PMQs review: Cameron’s sharp tongue runs wild

The Prime Minister launches attack after attack on Ed Miliband and Ed Balls.

David Cameron's new strategy director, Andrew Cooper, recently advised him to be "a national leader, rather than a party politician. Especially in the Commons." On the basis of today's PMQs, Cameron appears to have rejected that advice. He denounced Ed Miliband's weekend reference to the suffragettes as "nonsense", told one Labour MP: "I've no idea who you are", and described Ed Balls as "the most annoying person in modern politics".

Labour's Keynesian Rottweiler will have enjoyed that attack. It confirms that he has an unrivalled ability to infuriate the Tories.

The personal gibes began early on. After Cameron wished Miliband and his new fiancée a "long and happy life together", the Labour leader replied that he would ask the PM for "advice on stag nights", because he knows "how to organise a good one". To which the sharp-tongued Cameron responded, "When I was leader of the opposition I would have given anything for a honeymoon . . . he probably wishes he had, too."

The exchanges were memorable enough to overshadow some sharp questions from Miliband on tuition fees and police cuts.

Cameron was unable to tell the House how many universities so far plan to charge £9,000 a year (the answer is 18) and appeared not to know whether student numbers would be cut as a result of the £1bn black hole.

Instead, he made the irrelevant point that institutions will only be allowed to charge £9,000 if the Office for Fair Access approves. He shamelessly dodged the funding question.

Miliband also had the better of the exchanges on police cuts, with Cameron merely stating that there was "no reason why" there should be few officers. The PM in effect passed the buck and said that police numbers would not fall if local forces made greater efficiency savings. Cameron only managed to get the upper hand when he referred to the "ridiculous spectacle" of the Labour leader "marching against the cuts that his party caused".

It's also worth noting Cameron's comments on NHS funding. When the Labour MP Chris Leslie pointed out that higher inflation means the coalition is close to breaking its pledge to protect the health budget, Cameron simply replied: "We said we would increase health spending in real terms – and we will." In other words, spending will be raised to compensate for higher inflation. This is one promise that the PM intends to keep.

UPDATE: You can now watch footage of the Balls-Cameron clash above. (Hat-tip: Liar Politicians)

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.