Cameron made history today. He gave the Speaker a genuine reason to call PMQs to a halt.
Usually Mr Bercow pops up two or three times to shout down shouters and to waste time by ordering time-wasters not to waste time. But today protocol obliged him to stop proceedings. A half-hearted
punch-up was in progress over government u-turns and the PM was defending his reforms by referring to his favourite Labour ally, the shadow health secretary. If he quotes John Healey much more
often Cameron will owe him royalties. Ed Miliband accused the government of lengthening waiting times by abolishing Labour’s targets and Cameron countered by claiming that the figures were
misrepresented regularly. "The opposition leader misled the house two weeks ago," said Cameron.
Up popped Bercow to demand a retraction. "I’m sure the prime minister will withdraw," he said. Which isn’t quite the same as ordering a withdrawal. "What I meant,"
said Cameron. "is that he gave an interesting use of facts." Which isn’t quite the same as making a withdrawal. Up till this point Miliband had previously looked half-asleep. Now he
looked half-annoyed. "The House will have noticed that he didn’t withdraw," said the lustreless Miliband. "That’s because he’s rattled about the NHS!"
The accusations seemed to ignite something in him that briefly resembled pugnacity. "He says he loves the NHS. But he wanted to put a free market free-for-all at the centre of our health
services!" Cameron glanced into his gag-box of Labour putdowns and pulled one out. "We’re not taking lectures from a party that gave £250m to private sector health companies
for doing nothing!"
Miliband often loses these exchanges. Today he lost and looked like he knew it. He flumbled his blines and lumbled his fines. He was awful. And his performance will act like a dose of weedkiller on
his grassroots. Yet again, Cameron got around the course without breaking into a saunter. His insouciance when slapped down for calling Miliband a liar was reminiscent of Blair at his princely
Afterwards on the Daily Politics, the youthful Nick Watt, of the Guardian, created instant political tradition by declaring that opposition leaders are usually allowed 18 months to prove
themselves. That’s news to me, Nick, but it’s a fair estimate. Miliband could be in the crusher by Christmas and Labour will get the chance to give Dave a present he really
doesn’t need. Another Dave.
Political morticians will have noted a stark contrast between the Justice and the Health Secretaries. A chortling, ruddy-cheeked Ken Clarke sat loosely crammed into his seat with his jacket lying
open and his long dark tie outlining the contours of his stomach like a measuring tape. A few spaces along perched Andrew Lansley on the edge of his seat with his hooded eyes swivelling anxiously
towards the PM for signs of favour. "He may be 71," said Cameron of the Humptyish Clarke, "but there’s plenty more fuel in his tank!" No such happy motoring metaphor was
thrown the way of Lansley. He may be on his bike soon.