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27 April 2011

4:08 PM

27 April 2011

4:08 PM

Blimey. That was a weird one. PMQs was trundling merrily away when the house was
suddenly engulfed in a whirlwind of insults and accusations. Even now the row rumbles on across the blogosphere. Cameron arrived at PMQs looking genial and well-sunned. Quite a contrast with his
sallow-faced opponent. Perhaps Ed Miliband’s bookish ways have kept him in the reading-room during the heat-wave while Cameron was roaming his herbaceous borders uprooting dandelions and
other troublesome yellow-heads.

The session began with the usual blend of opportunism and hypocrisy. Miliband demanded to know why economic growth has flat-lined in the last six months. Cameron lighted on a more favourable set of
figures – the last quarter’s upsurge – and invited the Labour leader to rejoice in the recent growth spurt. He accused Miliband of ‘talking the economy down’ and
Miliband duly countered by blaming Cameron’s ‘austerity rhetoric’ for destroying consumer confidence.


Turning to the NHS, Miliband adopted the mild-assassin mode that has often served him well. Why, he asked quietly, have 98.7 per cent of nurses registered their lack of confidence in the
government’s reforms. Cameron faltered here. ‘When you make changes in public services,’ he improvised, ‘it is a challenge to take people with you.’  Labour
members laughed their heads off. Miliband: ‘Dearie me, that wasn’t a very good answer was it?’ More gleeful laughter. Miliband has never patronised the PM quite so blatantly as
this. It’s the tone of the governess scolding a promising pupil who has started to slack. And it’s effective too, up to a point. It gives political point-scoring a certain immediacy and
emotional weight. But it seems a bit girly as well. A bit infantile.

Cameron, now rather riled, had an excellent weapon up his sleeve. A half-forgotten Labour MP, Howard Stoat, who lost his seat last May now practises as a country doctor. And he loves
Cameron’s reforms. So the PM was determined to take the initiative and clobber Miliband with Stoat’s eulogy. Then came the ‘take-home’ moment. Labour’s rowdy heckling
seemed to get under the PM’s skin and he suddenly blurted out. ‘Calm down, dear,’ at an unknown Labour MP. Instant uproar on the opposition benches. Ed Balls started waving
angrily towards Angela Eagle and Yvette Cooper and gesturing at Cameron as if to accuse him of misogynistic discourtesy. To make it worse Cameron repeated the ‘calm down’ line more than
once.

Only slo-mo video replays will reveal the real target of Cameron’s jibe. At the time I assumed it was either the ever-excitable Balls or his sulky commander-in-chief. Was it Yvette Cooper?
Cameron has more sense than to lob a sexist quip at an Oxford contemporary who still dresses like a rad-fem warrior-ette from the 1980s (boring hair, scowl, no make-up, no cleavage). As for Angela
Eagle there isn’t a man in the country who’d dare call her ‘dear’. The rowdiness continued as Labour’s front benches demanded a withdrawal from Cameron. He refused. At
this point TV pictures showed Miliband laughing openly at the fuss-about-nothing. And my note has Cameron saying directly to him, ‘I’m not going to apologise because you do need to calm
down.’ That’s my guess. ‘Calm down dear’ was aimed at the Labour leader. A fitting line too. As he’d just shown, he thinks that playing Westminster’s old maid
will do him good.


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