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PMQs review: Theresa May tries to avoid the NHS

As Jeremy Corbyn warned that she was in "denial" over the "crisis", the PM sought to shift attention to the economy. 

With every PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn appears less and less of a break with the past. “Our NHS is in crisis but the Prime Minister is in denial,” he declared today, a line used by Labour leaders down the ages. After divisions over immigration and maximum wage laws, Corbyn focused solely on the issue of health (as many MPs have wanted him to).

Though Labour is often accused of crying wolf over the NHS, it isn’t only the opposition that is alarmed. In a much-quoted description, the Red Cross has warned of a “humanitarian crisis”. Theresa May rejected this as “irresponsible and overblown” but she found it harder to dismiss the figure cited by Corbyn: 1.8m people waited longer than four hours in A&E departments last year.

When May insisted that more people were being treated, Corbyn moved from the macro to the micro. He cited the case of an NHS worker’s 22-month old nephew who was treated on two plastic chairs held together by a blanket. May conceded that there had been a “small number of incidents” where “unacceptable practices” have taken place. “Small?” cried Labour MPs (there were 18,000 trolley waits of more than four hours last week).

May soon gave the impression of someone who wanted to change the subject. "We can only fund social care and NHS if we have a strong economy,” she declared (a line straight from David Cameron’s 2015 script). Brexit gives Labour the chance to argue that the Tories have threatened that aim but that is a blow the opposition has yet to land.

Both leaders appeared happier playing at home (Corbyn on the NHS, May on the economy) than away. Corbyn’s soundbites, however, have notably sharpened: “Earlier this week, the Prime Minister said she wanted to create a ‘shared society’. Well, we’ve certainly got that. More people sharing hospital corridors on trolleys. More people sharing waiting areas in A&E departments. More people sharing in anxiety created by this government.”

He demanded that May cancel the planned corporation tax cuts and “spend the money where it’s needed, on people in desperate need in social care or in our hospitals.” In response, the PM derided Corbyn’s “relaunch”.

"Yesterday he proved that he is not only incompetent but he would destroy our economy and that would devastate our NHS."

Once again, May used the health of the economy as a metric for the health of the NHS. But though the former has so far avoided recession, the latter is faring less well. As much as the PM may wish otherwise, this will not be the last chance that Corbyn gets to warn of “a crisis”.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.

Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.