PMQs 8 February - NHS Attacks Leave Cameron Floundering

The Huffington Post UK   First Posted: 8/02/2012 10:19 Updated: 8/02/2012 12:52


PMQs this week was a rough ride for David Cameron, who faced a sustained and effective attack from Ed Miliband over the NHS reform. The Health and Social Care Bill returns to the Lords today, and Ed Miliband used all six of his questions to reel off a list of those within the health sector who oppose the reforms, as well as castigate Cameron for reneging on his pledge for no "top-down reorganisation."

Commentators immediately seized on what was fairly limpid support from Cameron for the health secretary Andrew Lansley, who has had a torrid week of alleged briefings against him by Downing Street. All the PM would say was that Lansley's prospects were better than Miliband's. Hardly an enthusiastic backing, frankly.

The PM was expected to throw his weight behind Lansley today - is this his idea of doing so? HuffPost UK came away from PMQs convinced that Lansley was a prime target for either the chop or a reshuffle move.

Lansley was in the chamber - but only just! He was obscured by the Speaker's chair for most MPs. But at least he showed up.

Speaking of limpid support, we weren't bowled over by the PM's backing of Sarah Teather, who didn't vote in favour of the welfare benefit caps when they returned to the Commons last week. She was apparently on departmental business in Sheffield, but the voraciously independent Tory MP Peter Bone basically called for her to be sacked. The PM would only say that Teather was a government minister and as such supported government policy.

The PM was just as vague on Wednesday as Theresa May was the day before on Abu Qatada. All Cameron would say was that the situation was unacceptable, and promised to resolve the Qatada problem. But he didn't have any details about how this would happen, except to say that they were working with Jordan to ensure deportation.

All in all, not a good week for David Cameron at all. Ed Miliband seems to be finding his groove - and his improved performances at PMQs don't seem to have been just a blip. Now we'll have to see if Labour can keep it up on the NHS in the Lords later.

Highlights from PMQs below:

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Reports today that the Childrens' Minister failed to vote on the Benefit Cap.

Why does the PM not sack Teather?

Cameron: The hon lady is a government minister and supports government policy.

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She's on the Health Committee, which took evidence on the implants scandal yesterday.

She manages to spin into a Drop the Bill question...

The PM says the NHS will do everything it can to help women affected, and says that private clinics should feel the "maximum pressure" to help women as well.

But as the evidence session showed yesterday, the industry has no proper record of the women who've had the implants.

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Maybe feeling like it's been a tough half-hour, the PM accuses Labour of failing to stand up for British interests and british jobs. But he's yelling, partly because it's noisy in the chamber, and he's very pink.

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@ adamboultonSKY : COMMENT And that one fell flat too. DC sinking in mud this week. EM reminds that a No10 aide wants Lansley ' taken out and shot', no wonder

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He only said that Lansley's prospects were better than Miliband's. Not sure that's an enthusiastic backing, really. Bound to raise speculation that Lansley will be reshuffled.

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@ iainmartin1 : @SamCoatesTimes right, Cam backing of Lansley was pretty threadbare

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He suggests the abolition of control orders leads to the 'disgusting' prospect of the suspected terrorist walking the streets of Britain.

Cameron admits it's unacceptable, and pledges the government will do everything it can to make sure Qatada is deported.

But as with Theresa May's statement yesterday, it's not clear what's being done exactly.

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Cameron's last answer was pretty weak, just insisting the NHS will get better. Ed Miliband broke with recent form and went hell-for-leather on the NHS and it was a pretty robust takedown by the Labour leader.

Not sure the PM was as flustered as Miliband claimed, but in an exchange which was littered with claim and counter-claim about stats and performance figures, it felt as though Ed Miliband made more of an impression...

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Cameron has just laid into Miliband, saying "even when he moves the goal-posts he can't get it in the back of the net."

Miliband comes back saying it's the PM who's shifted the goal-posts.

"Every day, trust of him on the NHS ebbs away."

