PMQs review: Hague offers jokes but no answers

Harman turns to the NHS as Hague steps in for Cameron.

With David Cameron at the G20 summit in Mexico and Nick Clegg at the UN summit in Rio, it was left to William Hague, who is First Secretary of State as well as Foreign Secretary, to hold the fort at today's PMQs, with Harriet Harman deputising for Ed Miliband (as is traditional on such occasions).

The session began slowly, with several banal questions from Harman on Burma (she asked Hague whether he would join her in expressing admiration for Aung San Suu Kyi). In response, Hague pointed out that he was the first European foreign minister to visit Burma earlier this year. However, the encounter took a partisan turn when Harman raised the NHS, traditionally a trump card for Labour at PMQs.

Hague managed to respond adequately enough to reports that cost-cutting NHS trusts are rationing care (he described it as "totally unacceptable" and pointed out that the Secretary of State can intervene) but failed to rebut Harman's claim that Cameron had broken his promise to increase the number of midwives. In response, in a series of references to Rebekah Brooks's infamous text to the PM, the deputy Labour leader quipped that before the election it was "Yes, we Cam". Now it's "No we can't." She added: "the Prime Minister said he could sum up his priority in three letters: NHS. Isn't it more like LOL?" The text was a political gift to Labour but Harman's jokes felt forced and fell rather flat.

It was Hague who had the line of the session when he noted Ed Balls's absence and quipped that he was off commissioning another poll into what people think of him, causing even Harman to laugh. The shadow chancellor, whose PMQs taunts routinely unsettle Cameron, will be pleased to know he was missed.

But on a more serious note, today's session was a reminder of why the NHS, even more than the economy, could prove an electoral headache for the Tories. Cameron worked hard to convince the electorate that the Tories could be trusted with the NHS and many now feel understandably betrayed. While Hague could deflect Harman's question about midwives with a reference to the doctors' strike (which Harman then condemned), that's not a trick Cameron will be able to play come 2015. "It's always the same, Labour builds up the NHS and Tories drag it down," said Harman at one point. The danger for the Tories is that most voters agree with her.

Foreign Secretary William Hague, who replaced David Cameron at today's Prime Minister's Questions. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

@Simon_Cullen via Twitter
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All 27 things wrong with today’s Daily Mail front cover

Where do I even start?

Hello. Have you seen today’s Daily Mail cover? It is wrong. Very wrong. So wrong that if you have seen today’s Daily Mail cover, you no doubt immediately turned to the person nearest to you to ask: “Have you seen today’s Daily Mail cover? It is wrong.”

But just how wrong is the wrong Mail cover? Let me count the ways.

  1. Why does it say “web” and not “the web”?
  2. Perhaps they were looking on a spider’s web and to be honest that makes more sense because
  3. How does it take TWO MINUTES to use a search engine to find out that cars can kill people?
  4. Are the Mail team like your Year 8 Geography teacher, stuck in an infinite loop of typing G o o g l e . c o m into the Google search bar, the search bar that they could’ve just used to search for the thing they want?
  5. And then when they finally typed G o o g l e . c o m, did they laboriously fill in their search term and drag the cursor to click “Search” instead of just pressing Enter?
  6. The Daily Mail just won Newspaper of the Year at the Press Awards
  7. Are the Daily Mail – Newspaper of the Year – saying that Google should be banned?
  8. If so, do they think we should ban libraries, primary education, and the written word?
  9. Sadly, we know the answer to this
  10. Google – the greatest source of information in the history of human civilisation – is not a friend to terrorists; it is a friend to teachers, doctors, students, journalists, and teenage girls who aren’t quite sure how to put a tampon in for the first time
  11. Upon first look, this cover seemed so obviously, very clearly fake
  12. Yet it’s not fake
  13. It’s real
  14. More than Google, the Mail are aiding terrorists by pointing out how to find “manuals” online
  15. While subsets of Google (most notably AdSense) can be legitimately criticised for profiting from terrorism, the Mail is specifically going at Google dot com
  16. Again, do they want to ban Google dot com?
  17. Do they want to ban cars?
  18. Do they want to ban search results about cars?
  19. Because if so, where will that one guy from primary school get his latest profile picture from?
  20. Are they suggesting we use Bing?
  21. Why are they, once again, focusing on the perpetrator instead of the victims?
  22. The Mail is 65p
  23. It is hard to believe that there is a single person alive, Mail reader or not, that can agree with this headline
  24. Three people wrote this article
  25. Three people took two minutes to find out cars can drive into people
  26. Trees had to die for this to be printed
  27. It is the front cover of the Mail

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.