PMQs review: Cameron scrapes a dirty win

The PM's blast at Miliband over tomorrow's strike secured him victory. 

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As so often, David Cameron left it until the end of his exchange with Ed Miliband to play his trump card. In reference to Labour's contorted position on tomorrow's public sector strike, he observed that the party had briefed that it would not support the walk-out, but also that it would not condemn it. It was pure opportunism from the PM (Miliband had asked him about A&E waiting times) but in an otherwise evenly matched contest it was enough to give him victory. The Tories intend to make Miliband's alleged indecisiveness and weakness one of the central themes of their general election campaign and Cameron offered a succinct preview today: "Is he remotely up to the job? No."

The session began with Miliband asking the PM three statesmanlike questions on the child abuse inquiries, having chosen not to query the appointment of Elizabeth Butler-Sloss (whose brother was attorney general at the time many of the allegations were first made) to head the independent panel. After Cameron promised to consider the NSPCC's call for a new mandatory reporting law he moved on to the NHS, Labour's main campaigning issue for the summer. 

Miliband brandished the House of Commons Library's correction of Cameron's claims on A&E waiting times, but trying to win an argument on statistics at PMQs is like trying to win an argument on the internet: it never works. The most notable moment came when Cameron declared that Miliband had made "a massive mistake keeping a failing health secretary as the shadow health spokesman", prompting Miliband to say of Andy Burnham (one of those regarded by Labour MPs as positioning himself for a future leadership contest): "I'd far rather have the shadow health secretary than their health secretary any day of the week." 

As well as his blast at Labour over tomorrow's strike (he later confirmed to Tory MP Dominic Raab that a minimum threshold law would be included in the Conservative manifesto), Cameron used his final answer to plunge the depths of political combat as he said Miliband still "has to defend the man who presided over the Mid-Staffs disgrace." Though it is now hard to recall, when the Francis Report into the hospital scandal was published, Cameron endorsed its conclusion that Burnham bore no blame. That he has now been forced to deploy this ad hominem attack is evidence of how weak the Tories' position on the NHS has become. 

George Eaton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.