David Cameron was grilled today on plans for a ‘7-day NHS’. This is his attempt to iron out a slight kink in the NHS schedules. The trouble is that although our heroic doctors and nurses keep regular hours our deadly diseases are hopelessly unpredictable and like to smite us down whenever they feel a bit grim and reaperish. Perhaps we should write to them about it. In practice this means that NHS efficiency varies widely over the ‘7-day cycle’ or ‘week’ as it’s known. Get ill on a Tuesday and you’ll probably be at a party on Friday. Get ill on a Saturday and you’ll probably be at a funeral on Wednesday. Your own.
The party leaders clashed tepidly over a disputed figure – six or eleven thousand – compiled by some statistical freak in Whitehall. The digit is irrelevant. What matters is the scandal it refers to. The NHS is busily orchestrating thousands of ‘preventable deaths’ each year. And note the cosy upholstering of the phrase in apostrophes. If we called them ‘homicides due to negligence’ we’d get a lot more heated about it. But the politicians want to lull us into silence because neither party needs anything more than a ritual dust-up over health policy. Cameron and Corbyn bickered fruitlessly about the precise tally while the stunning truth – that the NHS is a grave-diggers charter which reaches maximum productivity at weekends – was overlooked.
Then the mums got roped in. Cameron’s old girl campaigns in her area against Tory cuts, and the PM slyly used her activism to his advantage. He pretended to overhear a heckler. ‘What would your mother say?’ he repeated with a suspiciously confident air. ‘She’d say, “Put on a proper suit, do up your tie and sing the national anthem.”’ This scripted line worked better than anything Cameron has said since the dawn of Corbyn.
Corbyn fought back – with help from above. His late mother, or perhaps her heavenly spokesperson, released the following statement to the Labour leader as he stood at the despatch box. ‘Stand up!’ said Corbyn citing her dearest precept. ‘Stand up for the principle of a health service free at the point of use.’
The festival of ancestral wraiths was amplified by a visit from Aneurin Bevan. Cameron claimed that the NHS’s founding spirit would today be smiling happily down on his health reforms. He actually said ‘Nye Bevan’ out loud and dared to propose that an evil Tory scheme might enjoy the endorsement of ‘Nye’. Such impiety! To defile a sacred Labour relic by waving it openly in the chamber. Horror passed briefly across Corbyn’s wintry brows. ‘Nye Bevan would be turning in his grave,’ he growled. Sadly he tried to Welshify his pronunciation by over-stressing the ‘an’ at the expense of the ‘Bev’, and it came out rather strangely, as if he were referring to a new NHS people-carrier, the NyberVan. It didn’t sound too Welsh either. Shrewd Labour veterans manage to suggest their closeness to ‘Nye’ by calling him ‘Nye’, full stop. Even those born after he died are always ‘Nye’ this and ‘Nye’ that.
Owen Paterson teased a seismic admission from the PM. He asked why the Leave camp is being denied access to civil service research on Europe. Cameron replied that the suspension of collective cabinet responsibility ‘does not mean that the government is neutral, nor is the civil service.’ So Whitehall has taken sides in a national poll. Isn’t that the one thing they’re supposed not to do?