An unusually subdued PMQs. Proceedings started with the terrible and now horribly familiar tribute by the prime minister to a fallen soldier, in this case Lance Corporal Jamie Webb, killed in Afghanistan. One more name.
But then came the first question, about tax cuts for millionaires, and this the PM batted away, saying that the richest were now having to pay more.
The atmosphere was cheered somewhat as David Amess, Conservative MP for Southend West, mentioned his 100-year-old mother. Mother Amess, we learn, is rather a eurosceptic, so as she is soon to turn 101, her boy asks, is there any way an EU referendum might be brought forward? The House collapses in laughter at this coruscating flash of eurozone standup and the Prime Minister graciously offers his “fond regards to your mum,” in so doing taking parliamentary language to new, soaring altitudes.
There then stands Ed Miliband, who first acknowledges the death of the brave soldier and then jumps immediately to his chosen subject of the day: the NHS. Is the PM aware that patients are being shoddily treated? Is he aware that some in Accident and Emergency wards are being left on trolleys for anything up to 12 hours? What has the PM to say about that? The prime minister replied, saying that the Conservatives are the true party of the NHS. There is a modicum of approval for this statement from the benches behind him, but it is hardly overwhelming.
Ed Miliband once more rises to his feet, this time to claim that the government is failing to meet its own NHS targets, that accident and emergency waiting times are up: that there is an A&E crisis, even. There is a creaking noise and the sound of clanking gears. It becomes clear at this point that the leader of the opposition is standing upon, of all things, a trap door.
The PM answers by administering a mouthful of figures accompanied by a firm poke at the NHS in Wales, which is run by Labour and is, he says, coming apart at the seams. Miliband rises once more and again, he’s sticking to the NHS. He is now all but tap dancing on the trap door, arguing that Labour is the party of the NHS, or words to that effect, and that the present government has no idea what it’s doing.
And now the PM has his chance. If you want to know anything about Labour and the NHS, he tells the house, “then read the Mid Staffs report.” Clank! And with that, the trap door swings suddenly open beneath Ed Miliband, who vanishes into the oubliette beneath.
After this, it becomes somewhat challenging to concentrate. There are other questions, one even from Mr Miliband himself as he clings to the mossy sloped walls of his new subterranean home. But the question that remains is really what on earth Mr Miliband was thinking. To open up with such a dangerous channel of questions was colossally ill-advised, especially as the select committee on the mid Staffs report met in the House only yesterday. And yet the PM, of whom there is much to ask at present, was able to despatch Ed with one pull of the lever.
Could it be that Miliband was banking on rather worse news this week on the economy than proved the case? Did he have a clutch of triple dip questions that needed to be shelved at short notice when projections by economists began to suggest that no such triple dip had occurred? Perhaps—but this is to take things into the realm of speculation. What is certain, however, is that the leader of the opposition made a rather straightforward blunder today, when there were so much low hanging fruit that he might have picked. And triple dip or not, the lowest hanging of them all, the economy, went completely unmentioned.