PMQs: Miliband shamefully plays the cancer card

Cameron was somewhat discombobulated, but Miliband's opportunistic use of cancer was a total disgrace

Harry Cole
On 15 June 2011 11:42

Desperate to avoid last week’s car crash, Ed Miliband had to land some blows this week. Time to reach to the bottom drawer for something to keep the debate within his control. The cancer card. Well he certainly wasn't going to go on today’s unemployment figures, that have seen the largest fall in a decade.

It was time for patronising Ed, lecturing the Prime Minister, asking why he didn’t know his own policy on benefits to cancer patients. A toned down Cameron was restrained by the sensitivity of the emotive subject matter.

Despite eventually getting a pretty comprehensive explanation of benefits policy, Miliband relentlessly went on the same question, pinning Cameron down to the extent that we saw a glimpse of the Prime Minister’s hand shaking as it rested over the Despatch Box.

But with a tonne of ammunition, Cameron wasn’t going to let Ed win the day.

There were two prime ministers dominating the proceedings. Blair’s damning indictment of Miliband in this morning’s Sun and his support of the government’s education and health reforms was a goldmine for Cameron, who waited until after Miliband’s last question to open fire.

Tony Blair, Miliband’s brother, everyone, was apparently now onside. Cameron also repeated his prepared line about a “weak leader of a divided party” just after Ed’s last question so the Labour leader could not come back on the attack. Hacks cruelly noted that the Labour spin team winced at the copious mentions of Blair.

There is no doubt that Cameron was shaky, quite literally, on the detail, but hardly surprising given the specific, pinpointed blindsiding. If Miliband didn’t think his line of questioning was a “smokescreen” as suggested, why did he have a prepared answer for the accusation? And if this wasn't a totally opportunistic set up, how come within minutes of the end of PMQs, a spokesman for the cancer charity Macmillan was up on Sky News defending Miliband's line of questioning?  

Miliband got a little hysterical at one point accusing the PM of being a “disgrace”, though by playing politics with cancer patients, there was more than a whiff of hypocrisy there.

Though morally dubious to say the least, it was a clever tactic by Miliband. He didn’t land the fatal blow but he forced the Prime Minister outside of his comfort zone.

Given the events of the last few days, Miliband would have been a sitting duck if he’d let the debate widen out, and he’s bought himself a small reprieve.

But how desperate do you have to be to use such an emotive and sensitive topic to save your political career?

UPDATE: It now emerges that the spokesman for the cancer charity had been pre-warned about Miliband's line of attack. It also emerges that he was a Labour Party staffer, councillor and candidate. This could be massive. 

Harry Cole is UK Politics Editor for The Commentator.  He is a writer and journalist and the news editor for the must-read Guido Fawkes blog.

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