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27 April 2011

PMQs review: Cameron’s gibe falls flat

Cameron is transformed into Michael Winner as he urges Angela Eagle: “Calm down, dear!”

By George Eaton

A distinctly flustered David Cameron will want to forget today’s PMQs for several reasons. As expected, Ed Miliband led on this morning’s poor GDP figures, highlighting how, alarmingly, the economy hasn’t grown for the past six months.

In response, Cameron called on Miliband to apologise for predicting a double-dip recession (something he never did) and “talking the economy down”. To which the Labour leader sharply replied that it was the coalition’s “austerity rhetoric” that had eroded confidence. Miliband’s declaration that “he can’t blame the Greeks, he can’t blame the Bank of England, he can’t blame the last government, he can’t even blame the snow” was particularly damning.

Things didn’t improve for Cameron when Miliband turned to the government’s troubled NHS reforms. The PM once again struggled to offer a persuasive defence of Andrew Lansley’s masterplan.

But today’s PMQs will be remembered for Cameron’s bizarre, Michael Winner-esque cry for a Labour frontbencher (thought to be Angela Eagle), to “calm down, dear”. Labour MPs were, to put it mildly, not amused and a spokesman for Miliband swiftly denounced the comments as “sexist, patronising and insulting”.

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Cameron’s remark clearly wasn’t intended to be sexist, but it was a witless joke that will only increase his reputation as a Flashman-esque bully. It was exactly the sort of careless quip that his new strategy director, Andrew Cooper, who recently advised him to be “a national leader, rather than a party politician. Especially in the Commons”, believes the PM should avoid.

More worryingly for the Tories, it left the distinct impression of a man who has lost the argument.

UPDATE: Here’s footage of Cameron’s Michael Winner moment. Note that there’s not even a hint of a smile from Nick Clegg.