‘Nice to get such a warm welcome,’ said Jeremy Corbyn as jeers and hoots greeted him at PMQs. Ironic applause, as Corbyn knows. His enemies love him and his colleagues can’t stand him. ‘And a happy new year,’ he added. He could do with one of those himself. Yesterday, even before the dawn had broken, he managed to sink his own re-launch. On Radio 4’s morning show he hinted that he might favour unlimited fines for anyone earning a penny more than himself. A few hours later, having noted that fat-cat council leaders and millionaire trade unionists had failed to endorse this policy, he dropped it and talked about pay differentials instead.
Corbyn focused on the latest outbreak of misery in the NHS. Last week 485 patients in England had been stuck in corridors for over 12 hours, he said. But not miserable enough. A statistic has no sentimental pull. It doesn’t pant, sweat, cry or bleed. Corbyn needed a patient, preferably a decorated war-veteran approaching his 108th birthday, dying of exposure on a fire-escape. He needed a one-lunged granny bespittling the sheets of a trolley-bed parked between the Cornetto dispenser and the flat-screen TV. He needed screams and gore and despair. But he chose the example of a 22-month-old baby being treated by two nurses on a chair because no beds were available. Eh? What happened to the Ebola victim haemorrhaging in a grid-locked ambulance? Corbo had got the wrong hostage. Labour MPs half-heartedly cried ‘shame!’ as their leader tried to extract maximum pathos from the image of a little bundle of joy being fussed over by two care-workers skilfully improvising in rather homely circumstances.
Theresa May responded to him by speaking pure robot. Bloodless phrases ticker-taped from her mouth while her brain seemed to be engaged elsewhere. ‘There are always extra pressures during winter and we have the pressures of an ageing population and growing, complex needs.’ ‘We’re making sure people are provided with the appropriate care, and the best possible care for them in their circumstances.’ Has a Tory wonk been snipping her responses out of a management guidebook and gluing them into her file? That’s how it sounded.
Corbyn’s attacked failed for the usual reason. He changed his target half way through. From waiting times, he moved to mental health then to social care. If he played cricket he’d re-set the field before every ball.
LibDem Norman Lamb got today’s Top Twaddler prize. ‘The prime minister will understand that despite her reassurances there are genuine and serious concerns among NHS staff about the pressures they are under and it’s for this that reason that ….’ Yeah, yeah. Woolly Lamb thinks the solution to the crisis is a peace conference, or ‘care convention’, as he calls it. Great idea. Ecstasies of red-tape. A country-house hotel, hired at vast expense, sprawling with semi-obese MPs taking turns to yawn through each others’ speeches while Hobnob-munching civil servants doodle on Crown foolscap. After several weeks of oxygenated platitudes the convention would end with a communique featuring the phrases ‘envy of the world’ and ‘there’s more we can do.’ And there certainly would be. Enshrine the convention as an annual fixture and give Lamb a knighthood for services to biscuits.