Everyone predicted a sombre PMQs. It was anything but. A mood of opportunistic and lacerating silliness dominated today’s exchanges. The NHS – poor thing – was fought over like a bunny rabbit caught by two packs of ravening hounds.
Miliband’s aim was to take the word ‘crisis’ and gum it to the health service with Superglue. He accused Cameron of destroying walk-in centres, wrecking social care and wasting billions on reorganisation. In reply Cameron airily waved five billion brand new pounds to be spent on social care which he says Labour opposes.
Then he blundered by asking Miliband to suggest a solution to the problem. This not only validated Miliband’s ‘crisis’ claim but it handed the Labour leader a free hit.
‘My solution. Get rid of this useless prime minister.’
Out, signalled Ed Balls, with a thumb-jerk.
Today’s big loser was the NHS. Backbenchers created the impression that the system is a kind of war-torn Butlins with sick pensioners languishing unattended in field-tents while queues of yellow ambulances trundle in circles around over-stretched hospitals hoping to nab a parking space and tip their ailing cargo out onto the blood-spattered Tarmac. All highly distressing. We’re also assured that this bacterial stew is the ‘envy of the world’. It would scarcely qualify as the envy of the pre-Roman world.
Cameron’s killer line came from the BBC’s Nick Robinson who recently passed on a confidence from Ed Miliband. Labour’s hope is to ‘weaponise the NHS.’
Disgusting, said Cameron. He intensified this later. ‘The most disgusting thing I’ve heard in politics.’
Not as disgusting, countered Milliband, as betraying the public’s trust.
On a lighter note, Sir John Chilcot’s long-awaited historical treatise about the Iraq invasion was mentioned twice. Fans of the forthcoming tour de force, (working title: The Chilcot Report), are so keen to devour its contents that they’ve written to backbenchers demanding its immediate release. Cameron said he was powerless to bring forward the publication date which is due after the election. What a coup for the book’s marketing team. It’s hard to get a new title mentioned on Front Row let alone at PMQs.
Cameron revealed that that the manuscript has already been circulated, in a special limited edition, among those personalities who are attacked and lampooned within its pages.
What’s going on? Either the publishers are so fearful of legal action that they’ve given the book’s main satirical targets several months to burnish their rebuttals. Or, more likely, the controversy is a wily PR stunt intended to boost expectations and generate a rush of pre-sales. Sir John is said to be cock-a-hoop with the advance purchases. Orders now number seventeen – and climbing – and he’s coming under pressure to give the book a snappier title such as ‘Path of Blood’, ‘False Prospectus’, or ‘Blair and Bush: the Indictment Begins.’
Sir John meanwhile is refusing all calls, and is busy drafting a screenplay in the same Sloane Street hotel where Julian Fellowes writes Downton Abbey. Principal photography is due to start early next year with Benedict Cumberbatch as Tony Blair, Matt Lucas as Gordon Brown, and Meryl Streep as George Bush, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Tariq Aziz and Saddam Hussein.
[Update: George Bush has registered his willingness to play himself, and the producers agree that ‘no one else could do it quite as well as he could.’]