issues that you think a new British government should focus on. Compile a general class list and then arrange them in order of priority from top to bottom, by voting on each one.

Word Watch

Events, issues that bring up disagreement or hostility.
Ipsos MORI
British market research company.
Winter crisis
According to NHS data up to April 2019, the winter months of 2018-19 put intense pressure on the health service. Casualties and demands on hospital beds were dangerously high, cancer treatment waiting lists grew, and there were longer waits to see GPs. Last year, 215,000 patients waited on hospital trolleys in corridors to be seen; this year, the figure could be as high as 300,000 due to NHS cuts.
Political agenda
The list of subjects or problems a political party or government seek to address.
Chief Superintendent Paul Griffiths, president of the Police Superintendents’ Association said to The Independent in August, “The whole thing will take five or six years to fully implement. The policy will get us back to 2010 officer levels.”
A large number of similar things coming in quick succession.
To the fore
To the front; into leading position.
The process of transforming private businesses into public ownership, so it is run by the Government.

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