‘Pillock’ BBC reporter’s duff NHS question makes Miliband’s day

All smiles: "We will hear people with respect," said Mr Miliband - but he couldn't hide his enjoyment of Norman Smith's error of judgement.

All smiles: “We will hear people with respect,” said Mr Miliband – but he couldn’t hide his enjoyment of Norman Smith’s error of judgement.

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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14 thoughts on “‘Pillock’ BBC reporter’s duff NHS question makes Miliband’s day

  1. hstorm

    The Royal Society of Pillocks has written to protest in the strongest possible terms that Norman Smith was refused a membership card when he failed his entry exam; he showed insufficient levels of shrewd, critical reasoning to qualify as a pillock.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      I’m sorry – it’s not my video. Since it was created for The Guardian, I have the feeling that any subtitles might be misspelt.

  2. The Infamous Culex

    As a proportion of GDP, how much did the UK spend on defence in the 1930s – and how much does it spend now?

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      I don’t know but with hindsight I would say it wasn’t enough. Can anybody else help?

    2. hstorm

      £119 million c.1930, according to this site; –


      Not sure what that would be in today’s money, but certainly billions.

      It’s something of a myth that Britain had abandoned military spending by the 1930’s though. Baldwin’s Government in particular invested considerable resources into creating a very sophisticated air-defence-and-intelligence network. It was the first Integrated Air Defence System (IADS) in the world, and without it, the RAF might have lost the Battle Of Britain. (A success this country wrongly applauds Winston Churchill for.)

  3. liamtkirk

    Ed Miliband? What is he going to do for the country? My MP and his closest advisor Karen Buck is an incompetent career politician who according to her CV has never had a job out of politics and cannot run a constituency office. If Miliband choses a politician of so little merit in his inner circle I see no hope for this country. If elected, I predict Miliband will be a disaster, of course I may be wrong he may possess a broad sweep of history and be an effective administrator like Attlee but the omens are: a deterioration in the public sector, a drop off in productivity and a massive hole in public finances. This passage does not constitute approval of the Conservatives or Ukip, merely the indicators are that Miliband will do a terrible job.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Karen Buck spent years working outside of politics: In 1979, she became a research and development worker with Outset, a charity working with disabled people, before joining the Hackney London Borough Council in 1983 initially as a senior disability officer, and from 1986 a public health officer.
      Buck made her name whilst a councillor at Westminster when she was involved in exposing fraudulent behaviour of Shirley Porter and the Homes for Votes scandal, according to Wikipedia.
      I remember the Shirley Porter business, and if Karen Buck had anything to do with it, then I’m on her side.
      The rest of your comments are – like your words about Karen Buck – your own opinions, of course.

      1. liamtkirk

        Thank you for informing me that Karen Buck has had experience in the real world of work, it’s just a pity, it doesn’t show. As you correctly pointed out my opinions are my own opinions, that are based on lived experience. Lest us not forget, every year Labour were last in power the productivity of the public sector declined on average by 0.3 per cent, not what I call aiding the public health of the nation or the disabled.

      2. Mike Sivier Post author

        That’s a new statistical quotation on me; haven’t had that one thrown around here yet. I’ll put it on the list and see if there’s any truth in it.

      3. liamtkirk

        Mike Sivier – I originally read a report on the declining productivity of the Public Sector in The Guardian and sometime later in the Evening Standard

      4. Mike Sivier Post author

        Okay, I’ll see if I can find the relevant articles.
        You should be aware that the public sector has been devastated under the Conservative-led Coalition. How often do we read, these days, of government departments unable to function because they are understaffed and under-resourced? The Border Force leaps to mind.

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