The Weaponising of the NHS – really does seem like a damp squib of a debate at present. There’s even a rationing of honesty.
Laura Pitel and Lucy Fisher on 12th January 2015 in The Times: Miliband ‘wriggling like an eel’ over NHS ‘weaponisation’ says PMIsabel Hardman opines 14th January 2015: Ed has turned the “weaponised” NHS on himself
‘Weaponise, weaponise, weaponise.” David Cameron was so beside himself with anger that Ed Miliband had told the BBC he would weaponise the NHS that he felt obliged to turn himself into an out of control red-faced Dalek and repeat the word on every occasion possible at prime minister’s questions. The threat of weaponisation was now so great, he insisted, that he was left with little option but to weaponise it himself in order to defend it from weaponisation. The NHS is now officially at Defcon 1, with a full invasion of spin-doctors imminent.
All that Miliband – looking suspiciously like the disgruntled waiter in the new Shaun the Sheep movie – had done to precipitate this was to ask how many of the A&E units Cameron had promised to keep open at the last election were now closed. “It is very simple,” he replied. “One of the most respected political journalists in Britain, Nick Robinson …” Several Tory front-benchers did their best not to appear astonished at the BBC’s political editor being described with such affection. “… has said that weaponising the NHS is a phrase that the leader of the opposition uses. Will he apologise for that appalling remark?”
With the prime minister unwilling to talk about anything except his deep sorrow at being forced to send in troops to enforce the NHS de-weaponisation, Miliband was obliged to answer his own question before asking another about A&E closures. “You dare come here with all your disgusting talk of weaponising,” Cameron continued. “Go and wash your mouth out with soap and water.”
Rather late in the day, Miliband suggested that all he might have meant by weaponising the NHS – he didn’t actually admit to using that expression, of course – was protecting it from the Tory scalpels. Had he said that a couple of weeks ago when Cameron first brought it up, the issue would have long since been dead and buried but the prime minister was now in no mood to let it go. “Weaponise … weaponise … weaponise,” he said, his voice becoming ever huskier. Automated even.
Just as it looked as if we were heading for the familiar, futile deadlock, Miliband dropped his bombshell. “This is a man who has got a war on Wales,” he announced casually. We never did get to find out the nature of this war on Wales or the number of casualties as several hundred MPs chose that moment to make grunting sounds, but it did rather seem as if the weaponisation was getting out of hand. As so often, the first casualty of PMQs was the truth.
By now the PM could manage little more than a fevered croak and his eyes kept looking towards the clock, longing for the allotted half-hour to come to an end. Realising that Cameron was suffering badly, the speaker chose to spin out PMQs by an unprecedented eight extra minutes. “Everyone seems to be having such a jolly time,” Bercow’s widening grin suggested, “I can’t bear to bring the session to an end. Has anyone got anything they want to ask the prime minister? Perhaps something on his kitchen light fittings?”
As it happened, Labour’s Dennis Skinner did have one last question. Did the PM think that he had a record as long as that of his pal, Andy Coulson? Cameron opened his mouth to try to explain that Coulson’s record was actually a great deal shorter than it might have been but the words would no longer come out. His batteries had died. The search for weapons of mass distraction was over for another week.