It began as it went on, Members banging parliamentary pots and pans “for the NHS”. It is the service’s 75th anniversary. Everyone who worked in it, voted for it, used it, died in it was “celebrated” and had “tribute” paid them. Not a dissenting voice was raised. Oliver Dowden called it “a treasured national institution”. With its near-£200 billion budget it’s a national treasure, all right.
As someone in favour of a national health service, I am prepared to risk the mockery of my peers by conceding the possibility that Lucy Letby and Harold Shipman aren’t the sole role models for the medical staff. But even we reckless enthusiasts must recognise that the NHS – by indolence, inertia, incompetence, ignorance, bureaucratic idiocy and occasional sadistic malevolence – has killed more people than the British army. As the police have admitted that one of their core values is “structural racism” will the NHS be forced to confront the reality that “genocide” is one of its strategic outcomes?
Mhairi Black, the deputy leader of the implosive SNP, made a rather brilliant cross-party point as she read out two very similar quotations arguing for more private sector involvement in the NHS. She asked if Dowden could say which quote belonged to the PM and which to the Leader of the Opposition. When Dowden referred to King Charles in his reply, she laughingly flicked her fingers to and fro across her throat in that execution way. This was a very popular hate crime in the House, and as one of our more attractive hate criminals, Ms Black will be much missed when she quits at the next general election. Dowden said as much, noting that they had come in to the House together. “And we’re pretty certain to be leaving together,” she responded to shouts of laughter, not least from Conservative members.
High in the Tory backbenches, far out of his natural environment, Matt Hancock fiddled with the end of his tie. The death toll from lockdown hasn’t entirely come in, but when it does he will have achieved parliamentary immortality.
Parliamentary tropes (5). “People deserve better”. As does, we were told, “Jessica”. Jessica is an evicted mother of two living with her mother, along with her children sleeping on blow-up beds in the sitting room. Angela Rayner lisped a demand to end ‘no fault evictions’ (something that would sharply restrict the supply of rental accommodation). “Doesn’t Jessica deserve better?” The correct answer was, “No idea, does she? I’ve never met her – have you?”
The argument was extended by the SNP asking: “Don’t the people of Scotland deserve better?”
They certainly deserve something other than they’re getting. “Use every man after his desert and who shall ’scape whipping?” Hamlet said. It’s obviously true that flogging the population of Scotland would buck its ideas up. But will that ever feature in the SNP manifesto? They do need some radical proposal to divert attention from their travails. Obviously they wouldn’t dare to suggest abolishing rent controls as the only certain way of massively increasing the supply of rental accommodation – but a manifesto commitment to a national flogging would be somewhat more within their political circumference.
One last point.
There was a glimpse of news in Wales questions before PMQs. Jo Stevens, the shadow minister for Wales, had a go at the government for its lack of action on a nuclear project from 2009 and said, “Labour is ready to deliver new nuclear.” Merely because it was said at the despatch box doesn’t make it untrue. But if Labour really is going nuclear, the fall-out may very likely see the Tories contaminated for generations. Where will they be buried? What constituency would accept the toxic waste of a once-great party?