PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn unsettles David Cameron on cancer care

Unable to explain away policy failures, the PM turned his fire on Scottish and Welsh Labour. 

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David Cameron arrived at today's PMQs bearing the scars of the worst headlines he has attracted for some years. But with a statement on his parlous EU renegotiation to follow, both Jeremy Corbyn and Tory MPs chose to keep their powder dry. The Labour leader challenged Cameron on rising cancer waiting times and cuts to sickness benefits, and just one Conservative backbencher, Christopher Chope, lashed him over his European deal. 

Corbyn's detailed questioning left Cameron struggling to explain away the increase in waiting times and cuts to training places for therapeutic radiologists. After an uncomfortable opening, the PM resolved that attack was the best form of defence. As he did so often against Ed Miliband, he savaged the Welsh Labour administration's NHS cuts, demanding that Corbyn "pick up the phone" and insisting that he could not "wash his hands" of the matter (though if devolution means anything, he can do just that). The Labour leader sharply riposted that Wales's cancer survival rate was the best in the UK. With an eye to May's elections, Cameron also derided Scottish Labour's proposed 1p increase in income tax, a policy that the Tories hope will increase their chances of taking second place north of the border. 

When Corbyn pleaded with him not to cut benefits by £102 per week for some cancer patients and the disabled ("please, Prime Minister, think again"), asking whether they were really those with the "broadest shoulders", Cameron replied that "the people with the broadest shoulders are paying a higher share of tax than they ever did under Labour". With the PM boasting that he was spending more on the NHS and taxing the rich more than Labour it was not a good day for Tory libertarians. But Cameron's beneficence does not extend to those on the Employment and Support Allowance. Despite the government's recent Lords defeat on the issue, he offered no hint of a climbdown. "If in future you are able to get back to work we'll help you get back to work," he bluntly said of the 3,200 cancer patients due to lose out. 

Some unintentional comic relief was provided by Stella Creasy, who complained that her local hospital was paying £1.5m a week in interest owing to a bad PFI deal. As the roars of laughter from the Conservative benches soon reminded here, it was a Labour government that was responsible for the policy. "Sometimes it takes a long time to unwind the damage done by a Labour government," Cameron gleefully replied. On that point, Corbyn is in full agreement. 

George Eaton is senior online editor of the New Statesman.

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