Tales of white van men and trips to A&E

The best line of today’s prime minister’s questions came from Jamie Reed, Labour member of parliament for Copeland. ‘The first thing I think of when I see a white van is whether it is my father or brother driving it.’

It was a rebuke to the Tories opposite who had been gloating over Labour’s difficulties with Emily Thornberry, who had to resign from the Labour front bench. Her crime was tweeting a picture of a house draped in England flags with a white van in the drive while she was supposed to be getting the vote out in the Rochester and Strood byelection.

Reed’s intervention gladdened the hearts of Labour MPs.  David Blunkett, member for Brightside and Hillsborough, was clapping behind him as he spoke, as was Steve Reed, member for Croydon North.

The white van first made its appearance at PMQs when the Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi asked David Cameron about them.

He said sententiously that when he saw one he thought of the hard-working person with the small business who was driving it. When he saw the flag of St George, he thought of his constituent, from Stratford-on-Avon, Shakespeare and ‘this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, the England.’

Cameron agreed that it was wrong ‘sneering at people who work hard, love their country and are patriotic.’ He had eschewed this line while debating with Ed Miliband, but of course it had been set up for Zahawi.

Ed Miliband defended the National Health Service and Labour’s record. He asked Cameron about the closure of walk-in centres – a quarter have gone – with the money wasted in re-organisation and the end of a guarantee that patients could see a general practitioner within 48 hours.  He linked the mismanagement of the NHS to the same mismanagement which took place when the last Tory government was in power.

‘Deficits are rising right across the NHS because of his mismanagement, his top down re-organisation that no one wanted and no one voted for and he has turned the NHS from a service that was succeeding to a service that is in crisis and a crisis of his making,’ he said,

Cameron’s defence on all this was to bring it back to the economy and say you only have a strong NHS if you have a strong economy; Miliband’s line: ‘Only Labour can save the National Health Service.’

Quite how Cameron can say that ‘429,000 presented at accident and emergency departments across England last year, 3,000 people per day more than under the last government,’ and not see that as indictment of his own policies, who knows? Of course, as he was tartly reminded by Miliband his secretary of state for health, Jeremy Hunt, had found out to his cost that the only way to access health care for his sick child was through hospital.

‘One of the biggest problems,’ said Miliband. ‘Is that one in four people can not get to see a GP within a week. What does it say about the NHS when the health secretary says he goes to accident and emergency , because he can’t get a GP appointment?’

Cameron was slightly less bullying this week and it remains to be seen whether linking the NHS to the economy really is a good strategy, especially if he maintains the economy is getting better and the NHS has gets much worse.

Andy Slaughter followed up on accident and emergency debate by saying that West London now how some of the worst waiting times in the country because of the closure of Hammersmith and Central Middlesex accident and emergency centres.

There were a few curve balls from other Labour MPs. Phil Wilson, member for Sedgefield, asked if Cameron would lead a No Campaign in a European referendum.

While Jack Dromey, member for Birmingham Erdington, brought up the loss of 30,000 police officers, the largest cut to police services in Europe.

Altogether though, an undercooled prime minister’s questions.

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Sally Gimson is a journalist and Labour councillor in the London borough of Camden. She tweets @SallyGimson

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