By Paul Goodman
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Rachel Sylvester's Times (£) column yesterday, which reported a Downing Street source as saying that Andrew Lansley "should be taken out and shot", made it all but inevitable that Ed Miliband would go on the NHS at PMQs – which he did, devoting all six questions to the topic.
Miliband's aim was to stress the opposition to the Health Secretary's bill of health interest groups, and refer to the Cameron/Lansley tensions in a roundabout way – "it's nice to see him here", he said of the Health Secretary – rather than risk a full-frontal assault, which would probably have rallied the Tory benches behind the Prime Minister and Health Secretary.
Cameron's response was to throw up as much chaff as he could get his hands on. He told the Commons that the former Labour MP Anne Campbell supports the reforms. That Labour are making a mess of the NHS in Wales. That doctors are implementing the reforms. That he himself is personally committed to the service.
Miliband had quite a good joke about not even the Tories trusting the Tories on the NHS (he claimed that the Tory Reform Group opposes the reforms) and Cameron rather a tired response to Miliband raising Lansley's position. He suggested that Miliband shouldn't give "lectures on happy families". The Miliband Brothers allusions are in danger of being overworked.
Both men were ready with Blair-style health lists. Shortest waiting times under Labour! More doctors and nurses! Highest level patients satisfaction! That from Miliband. In-patient waiting times down! Out-patients waiting times down! That from Cameron. The lobby are declaring Miliband the winner. But there was no knock-out blow from either leader.
The questions from the Tory backbenches were a mixture of constituency-based concerns and (frankly) helpful planted questions. There were more than usual on health: Penny Mordaunt, Julian Lewis, and Steve Baker all raised problems in the local NHS – Baker making a spirited attack on Labour's Wycombe Hospital closures legacy. Attaboy, Steve!
The unrepentantly unhelpful Peter Bone raised Sarah Teather's failure to back the welfare reform bill – demanding her dismissal. And Sir Menzies Campbell asked a sharp question on Syria. By the way, the Prime Minister said that Lansley's career prospects are "a lot better than [Miliband's]". Not exactly a full-hearted vote of confidence.