Opinion

Help! I can't decide how to vote

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This will be seventh general election since I earned the right to vote, but the first in which I have no idea which candidate or party to support. Given the results of recent opinion polls, I would not appear to be alone.

A survey of Nursing Standard readers found that 97 per cent plan to vote on May 7 but, like me, one in four is yet to decide how.

My vote could count because I live in the UK's tenth most marginal constituency, where the Conservative MP enjoys a majority of less than 200 over the Liberal Democrats. Trailing well behind in third are Labour, who did not put up much of a fight last time and picked up 10 per cent of the votes cast.

With not long to make up my mind, the only party I have ruled out for certain is UKIP, mainly for its xenophobia but also because it appears to lack anything resembling a coherent health policy.

So, how to vote?

I wouldn't consider myself a Tory, but the local MP comes across well and appears the most liberal candidate. Nicola Blackwood campaigns on women's rights in Africa and has been leading a parliamentary campaign for stronger legislation to protect children at risk of abuse.

When I challenged her on my doorstep about the coalition government's NHS reforms, she left me with the impression that she agreed they were misguided, without being disloyal to her party's leadership.

That said, a Conservative government simply could not be trusted with running our health service (especially if they have the unbridled power that goes with an overall majority) and have presided over a succession of pay freezes that are driven more by spiteful antipathy towards the public sector than a desire to rein in spending.

As the Tories' coalition partners, the Lib Dems must share the blame for the NHS reforms and mean-spiritedness over nurses' pay, while their u-turn over student tuition fees is hard to forgive.

Locally they have put up a female candidate, Layla Moran, whose election literature suggests she is more right wing than her principal opponent. Much of it focuses on blocking housing developments (Don't Build on the Green Belt!) and the expansion of Campsfield House, a detention centre where immigrants wait for their applications to be processed.

To her credit, Ms Moran is taking the NHS seriously, running a survey seeking local residents' views. She is even pictured on her website chatting with a nurse, who hopefully gave her a few pointers on how to improve health services should she be elected.

Voting Labour would appear to be a pointless exercise, given their slim chances of victory. That said, surely we should vote for our preferred candidate and party, regardless of the likely outcome in our constituency?

All I know about Labour's candidate is that her name is Sally Copley, a campaign director for Oxfam who has also worked for Save the Children, Shelter and Stonewall. Google came up with little else.

Nationally, the party's plan to integrate health and social care is radical, ambitious and well worth pursuing. Health spokesperson Andy Burnham is still tarnished somewhat by his role in the previous Labour government, which created foundation trusts and paved the way to NHS privatisation, but he had little chance in his brief spell as health secretary in the administration's dying days to make his mark.

All of which leaves me with the parties bracketed together in the polls as 'other'. Well, I'm not much of an environmentalist, so the Greens are unlikely to get my vote, and I know nothing about the Socialist (GB) party.

The National Health Action Party does stand a chance of winning me over, though. Set up by a group of healthcare professionals who are disaffected by the mainstream parties' apparent determination to dismantle the NHS, its local candidate Helen Salisbury is a GP who also lectures medical students and junior doctors.

I like what she has to say about the health service. 'The NHS is not perfect: we spend less than any other developed country on health care and it is not enough. Increased competition through privatisation is not the answer and there is no evidence that it improves services for patients. Instead we need increased collaboration across health and social care to provide well organised, safe and comprehensive care for all citizens.'

So how will I vote? Let's just say I am open to persuasion...