Playground politics

History tells us the bigger the lie, the more people are inclined to believe it. David Cameron must be playing this game. He said twice at prime minister’s questions that the Tories had put more money into the NHS and that they had cut bureaucracy.

These assertions will stretch the credulity of anyone who has followed the vast changes, cuts in funding and creeping privatisation in the health service over the past four years.

Ed Miliband passionately rebuked him: ‘He had a top-down reorganisation that no one wanted and no one voted for and has diverted billions of pounds away from patient care.’

Cameron was on weak ground. And when he is on weak ground he turns particularly nasty. It is the Eton training.

He said that ‘Labour’s NHS’ has caused the Mid Staffs scandal. Then he attacked Miliband personally as a man who lacked leadership over the one per cent pay cap and Thursday’s upcoming strikes over pay. Cameron finished with a flourish: ‘Is he remotely up to the job – NO.’ Tory members of parliament were joining in the chanting by this time. It is the talk of bullies. And it reflects what is going happen over the next nine months. The Tories are going to make this an election about Miliband personally.

The two leaders had been trading statistics (again). It was slightly confusing because, while Miliband was talking about Accident and Emergency waiting times, Cameron had compiled waiting times for treatment. He said they were to be found ‘on a particular website’ without saying which. The Office for Dodgy Statistics, you cry. Who knows?

The rather more reliable House of Commons library had ‘called him out’ on last week’s assertion about A&E statistics, said Miliband.

Miliband started by asking questions on the child abuse allegations. He sought assurances about the full investigative powers of the enquiries, and Cameron gave them to him. Cameron was less forthcoming on the 114 files.

We wait to see whether the establishment investigation will find anyone in the establishment guilty of anything very much.

As usual Miliband is ahead of the curve on the thoughtful questions. But today was like watching the sensitive guy, who is always right, being crushed by the playground brute, who will say or do anything to beat up his opponent. Like the school bully he also has a group of boys behind him who shout, ‘calculated heckling’ as John Bercow, the speaker, called it today.

We must hope the script plays out like a Hollywood movie and the good guy wins in the end.

Labour MPs did pitch in, but the timing and rhythm of PMQs had been lost.

Andy Sawford (Corby) mentioned his constituent who had spinal injuries and was in great pain and had to wait four weeks to see an orthopaedic surgeon even though her case was considered urgent.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) said a patient with dementia in her constituency had been told it would take five weeks to see her GP, two weeks to see any GP and that if she wanted some immediate treatment, she should go to Salford A&E.

Cameron and the government were on the run over universal credit, which is proving a universal disaster for the government. Two questions were asked about why head of the home civil service has refused to sign it off. Cameron was weasely.

In other questions, Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) begged the prime minister to ‘end his agenda of attacking Wales.’ Cameron had a self-serving answer about how he had personally organised a Nato conference in Wales and they would be getting a visit from the president of the United States.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East), meanwhile, attacked female genital mutilation, saying that 179 British girls are currently at risk, with 170,000 already mutilated in Britain. He called on the prime minister to, ‘Eradicate this horrendous abuse from this country.’ Cameron agreed.

These prime minister’s questions show just how difficult it is to ‘win’ if you are leader of the opposition. But the more bullying and more dirty Cameron fights, the less attractive the proposition of him continuing as prime minister becomes.

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Sally Gimson is a journalist, a Labour councillor, and reviews PMQs on Progress

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