Chris White writes: Will the Coalition end with a commercial?

It is always slightly too easy to exaggerate the importance of Prime Minister’s Question Time. To the uninitiated (and there are some, mainly in more genteel democracies) it is a form of reality TV in which a normally dignified man or woman, with much on their mind and better things to do with their time, is forced to stand up for half an hour on live TV and be accurate, well-informed, witty and, well, abusive.

One slip and he/she reads about it in all the papers for the rest of the week.

The latest contestant (let us call him Mr Bullingdon) discovered why prerehearsed lines don’t always work. He dug out from a student routine a recollection of a commercial aired some years ago in which a well-known sexist film producer said sexist things to women. Most of us remember cringing at this and making a mental note that we would not ever in any circumstances buy the product advertised. Ever.

So what? Will the coalition sink or sail because of this? Not on its own. But it does help us put together a picture of particular Cameronian misjudgements. These are distinct from Coalition misjudgements (eg over tuition fees or free schools) and distinct again from general leadership misjudgements like the nature and pace of NHS reforms.

It is simply unacceptable to say to any woman ‘Calm down, dear’ whether or not suffixed by ‘it’s only a commercial.’ Normal liberal people don’t do it. It might have been funny had it been said to Ed Balls but even then the reference back to a particularly offensive piece of television is difficult to justify.

And it is not a one off. His prominence in the No Campaign was unexpected – and arguably bad faith with his Coalition partners. It is also a campaign of astonishing dishonesty: Cameron has not repudiated the patently false claims that the costs of AV would run into hundreds of millions and that the NHS would suffer as a result. Nor has he repudiated the blatantly racist imagery used to suggest that really only Papua New Guinea uses it.

Prime Ministers cannot be associated with dishonesty any more than they can nowadays be associated with sexism.

Huhne and more recently Clegg have condemned the dishonesty over AV. Liberal Democrats will be waiting for similar public denunciations over this week’s Bullingdonism – while wondering all the time how much longer we can go on with these right-wing buffoons.

In Coalition terms, we may have crossed a watershed in the past two weeks. The more the Liberal Democrats cringe, the less likely it is that the Coalition will survive to 2015.

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16 Comments

  • “Nor has he repudiated the blatantly racist imagery used to suggest that really only Papua New Guinea uses it.”

    Oh please. That really is ridiculous. What’s been pointed out is that only _Australia_, Papua New Guinea and Fiji use it.

    All you’ve illustrated is the fact that both sides in this debate are addicted to twisting the facts in order to make silly ad hominem debating points.

  • I normally like your articles Mr White, but this is rather short of your finest hour.

    ‘It is simply unacceptable to say to any woman ‘Calm down, dear’ whether or not suffixed by ‘it’s only a commercial.’ Normal liberal people don’t do it.’

    That last bit is telling. When will it dawn that this is not a liberal government, normal or otherwise. To paraphrase the Guardian, the conservative moment has arrived. What is acceptable to your liberal sensitivities may or may not be so to a Conservative PM leading a profoundly Conservative Party. Coalition or not.

    ‘And it is not a one off. His prominence in the No Campaign was unexpected – and arguably bad faith with his Coalition partners.’

    Sorry – the party did not expect the Prime Minister to take an active part in a national referendum campaign? If that is the case then the advice was naive at best and at worst treated reality with contempt. And, what is this about bad faith – unless you think that there is some formalised merger?

    ‘Nor has he repudiated the blatantly racist imagery used to suggest that really only Papua New Guinea uses it.’

    I wouldn’t stretch any further incase you give yourself a hernia.

    ‘while wondering all the time how much longer we can go on with these right-wing buffoons.’

    What are you going to do – provoke a snap election with 10% polling and likely a devastated local base? I simply struggle to believe that any of this was unforseen (or at least unforseeable) in 2010. I am broadly an optimist about the Lib Dems future, but to be honest my faith is starting to wane and when I see articles like this I do wonder where the coherence that will be necessary going forward is going to come from.

  • I find it a little depressing that silly if insulting remarks could end the coalition. It is clear now that Cameron cannot be trusted and that the Lib Dems have lost all credibility by supporting this right wing ‘nasty’ Conservative party.

  • Int. House of Commons. Day
    Flashman: (For it is he)
    Calm down dear. What are you getting so excited for? So I said that Howard Stoate was beaten by a Tory candidate when in fact he retired. Okay. So I made a mistake. That’s what MEN do. What are you doing in this chamber anyway? This is a place where MEN roast and abuse each other. No place for a little woman like you. Anyway, after all the cuts we’ve made to women and children’s services to pay for the banking MEN’s mistakes you should be back home with the little ones making do and mending. I’ll send one of my estate managers round later with a good society charity basket. A good landowner always sees to his female serfs

  • David Allen 28th Apr '11 - 3:02pm

    With all these watersheds, we’re getting to look rather wet. I hope we don’t swallow tuition fees and NHS privatisation, but then fall out over “Come down dear” or “Don’t let’s vote like Papua New Guinea”!

