PMQs: The way Cameron crumbled under pressure was a lot uglier than any of Jeremy Corbyn's suits

From his misleading statistics to his personal attacks on the Labour leader, Cameron lost it today

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The Independent Online

After the farcical display put on by the Conservatives during Monday’s EU debate (the less said about the chanting of “Who are ya?” the better), it was hard to see how the tone in Parliament could have been brought down even lower during today’s PMQs.

But, not wanting to miss an opportunity, more of the same followed from the Tory benches, as the exchanges veered from the astonishing to the ridiculous.

Corbyn chose to attack Cameron over the junior doctor contract debacle. He cited the NHS Staff Survey, which shows that junior doctors already work additional hours, and with morale falling across the sector. He also swung at the Health Secretary’s imposition of the contract, and the Government’s calculated misrepresentation of weekend mortality statistics.

Cameron retorted with numerous slippery claims about the contract. He hammered home the £10bn extra being spent on the NHS (omitting the fact that this will be by 2020), and said that the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt did indeed get the mortality stats wrong, but only because he understated rather than overstated them. See what he did there? According to the PM, there are actually 11,000 “weekend deaths” on the NHS, up from the 6,000 that Hunt claimed in July.

But as has already been pointed out by Buzzfeed’s Tom Chivers, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) article this figure was plucked from also said it would be “rash and misleading” to link the deaths to poorer care. It’s actually much more complicated than the Government is claiming, as people coming into hospital at weekends tend to be sicker. After the Department of Health referred to the 11,000 stat in October, the editor of the BMJ even got involved and accused Hunt of “misusing data to mislead the public”. As Chivers tweeted earlier, “There is *zero chance* that Hunt or the PM don't know about that rebuke. The fact that they are repeating this falsehood is extraordinary”.

David Cameron claims figure of 11,000 weekend NHS deaths at PMQs

During PMQs the PM also took aim at the BMA, accusing them of misleading the public over pay figures – a surprisingly hostile move, considering three more strikes and a legal challenge were announced yesterday. He then demanded an apology from Corbyn for his attack on Hunt, which I don’t think he’ll be getting any time soon. 

Cameron was obviously under pressure today. Stats and figures appeared to be flowing out of his mouth without any thought of what they might be. As well as rehashing the dodgy 11,000 stat, he claimed that the UK has “10,000 more doctors and 10,000 more nurses”. This later turned into “11,000 more nurses” – both numbers which are, actually, inaccurate. It’s 8,500 more nurses.

Bizarrely, Cameron also decided to invoke Nye Bevan to push his health plans, saying that the chief architect of the NHS would want it to run a seven-day service “because he knew it was for patients up and down the country”. Although I’m not sure that Bevan – who once said he had a “deep burning hatred for the Tory Party […] So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin” – would agree.

David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn clash over Aneurin Bevan

The PM also launched a seething personal attack on Corbyn that was completely uncalled for. After a Labour backbencher heckled him about his mother signing a petition opposing cuts to children’s centres, Cameron said “Ask my mother? I think I know what my mother would say. I think she’d look across the dispatch box and she’d say: put on a proper suit, do up your tie and sing the national anthem.” The hordes of backbenchers behind him descended into uncontrollable jeering and guffawing which seemed to go on for an eternity, not helped by the fact that Speaker Bercow failed to intervene.

After a week away from PMQs, it was disappointing to see that a “recess” has done nothing for the tone of debate in Parliament. While Corbyn appeared animated, passionate and genuinely angry about the current assaults on junior doctors and the NHS, Cameron seemed rattled. Maybe he was weary from his exhausting week in Brussels, trying to make a set of minor concessions written on the back of a croissant sound like a “deal”? 

Who knows, but a Cameron of old appeared today – one who could only revert to personal insults to justify his weakening position, both on the NHS and in his party generally. Corbyn missed opportunities to strike back, although to his credit, now he’s started to get a grip on PMQs it would have been a shame to see him lower himself to the PM’s snide and denigrating behaviour.

My verdict:

Cameron – 3/10. Pathetic showing by the alleged “Prime Minister”. Take a holiday – possibly permanently. Back to the drawing board.

Corbyn – 8/10. A well-controlled, effective outing under rather difficult circumstances. Just ignore the advice about your dress sense.