Health, health, health. Viewers of PMQs must be sick of it by now. Health this, health that. Health, health. On and on. Ad nauseam.
Today’s exchanges involved the usual tussle over which Superman can save the NHS. Dave and his virile economy or Ed with his honked out assertions that he’s the patient’s champion?
The only place where healthcare isn’t massively overstretched is west Africa. Tory Edward Garnier revealed that a spanking new hospital in Sierra Leone, completed with UK money, and run by Save the Children, is currently treating just five patients.
So that’s how you hit waiting time targets. Run the place so badly that everyone runs in the opposite direction.
Cameron promised to chivvy this somnolent facility into life. Sarah Newton, from Falmouth, informed us that a hospital gunboat, RFA Argus, is steaming towards the African coast to relieve the ebola hot-spot. Let’s hope the Argus stays afloat but if it sinks it’ll go down bows first. It was built in Italy.
Today’s session indicated that the key event of 2014 – the Great International Thornberry Tweet Crisis – is still making waves.
Nadhim Zahawi, member for Stratford, said his response to the flag of St George could only be described by William Shakespeare. (‘My constituent,’ as he called him.)
Zahawi rattled through John of Gaunt’s deathbed speech from Richard II.
‘This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,’
And he added a footnote to help us penetrate Shakespeare’s meaning.
‘We shouldn’t sneer at people who work hard, are patriotic and love their country.’
So that’s what the history plays are about. White van man.
Gleeful chaos greeted the name of Mark Reckless. Boo! they yelled when the speaker called him. Boo!!
Bercow loved that. Heckling, barracking, catcalling, seagull impersonations. He welcomes any semi-riotous disturbance in the chamber as it licenses him to get up and flourish his syntax.
The fact that the first syllable of his surname is the same as Edmund Burke’s seems to weigh on him a little too heavily. As silence fell, Berc gazed out at his inferiors in constitutional learning.
‘A parliament,’ he intoned, ‘if it believes in anything, believes in free speech.’
Mentally, he was addressing a joint meeting of Congress. He denounced the boo-club as ‘tedious’ and ‘low-grade’, and he invited Reckless to start again.
Reckless is used to starting again, of course, but he didn’t seem to relish this opportunity. In the past he’s always had the haunted, furtive air of a recluse at a networking party. Now he’s simply rigid with embarrassment. Today, he looked like an undertaker whose top hat has just been blown into the grave.
And he blundered instantly. In what manual of political expertise did he learn that mocking colleagues he has just betrayed is prudent?
Yet that’s what he did. His question about Medway hospital was prefixed with ironic words of congratulation to the PM for making so many recent visits to Rochester.
Cameron asked why he had joined a party, ‘that doesn’t believe in the NHS and wants to break it up.’
Reckless’s head swivelled one way and then the other way, and then back again. What was he disowning this time? His new policy? His old policy? His new party, maybe. It won’t be long. Political revolts always face this dilemma. Before they attain power, everyone’s a martyr. Afterwards, everyone’s a traitor.