Anyone for a game of political football? But be warned: this is a rough sport, where the rules have not yet been codified. Hooliganism is rife, and John Bercow, who is supposed to be referee, struggles to make himself heard above the braying of the rival teams.
It is, however, more fun to play political football than to watch it. As a spectator sport, it suffers from the drawback of being almost unbelievably repetitive. The players have been promised that the more often they repeat various tired old phrases, the more points they will accumulate with Lynton Crosby, the brutal Australian coach brought in to bring some much-needed discipline to the Conservative side, or with whoever Crosby’s opposite number is for Labour – some American, one gathers, who may or may not have turned up for work after Christmas.
Crosby and the anti-Crosby, whoever he or she may be, have clearly decided their players are not gifted enough to adopt an open style of play, in which they pick up the ball and run with it. We instead find ourselves watching an interminable scrum, in which tripping, kicking, stamping, striking, biting, gouging and even emasculating the other team are the main methods employed.
It was David Cameron who described what was going on as some kind of sport. He accused Ed Miliband of “simply wanting to use” the NHS “as a political football”. So in the depths of that scrum, this was the institution for possession of which the two sides were competing. Innocent patients, doctors and nurses were being torn this way and that in a battle for control of the NHS. But how as a spectator one could tell who was actually fit to be in charge of the NHS, it was impossible to say.
Cameron said it was all Miliband’s fault. Apparently the Labour leader had confided to the BBC that “I want to weaponise the NHS”. According to Cameron, that was “a disgusting thing to say”. In order to score extra points with Crosby, Cameron added a few minutes later that it was “the most disgusting phrase I think I’ve heard in politics”.
Ho, hum. Surely the Prime Minister has heard more disgusting phrases than that. He cannot have lived such a sheltered life. But perhaps he thinks that sounding pious about the NHS is another way to goad Labour. There is a pleasantly cavalier dash about these attacks, so that one ceases to care whether what is being said is in the slightest bit accurate. At one point the Prime Minister asserted that inside the NHS, “over two and a half thousand more patients are seen within four years”.
What a promising system, some of us thought. By then, those patients will either be better or be dead. The savings to the NHS must run into billions.
But it turned out that the Prime Minister meant four hours, not four years. It did not much matter, for by the end of the election campaign we shall have lost all sense of time.
Sir Peter Tapsell, the Father of the House, made a dignified and eloquent protest about the non-publication of the Chilcot Report. He wondered whether the Cabinet Secretary or the White House was to blame. Cameron insisted that he at least was not to blame, and if it had been up to him the report would have been published years ago.