PMQs: Listen very carefully, I shall wave this shroud only five times

Someone must have told Ed Miliband that he shouldn’t flit around, butterfly-like, between subjects at Prime Minister’s Questions. He did that last week and got a caning for it. So this week he was doggedly persistent – monomaniac even – on just one subject. Indeed, just one question. He repeated the same words over and over and over and over again. The impression was that he had gone from the sublime to the ridiculous, but it worked and he ostensibly wrong-footed David Cameron.

Ed Miliband said that the government’s welfare reform plans would make 7,000 cancer sufferers worse off by up to £94 a week because, after a year, they will stop receiving employment and support allowance . He quoted Macmillan Cancer Support to underline his point. Basically, this week’s Cameron-Miliband routine revolved around Cameron saying Miliband was wrong on this point, then Miliband saying Cameron didn’t know his own bill and repeating the original point, several times.

At the end, though, there was some illumination (unusually for PMQs) when Miliband pointed out that Cameron was mistakenly thinking that Miliband was referring to the rules related to the terminally ill. He (Miliband) wasn’t.

No doubt, the Factcheck folk will analyse this exchange in detail. But to the casual observer, not versed in the minutiae of welfare reform, it appeared that Miliband got the better of the exchange.

Other snippets:

• Gordon Birtwhistle (LibDem) asked the PM if he agrees that interest rates would be higher if the government followed Labour policy. Good point, said Cameron.

• Alan Reid (LibDem) asked Cameron to think again about the speed at which the state pension age for women is being raised. Cameron said only a “relatively small number” of women will be affected.

• It seems that Labour MPs have common cause with LibDem MPs over the women’s pension plans. Nia Griffiths (Lab) echoed Annette Brooke’s question of last week, asking if Cameron will change his mind on plans to force women to wait later for their state pensions.

Note from the Macmillan Dictionary: Shroud-waving: “the use of sad or frightening events or figures to draw attention to issues or to get a political advantage”.

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This entry was posted in PMQs.


  • Cameron blew it this week, he would have planned for an NHS loaded session. His facts appear wrong and he is going head to head with one of the most respected charities in Macmillan. Of course whenever challenged the real Cameron shows his face and we had a bit of Flashman, accusing Labour of using the issue as a smokescreen. He may rue that choice of words when the facts are picked over by the media. Labour were clever to use a case being argued by Macmillan, everyone who has been touched by their excellent services will be likely to believe them on this one….

    Milliband showed passion… shock horror.

  • Sorry, but shouldn’t SOME politicians be raising the issue of cancer sufferers losing almost £100 per week in benefits? I dare say the Lib Dems, had they not been in Government, would have raised the issue themselves.

  • Spot on PMiller, if the coalition was working this should have been picked up and corrected by the LibDems, the Tories couldn’t care less as revealed by Camerons comments and Francis Maude later on the radio. Everything can be sacrificed at the alter of deficit reduction. Noted Clegg looking as lost on the issue as his master. Games up for the Lib Dems. I have voted LD for 20 years – will not be voting LD again.

  • Paul Walter obviously can’t stand Ed Milliband putting one over on Harry Paget Flashman but he did. It was obvious that Cameron had got hold of the wrong end of the stick (terminal vs recovering cancer patients)and this was confirmed by his increasingly red face and hectoring language. Well done Ed say I!

  • @BrianD and @DJ, if you read the article and read the Paul’s earlier response, I think he points out why you are wrong here: “Miliband got the better of the exchange” and “it worked and he ostensibly wrong-footed David Cameron.”

    You have both clearly read the first paragraph and commented without reading the whole very impartial article which commends Miliband’s illumination of the issue and says he won.

  • Let’s not shoot the messenger, I enjoy Paul’s weekly write up of PMQ’s (even if I sometimes do not agree with his conclusion) and do not feel he is biased. Perhaps if Ed performed better on a regular occaision……..

  • Henry, what are you talking about? Of course I understood the article and the conclusion PW reached. Ed had a good day highlighting Cameron’s complete lack of any idea about what his policies actually mean.

    My point is that, and this is a Lib Dem forum is it not, I don’t think most Lib Dem voters will be very happy that the LD’s have helped form and concur with a policy that impacts some of the most vunerable people. I didn’ think that was what I continually voted LD for over the last 20 years. The point is that Ed should never have had the chance to stand up and win the day with DC over this issue if the LD’s had used their influence (little as it may be) and listened to Macmillan when they made submissions previously.

    And this isn’t about covering the coalitions back or scoring political points it’s about the LD doing the right thing for the people who voted for them. I don’t expect anything different from the Tories, I did and do from the LD’s. Once again they have let their electorate down. It’s why I will not be voting LD again along with many, many others.

    Which LD ministers and MPs gave had this bill on their desk? Why was this issue not dealt with, particularly as it had been specifically pointed out to the government many times over the last few months?

  • I am delighted that Ed got the better of the exchange. It was disgraceful that Cameron asserted that Ed was using the issue to resile from the coalition’s Welfare Reform Bill. For the sake of the cancer sufferers I would be even more delighted if Ed’s raising of the issue produced tangible results and resulted in the refunding of their 94 quid.
    Surely the Lib Dem MPs can do something here? After all, it wouldn’t be the first U Turn that Ed has set in motion. And this coalition has now done more U turns than a taxi driver.

  • Read Guido on Macmillan and their coordinated press release (to 10 minutes) with Labour and their spokesman being a Labour candidate. Macmillan cared for my mum when she was dying from cancer, but that doesn’t mean that Ed can win any respect from me by referring to them. Fundamentally Macmillan exist because neither Labour nor the Tories set up a proper funded organisation to care for cancer patients.

  • @Alistair:

    Nice whatabouttery, but the topic is actually about cancer sufferers losing their benefit, for most of them this is vital and above party politics.

    Who cares about what Labour and the Tories did or did not do in the past, the point is you lot could be using your power to protect the most vulnerable in society, but once again you’ve completely failed to make a peep and just nod along with Cameron’s blustering. I’m not a fan of Milliband or Labour these days, but because nobody seems to care about the sick/disabled these days, it is good to have *someone* speak out for us at PMQs.

    They’re doing the sort of thing all of us thought you would do when you entered the Coalition. Liberal Democrats will now be forever remembered, party, for taking benefits away from Cancer patients, let alone other equally and more vulnerable groups.

  • Chris Riley 17th Jun '11 - 8:59am

    That’s right Alastair. What a disgrace that Macmillan should campaign for cancer patients!

    Staines is trying to smear Macmillan – Macmillan! – for party advantage. Good grief, Alastair, who do you think is the bad guy in this exchange? I’ll give you a clue: it’s not the charity that cares for cancer sufferers.

    Oh, and Macmillan predate the first Labour government. If you have to blame political parties for them existing, I’m afraid you have to blame the Tories and the Liberals, although personally, I’m glad they exist and would rather praise Douglas Macmillan for it.

  • Of course Macmillan should campaign for cancer patients, but charities have to be non-political! If a person works for Macmillan and is a Labour candidate – that person has to make sure not to compromise the charity. My point that Macmillan should not have to exist after all these years stands. The reality is that care for cancer patients is fragmented and frankly, patients shouldn’t have to rely on charity – the state should be able to organise itself better. It doesn’t give me any pleasure to see this government continuing with New Labours reforms, but FFS – wouldn’t it be nice if Labour actually presented some kind of alternatives once in a while? In reality, this government gets more credible opposition from a couple of charities and an Archbishop in a typical week than the Labour machine can muster. I suppose all the “cabs for hire” are busy with other things.

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