PMQs sketch: Incapacitating Dave

Ed demanded to know whether "Calamity Clegg" was for or against NHS reforms.

It was only after Ed Miliband revealed that everyone who was anyone in the National Health Service now opposed his plans for re-organisation that the Prime Minister said he had no plans to be incapacitated.

The news came as a major disappointment to NHS staff desperate to get their hands on him having finally seen his Health Secretary Andrew Lansley off to a darkened room. The revelation came as crowds gathered for what has become the weekly ritual of Cameron-clobbing, officially billed as Prime Ministers Questions. Dave used to bounce into the Chamber in those early easy days of his Premiership; sun-tanned, sleek and superior, more than happy to face down the Labour leader. That was before Ed found the NHS. Now it's a florid-faced substitute who turns up for ritual humiliation in front of his own less-than-happy backbenchers -- not to mention the Lib-Dem part of the coalition led by Dave's deputy, more than pleased to disassociate themselves from the disaster.

Relief shone on the Prime Minister's already shiny face when Ed kicked off his PMQs session with a couple of innocuous questions about the Leveson inquiry, but it was only to draw his target into a false sense of security.

He then proceeded to read out a list of organisations, most of whose names are prefixed by the word Royal, who take the view that Andrew Lansley is probably certifiable and the Prime Minister is at least guilty by association. Ed's list was so comprehensive that listeners were surprised not to hear that the Royal College of those-who-open-the-front-doors-of-hospitals-for-those-even-more-important were on it. But it was the list of those who were which obviously left the embattled Prime Minister to realize that were he incapacitated, the transfer from home to hospital might not be all he would hope for.

To be fair to Dave he had his own -- albeit rather shorter -- list, but with considerably fewer royal prefixes than one might have expected from someone leading the Conservative Party. With one opinion poll showing Labour with a six-point lead, Ed declared that this health bill could cost Dave the next election; a comment which brought a lull into the mutual swopping of insults which marks the behaviour of MPs required to turn up in the Commons to register on their way to lunch. There was a toast to absent friends in the shape of Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey, whose call for industrial action during the Olympics on the morning of PMQS could not have been better timed. In the good old days this would have had Central Office and the Daily Mail beside themselves with pleasure. But despite ritual huffing and puffing by the usual suspects it never really took off, even after the PM reminded the House that Unite pick up a third of Labour's bills.

Thanks to the magic of the Twittersphere, not to mention that the next General Election is still three years off, Ed was able to denounce his paymaster in public before Dave could have a go. Nick Clegg had earlier called on Ed to "rein in" the Unite boss, and this was clearly enough to allow the Labour leader to single out his Lib-Dem equivalent who tries -- and usually succeeds -- in turning himself into the invisible man on these occasions. But he must have moved inadvertently today because Ed spotted him and demanded to know whether the Deputy Prime Minister was for or against the reforms. Having read Nick's call to arms to his peers in the House of Lords you could see that Dave, not to mention the massed hordes of his side of the Coalition, would also have liked an answer on this. Nick mouthed his support but in the general direction of the Labour benches, thereby leaving both side still not knowing where he stood.

It was this which led the aptly named Tory MP Peter Bone, who makes regular attacks on the Coalition with all the candour of a man who knows he will never be a Minister, to ask the PM who would take over if he was incapacitated. Casting an eye over his deputy, described as "Calamity Clegg" earlier in the proceedings, Dave said he had no plans to be incapacitated. Ed just smiled.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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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