Norman Smith, the BBC’s assistant political editor, may have cause to regret very deeply his line of questioning to Ed Miliband yesterday.
It was one of those occasions when the BBC’s adoption of the Conservative Party’s narrative on almost every political story simply couldn’t stand up – and that’s why Norman was shouted down.
Mr Miliband was launching the Labour Party’s general election campaign at Salford’s Lowry Theatre when Mr Smith ventured his unwise question. Considering the factual evidence of recent weeks, it may be possible that he was ordered to ask the following by one of his Tory bosses within the corporation. He said: “You have attacked the Tories for going negative in this campaign already over this publication of the dossier about your spending commitments but haven’t you gone negative over the NHS? Because you are saying that it will be unrecognisable in five years’ time and yet Mr Cameron has pledged to ringfence the NHS budget, announced that £2bn has been promised and there has been no winter crisis, so aren’t you …”
The reaction was – well, see for yourself. The look on Ed’s face at the claim that there has been no winter crisis is priceless:
The hubbub following the BBC reporter’s claims included someone with a northern accent advising him to go back to London – and another audience member called him “a pillock”.
Mr Miliband, clearly enjoying the moment, defused the growing anger with a raised hand: “We will hear people with respect … particularly Norman.”
Then he said: “The difference is between fact and falsehood.
“You should talk to people in the NHS, Norman, because they will genuinely say to you with an edge in their voice ‘Where are things going to be in five years’ time, what kind of NHS are we going to have?’
“I met a young doctor a few months ago who had just qualified and he said to me ‘You know you have got to have a plan, you know you have got to sort this out because I want the NHS to be actually there when I’m a doctor.’
“I think there is real fear about the fact that we transformed the NHS in government, it’s already gone backwards. If you are proposing as a party to go back to 1930s levels of public spending as a share of national income – as you were one of the first people to point out – then I think there is real fear about what that means for the NHS and other vital public services.”
Just to clarify why Mr Miliband was surprised to hear there was no winter crisis, here’s just one example of a situation Mr Smith seemed to think didn’t happen, from the middle of last month, as reported by – surprise! – the BBC.
Additional (January 6): Today the BBC is reporting that the English NHS (along with those in the other UK countries) has recorded its worst failure to meet Accident and Emergency waiting time targets since they were introduced in 2004 – despite those targets having been reduced when the Tory-led Coalition Government came into office. The graph accompanying the article is particularly damning.
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