Here’s our take on this week’s PMQs
Even as someone who could be used as a proof point for Nigel Lawson’s assertion that the NHS is “the nearest thing the English have to a religion”, today’s headlines were difficult to swallow. Ranging from the alarming Indy splash “In Critical Condition”, to the Mirror’s truly terrifying “Our NHS is Dying”, the news of an NHS drowning in troubles provided a perfect backdrop to the first PMQs of the year for Ed Miliband.
It was refreshing to see Miliband with the bit between his teeth, armed with several fierce questions that called into question Coalition policies that have undoubtedly contributed to the A&E pressures we are reading about today. Let’s hope this sort of performance is something he can draw upon during the election campaign.
Cameron complained that Labour are simply political point scoring over what is a national crisis (The Telegraph has also taken this line in their leader today), but it is impossible to believe that the Tories wouldn’t be doing the same if roles were reversed, and his lack of coherent response in the Chamber was plain for all to see.
What concerns me most is that we seem to have entered a bidding war, where both Labour and the Tories are looking to prove who cares the most about the NHS by how much they will increase its budget. Our health service will not be saved by investment alone. There are some serious questions surrounding social care, especially for older people that need to be answered. The next government must look to innovative methods to keep people out of A&E – engaging meaningfully with the third sector, who already provide excellent frontline care in the community, would be an excellent place to start.
This week’s PMQs demonstrates the potential of Ed Miliband to secure victories against Cameron, and showed signs of a leader starting to find his stride (finally). Of course the focus today was the NHS, and of course Cameron decisively failed to rebut the accusations of failure levelled at him by Miliband. Opening with a quote from Cameron’s 2011 campaign promising to cut A&E waiting times confidently served to invalidate both Cameron’s assertions that weaponizing the NHS is ‘disgusting’, and that the Conservatives have overseen improvements in healthcare.
For once it was Labour set-piece arguments that convincingly gave Miliband the win. Ed stressed the failure of the Conservatives to introduce efficiency and quality in their failure to integrate services, or heed the warnings of doctors and nurses against the £3 billion NHS restructuring. Hear Hear Ed.
What remains to be seen is whether Miliband can give voice to Labour’s more concrete policies on the NHS, such as their promise of more integrated services. If he can do this with the conviction demonstrated today, he might be on to a winner.
The tone of PMQs – as is often the case – seemed completely disconnected from wider events today. But politics is a myopic beast, especially at election time.
In the chamber, Ed Miliband skewered the Prime Minister on the NHS, dragging the Conservatives onto an issue that Labour believes will deliver it victory at the next election. Cameron looked discomfited, Ed Miliband look emboldened (without landing a killer blow). Meanwhile, on long-term funding, an answer there came forth none. It’s going to be a long four months until that election, but the Parliamentary Labour Party will have a small spring in its step today.