PMQs verdict: Tussle over the NHS which Corbyn should have walked

PUBLISHED: 14:41 23 May 2018 | UPDATED: 14:41 23 May 2018

Prime minister Theresa May PMQs
Photo: PA

Prime minister Theresa May PMQs Photo: PA

PA Wire/PA Images

Corbyn has enjoyed two strong PMQs in a row and both kicked off with zingers – sadly not this week.

Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn
Photo: PALabour party leader Jeremy Corbyn Photo: PA

His decision to go with the NHS was not the problem. His questioning was.

He started with: “In 2010 £4bn of NHS services were outsourced to private companies ... how much is it today?”

To which, without barely a thought, Theresa May replied: “What we do know is that spend on the independent sector nearly doubled in the last four years of the last Labour government.” Corbyn said he wanted to know what the figure was today with an annoyance in his voice that screamed “we are not the Labour Party of eight years ago”. And that is certainly true.

With his next question the Labour leader performed better including a good soundbite for his social media team.

“NHS budgets have increased by just 1% per year under this government but it is jackpot time for the privateers – their share is up by 100% to more than £9bn a year,” he said.

And he backed it up by citing a National Audit Office report which, according to Corbyn, said patients were being put at risk. But the prime minister disputed this firing back: “The report said that no actual harm has been identified. And all the savings that have been made have been reinvested into front-line patient care to fund the equivalent of 30,000 extra operations.”

At this stage it was clear that Corbyn’s questions were too vague. They were far too easy for May to counter with a stat of her own that took the wind out of his sails.

Momentarily Corbyn sprang to action accusing the government of putting private profit before patients. That’s more like it Jeremy. Here is where Labour can make ground. The Tories remain weak when it comes to the public’s trust on how they handle the health service.

And the prime minister’s claim that this was just “scaremongering” will have hardly settled the nerves of those worried about the future of the health service.

Then Corbyn lost all credibility by saying: “From the party that opposed the founding of the NHS that is a bit rich.” It would have been a good line but for the fact that only minutes earlier he was raising his eyebrows about being compared to the Labour government of only eight years previous.

Corbyn wasted another question, which elicited a rebuke in the form of statistics from May, before he began building into one of his trade-mark rants. In his head these displays must sound like tub-thumping, rabble-rousing oration of the highest order. They are not.

Growing in anger he demanded May “act now” to stop the siphoning off of money to the private sector which could be spent on patient care.

Calmly the prime minister responded: “We pay tribute to all those who have worked in the NHS over its 70 years.” She then promised the government would be coming up with a long-term plan for the health service. Breath duly bated.

Then she sealed Corbyn’s fate: “And what did we learn this week? That the Labour Party and the shadow chancellor want to do? They want to overthrow capitalism. What would that mean? It would mean families paying higher taxes ... more debt for our children ... fewer people in jobs and less money for schools and hospitals ... a Labour Party that would bankrupt our economy would do lasting damage to our health service.”

It was a strong finish from the prime minister. But the puzzling question after this Corbyn display is how can a Labour leader lose a PMQs with six questions to a beleaguered Tory PM on the NHS?

VERDICT: May 1 Corbyn 0 (Corbyn own goal)

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