Today we saw a brand new Ed Miliband. And a brand new campaign strategy. He’s given up trying to win the election. All he wants to do now is to enjoy losing it and to go down in style. This must be quite a relief to him. For the next 10 months he can ignore the grassroots and the business vote and the floaters and swingers in the key marginals. He can even dismiss the tedious views of his Manson Family shadow cabinet. What matters now is to raise a cheer from the die-hard loyalists. To put a spring in the step of the back-room boys. To hearten the SpAds and the ad-men and the sound-bite designers. And to make the Bubble burst with pride.
It’s an astonishing strategy. Almost a death-bed admission. The game’s up chaps. Let’s have a nice group hug and remind ourselves of a golden certainty. We lost the fight but at least we were right.
He began PMQs by squandering three questions in a row. His theme was the new national sport of ‘investigating historic child abuse allegations’. Or, to put it more simply, antiquarian vigilanteism. It’s great fun to play – part nostalgia, part prurience – and anyone can have a go. You select a decade from the recent past. You close in on a few grizzly old gropers. And you hound them to death. The government has even appointed a paedo tsarina, Dame Butler-Sloss, to lead the lynch-mob.
Having dealt with this, Miliband turned to the NHS. Not the service itself. But an infinitesimally tiny aspect of its work as revealed in a phrase used by David Cameron last week. Patients, it seems, are lolling on trolleys for a few nano-seconds longer than the ministry would like. And last Wednesday, when Cameron referred to his file of notes, he got his digits in a twist. And he quoted a factoid that turned out to be a fib-oid.
Miliband pounced on this. He accused Cameron of misleading parliament. He demanded a correction and an apology because ‘the House of Commons Library called him out on it.’
Everyone enjoyed watching Mega-Wonk Ed challenging Super-Toff Dave with this EDL language. ‘Called him out.’
But what a useless ambush. No doubt Ed’s gang of geeks and boffins were melting with delight but everyone else was falling asleep. Cameron ambled over to a different part the pie-chart and produced a new statistical cross-section that suggests that the NHS is a beacon of excellence. It all depends where you examine the care chronicle. After 18 weeks or 26 weeks or 52 weeks? Or after 20 weeks, 148 weeks or 26,897 weeks?
Both leaders attacked each other with different sets of figures. And both had corpulent files brimming with surveys and statistical breakdowns. But where from? Allegedly 19,000 bureaucrats have been slung down the waste chute and into the incinerator. Yet the culture of institutional futility remains. There are still throngs of fact-finders touring the wards with stop-watches and clipboards and noting down how long each semi-conscious pensioner has been gasping, ‘water, water!’ in the broom cupboard.
A lack of care isn’t the problem. It’s a surfeit of arithmetic.