Just another storm in a (Westminster) tea cup
David Cameron has warmed up for Friday’s right royal knees-up with what you might call a right prime ministerial balls-up. Dismissing shadow Treasury Chief Secretary, Angela Eagle, with the words “calm down, dear” during Prime Minister’s Questions was a move guaranteed to upset women, Labour MPs and right-thinking citizens everywhere. “Arrogant tosser”, “What a dick” and “Plummy twat” were just three of the choice insults being bandied around this afternoon by irate Guardian readers.
You could argue that stealing lines from Michael Winner shows that the PM has an admirable knowledge of popular culture — or perhaps a death wish all of his own. But “Call me Dave” is such a canny political operator that I reckon his gaffe was a cunning ruse to steer everyone’s thoughts away from our stagnant economy and those controversial NHS reforms.
Of course, not everyone thinks Cameron’s hilarious put-down was actually aimed at Angela Eagle or even at “Mrs Balls”, the redoubtable Yvette Cooper. Over at The Spectator, Lloyd Evans seems pretty sure that the PM was directing his remark at the Leader of the Opposition, that young upstart Miliband Jr.
Unlike Guardian devotees, readers of the unashamedly right-wing Spectator tend to leave all that righteous indignation to the sandal-wearing, tofu-eating plebs. They favour the kind of straight talking practised by reader Bill Fraser, who comments: “Brilliant joke, at the right moment… it livened up for once the usual pointless weekly debate between the two rich posh prats Miliband and Cameron… that passes for PMQ’s.” Hear, hear.
Whatever you think about Cameron’s debating style, at least his comment was made out in the open. It was hardly on the same level of offensiveness as Gordon Brown’s now infamous 2010 General Election encounter with plucky pensioner Gillian Duffy. “It’s very nice to see you” he says, just moments before getting into his car and dismissing her as a “bigoted woman”. Nice one, Gordon.
Spectator reader “Magnolia” reckons that Labour’s Deputy Leader, Harriet Harman, was enjoying (Oh) Dear Dave’s performance at the Despatch Box. Perhaps she was recalling that it has only been a few short months since she was reduced to name-calling at Labour’s Scottish Conference. Labelling Lib Dem number-cruncher Danny Alexander a “ginger rodent”, earned her this stern reproach from Scottish MEP George Lyon: “‘This is absolutely pathetic and deeply offensive to red-heads across the country.”
What I’ve learned from this afternoon’s storm in a (Westminster) tea cup is that David Cameron is finding it difficult to break out of his media pigeonhole as the “posh prat/twat/dick” we all love to hate. Attempts at humour — even mild ones — are likely to earn him opprobrium. Best to stick with just being whiny and adenoidal like Ed Miliband or “sanctimomious” like Lord Ashdown.