David Cameron gives a speech about the further powers devolved to the Scottish parliament on January 22, 2015 in Edinburgh. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Cameron's "weaponise" charge throws Miliband off balance

The PM's sheer chutzpah allowed him to command the session. 

Few PMQs in this parliament have been as brutal as today's. Ed Miliband led again on the NHS, Labour's strongest suit (and the issue that polls show is of greatest importance to voters), questioning David Cameron on his failure to save A&E units from closure. Cameron responded by immediately challenging Miliband on his refusal to deny that he vowed to "weaponise" the health service, demanding that he apologise. At this point, the session descended into one of the ugliest encounters yet between the two men. 

The Labour leader attacked Cameron's evasiveness (with supreme chutzpah, he simply ignored his questions) but the PM would not relent. After persistent goading, a furious Miliband hyperbolically accused him of declaring "war on Wales" before clarifying that this referred to his use of the "Welsh NHS" for "political propaganda". Any channel hopper unfortunate enough to catch the exchanges would likely have switched off at this point. 

The Tories' outrage over "weaponise" is, to put it mildly, rather confected. It was largely through their briefings over welfare that the word first entered the political lexicon. But it does provide Cameron with a means of throwing Miliband off balance every time he raises the subject. Most voters are unlikely to care about the substance of the "weaponise" row (a word that conjures up images of armed doctors). But they will notice Miliband's equivocation and the rhetorical exaggerations that Cameron provokes ("war on Wales"). Having said several times that he "does not remember" what he said to the BBC's Nick Robinson (who first reported the "weaponise" claim), the Labour leader cannot now defend his alleged use of the word without being branded a liar. 

The PM's ruthless form was testimony to his increasing confidence (the Tories having taken the lead in the polls). In response to a question from Labour left-winger Jeremy Corbyn on his conversation with Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras, the PM, deploying his party's mantra of choice, quipped that he asked him what his "long-term economic plan" was. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

What do Labour's lost voters make of the Labour leadership candidates?

What does Newsnight's focus group make of the Labour leadership candidates?

Tonight on Newsnight, an IpsosMori focus group of former Labour voters talks about the four Labour leadership candidates. What did they make of the four candidates?

On Andy Burnham:

“He’s the old guard, with Yvette Cooper”

“It’s the same message they were trying to portray right up to the election”​

“I thought that he acknowledged the fact that they didn’t say sorry during the time of the election, and how can you expect people to vote for you when you’re not actually acknowledging that you were part of the problem”​

“Strongish leader, and at least he’s acknowledging and saying let’s move on from here as opposed to wishy washy”

“I was surprised how long he’d been in politics if he was talking about Tony Blair years – he doesn’t look old enough”

On Jeremy Corbyn:

"“He’s the older guy with the grey hair who’s got all the policies straight out of the sixties and is a bit of a hippy as well is what he comes across as” 

“I agree with most of what he said, I must admit, but I don’t think as a country we can afford his principles”

“He was just going to be the opposite of Conservatives, but there might be policies on the Conservative side that, y’know, might be good policies”

“I’ve heard in the paper he’s the favourite to win the Labour leadership. Well, if that was him, then I won’t be voting for Labour, put it that way”

“I think he’s a very good politician but he’s unelectable as a Prime Minister”

On Yvette Cooper

“She sounds quite positive doesn’t she – for families and their everyday issues”

“Bedroom tax, working tax credits, mainly mum things as well”

“We had Margaret Thatcher obviously years ago, and then I’ve always thought about it being a man, I wanted a man, thinking they were stronger…  she was very strong and decisive as well”

“She was very clear – more so than the other guy [Burnham]”

“I think she’s trying to play down her economics background to sort of distance herself from her husband… I think she’s dumbing herself down”

On Liz Kendall

“None of it came from the heart”

“She just sounds like someone’s told her to say something, it’s not coming from the heart, she needs passion”

“Rather than saying what she’s going to do, she’s attacking”

“She reminded me of a headteacher when she was standing there, and she was quite boring. She just didn’t seem to have any sort of personality, and you can’t imagine her being a leader of a party”

“With Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham there’s a lot of rhetoric but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of direction behind what they’re saying. There seems to be a lot of words but no action.”

And, finally, a piece of advice for all four candidates, should they win the leadership election:

“Get down on your hands and knees and start praying”

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.