Verdict: Last week we said it was a performance that Cameron would want to forget. The same could be said for this week, although it’s impossible not to be impressed by the phenomenal arrogance and chutzpah on show from the Prime Minister this week.
In previous weeks we’ve catalogued the selective misquoting of Labour’s shadow health minister John Healey by the PM. After his first letter we assumed he’d stop, after his second letter we assumed he wouldn’t try again. So it was a show of astonishing dishonesty for Cameron to misquote Healey for the third time with the same lines.
It’s increasingly clear that Cameron relies on a series of rhetorical crutches at PMQs – pre-scripted answers – and the Healey misquote is his NHS crutch.
What was disappointing is that Ed Miliband had the opportunity to kick that crutch away from the PM and send him sprawling. Miliband surely knows (if he is well briefed) that Cameron is omitting a crucial line from Healey’s speech, and yet he failed to detonate the grenade that was sitting in the PM’s lap.
To move away from tortured metaphors, if Miliband had the line he should had used it. If he didn’t then he’s badly briefed. To read out the whole quote would have exposed Cameron to ridicule. He won’t present Ed with many more opportunities to make him a fool, so they need to be taken ruthlessly when they appear.
In fairness to Miliband, he put in a strong performance today. His defence of Labour’s record on the NHS was robust and confident, his riposte to Cameron’s “pre-scripted questions” line worked well, and he put Cameron under real pressure on the NHS, which is an increasingly difficult issue for the PM. Cameron was left pretending that their re-organisation wasn’t a restructure. That’s a line that is, quite literally, incredible.
Ed could have embarrassed Cameron today, but he didn’t. Fortunately though Cameron made a good job of doing that himself.
12.34: An NHS dominated PMQs (with a smattering of AV) comes to a close. We’ll bring you our full verdict by 1pm.
12.32: Cameron confirms that he wants nuclear power to play a role in Britain’s future power provision. Not an easy argument to make this week.
12.25: Tory MP Bernard Jenkins quotes Ben Bradshaw, the Labour Yes spokesperson, attacking AV. Ouch.
12.22: Lindsay Roy asks Cameron why a rescue team have been turned away from Japan. Sat next to him is Jack Straw. It will take some time before I’m used to seeing Straw sat so far from the front…
12.17: John Healey’s Kings Fund speech, which Cameron is so fond of quoting, features this line which he always skips over in the commons:
“these are the wrong reforms at the wrong time, “blunting the ability of the NHS to respond to the Nicholson challenge” to improve services to patients and make sound efficiencies on a scale the NHS has never achieved before.”
I wonder why..?
12.14: Cameron and Lansley have been urged on numerous occasions to think again on NHS reform, but Cameron has instead opted to misquote Healey, not once, but twice. I suspect that Healey will be writing to the PM again, and will need to attack him harder if he expects the misquoting to stop.
12.12: Cameron is rocking at Ed Miliband hits him with the BMA. He’s shaken for a couple of seconds manages to get out an answer comparing the BMA to other trade unions. Anyone who knows anything about the BMA knows how laughable that is. A poor, poor performance from Cameron. Miliband missed a few potential big hits, but was the overall winner today.
12.09: Ed Miliband really hits his stride as he defends Labour’s Labour’s record on the NHS, again to cheers from the Labour benches. Then Cameron, what chutzpah, misquotes John Healey at PMQs for the THIRD time. DOes he have no shame? Healey has written to him twice already. Appalling.
12.07: Zinger from Ed Miliband – “he really needs to get away from these pre-scripted answers”. much mirth from the Labour benches. He then goes on to ask why Cameron has changed his mind since he opposed such changes before the election.
12.06: A new record for Cameron. He’s attacked “pre-scripted questions” in less than 90 seconds, before attacking Miliband for being against reform. He still hasn’t answered the question though.
12.04: Ed Miliband leads off with the health bill, and asks the PM if he plans to make any amendments to his health bill. Cameron highlights the u-turns that he has already undertaken, which is an interesting tactic.
12.03: Former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind suggests sending in ground troops to Libya. Cameron seems to be sticking to a no-fly zone as his favoured plan of attack.
12.01: And we’re off – David Cameron announces that Wooton Bassett will now be known as “Royal Wooton Bassett”, to approval from around the house.
Preview: Last week’s PMQs wasn’t one of the finest examples of parliamentary debate you’ll ever see, so the hope is that this week will be a marked improvement.
There are a couple of obvious lines of attack that Ed could take today. Firstly there’s NHS reform which looks to be in some trouble after it was attacked at Lib Dem spring conference and then rejected by the BMA. Labour have an opposition day debate on NHS reforms this afternoon, so Miliband may want to craft a media narrative for the day that features some cutting remarks (no pun intended).
The second issue which Miliband may want to highlight is youth unemployment. It was announced today that youth unemployment is at its highest level since records began.
As for Cameron, he may want to draw attention to the “split” in the Labour Party over AV, as both the Labour Yes and Labour No campaigns formally launch today. Cameron can’t use David Miliband to bash Ed with over this one though – they’re both supporters of AV.