It is a huge week for Labour battling the Stoke and Copeland by-elections. In normal circumstances they shouldn’t worry about it, but these are not normal times.
Even with UKIP’s Paul Nuttall shooting himself in the foot virtually every day, Labour could easily find themselves shell-shocked when the votes are counted.
So today’s PMQs was a chance to offer those wavering Labour voters a chance to hear the Corbyn roar. Perhaps he could even pretend to like nuclear power for a minute, to appease the people of Cumbria, or maybe a modern cultural reference for the citizens of Stoke.
He did neither; a man of principle would not pretend to have an affinity with atomic energy or indeed Dancing on Ice.
Instead, he laid into May hard over the NHS. When The Sun’s front page is about the NHS crisis, you know there is one. Everyone accepts there is, apart from May, even Jeremy Hunt, Con, has conceded the health service is a mess.
However, the PM said that due to medical advances the average stay in hospital has halved, she made treatment sound like a city break rather than the two-week holiday we used to take, before we had to work 16 hour days to cover the mortgage.
I was confused, I thought the problem is bed blocking, so surely that increases the length of stay on wards?
The argument is that even if people spend less time in hospital beds, the wait to actually get one might be longer than the time actually getting and recovering from treatment, if indeed your operation hasn’t been cancelled indefinitely.
It is a very confusing picture and it wasn’t helped by May or Corbyn, who spent the rest of their exchanges throwing statistics at each other. 4,000 more doctors here, 3,000 fewer midwives there.
The figures swirled around the chamber, like the final battle scene in a Harry Potter film, as the two leaders faced each other in the eye of storm. Exciting for them, but leaving everyone else to wonder who will clean up all the debris once the show is over?
Corbyn did catch May out regarding nursing training places. The bursary has been canned, so where are the 10,000 newly qualified nurses she promised?
May replied that there were indeed 10,000 places available, that is all well and good, but nobody has taken them up. I have a stable for 45,000 unicorns it just isn’t very busy at the moment.
When on the back foot May rolled out the old “if you were in power the NHS would collapse due to excessive borrowing” etc etc
She said Labour is now not “boom and bust” but “borrowing and bankrupt,” I wasn’t sure if she was still talking about Corbyn or her increase in business rates, sending companies to the wall…
Sycophantic question of the day
Paul Scully, Con, who praised the FA Cup runs of two non-league sides this year. This left May with pie on her face when she congratulated the MP for Stroud mistaking him for the member from Lincoln.
Tom Watson, Lab, who performed a “dab,” at the end of Corbyn’s questions. To those not under 16, it is a dance move from the hip-hop scene in Atlanta, Georgia.
Asked if the Prime Minister knew what a dab was, Theresa May’s spokesman said: “I beg your pardon. Is it a radio?” Well at least he didn’t refer to it as a wireless, that’s progress of a sort.