David Cameron’s serial U-turns on the NHS and on sentencing policy meant that this should have been the easiest of wins for Ed Miliband. But, worryingly for the Labour leader, it was Cameron who emerged strengthened from today’s PMQs.
Miliband should have humiliated the PM over his decision to junk Ken Clarke’s policy on sentences but he failed to deliver. He appeared dumbstruck when Cameron quoted Sadiq Khan’s response to the government’s consultation (“‘the sentencing reforms are robust, in keeping with Labour’s approach to law and order in government”). Unsure of his own party’s policy, he was in no position to attack the government’s.
After just two questions, the Labour leader announced that he would “move on” to the NHS (which seemed like an admission of failure) but, once again, he failed to land a killer blow. He allowed Cameron to repeat his false claim that health spending will rise in real-terms (the figures show it will be cut) and missed another opportunity to highlight the humiliation of Andrew Lansley. His declaration that Cameron’s policy was in a mess because “he’s completely shameless and will say anything” produced laughter on the Tory benches and grimaces on the Labour benches. Cameron’s quip that Miliband “wasn’t thinking about politics on his honeymoon” had the ring of truth to it.
Miliband eventually managed to squeeze out his stock line for the broadcasters (“you can’t trust the Tories on the NHS”) but what he needed today was a memorable line on Cameron and Clarke. He didn’t provide one.
As an aside, it’s worth noting that having previously focused on Cameron’s incompetence, Miliband launched an ideological attack today, arguing that the Prime Minister’s “wrong values” meant he had made a mess of the NHS. Cameron was in favour of a “free market free-for-all”, he said. Regardless of the truth of this claim, this line of attack risks alienating those who would otherwise be sympathetic to Miliband’s stance on the reforms.