By Matthew Barrett
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Today's PMQs was lively, but was simply the warm-up act for the Autumn Statement that followed it. I will attempt not to detain you for long.
Ed Miliband's first question noted the Conservative manifesto's commitment to raise spending in the NHS, and asked, in light of today's news, why this wasn't happening. David Cameron was bullish, and disputed the figures, saying spending would rise year-on-year. Ed Miliband responded: "even by his standards, that's the most slippery answer you could possibly imagine", and asked him again to admit not increasing spending. Mr Cameron did not oblige, and again insisted spending was increasing. Mr Cameron further attacked Labour's handling of the NHS in Wales.
Mr Miliband moved onto another favourite Labour talking point: why is the Government giving every millionaire a tax break? Mr Cameron rightly reminded Mr Miliband that the current 45p rate is higher than under Labour, and in any case, the introduction of the 50p rate caused the Treasury's tax intake to fall.
Mr Miliband moved on to a different line of attack: he asked why Mr Cameron had "so badly failed" to keep his promise to "balance the books" by 2015. Mr Cameron returned to the 50p tax rate answer, saying that the 50p rate, which he blamed on Labour, cost the country £7bn – "the point behind taxation is to raise money, not punish success". In a final rally, Mr Cameron said the Government is reducing the deficit, a million new private sector jobs had been created, businesses were starting up more frequently than ever before, and so on. "We're on the side of people who work hard and do the right thing", Mr Cameron concluded.
There was not much of political significance to report in Mr Cameron's answers to backbenchers, other than to note he has regained some of his presence at PMQs, and, after getting the better of Mr Miliband during their exchange, carried his good attacking form through to answers to backbench questions. When a Labour MP complained about the state of hospitals in his constituency, Mr Cameron said:
"I think the Hon. Gentleman was describing the situation in Wales, where Labour have put in place an 8% cut. Let me tell him what is actually happening in the NHS in England. We've got 1,350 extra clinical staff, we've taken down the number of managers by 6,700, mixed sex accommodation is down, waiting times are down, the number of managers is down by 6,700 … the number of people waiting 52 weeks to start treatment is at its lowest level since records began."