Cameron seemed distracted and confused – stuttering over his pre-prepared statements and reverting to his now-rather-pathetic soundbite attacks in attempts to score anything like a hit before having to sit down.
His reference to the health service in Wales missed the target by a mile. Everyone knows by now – don’t they? – that the Welsh NHS was initially hit hard by cuts to the grant from Westminster to Cardiff Bay, and the Labour Welsh Government has had to adjust its budgets over time to cope with the deficit without harming other services.
In consequence, Welsh health policy has been to prioritise life-threatening conditions, which is why cancer treatment here is ahead of the rest of the UK. Hip operations – the example quoted by Cameron – are not life-threatening issues and that is why waiting times are longer than in England. As the system re-balances, that will change.
In answering the question on ESA, Cameron fell into the same trap as he did on student grants. While the example quoted to him was of a person currently claiming ESA (or at least, who will claim under current conditions), there will undoubtedly be people with the same health problem claiming ESA in the future. His reassurance that they will be put in the support group rings hollow, as there is plenty of documented evidence to the contrary.
And why should future claimants in the work-related activity group receive less money than the current cohort? Will their living expenses be lower? Of course not. Cameron gave no reasonable explanation for the change.
All things considered, Cameron was lucky Corbyn’s allotted number of questions ran out. Cameron had mentioned the “people with the broadest shoulders” paying the most tax. If he’d had another question, Corbyn could have mentioned the amount of tax being paid by Google – now officially the world’s most profitable company but paying a ludicrously low amount of tax on its profits in the UK.
That being said, Corbyn’s earnest delivery made for a low-key confrontation that did not take advantage of Cameron’s clear weakness. He won – but he could have won more decisively.
Corbyn challenged Cameron over his government’s record on cancer treatment spending, and in particular the reduction of funding for radiologists despite the government’s own taskforce warning last year that they were essential.
Cameron hit back by claiming that the health service in Wales – run by a Labour government – was lagging behind England.
[This was] one of Cameron’s weakest PMQs performances for some time. On NHS radiologists his initial non-answer was more blatant than normal, and his jibes at Corbyn – “crazy” plans, and the reference to his “cogs” turning slowly – felt particularly inappropriate given the subject at hand and Corbyn’s earnest and sombre tone.
Cameron was better when handling the question about employment and support allowance (ESA), but it was probably “job done” for Corbyn.
Cameron’s repeated references to Wales and Scotland also felt rather off-topic although, as an insight into how the Tories will campaign between now and May, his repeated attack on Labour’s tax-raising agenda in Scotland was very revealing.
Corbyn called out Tory backbenchers who have taken to heckling his citing of constituents’ letters in his questions. Referring to Martin, a constituent struggling to help a friend with cancer, Corbyn said: “He doesn’t think it’s very funny.”
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