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Miliband snipes, Cameron deflects, Bercow bobs

22 February 2012

3:59 PM

22 February 2012

3:59 PM

Let’s be honest. I shouldn’t say this but I can’t help it. I’m
fed up. The NHS reform process has been dragging on for months, and still there’s no end in sight. Ed Miliband brought it up at PMQs for the third week running.

The position remains the same. Miliband loves it. Cameron lives with it. The PM claimed that 8,200 GP practices are now practising his reforms and the Labour leader replied with a list of
professional bodies — nurses, doctors, midwives, radiologists — who oppose them. And that’s exactly the trouble, for me, at least. If the issue were a race-horse some crazy
campaigner would plunge beneath its thundering hooves. But it’s not. It’s a set of abbreviations. It’s a lot of indignant medics writing narky letters to newspapers. It’s
one series of acronyms being replaced by another. Here’s what I mean. Let’s try a snippet — just a short one, I promise — from today’s debate.

In Homerton hospital, in east London, said Mr Miliband, HIV care is currently commissioned by one organisation. Under the reforms it’ll be commissioned by three.

See my point? If you can turn that into a winning slogan you’re a political genius. All Miliband can manage is hoity-toity sniping. And for a man committed to fairness he’s far too good
at sounding superior.

He called Cameron’s big NHS meeting on Monday an ‘emergency summit’ and he mocked the PM for claiming to listen to nurses and doctors while seemingly unable ‘to be in the
same room as them.’

Cameron didn’t correct Ed’s ‘emergency summit’ slur. Instead he said something calculated to enrage Labour voters. ‘Our NHS,’ he called it. That’s
blasphemy, of course, but it conceals a curious truth. As Cameron rattled off his NHS agenda — more choice, less bureaucracy, fewer managers and all that — he mentioned that Labour once
shared these goals too.

A weird policy-swap is in progress. Cameron is pursuing his opponents’ initiatives and his opponents are busy disavowing them. But Labour are enjoying the fight too much to admit that.

They can’t get enough of it. The bust-up casts them as rebels and outlaws. It revives cherished memories of their grandparents as street-fighters and heroes devoted to the common man and the
overthrow of the evil Tory establishment.

So they’ll keep the racket up for as long as they can. Not least because — amazingly — this issue has woken the Lib Dem rank-n-file from their slumbers. Those fearless militiamen
(and militia-women and militia-transgender individuals) are on the march. The grassroots are aflame. More Lib Dems have quit over the NHS reforms than flounced out over tuition fees. Most of them,
one assumes, are heading for Labour.

So whatever else Cameron is up to he’s certainly effecting a top-down re-organisation of his opponents’ movement. They haven’t looked so chipper since they flunked the last

A bad day for the PM. And even worse for the Speaker. He kept bobbing up at the slightest kerfuffle and inflicting his regal pieties on the house. ‘I ask members to think of what the country
thinks of how we conduct ourselves,’ he said.

‘Tranquil and statesmanlike,’ he declared at one point, ‘is the mode members should strive for.’ That’s how he talks. Adjectives first. Like a public health
announcement written by Cicero. I wonder how Mrs Bercow finds him in bed. Tranquil and statesmanlike there too I expect. Having halted the session more times than I could count, he finally made
this bizarre observation. ‘There have been lots of interruptions today but I’m interested in hearing backbenchers.’ Absolutely, old chap, and but for you we might.

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