Ed Miliband addresses members of the public at Redcar and Cleveland College on March 6, 2015. Photograph: Getty Images.
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PMQs review: Miliband wastes an opportunity by going on the TV debates again

The debate about the debates is a process story of little interest to the electorate. 

It was the debate about the TV debates that yet again dominated today's PMQs. Ed Miliband's decision to lead on the subject reflected the weakness of David Cameron's stance and the guaranteed broadcast coverage that results. The Prime Minister's position appeared more contradictory and absurd than ever as he lashed Miliband for having "no policies" and "no plan" while simultaneously rejecting a head-to-head contest with him. He went on to repeatedly avoid the subject by launching his strongest attack yet on Labour's refusal to rule out a post-election deal with the SNP, warning of an "alliance between the people who want to bankrupt Brtain and the people who want to break up Britain". 

Miliband had the edge in the Chamber and Cameron's evasiveness will have been clear to anyone watching. Labour take heart from polls showing that the majority of the public want the debates to happen and regard the PM as the main obstacle. But the problem is how little salience this issue has. Few if any votes will be changed by Cameron's rejectionism. It is, fundamentally, a process story largely of interest to the Westminster media.

Far better would have been for Miliband to lead on defence spending (exploiting a Conservative divide) as two of his MPs, Stella Creasy and Gisela Stuart, did. Alternatively, he could have raised the remarkable figures published by Labour today, showing a 49 per cent rise in long-term youth unemployment among BAME communities. With just two PMQs now remaining before the general election, today's session felt like a wasted opportunity. 

Meanwhile, the tediousness of the debate about the debates is perhaps the best argument for having them. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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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.