Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
11 May 2011

PMQs review: Miliband targets Cameron’s Achilles heel

The Labour leader declares again: “You can’t trust the Tories with the NHS.”

By George Eaton

In the form of the Tories’ NHS reforms, Ed Miliband believes he has identified the coalition’s Achilles heel. That was the main conclusion from today’s PMQs, in which Miliband devoted all six of his questions to the subject, despite the troubling economic forecasts from the Bank of England.

Rather disarmingly, Miliband began by asking: “How would the Prime Minister rate his handling of the NHS?” Cameron replied by boasting, Brown-like, that the coalition had “increased spending on the NHS”, a line that will trouble those in his party who don’t view state spending as an unqualified good.

The PM added that the number of doctors had increased, which prompted Miliband to point out that “it takes seven years to train a doctor” and that Cameron was paying tribute to the last government.

As he has done before, the Labour leader also noted Cameron’s tendency to “dump on” his colleagues (he gave the examples of David Willetts, Michael Gove and, inevitably, Nick Clegg), a line of attack that several cabinet ministers will sympathise with privately. However, Clegg, who looked utterly miserable last week, nodded and smiled at Cameron’s attacks on the Labour front bench.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

From then on, the encounter descended into a series of pre-scripted insults and jibes. After Cameron accused him of “empty opposition”, Miliband declared: “Flashman is back”; right line, wrong time. The PM was unsparing in his criticism of the Labour leader but this was actually one of his less bully-like performances.

At another point, Miliband told Cameron to “Calm down, dear” (a line that Ed Balls used against George Osborne at Treasury questions yesterday), a gibe that already feels painfully dated and that received only grudging laughter from the Labour back benches.

For good measure, Cameron, referring to Miliband’s ill-fated prediction that Labour’s fightback would begin in Scotland, compared the Labour leader to “Eddie the Eagle”. It was hardly Swiftian stuff.

Miliband finished his exchange with Cameron by declaring: “You can’t trust the Tories with the NHS,” a line tailor-made for the broadcasters and one that he clearly believes will resonate with the public. But the PM insisted: “There’s only one party that you can trust on the NHS and it’s the one that I lead.”

An unintended putdown of the Lib Dems? One suspects that Cameron really doesn’t mind.