Ed Miliband, one senses, is beginning to relish PMQs. It has become his weekly opportunity to beat up David Cameron over the NHS. For the fourth week in a row, he challenged Cameron’s health bill and, for the fourth week in a row, he won. Once again, Cameron mounted a principled defence of competition but struggled when asked to name a major health organisation that supported the bill (he listed four comically obscure groups). It was a crude tactic by Miliband but it worked.
The other high point for the Labour leader was his ad-libbed attack on Nick Clegg. Motioning to the Lib Dem leader, he said that it was impossible to know whether Clegg supported or opposed the bill. When Clegg replied that he did support the bill, Miliband gleefully exclaimed, “he supports it!” It was a fact that Clegg, who has privately complained that he is losing more activists on this issue than he did on tuition fees, does not want his party to be reminded of.
Earlier in the session, for the first time, Miliband asked about the Leveson Inquiry, challenging Cameron to distance himself from Michael Gove’s claim that it had had a “chilling” effect on press freedom. Cameron simply replied that the Education Secretary, like the rest of the governent, fully supported the inquiry. On the frontbench, Gove blushed like a scolded child.
In an attempt to redress the damage, Cameron returned to the subject before answering Miliband’s next question. At times like this, he said, it was important for politicians to support a “free, vibrant and robust press”. A deeply-embarassed Gove nodded in agreement.