David Cameron’s jibe at Dennis Skinner: forget the ageism, it was just badly done.

David Cameron, it became clear today, was not impressed by Commons Speaker John Bercow’s decision to grant Labour leader Ed Miliband an urgent question on the subject of Jeremy Hunt’s hanging-by-a-thread career as culture secretary. His not-impressedness manifested itself as indignant anger — it was “spectacularly ill-judged” according to the Telegraph’s Iain Martin:

From the off Cameron’s approach was wince-inducingly ill-judged. He rushed his statement and sounded steadily more touchy as he got deeper into it, lashing out and even shouting at one point about Charlie Whelan. It wasn’t very Prime Ministerial.

Mr Cameron has faced particular stick for his dismissive suggestion to veteran Labour backbencher Dennis Skinner that it was time he took his pension:


(Available on the BBC website here.)

I’m not sure it was as insulting as the faux-outrage from some Labour MPs suggests. Dennis Skinner is hardly a shrinking violet, and if he dishes it out (and he does) he should be prepared to take it. Indeed it would be far more ageist of Mr Cameron to afford the 81 year-old MP for Bolsover special treatment.

But the charge against which David Cameron which does stick — and which is more dangerous — is Iain Martin’s: “It wasn’t very Prime Ministerial”. The Tory leader has rarely been able to resist the cheap joke in the Commons, for instance once accusing Gordon Brown of wearing more make-up than Barbara Cartland, or surfing the smutty laugh resulting from his labelling Nadine Dorries as ‘frustrated’.

A sense of humour can go a long way in public life. (It’s surely the only plausible explanation for the Rise of Boris.) But there is a two-fold risk: that it can misfire and look petulant, or make the joker look lightweight. David Cameron looked both of those things today.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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25 Comments

  • Hang on, making deliberate jibes at someones age, something, like sex, gender, or ethnicity, they have no control over is never acceptable. There are plenty of insults, assuming an insult is a valid response to being asked a question you choose not to answer, that don’t focus on such things that Cameron could hace chose. Frankly if this had happened in any other workplace than parliament then Cameron would find himself facing disciplinary action.

    I’m rather appalled that you even attempt to defend this.

  • He’s just a very poor performer. Or very, very badly advised.

    Or both.

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 30th Apr '12 - 8:04pm

    Not the first time he has quipped about Denis Skinner’s age, quips that apply even more to Sir Peter Tapsell., who is two years older than Skinner. It shows Cameron’s lack of imagination and wit.

  • Terrible stuff from a terrible Prime Minister. Elitist, Sexist, ageist and out of touch……

    He just keeps fostering the image of a poor little rich boy who cannot bear being questioned….

  • Richard Dean 30th Apr '12 - 8:54pm

    It ought to be possible to have fierce arguments without this kind of behaviour, which is a very bad example for the population to follow, and degrading of the PM’s office. No wonder we have disrespect on the streets, we have it in No.10! Did the Speaker not do his duty and insist on an apology?

  • Keith Browning 30th Apr '12 - 9:36pm

    The silver lining might be that he becomes our last ever Eton PM.

    However, despite his typical ‘posh boy’ ineptitude, ‘there will probably be another one along in a minute’.

  • Ruth Bright 30th Apr '12 - 9:54pm

    Endorsing Russell Brand’s “Dads’ Army” jibe about David Winnick wasn’t very prime ministerial either.

  • Richard Swales 30th Apr '12 - 10:47pm

    But comments about Cameron’s social class are ok?

  • Listening to the exchange, I thought was Skinner said was effective and rang true, whereas Cameron’s reply was just crude and rude. Certainly no substitute for an answer to the substantive question about Hunt having – to all appearances – misled the Commons.

  • Congratulations on making the BBC website Stephen, although the context they quote you in makes it appear you support the PM’s comments….

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-17898031

  • I agree with the general tone of comments that it is not acceptable for this sort of behaviour from a serving PM. I cannot recall any other PM carrying on like this and it diminishes Cameron and Parliament.
    It seems to be coming harder for Cameron to hide his true character.
    I think that the trouble with Stephen’s writings is that he comes across as very tribalist, with the main aim of doing down Labour, above all else, so it is no wonder that he comes across as sympathetic to Cameron, as that is how it reads.

  • ……………………..Lib Dem commentator Stephen Tall accused Labour MPs of “faux outrage” over the prime minister’s remarks…………….

    Stephen, you/ LDV have definitely ‘lost the plot’ yet again. Is there any situation in which Labour is not ‘somehow’ your target.
    We have a government dogged by ‘sleaze’, ministers ignoring basic standards and a PM going beyond even his normal ‘sneer mode’ and still you manage to fit in an anti-Labour jibe. Is it any wonder that we, as a party, are seemed to be ‘part and parcel’ of the problem.

  • Cameron’s temperament is brittle: when matters are easy, he coasts along effortlessly. However it requires a different order of imagination, intellect, skill and self control to maintain that effortless demeanour when crisis is heaped upon crisis. Instead, Cameron gets red faced; the look in his eyes indicates he gets incandescent with rage when faced with probing questions, and he engages his mouth before his brain (this instance and “Calm down, dear” being prime examples).

