PMQs review: Cameron comes out fighting

On the NHS, the PM has decided that attack is the best form of defence.

In the case of his NHS reforms, David Cameron has decided that attack is the best form of defence. On the rack over Andrew Lansley's chaotic reorganisation, he finally came out fighting at today's PMQs.

The session didn't begin well for the Prime Minister as Ed Miliband mocked a health summit which excluded "the vast majority of people who work in the NHS". Sounding ever more like Gordon Brown, Cameron boasted that "we are putting more money into the NHS" before conceding that "money alone won't do the job". As Miliband rightly noted, he had "no answer" to the question about his "ridiculous" summit. Armed with a quiver of embarrassing quotes from Cameron ("we have to take nurses and doctors with us"), Miliband pressed home his advantage.

But Cameron wasn't prepared to roll over. "When is he going to ask a question about the substance of the reforms," he asked. Labour used to favour choice, competition and GPs being in charge. Now they are opposed, Cameron said. The problem for the PM is that while Labour's reforms enjoyed public support, his do not. The issue, of course, is one of trust. Cameron still has no convincing answer to the question of why he broke his promise to put an end to the "top-down reorganisations of the NHS". So long as this remains the case, the charge that he has no mandate for the reforms will stick.

The PM, however, had a trump card up his sleeve. Having questioned why Miliband hadn't asked him about the risk register (which Labour has triggered a vote on tonight), Cameron revealed why. A copy of Labour's briefing note for today's debate showed that Andy Burnham had blocked the publication of a risk register in 2009. Labour were "a bunch of rank opportunists," declared Cameron.

But while Cameron's attack will resonate in the Westminster village, it is Miliband's that will resonate with the public. "This will become his Poll Tax," the Labour leader predicted in a line tailor made for tonight's news bulletins. "He should listen to the public and drop this bill."

Cameron has no intention of doing that but, for the first time in months, he no longer sounds so defensive.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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