  • David Allen 28th Apr '11 - 3:03pm

    calm not come, of course

  • Uuumm

    “Most of us remember cringing at this and making a mental note that we would not ever in any circumstances buy the product advertised. Ever.”

    No, I remember thinking “what a c**p advert”, but not cringing, getting offended, feeling the need to pull out a soapbox etc. To be honest, if Lib Dems were truly put out by this then it’s a good job I don’t know many as I have a Forces humour and you’d probably all die of indignation.

    “Cameron has not repudiated the patently false claims ….” Kettles, Pots, Glasshouses. Of course, Clegg could lead the way and apologise first for the patently false claims of the Yes campaigners, you know, show leadership and all of that sort of stuff. Neither campaign have exactly covered themselves in glory on this occasion, I think the Elec Commission should pre-approve all future referendum claims to avoid any future re-runs of this one.

    “Huhne and more recently Clegg have condemned the dishonesty over AV” I must have missed that bit, I’ve only seen the news about them condemning the No campaign dishonesty, when did they condemn the Yes campaign dishonesty?

    “Prime Ministers cannot be associated with dishonesty any more than they can nowadays be associated with sexism”
    As politics is only an interest of mine, instead of say a full hobby, I wondered who would have been considered the most honest PM. I did a search on Google and it didn’t actually come back with any UK PMs (even after selecting “from UK”). So as you obviously know more about politics that me (which to be fair, isn’t really that hard), who would you consider to be the most honest PM (just so that I can Google them)?

    “In Coalition terms, we may have crossed a watershed in the past two weeks. The more the Liberal Democrats cringe, the less likely it is that the Coalition will survive to 2015”
    Why? If they haven’t got thicker skins than that, then maybe they should consider a change of career?

  • @Duncan

    “What are you going to do – provoke a snap election with 10% polling and likely a devastated local base?”

    Stick to your guns Mr White. If you lay down with dogs you get up with fleas. But don’t delay applying the delousing powder. Persuade your friends to get out of the coalition now. The last thing Cameron wants is a snap election because he knows he can’t get post the finishing post until the boundary changes (which the Lib Dems have generously gifted to him) are realized. So, until then, you’re safe. Roast him on the spit of confidence and supply.

  • David Allen,

    Surely the whole point of a watershed is that it’s dry, not wet?

    But on the substantive issue …..

    It was a joke (like most of DC’s, not very funny) – to see it as sexist is, I would suggest, pushing it rather – I see it no differently to the time when somebody (anybody remember?) advised the slightly tremulous Bob Maclennan to go and lie down in a darkened room.

    And if the key issue to fracture the coalition is whether DC made an inappropriate remark to a female …….. then God help us! [Or have I just offended believers?]

  • @crewegwyn

    Oh it was a joke was it? A joke! Like Liam Byrne’s joke about there being no more money left, for which the poor man was censured and humiliated. Well, that’s all right then. And there was I thinking that the amber Tories had no sense of humour!

  • Stuart Mitchell 28th Apr '11 - 6:50pm

    “It is simply unacceptable to say to any woman ‘Calm down, dear’ whether or not suffixed by ‘it’s only a commercial.’ Normal liberal people don’t do it.”

    Nick Clegg seems to think it’s OK, judging by his smile at Cameron’s witticism. Not that that disproves your point, mind.

  • .“What are you going to do – provoke a snap election with 10% polling and likely a devastated local base?”

    Stick to your guns Mr White. If you lay down with dogs you get up with fleas. But don’t delay applying the delousing powder. Persuade your friends to get out of the coalition now. The last thing Cameron wants is a snap election because he knows he can’t get post the finishing post until the boundary changes (which the Lib Dems have generously gifted to him) are realized. So, until then, you’re safe. Roast him on the spit of confidence and supply..

    Quite right !

  • Andrew Suffield 28th Apr '11 - 8:14pm

    Sorry – the party did not expect the Prime Minister to take an active part in a national referendum campaign? If that is the case then the advice was naive at best and at worst treated reality with contempt.

    He agreed quite clearly that he would not. So I guess your position is that Cameron was naive and treating reality with contempt?

  • >It is simply unacceptable to say to any woman ‘Calm down, dear’ whether or not suffixed by ‘it’s only a commercial.’

    Straw poll yesterday (me and female work colleagues): it was a stupid catchphrase, said as joke.
    None of us was mortified.

    If you said it to me, I might call you a jerk and tell you where to go. But this was PMQ, which is always a circus. No one takes it seriously and the cheers, jeers, and faux outrage just convince most people all politicians are clowns.

    I can think of plenty of reasons to lay into Cameron. This one is too trivial to get my knickers in a twist about.

  • The comment was a joke, but so was the Liam Byrne note and as that got blown out of all proportion, it should be no surprise that the prime minister’s comment is being blown out of all proportion.

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