PMQs: Cameron's leap year proposal

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 29 February 2012 in Diary
The prime minister used the leap year to put a proposal to Ed Miliband – but there was no getting down on one knee over NHS reforms

An engagement proposal is usually a private, magical moment. But David Cameron's use of the leap year tradition had nothing to do with a happy ending.

Using the 29 February as an excuse to break parliamentary tradition, he asked the Labour leader: "Isn't it time he told us what he is for?"

Miliband didn't get an opportunity to respond – the surprise proposal came after his last question.

But from that look in his eye, I think Cameron might have been spurned.

So what is the Labour leader for? Well, he's certainly still for the NHS – it's the fourth time in a row that he's led on the subject.

There was a lot of name-trading about people who do and don’t support the bill. It didn't make for the most thrilling viewing.

A bit like a televised, late-night poker game on an obscure cable channel, in Cameron's hand was Lord Darzi, John Hutton and the Foundation Trust Network.

Miliband had the Royal College of GPs, the Royal College of Nursing and the Patients' Association. But neither of them had an ace.

"[You're] taking a totally opportunistic position in relation to this bill," tutted the PM.

"98% of the Royal College of GPs oppose this bill," replied Miliband. "More and more healthcare organisations are coming out against this bill."

But Cameron had a retort-in-waiting to those stats. He claimed that of the 44,000 members at the Royal College of GPs, just 7% replied opposing the bill. "I know that's enough to get you elected as leader of the Labour Party..." he threw back at the Labour leader.

"Their support for the health bill is digging their own burial at the next election," retorted Miliband, rather unromantically. "Who supports his bill?"

Miliband turned to Nick Clegg, chief letter writer on the NHS, asking if he supports the bill.

The deputy prime minister nodded, with a quick glance of approval from his coalition partner.

But 'homewrecker' Miliband was determined to point out the problems with the Clegg-Cameron marriage.

"He supports it," exclaimed Miliband, knowing that the cameras had caught the Lib Dem leader's nod of support.

Cameron shook his head in disappointment at Miliband's tactics. "Not one question about substance," he said.

Separately, the subject of the press was raised.

Miliband pointed to Michael Gove's comments last week about the "chilling effect" Leveson is having on press freedom. It was a question right out of the Tom Watson book of tactics.

"It's important for politicians to say that they support a robust free press," replied Cameron. "That's an important point."

The 29 February may be a special date, but today's exchange was not the basis for a happy marriage.

Miliband might be going hard on the health bill, but the government is not falling to its knees yet... not even for a leap year proposal.

Tags: David Cameron, Ed Miliband ( Labour Leader ), Health bill, Lord Darzi, PMQs 2012

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