David Cameron giving a speech outside Number 10 following the result of the 2015 general election. From Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/number10gov/17490028521/ under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/
The most over-used platitude when it comes to talking about elections is that it’s “the most unpredictable election for years.” Well, in this case, they were right. Nobody – not the political pundits, David Dimbleby, Jeremy Paxman and co, the parties themselves and especially not the pollsters – predicted the result last week.
The Conservatives defied all expectations – winning an outright majority – while the SNP surged in Scotland. David Cameron has swiftly appointed his Cabinet and Ministers and MPs return to work next week.
Here at Cancer Research UK, we eagerly awaited the results. We work very closely with MPs and Members of the House of Lords so, for us, it’s crucial that cancer and medical research are kept firmly on the radar at Westminster.
Without political action, the life-saving research we carry out wouldn’t have the impact that patients need it to. And, whether through passing laws on tobacco control (like standardised packaging), investing in radiotherapy services or promoting public awareness campaigns, we need MPs to prioritise cancer and take political action to beat cancer sooner.
So, as the dust settles on the most unpredictable and unexpected election result for some time, we thought we’d look at what the UK’s new political landscape means for the next few years of political action against cancer.
What does the new Government think about cancer?
Tony Blair once said the second parliamentary term is when you secure your policies, and the Conservatives will see their win, with a small majority, as an endorsement of the commitments outlined in their manifesto.
Although he has promoted some fresh blood, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has kept much of his Cabinet the same – stressing the need to get back to work and continue with the job.
This is certainly true of a key area for us: the Department of Health. Jeremy Hunt remains Health Secretary, while Jane Ellison has been reappointed as Public Health Minister – both were instrumental in the successful passage of standardised tobacco packaging earlier this year. You can read about the key moments in our campaign for standard packs here.
The Conservative’s manifesto stated their ambition for the UK to “become a world-leader in fighting cancer”. They have pledged to support the independent Cancer Taskforce on the development and implementation of the new cancer strategy (which our Chief Executive, Harpal Kumar, is chairing independently). This is expected to be published later this year.
And they have given their support to the Innovative Medicines and Medical Technology Review, which is exploring how to make sure patients are offered the innovative medicines and medical technology that they need.
It’s also likely that funding will still go into the Cancer Drugs Fund, and in so-called ‘genetic medicine’.
(You can read the Conservatives’ commitments in full, along with those of the other parties here.)
Throughout the last parliament, the Conservatives championed the benefits of medical research and the life sciences and their potential to boost economic recovery. But there are big spending cuts that have to be made and, apart from three protected areas, the NHS, schools and international aid, all departments are vulnerable.
In particular, we’ll be looking closely at what happens with the science budget, and ensuring we do all we can to maintain funding for science over the forthcoming years.
We will also continue to encourage MPs to prioritise efforts to diagnose cancer early, make sure all patients are offered the treatments they need, and keep supporting public awareness campaigns and screening – key elements of our Cross Cancer Out campaign.
(You can read what we were asking election candidates to get behind – and how our 16,500 campaign supporters helped convince 750 candidates to support us – here.)
And what about the opposition?
As for the Labour Party, Andy Burnham is back in post as Labour’s shadow health secretary, and a number of former Labour health ministers are still in their previous roles.
We will also continue to work closely with Opposition MPs, as this can often be crucial in shifting the debate on issues of importance to us. This could be particularly important given the slender Government majority.
The emergence of the SNP as a new political force, with 56 out of 59 Scottish seats, means that we are likely to see more conversations about further transfer of powers to the devolved nations. We’ll be working to increase survival for cancer patients from all parts of the UK.
(You can see what the SNP proposed for cancer and research – along with the other parties from the devolved nations – here.)
So what next?
We’ll be building new relationships, shoring-up existing ones and looking to influence policy at a key time in the political cycle. At the same time ensuring we’re spreading the word about all the vital work that we’re doing and representing the views of our supporters, patients and researchers.
As ever, we will continue to work with members from all political parties – and the House of Lords too. Although a few of our MP supporters sadly weren’t re-elected, many were, and we look forward to continuing to work with them and drawing on their expertise.
And with over 180 new MPs elected, this also gives us a unique opportunity to build new relationships with parliamentarians with a wide range of background and experiences. We’ll engage with them both in Westminster and in their constituencies.
We will work hard to ensure that we get a fair deal for cancer and research in the Budget and Spending Review, and – where we have the same goals – we’ll continue to work closely in partnership with other charities, so that the cancer community speaks as a united voice.
Jamie White is a public affairs manager at Cancer Research UK