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.