PMQs: The bread rolls fly thick and fast

One of the things which Ed Miliband does right at Prime Minister’s Questions, is to start with short, straight-forward questions. He’s obviously realized this is a good ploy, as he does it invariably. Today’s shorty was: “A year into his Government, how would the Prime Minister rate his handling of the NHS?”

It’s taken a while for David Cameron to work out how best to answer these shorties. He started by waffling like billy-o, tying himself up in knots. Then he tried a short reply and came a cropper there as well. So now he goes middle for diddle with a medium-length, pithy reply. Spending up. Doctors up. Bureaucrats down. Allegedly.

Waiting times for diagnosis and test results up, countered Miliband, trying to pin the NHS reform plans on Cameron, rather than Lansley.

Cameron then berated Miliband for previously saying that waiting times are up. They are down, insisted Cameron. No, they’re up, said Miliband. No, Miliband is wrong, said Cameron. Blimey. That was a rather fatuous game of verbal ping-pong, reminiscent of a Wodehousian Club bun-fight with Miliband playing the role of Pongo Twistleton and Cameron playing Gussie Fink-Nottle. Despite its strengths, the PMQ format does not, for some reason, allow a sober comparison of data, with the truth emerging. Instead, we just watch the bread rolls flying. The best we get is a threat that the numbers “will be placed in the library of the House of Commons”, the pre-internet equivalent of sticking them on Facebook.

On the NHS reforms, Cameron produced a powerful quote from John Healy, Labour Health Spokesperson: “ I have no problem with the broad aim of the changes”.

Up to this point Cameron had not been particularly Flashmanesque. He had avoided his normal gratuitous insults. So I suspect Miliband had pre-scripted his next accusation that “Flashman is back”.

We then got a torrent of buns points flying:

From Miliband: the NHS chief executive has asked managers to “press on with implementation” – so that belies the claim of a genuine listening exercise in the current reform “pause” – it is a “sham”. The Royal College of GPs say the reforms will cause “irreparable damage”. And, again, waiting lists are “rising”. (Indeed, Miliband seems to have his own instant NHS statistics-gathering antennae, saying: “On a day when waiting lists are rising…”)

From Cameron: Labour are cutting NHS funding in Wales. Miliband has said “No change is not an option”. The main elements of the reforms were started under Labour.

A score-draw, I would say. Don’t ask me whether waiting lists are going up or down, though.

Other snippets were:

  • The Speaker upbraided Michael Gove for “shouting his head off”, thereby setting a bad example to the nation’s school children (none of whom would have noticed).
  • Bob Russell (Lib Dem) asked about “the obscenity of 1,000 multimillionaires boosting their personal wealth by 18% in the past year”.
  • Tom Brake (Lib Dem) asked what progress had been made in tackling the “tackling the economic and financial wasteland” left by Labour.
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This entry was posted in PMQs.


  • Does anybody have the evidence for NHS waiting times one way or the other?

  • Omnishambles 12th May '11 - 5:57pm


    There has been a slightly higher than average seasonal rise in January and February of this year, but whether it is a blip or a trend only time will tell.

  • @Omnishambles

    Many thanks for that. It would appear that there was a sharp decline in waiting times in 2008, then a period of stability until the slightly higher than average seasonal rise in January and February 2011. So, technically, both Cameron and Ed Miliband are correct, although Cameron can only claim credit for a very short period of stability. He appears to have difficulty with time in relation to outcomes as evidenced by his assumption that the coalition has suddenly created many more doctors. As Ed Miliband pointed out to him, it takes seven years to train a doctor.

  • @Paul Walter “On the NHS reforms, Cameron produced a powerful quote from John Healy, Labour Health Spokesperson: “ I have no problem with the broad aim of the changes”.

    It was rich for Cameron to attack Ed Miliband for misleading the house when, according to Labour List, Cameron
    misquoted shadow health secretary John Healey for what Labour List believe to be the fourth time at PMQs.
    Apparently, what Healey actually said was:

    “There is nothing wrong with the general aims of the changes, but what the Government are doing is different from what they are saying. In one third of the legislation, they are not setting up GP consortia or reducing bureaucracy in the NHS, but setting up the NHS as a full-blown market. That is the wrong prescription for our NHS, and it is patients who will suffer.”

    Just thought I’d put the record straight.

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