It was like the last night of the Proms at PMQs. Miliband stood up to hearty roars—Tory roars—that seemed to go on for minutes. This was the longest and most humiliating ovation of his life. But his throat had been hit by a lurgy and his voice was rasping like a misfiring chainsaw. This impairment made him a less tasty target. It took the fun out of the fight.
Still, Cameron had a pop. ‘If he gets a doctor’s appointment we do hope he doesn’t forget it.’
Miliband flashed back. ‘He noticed that I lost a couple of paragraphs in my speech. Since we last met he’s lost a couple of Members of Parliament.’
He brought up Lord Freud’s quote, about the disabled being unworthy of decent wages, but his main target was Tory moral turpitude. He woofed and snarled through a list of Conservative atrocities and then coughed out a final sound-bite. ‘The nasty party is back.’ We got a full-frontal of his plump white rabbity gnashers. Quite a distressing sight. If you’re using the ‘nasty’ slur against your enemies you need to appear considerably lovelier by comparison. Miliband seemed rattled today.
His backbenches swung into action and gave us a foretaste of Labour’s electoral strategy: the NHS must save the party. Member after member stood up to scare us. The NHS is falling apart, we were told. Hospitals are in meltdown. Clinics are being bull-dozed. Rampant bureaucrats are wasting millions. Cop cars are being used as ambulances. Cancer care is in the throes of privatisation, and bemused patients are roaming the hills looking for a hospital to take them in.
Cameron responded with money. Money spent. Money pledged. His electoral strategy has the same centre-piece as Labour’s. He’ll link the future of the NHS (where he isn’t trusted) to economic prosperity (where he is).