PMQs: Will the LibDem motion on the NHS make any difference? – Will it ‘eck as like

I do like Ed Miliband’s short opening questions. They always get David Cameron tied up in a convoluted response. This week it was: “Following the Liberal Democrat conference at the weekend, is the Prime Minister planning any new amendments to his Health and Social Care Bill?”

The government is “anti-cherry-picking” was Cameron’s (very) abridged reply. He was a day early for DEFRA questions (warf, warf).
Ed Miliband repeated his question to “give the Prime Minister another go at answering”.

No “Cherry picking”, no “price competition”, reform and “extra money”, said Cameron. Get away from “pre-scripted questions” he said. Miliband replied that Cameron should get away from “pre-scripted answers”. “Laughter” – recorded Hansard.

Then we got into the weekly quote swop. Miliband quoted Cameron saying “There will be no more of those pointless re-organisations”.
Cameron quoted some adviser to the Labour party saying the reforms are what the last government wanted to do, but was prevented from achieving because it met a roadblock. The roadblock was apparently Mr Brown (not the BMA, then) and therefore Miliband is “Son of roadblock”. That’s a good one.

Miliband recited the alleged Labour record on the NHS, accused Cameron of creating a “free market free-for-all” and asked if the reforms would bring our health system under EU competition law for the first time.

Blimey, we then really went off course. Cameron launched into an unprovoked ecominium to Andrew “Tunes” Lansley via a quote from Labour’s health spokesperson. It was all a long way from the question as to whether the LibDems’ motion would alter the policy. We were still none the wiser about that, I’m afraid. So the government could still be going down this insane route which no one except a small Tory cohort wants and which sprang out of nowhere.

The quotefest continued with this from Labour’s last manifesto: “Patients requiring elective care will have the right, in law, to choose from any provider who meets NHS standards of quality.”. That got sidestepped by Miliband who ended strongly on “threatening the fabric of the NHS…broken promises, arrogance, incompetence, and ignoring people who know something about the health service. Does this not show once again that, as the British Medical Association said yesterday and as the Liberal Democrats said on Saturday, you can’t trust the Tories on the NHS?”

So there, Cameron.

“…he has no ideas of his own, he just comes here and reads a BMA press release? How utterly feeble.” – retorted Flashman Cameron.
And we ought to note that Miliband sacrificed having a go at Cameron about the unemployment figures to ask about the NHS. That was obviously a conscious choice.

Other snippets were:

  • Jo Swinson (LibDem) asked an excellent question about Libya: “Can the Prime Minister tell me what message he thinks it will send to every tyrannical dictator if, against the urgent desire of the Libyan people, against the wishes of the Arab League and against the UN principle of the responsibility to protect, the international community fails to stop Gaddafi crushing the spirit, the hopes and the lives of the Libyan people?” I think that’s when of the best questions I have ever heard at PMQs. Cameron, more or less, agreed with the question.
  • Stuart Andrew (Con) deserves some sort of prize for managing to smuggle a question about AV into a point about the Olympics: “Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the people buying tickets saw an athlete cross the finishing line in first place only to end up on the bronze medal podium, they would demand a refund?”
  • Bernard Jenkin (Con) was also on the “bash AV” trail, with a quote apparently unearthed from Ben Bradshaw, a leading Yes2AV voice: “The reason I’ve never supported AV is that it would have given (Labour) an even bigger majority in 1997, and it would have given the Tories an even bigger majority in 1983, and…1987 as well…If…we want reform…to rebuild public trust and confidence in politics…AV doesn’t deliver that”.
  • Simon Wright (LibDem) asked a question about “30% of Norwich’s children living in poverty-the worst figure in the east of England”.
  • Finally, there ought to be mention of the constituency of Gregg McClymont (Lab), the first MP asking the Prime Minister a question this week. It is Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch –surely a contender for the most wonderful sounding constituency name of all-time. It rolls off the tongue beautifully.
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13 Comments

  • “Following the Liberal Democrat conference at the weekend, is the Prime Minister planning any new amendments to his Health and Social Care Bill?”

