At first sight the incumbent Prime Minister has every advantage.
He comes briefed by the famed Westminster mandarins, the hand-spun, silky-smooth Rolls-Royce of the British civil service. He arrives equipped with a tagged, cross-referenced folio (doubtless produced weekly, regardless of expense). he will doubtless have rehearsed, and memorised the killer punch-line.
Across the Chamber is the Leader of the Opposition, with none of those advantages, armed with just six possible questions and a quick wit.
Against Brown, Cameron generally did well. He employed slick PR-man quips against a more cerebral (and therefore slower) opponent. It is also a nostrum that the Commons works to the Oxbridge debating model.
Hattie hits home
Harriet Harman (University of York, one of those arty-farty, namby-pamby Packenhams) would not be the obvious weapon of choice in the mano-a-mano that is the chauvinist confrontation that is the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions. It’s almost as if Jennie Linden (as Ursula Bragwen) had elbowed aside Alan Bates (as Rupert Birkin) to give Oliver Read (as Gerald Critch) a good seeing-to. [If you don’t get the reference, tough: follow the link.]
Once, again, the girl done good
Is there an antonym for “machismo”? For in that abstraction, self-evidently, lies Dave Cameron’s weakness. He is not good on “tender” topics.
Today Harriet served up what should have been a sitter: the Tory plans on Health reform. Oh, come on, David: has Sir Humphrey not polished your circumlocations?
Here’s the Cameron-symp (since the fall of Senator Macarthy it’s not actionable) Spectator blog, via the flying fingers of David Blackburn, to tell the truth to power:
12:06: Harman attacks the government’s decision to end NHS targets, notably the cancer guarantee.
Woah. Cameron adds to his Northern Ireland statement, condemning the violence on the grounds that the devolved police force is represented by all members of the community.
He then defends his health policy on the grounds that cancer survival rates are not as good as they should be and that spending on treatment is more important than bureaucracy. It’s a strong answer and Cameron finishes with the political coup that the Tories will spend more on health and Labour will cut.
Bercow intervenes, saying it is not the Prime Minister’s place to ask questions.
12:10: Harman asks more questions on this line, finishing with the powerful, and I think unanswerable point that the government’s health white paper is nothing more than a re-organisation that offers speculative savings. Cameron responds by saying he’s abolishing bureaucracy.
Well, Malcolm will go with that.
What was even more telling is that Harriet pulled a theatrical. She didn’t go for her allowance of a sixth question. We watched her flounce off, with the protagonist’s punchline still unspoken. Cameron’s pre-prepared zipper had to go undelivered. It’s called scene-stealing.
OK: don’t trust Malcolm. The BBC walks on egg-shells these days, and is politically-correct to the nth-degree; but here’s Gary O’Donoghue:
Har[r]iet Harman did manage to press home some advantage on the question of the two week guarantee for cancer patients introduced by the previous government. Would it be scrapped by the coalition? No clear answer to that. The PM’s argument is that targets skew clinical priorities and several health targets such as the 48 hour maximum wait for a GP appointment have already gone. The problem for ministers is that a two week guarantee is easy to understand, and if you’re going to get rid of it, you need a simple and compelling argument to go in its place.
Nice one, gal!
Look closer and one has to spot Cameron’s gross error.
Memo to Dave:
Everyone’s mid-life fear is the Big C.
On this one, trust Malcolm.
Here it comes again, this time from the belly of the Murdoch beast, the News of the World:
The start of today’s PMQ’s seemed to start with something of a bang and slowly fizzle out after Cameron failed to safeguard the NHS two week cancer treatment guarantee.
After much probing about the future of the guarantee, Harriet Harman demanded a simple yes or no answer from Cameron.
He failed to provide her with one, exclaiming, “some people find two weeks too long.”
In Cameron’s two weeks too long whinge, there resonates the echo of a lingering question:
Before those Labour NHS “targets” there were Tory waiting-lists.
How many cancer-patients were carted to the crematorium before they reached the top of the waiting list?