    He will not be remembered as a great Prime Minister. In order to be a great Prime Minister, one should be a great leader. In order to be a great leader, as the saying goes, the first job is to master oneself.

  • The best person to be next PM is Clegg, his perfomance every time is close to optimum, though his team have to work hard to get him air time. I doubt that our wonderfully balanced and honest media will ever endorse him.

  • Dave Eastham 1st May '12 - 9:10am

    In many workplaces, remarks such as David Cameron’s to Dennis Skinner about his age would have earned him a session before a Disciplinary Hearing, for breaching equal opportunities guidelines. As has been remarked he would not have got away with similar remarks about race. Far from excusing DC of indulging in rather juvenile humour, I see no reason why the Prime Minister should be exempt from such disciplinary action. However, no doubt it isn’t going to happen. Whilst I don’t think Stephen Tall has particularly “lost the plot”, I do think that claiming the reaction of many Labour M.P’s to this was false outrage is not really the point and is tending towards the “tribal”, which is unwelcome and not helpful. The same newsfeed also remarks that some Tory M.P’s have told Dennis Skinner that they did not approve of Cameron’s remarks either. Whilst others of course, exhibited equally “tribal” behaviour by describing David Cameron’s remarks as some sort of triumph. Hey ho there are times when I wish the HoC would just grow up.

  • After the exchanges in the commons yesterday, you can see exactly why Cameron gets on so well with the Murdochs. He clearly shares their rude, aggressive and self preservation approach to their jobs. Cameron was nothing short of a disgrace .

  • Chris Stanley 1st May '12 - 10:12am

    You don’t need to support Labour to be outraged by this. The fact that Cameron didn’t even attempt to answer the question shows how poorly he’s doing at present: his contempt for Parliament is astounding. His earlier jibes at Nadine Dorries and Angela Eagle both rebounded on him in a big way, so does he honestly believe that this jibe won’t? By responding so petulantly he effectively re-enforced Skinner’s point: he couldn’t disagree with what his opponent was saying, so he insulted him.

    Unfortunately, someone has forgotten to tell Dave that Dennis Skinner has survived seven Prime Ministers, and on this showing he’ll easily survive the eighth. What’s the betting Cameron will have to take his Parliamentary pension before Skinner, I wonder?

  • Jason, that is one of the best things I have read about the way Lib Dems are behaving, and the perception the public have of the party. What Cameron said was nothing short of disgusting, if you are trying to excuse his outburst Stephen I would ask would you do so if he had racially abused him, or questioned his sexual persuasion? Each of which are not controllable (as is age) what you should have done is be honest and condemned it out right, but instead you turn it into yet another attack on Labour. Shame on you.

  • Daniel Henry 1st May '12 - 10:45am

    I agree with Stephen, especially when he says:
    “Dennis Skinner is hardly a shrinking violet, and if he dishes it out (and he does) he should be prepared to take it. Indeed it would be far more ageist of Mr Cameron to afford the 81 year-old MP for Bolsover special treatment.”

    I don’t think Dennis felt hurt by the retort. I suspect he’s quite pleased with himself that he made Cameron lose his cool.
    I agree that it reflects badly on Cameron, but more for showing signs of weakness, having to resort to bitter insults instead of a more “prime ministerial” response, rather than “outrage” over Skinner’s treatment.

  • Jayne Mansfield 1st May '12 - 10:46am

    Forget the ageism- I don’t think so.

    Ironically, I know lots of men and women who would like to retire but thanks to this government will no longer be able to!

  • Wasn’t it only a week ago that David Cameron’s answer to a presumably scripted question on the economy was simply “well read.”
    I have never heard such a patronising response at any PMQs and there is the added irony that the recipient, whom he was trying to portray as semi-literate, was a fellow Oxford graduate.
    Dennis Skinner’s point struck home and it now appears that Cameron is only at ease with planted questions from his own party, as was Jeremy Hunt last week who knew exactly how to answer the helpful questions drawn up by his PPS for twenty Tory MPs to lob to him after his statement to the House .

  • Yellow Bill 1st May '12 - 1:47pm

    Shame on you Stephen for condoning Camerons comments. Since when was it Liberal or acceptable to answer questions in such a bigoted way.

    Camerons attacks should be villified not condoned – are you really a liberal?

  • Richard Swales 2nd May '12 - 8:18am

    Unfortunately I’m not surprised that I am the only poster who has a problem with other posters bringing up what school Cameron went to.

    I am coming to the conclusion that there is no liberal party in the UK. Just three different parties who target different hated groups in their rhetoric.

  • Helen Tedcastle 4th May '12 - 1:59pm

    I’m no fan of Dennis Skinner’s reactionary socialist views but Cameron’s jibe at him was appalling. We should name it and shame it for what it is- Ageist – and attitudes like that should have no place in our society – least of all from the PM, Tory or not.

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