Cameron says the career prospects for Andrew Lansley are better than Miliband's

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He says Labour achieved the lowest waiting times in the history of the NHS and goes back on the attack over the PM's trustworthiness regarding 'top-down' reorganisation.

Miliband claims a load of performance stats are worsening. Drop the Bill, he says.

Cameron says if Labour were so competent, why did they lose the election?

The Speaker intervenes and tells Labour MPs to calm down.

Cameron continues saying plenty of NHS stats are improving, especially the number of people on the waiting list.

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It's a dogged and cohesive take-down of the NHS reforms by Ed Miliband, who says it's a "matter of trust". Can the PM say honestly he's kept his promise not to do any top-down reforms?

Cam: If there isn't reform we won't be able to put more money into front-line services, and I won't listen to the people who ran-down the NHS - that is Labour.

The PM lists the PFI scandals and IT failures that happened under Labour, including £300 bills to change a lightbulb.

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Ed Miliband points out that the leftish Tory Reform Group (who are also pro-European) are against the reforms, allegedly.

He then mentions Dr Clare Gerada from the Royal College of GPs, who is against the changes. Tories groan and Ed Miliband seizes on the groans, suggesting Tories don't want to hear any dissent.

Cameron flips on to Wales, where Labour control the NHS. The PM says the budget has been cut and the waiting lists there are lengthening.

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Miliband quotes the Royal College of GPs who say the reforms will do "irreparable damage"

Andrew Lansley is yelling at Miliband and the Labour leader says it's "nice to see him here".

Cameron comes back with a dig on "happy families", the usual Miliband brothers jibe.

The PM says he wants to see services implemented for everyone, insists they are putting more money into the NHS.

"He used to be in favour of the reform," says Cameron, quoting Miliband.

"His health spokesman, sitting right there, said it would be irresponsible to send money on the NHS.

'They're just a bunch of opportunists," Cam concludes.

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He siezes on a quote from the PM from 2011 where Cameron said on the NHS: "We are taking people with us, and it is in that spirit of unity that we want that to continue."

Cameron says 95% of the country is covered by GPs who are not only supporting our reforms, they're implementing them....

...and the Speaker is up already, 5 mins in.

Cameron continues saying that dozens of trusts have written today supporting the reforms. Ann Campbell, a former Labour MP is on top of the list.

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They were more subdued last week.

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The Tory MP for Southend says the coup in the Maldives is lamentable.

PM: We have to be clear, President Nasheed has resigned, but calls for restraint, advises non-essential travel to the main island.

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Labour attacking the fall of front-line police officers.

We say the government says the PROPORTION of front-line officers is up. But they will not admit that the total number of front-line officers are down.

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Hear Hears across the house.

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@ HackneyAbbott : PMQ's Packed & excited House of Commons. Andrew Lansley looking queasy.

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Flanked by Theresa May - Andrew Lansley is here

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@ lucianaberger : @SallyBercow have you come for my ten minute rule bill? *waves*

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Oliver Letwin is great for elevating Cabinet Office questions from what could be a dry half-hour.

Labour MP Jon Ashworth notes that Oliver Letwin is an 'avid follower' of his website and asks whether scrapping the Future Jobs Fund chimes in with the Big Society.

Letwin doesn't really answer the question but admits he is an avid follower of Ashworth's website.

"A most interesting document it is too," he adds.

Here's Jon Ashworth's website. Bookmarking?

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Ahead of PMQs it's Cabinet Office questions.

Peter Bone has asked how many Big Society projects are running at the moment?

Oliver Letwin replies he has "no idea" because it is not a centrally driven project. Peter Bone seems happy about this, but is looking for more funding for a local project.

Letwin says he'll help out.

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The lucky MPs with questions on the order paper at PMQs this week:

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith)

Mark Hendrick (Preston)

Geraint Davies (Swansea West)

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) 

David Rutley (Macclesfield): 

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon)

Steve Baker (Wycombe)

Caroline Dinenage (Gosport)

Mrs Mary Glindon (North Tyneside)

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough)

Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran)

Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth)

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