PMQs: Why didn't Miliband probe Cameron on the NHS? Waffling on about Pfizer won't help the polls

He could have said the Labour government had been solving the problem when the coalition came in and top-down-reorganised our health service back to the Dark Age

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The Independent Online

I didn’t understand that Question Time at all. I thought Ed Miliband would ask about his plan to guarantee everyone an appointment with a doctor in 48 hours. That is what David Cameron expected too. He turned a later question from Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, to give the answer he would have given Miliband, namely that the Labour government in Wales had abolished the 48 hours target there. Meanwhile the Number 10 press office put out a statement saying that “93 per cent of GP appointments are convenient but I want to see more, so we're training 5,000 more GPs and have 1,000 GP centres open 8am-8pm and at weekends”.

But no. Miliband stood up to the recent tradition of the two-part cheer. First the Labour benches cheer because they have fallen behind in the polls and they feel sorry for their leader. Then the Tory benches cheer, more loudly, because Labour has fallen behind in the polls and they want to show that their morale is higher. This is followed by ironic calls of “More, more!” before Miliband has even started. Then the Labour leader had to preface his questions by saying, “I welcome the fall in unemployment.” The Tories cheered even more noisily and delightedly.

Then after a terrible link - “talking of high-skilled jobs” - Miliband asked all his six questions about the Pfizer takeover of AstraZeneca. Nobody’s interested in that. I mean, most people tell pollsters that they don’t like foreign companies buying other foreign companies that happen to be based in Britain, but they don’t really care.

So we got Cameron saying that what the pharmaceutical industry needed was for the Government to “get stuck in”. He was so pleased with this he said it three times, almost as many times as he said “long-term economic plan”. Miliband said: “He’s not powerless, he’s the Prime Minister.” Which sounded more like a question than an argument. This job I’m hoping to take over: it does come with some levers and perks, doesn’t it? Miliband said he wasn’t going to take any lectures from the guy who did something. Cameron he was going to “get stuck in” and that he will take absolutely no lectures from the people who brought something else to its knees.

I can confirm that, in the House of Commons yesterday, no lectures were taken, because no one really listened to anyone else. What a waste of time. Especially when Miliband could have asked about something that people do care about. Everyone has a story about how difficult it is to get an appointment with a GP now, how you have to try to get through the surgery switchboard at precisely 8am or 9am and then you are offered something in the middle of next month.

He could have said the Labour government had been solving the problem when the coalition came in and top-down-reorganised it back to the Dark Age. He could have said that Labour saved the NHS and that satisfaction with the health service was at record levels in 2010. He could have swept aside attempted point-scoring about Wales by saying that the House of Commons is not the Wales Assembly and that Cameron is responsible for the NHS in England. I doubt if Miliband has the long-term solution to the problems of primary health care, but a top-down target would be popular and a good start.

But no, he wanted to make abstract points about markets and ideology. So he got nowhere on Pfizer and Cameron, although he shouted too much, pointed out that Miliband hasn’t asked about the NHS since November.