    As Cameron is following the Blair / Brown approach of answering the question he wnted asked as opposed to the direct one asked, I guess we’ll have to make up our own minds…….

    A reasonable answer would be yes, of course we will listen to the members of the party whose votes we need to get the bill onto the statute book.

    The truth is likely to be, sod ’em it’s my ball and if they want to play they have to play the game I choose…

  • To be fair I think after the positive step by the LibDem Conference the NHS was the obvious area for Milliband to attack on. Cameron seems unable to do anything about his image and presentation at PMQ – it’s always difficult to try and figure how non political-anoraks actually view the performance but I would like to hope it’s that he never answers a question.

    Over the longer term I feel that has got to work in Labour’s favour IMHO.

  • Cameron’s question-evasion this week was cringe inducing. What was really shocking though was when Ed asked about the impact of the Lib Dem conference vote, Dave responded with a load of unrelated nonsense, and Nick Clegg was sitting there nodding along with Dave (with great enthusiasm, I might add). I couldn’t believe it; how far can NC stray from representing his party members and his voters before he is finally deposed?

    Get rid of Clegg, please, if you want my vote ever again.

  • Jack Holroyde 18th Mar '11 - 7:38am

    I’m pretty sure that if the bill isn’t amended, even our ministers would be able to vote against – thus destroying the coalition?
    Ho, Ho, what a mess!
    In response to Stuart Andrew, I would compare it to a boxing match.
    Sometimes, theres no knockout. Then, it’s decided on points.
    If one person knocks the other out (with 50% of the vote) then theres no need to discuss points.

    The trick for the boxer is to land the knockout blow!

  • Ed was very astute to ask Cameron if the NHS reforms will mean that for the first time the NHS will come under EU competition law which means that private companies can appeal to the courts if NHS hospitals are selected for contracts without GPs putting them out to tender to the private sector. It effectively privatises the NHS. Ed has exposed the competition policy red in tooth and claw which is being smuggled into legislation inside the cosy Trojan Horse of GP commissioning in the so called interests of “patient care” . It is really in the interests of profiteeers and ambulance chasing health parasites.

  • Top of the league 18th Mar '11 - 11:48am

    EU competition law states that all services contracts with a value of €193,000 or higher must go through a full tendering process.

    All health service-level agreements are above this threshold. It presently is not an issue, because the NHS is exempt from EU Competition law, and indeed NHS hospitals are “preferred providers” under current arrangements.

    But surely if the new act goes through it will cost £millions, if not £billions to tender out all these contracts and avoid litigation?

  • “Will the LibDem motion on the NHS make any difference? ”

    If not then the security at September conference will need to be inside the hall not around it!

  • @Top of the League

    Many thanks for that additional explanation. Does EU Competition Law make it mandatory that the chief criteria for awarding a contract is cost? What about quality of provision?

    The point you make about the cost of tendering, is, I suggest only going to add to GPs already considerable stress and force them to become strategic and political in defence of their patients’ care.

  • Top of the league 18th Mar '11 - 3:45pm

    The EU legislation stipuldates that the tendering process kicks in at certain thresholds – for services this is €193,000, and that the awarding body (in this case it would be the GP Consortium) has to place the tender in the Supplement to the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU).

    There would then follow a period of time in which all interested bodies within the EU could bid, and after that the awarding body would award the tender according to the criteria originally stipulated (which should include standards on quality etc).

    The cost to the public purse would be the additional time and effort taken under this process, when it will be the case that the NHS local district general hospital would be the only bidder in a high proportion of cases, and the defensive legal advice all parties (GP Consortia, NHS trusts) will be required to take to avoid expensive litigation.

  • @Top of the League

    Again many thanks for that information. To be reflected upon.

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