The referendum is slowly (very slowly) breaking up Cameron’s cabinet. It’s put him in a weird mood. Yesterday he was striding about in shirt-sleeves like a bogus realtor selling flats on the moon. At PMQs today he was calmer and prepared for some rough weather. It failed to materialise. Jez We Can (Do a U-turn on Europe) didn’t want to discuss the In-Out decision in case viewers spotted that his love of Brussels is a mere summer crush dating from his election as Labour boss. Previously he was a committed Europe-nobbler. With his mentor, Tony Benn, he used to trudge along to every anti-EU meeting available. Alas, no one noticed. And no one cared. Afterwards, the great pipe-smoker would return by cab to his London mansion, switch on his dictaphone for an all-night diary session, and express his dismay that the corrupt press had failed — yet again! — to report on the revolutionary posturings of Labour’s greatest international saboteurs. Corbyn must be celebrating that omission now.
Corbyn tried to embarrass Cameron on a shortage of NHS radiographers but Cameron struck back with Wales. Elderly taffs with malfunctioning legs have to wait 197 days for a new thigh-bone. (P.S., in my mum’s case she keeled over in the street and had it done instantly.) Cameron gets all pink and flarey-nostriled about Labour in Wales. ‘Pick up the phone,’ he shrieked at Corbyn. ‘Tell them to stop cutting our NHS.’
‘Our NHS’. I bet that hurt. Eternal stewardship of this sacred national monument is the first verse of the Labour gospel.
Ben Bradshaw, puzzlingly for an Exeter MP, wants Russian oligarchs in London rounded up and their piggie banks emptied out. The report into the Litvinenko murder offers us a chance to ‘tackle dirty Russian money and property that helps sustain the Putin regime’. So, we annexe Belgravia and sequester half of Kensington. Like Nasser did with the Suez Canal. High-minded Cameron agreed and he flavoured his reply with gangsta jargon. He doesn’t like a lot of ‘hot money coming through London.’ You bet it’s hot. Every palm it touches is burning to pass it on. He spoke of ‘asset seizures’ and ‘beneficial’ (ie fraudulent) ‘ownership’. He even talked about preventing ‘corrupt money’ from Africa ending up in the capital. Does anyone believe this faux-Periclean drivel? The market is invisible and it usefully repatriates aid bungs. And it keeps the lights burning in casinos and knocking-shops from Pimlico to Canary Wharf. It has too many beneficiaries for it to be disturbed.
Labour’s Stella Creasy added to her party’s woes on health. It was extraordinary. In full view of her colleagues, she ambled down the runway in a kamikaze suit and boarded a fighter-jet loaded with explosives. Her theme was New Labour’s PFI deal. She begged the PM to overturn a fix that compels her local hospital trust to fork out £1.5m every week to loan-sharks appointed by Tony Blair. That £1.5m is just the interest. Cameron twinkled knowingly at the opposition. ‘It takes a long time to unwind the damage done by a Labour government.’
Less smugness and a bit more anguish in that reply would have helped. But Cameron doesn’t care any more. Not really. After the referendum, he’s through. That’s why he’s so worked up by the secret wranglings in Brussels. The British vote, when it comes, will be his political death-knell. The first bong hasn’t sounded yet but the ringers have their hands around the ropes.