PMQs: Pot-shot Miliband, a hand grenade, and some calming poetry

Wow! A Liberal Democrat MP asked the first question at Prime Minister’s Questions this week.

Andrew George spoke in English, rather than Cornish – which he has been known to speak in the Commons chamber. (Well, all right then, it was only for his maiden speech, I grant you). Anyway, Andrew’s question implied some scepticism about the government’s NHS reform plans, saying it involved a “gamble” which might give “private companies the easy pickings”.

Ed Miliband picked up the PM on the disappointing unemployment figures, especially those for youths. He said they were caused by the government “cutting too far and too fast” and called for the reinstatement of the “Future jobs fund”. Cameron did an effective demolition job on that scheme, saying it was “expensive, badly targeted and did not work”.

And with that, Miliband was off – back onto the benches and we were onto a Tory MP for the next question. What? No retort by the opposition leader to that Cameron blast-back? No. It was one of Ed Miliband’s “hide and seek” weeks. Like a guerilla sniper, he takes a shot then disappears back into a derelict building, only to re-emerge from behind a water hydrant six questions later for another pot-shot with a different calibre gun. I’m not sure it works.

Chris Bryant asked a question about job cuts in the South Wales police force, during which he told other members to “Calm down!”. Cameron replied saying that he found the best way of calming down was to read Chris Bryant’s poetry, which he called “instructive”. I have since read a poem by Chris Bryant. It is reasonably well crafted, if somewhat derivative. (Hark at me! I can talk).

Cameron also said that such cuts (of 5%) would take the force back to 2007/8 levels and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate say they can be achieved without losing front line officers.

After a couple of tame Tory questions and a DUP one about fuel prices in “NordIron”, Ed Miliband was back, peeping out from behind the hydrant, popping one off about NHS waiting times. Cameron did quite a good sales job on the NHS reforms, but Miliband insisted on asking for a guarantee that waiting times will not rise.

Cameron was able, with ease, to turn the words of Miliband’s (then) shadow chancellor back on him. Alan Johnson said “there is no logic” in increasing NHS spending with inflation. Johnson has been quite good supplying Cameron with little killer quotes to fire at Miliband. Perhaps that is why, as I write this, Johnson is now Balls.

Miliband accused Cameron of abolishing the 18-week waiting list guarantee but Cameron said it was written into the NHS constitution so could not go. It was then Dr Fox’s turn to have a quote used by the leader opposite. “Like tossing a hand grenade into the NHS” was apparently Dr Fox’s take on the reforms. This is all getting too military this week. Sorry. I obviously read one too many of those “Commando” story comics as a boy.

Miliband then labouriously built up an edifice which was topped off with “you can’t trust the Tories on the NHS.” Cameron retorted with quite a good finisher:

…this Government are putting the money into the NHS, but the Opposition do not support that; this Government are cutting the bureaucracy in the NHS, but they do not support that; and this Government are reforming the NHS so that we get the best in Europe, but they do not support that. So this is the right hon. Gentleman’s policy: no to the money, keep the bureaucracy, do not reform the NHS. I would go back to the blank sheet of paper.

So, a bit of a score draw there, I’d say.

Other snippets:

· Bob Russell (LibDem) raised the issue of a named disabled constituent, a father of four, who, due to the “callous cretins” on a tribunal will soon be out of work. Strong stuff. Cameron said he was happy to take up the case – which he doesn’t often do – he normally palms these things off onto a minister. Good for Bob.

· There were a couple of Labour questions about the health reforms. Those whips know what they are doing.

· The Cabinet Secretary is looking at whether to release some of Tony Blair’s correspondence with George Bush concerning the Iraq war.

· Naomi Long (Alliance) (Hurrah!) asked about why UK rules about the transparency of political donations are not being extended to Northern Ireland (I can’t call it ‘NordIron’ twice). Cameron said he’d write to her with a considered response. That subject obviously wasn’t in his briefing.

· Gordon Birtwhistle (LibDem) asked about the closure of the A&E and children’s departments at Burnley hospital and whether such closures would be avoided under the government’s “people power” reforms. Yes, said Cameron, in terms. The enthusiasm for these NHS reforms was positively intoxicating. Cameron and Birtwhistle were getting carried away with all the euphoria. Quick, pass a Chris Bryant poem. They need to calm down.

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This entry was posted in PMQs.


  • david clayton 20th Jan '11 - 9:35pm

    Well you make a great job of defending Cameron of charges of recklessly increasing youth unemployment and, at the very least semi privatising the NHS. Hope you are pleased with yourself. Meanwhile thousands are receiving redundancy notices and the private health corporations, who so generously contributed to Tory coffers, are circling for their share of the health money bonanza…… Well done Paul Walter and the Lib Dems

  • @david clayton
    You’re a bit unfair to Paul I think.

    He is reporting on PMQ’s not on what PMQ’s should have been. Milliband missed a couple of open goals and left himself open at the back (sorry for the multiple football analogies!). He has previously blogged pointing out where Milliband has had the upper hand. For the record I think he was spot on on his assessment of a draw…

    I don’t agree with the Tories on the NHS or the Economy but it’s not Pauls fault Labour chose the wrong Milliband to highlight these problems in the house effectively….

  • david clayton 20th Jan '11 - 10:03pm

    @Steve Way – ok you are right – i just find that every time i come across Lib Dems at the moment i want to point out the fact you are defending a government that is casually creating unemployment, especially among the young and privatising the NHS. As i have said before on here i am a Labour member and to be honest not wild about either Milliband, but i find the actions of the Lib Dems very difficult to understand. No Lib Dems means no coalition and means this crap would not be taking place. Granted it would be some other crap but may well not involve the priorities of the extremely wealthy, large corporations and public schoolboys taking priority over everyone else. Seriously waht on earth do you lot think you are doing? Is being in power worth this big a sell out? Or, and i am sure this is not true, is this the real nature of the Lib Dems?

  • Allen Taylor-Hoad 20th Jan '11 - 10:37pm

    The “tossing a hand grenade into the NHS” remark was made by Tory MP Dr Sarah Wollaston, not Liam Fox.

  • “Cameron did an effective demolition job on that scheme, saying it was “expensive, badly targeted and did not work”.”

    Oh no he didn’t. That’s what he always says, regular as clockwork, whenever he scraps anything the previous government was doing. OK, some schemes really are inefficient. Cameron never gives any indication of having made any real effort to find out which, he just plays yah-boo politics and reverses policies for the sake of reversing them. Just what we used to condemn Labour for, in fact!

  • Ed The Snapper 21st Jan '11 - 6:58am

    Another LibDem blog that gives uncritical report for the Tories. Another reason never to make the mistake of voting LibDem again.

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