PMQs: Ed Miliband plays it by numbers - processology and the health service

A rapid-fire taunt about "the LibLabCon establishment" off Facebook might have been more interesting

Share

I love Prime Minister’s Questions so much that I recently started a petition against Mumsnet’s petition to change it in unspecified ways. Unspecified ways that might possibly include “quickfire Q&A”, whatever that is, and questions from internet trolls. My campaign is not going well. My petition has 46 signatures. Mumsnet’s has 60,000. And today’s PMQs was a soul-deadening experience that had even me wondering whether a rapid-fire taunt about "the LibLabCon establishment" off Facebook might have raised the quality of democratic accountability.

Ed Miliband did his Questions By Numbers. Three serious bipartisan ones about process, process, process of inquiries into allegations of historical child abuse. No one knows precisely what is being alleged, but everyone can agree that it is very serious and that we should ensure that “no stone is left unturned”. David Cameron, never one to avoid a cliché worn dull by overuse, used that one first. It always depends on how many stones there are, really.

Then three comfort-zone questions about the NHS. Last week he and Cameron had traded statistics with the enthusiasm of Panini football-sticker collectors, and independent adjudicators such as Full Fact concluded that they were both right because there are different ways of measuring waiting times.

It didn’t work last week, except to enthuse people who are already absolutely convinced that Cameron is more right-wing than Margaret Thatcher and has already secretly privatised the entire NHS for the express purpose of ensuring that poor people die before they can vote. So Miliband returned to the scene of his defeat in the hope of a better result this time.

Unfortunately, he had only dull Panini stickers that everyone else already had, and Cameron had a shiny holographic rarity. He read out the numbers of those waiting more than 18, 26 and 52 weeks for treatment before the election and now and they were all lower.

Not even Miliband’s cliché counter-attack could better that. He said the Prime Minister had been “called out” on his statistics last week by researchers in the House of Commons Library. Politicians feel they have to speak how they imagine teenagers speak because it proves that they are in touch, and “in touch” is the only positive opinion-poll attribute Miliband has, so he thought he was playing to his strength.

On the face of it, Miliband’s performance wasn’t a disaster. But we are 10 months away from an election. He urgently needs to establish that the country is heading in the wrong direction, and that his front-bench team is better than the team on the front bench opposite. Today, all we got was that he would “far rather” have Andy Burnham as health secretary than Jeremy Hunt.

It is an interesting proposition. I think Miliband may be right, although Hunt has done a remarkable job of clearing up the mess made by the other side, namely Andrew Lansley. And I think Cameron is unpleasantly cynical to call Burnham “the man who presided over Mid Staffs”. The scandal had already been exposed by the time Burnham became Health Secretary in 2009, and he appointed Robert Francis to investigate it.

But really that was another PMQs wasted, and Miliband cannot afford to waste those chances. Football analogies, as opposed to football sticker analogies, are banned from political commentary for the duration. But I can only report the verdict of one Labour frontbencher: “7-1 to Cameron.”

READ NEXT: Richard Ferrer: The truth about my 'attempt to entrap Muslims'
Britain and France have very different strengths, but only one of their economies is thriving
The daily catch-up: association football, Posh's beauty secrets and why Harriet wasn't DPM  

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nai or Oxi: whether Greece says Yes or No today its citizens will continue to struggle  

Greece crisis: Referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its lack of genuine legitimacy

Rupert Cornwell
George Osborne likes to think of himself as the greatest political mind of his generation  

Budget 2015: It takes a lot of hard work to be as lucky as George Osborne

John Rentoul
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test