Election 2015 England

The heart of the matter: Will Stafford voters focus on health?

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Image caption About 30,000 people marched through Stafford in an attempt to save the hospital

A year is a long time in politics - and in health care.

Just 12 months ago, about 30,000 people marched a mile through Stafford town centre to Stafford Hospital, waving placards and blue ribbons.

Campaigners camped outside the hospital for months, a tented village demonstrating the strong feelings of those who wanted to prevent its services from being downgraded.

It didn't work.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Support Stafford Hospital campaign group tried to keep the hospital's services from being downgraded

The Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust was dissolved, its remnant parts shared between the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust and the newly-formed University Hospitals of North Midlands Trust. Consultant-led maternity and 24-hour A&E departed in different directions north and south up and down the M6.

The tents disappeared, the flattened grass grew back. The hospital no longer exists. Even the word "Stafford" left the branding after it became synonymous with failings in care.

Image caption The protest camp at Stafford Hospital has now disappeared

On 7 May, will the people of Stafford cast their votes on health issues?

Founder of the Support Stafford Hospital campaign Karen Howell, a former nurse, is standing for the National Health Action Party.

Her five opponents are Kate Godfrey for Labour, Tory Jeremy Lefroy, Keith Miller for the Lib Dems, Mike Shone for the Green Party, and UKIP's Edward Whitfield.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The two Davids: David Cameron lost to David Kidney in the 1997 election

In the 25 general elections since 1918, only four delivered a winner who was not a Conservative.

In 1997, the Tory casualty was a certain David Cameron, who lost out to Labour's David Kidney. Mr Cameron's career wasn't too damaged by the loss - he triumphed after throwing his hat into an Oxfordshire ring.

The constituency, steered by Jeremy Lefroy, returned to its traditional blue in 2010 with a 44% of the vote.

Labour placed second and the Liberal Democrats trailed a distant third - the party has never achieved more than a 20% share in Stafford.

Image caption The word 'Stafford' has been removed from the NHS trust's branding

What of the voters?

They've had three other occasions to take to the polling booths since the last general election in 2010.

In the 2011 borough council election, the 2013 county council election and the 2014 European election, the Conservatives have secured the majority of votes.

They were followed, not too closely, by Labour.

Both parties are making promises of extra funding for the NHS.

Is that enough to sway a town downgraded in matters of public services?

On 8 May we'll know if it is.

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