Parliamentary Sketch 7th January – We pen rise and the NHS

By Joe Mellor, Deputy Editor

Moments before PMQs began the news reported that twelve journalists and policemen had been shot, due to their controversial cartoon satire. The PM condemned the attack, as did Ed.

Prior to the terrorist atrocity the only story leading the news was the NHS crisis and Ed would not let the Cameron bury bad news today. Almost every Labour (and Lib) question focused on the problems in our health service.

In the early exchanges there was a Freudian slip when Cameron said more patients are seen within four years, which was quickly corrected to four hours. Maybe it isn’t within the realms of possibility, but it did make you think.

The PM fought back though and claimed Ed had told Nick Robinson, “I want to weaponise the NHS”. The PM must have decided that phrase was ok to use today, bearing in mind the number of people who had just been murdered in cold blood. It was his only trump card so he had to play it.

Miliband didn’t deny it; I hung my head I shame. If he did say that without being “off” the record, it is almost worse than actually saying it and highlights his incompetence. It wasn’t schoolboy; it was amoeba boy.

But the PM was still struggling and reminded us of the third-world health conditions in places such as Wales, where “people have to operate on themselves,” he said. But it didn’t resonate today, 17 hospitals had put emergency measure in place as staff struggled to cope with the number of patients. Where does the blame lay?

The PM seemed to imply the patients caused this by having the audacity to visit the emergency department. The problems were down to “a massive increase in the number of people going to A & E”. Cameron said there are 2,500 more people seen a day within four hours.

I’m pretty sure the nation has not suffered a collective infirmity syndrome, with people being drawn into the nation’s hospitals, like a disease in itself. Mr Miliband seemed to agree (probably not with my apocalyptical explanation), he said closing NHS walk-in centres, cuts to social care and the Government’s botched £3 billion shake-up of the health service were at the root of the chaos.

Cameron had to try something and argued Labour is using the NHS as a political football, which is shorthand for losing the argument.

There was one light moment when Lisa Nandy, Lab, said some Wigan nurses had wheeled out a dying patient to see her horse one last time. Strangely, the PM praised some of the towns’ nurses who chased the Health Secretary down a corridor to tell him how to run the health service. Wild horses wouldn’t have dragged me away from watching that.

As the PMQs came to a close Elfyn Llwyd, Plaid Cymru, demanded to know why the Chilcot Inquiry into the reasons for the Iraq war, has still not been published. You can’t help but think some of the roots of today’s tragedy could be sourced back to the findings of this report (before it is redacted by the intelligence agencies)

The pen that writes it could be mightier than Blair’s sword.

Sycophantic question of the day

Henry Smith, Con, who heralded the fall in the unemployment rate in Crawley. Having lived in the town myself for a while (ok it’s not quite Bath, but it has a certain charm) it does have the benefit of one of the UK’s major transport hubs (Gatwick airport) being on its doorstep.


Quite self-indulgently, me. I have been trying to work out who Sir Gerald Kaufman, Lab, reminds me of when he stands up to ask a question. It’s been bugging me for ages and now I know; Mr Burns from the Simpsons.

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