PMQs: Calm down dear, Lansley’s going through the slow shredder

During an answer on the NHS, David Cameron made his now infamous “Calm down, dear” remark to Angela Eagle (available via Channel4News on YouTube). He followed it up with the words “Calm down” repeated several times, including to “the most annoying man in politics” (Cameron’s words), Ed Balls. It was a relatively inconsequential, if ill-advised, remark. However, I don’t get the “it’s a joke from an ad” defence here. The full catchphrase is “Calm down dear – it’s a commercial”. “Calm down, dear” on its own is only half a catchphrase.

The reason why the remark is, quite rightly, causing a fuss is because it typifies the worst of Cameron’s dispatch box style: arrogant, bullying, petulant and rather old-fashioned.

David Cameron used a very interesting phrase about the NHS reforms: “…that is the whole point of pausing the reforms and then trying to get them going again with greater support from doctors and nurses.” Note the words “then trying to get them going again” and, particularly, the word “trying”. Interesting. Andrew Lansley is going through the political equivalent of a slow shredder. Very painful.

After all that excitement, the House of Commons needed a bucket of cold water thrown over it. Bill Cash duly obliged with the question about zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Earlier, we were launched into competitive descriptions of the economy. As background, The Guardian reported: “A preliminary estimate released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Wednesday showed that gross domestic product (GDP) – a broad measure for the total economy – grew by 0.5% in the first quarter of the year”. The BBC’s Stephanie Flanders commented that “the figures show a relatively slow moving economy, not a stagnant one”.

Ed Miliband described this as a “flatlined” economy. But if you’ve gone from -0.5% to +0.5% then you haven’t “flatlined”, technically speaking. Miliband also said: “Six months ago, what did he tell us? He told us that we were out of the danger zone. Since then there has been no growth at all in the British economy.” Well that’s a strange thing to say when the estimate is of +0.5% growth in the last quarter, though it is technically correct if you look at the last six months. Doesn’t Ed Miliband recognise the relatively well-established periodic division of quarters? Does he do everything over six months?

We are not in a PIGsty, was Cameron’s answer (Portugal, Ireland, Greece), coupled with this corker: “The economy has grown by 1.8% over the last year, but let me tell the right hon. Gentleman this. I did a little research, and all the time that he was in the Cabinet, there was not a single quarter when the economy grew more than 0.5%—not one. That is his great record.”

Other snippets:

  • Adrian Sanders (Lib Dem) called for a judicial inquiry into the relationship between News International and the Met Police, relative to phone hacking.
  • Nick Clegg, by the way, has now devised a way of looking serious and potentially supportive of Cameron, while dispensing with the worst excesses of the “nodding donkey” technique of earlier PMQs.
  • Stephen Gilbert (Lib Dem) asked an excellent question about housing: “Across the country, 2 million families are on waiting lists for social housing. Nearly 1 million homes lie empty, and the average age of a first-time buyer is 37. Does the Prime Minister acknowledge that there is a housing crisis in Britain, and will the Government publish a strategy to tackle it?”.
  • Ian Swales (Lib Dem) asked a superb question: “The Prime Minister is a vociferous opponent of the alternative vote system and reserves special disdain for the idea that someone might win after coming second in an early round. Will he therefore stand aside in favour of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), who beat him to the post in 2005? “
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19 Comments

  • Billy Pilgrim 28th Apr '11 - 12:52am

    Erm, -0.5 + 0.5 = 0
    So it has flatlined/stagnated etc.

    It isn’t just Miliband, the FT reported that “the economy merely recouped ground lost from severe snow in December”, the Guardian editorial that “all that has happened is that UK plc has made back the income it lost – nothing more” and David Blanchflower “The British economy has not grown at all over the last six months, it has flatlined and is stagnant, simple as that”.

    The economy was growing before the policies of you and your partners in government came into effect. Your party made the wrong call and have helped cock it up. Have the decency to admit it rather than trying to undertake the literary equivalent of one of those Lib Dem bar charts

  • Andrew Suffield 28th Apr '11 - 1:06am

    Anybody who is thinking about commenting on the GDP figures needs to read this article first. There’s more going on here than the headlines:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/stephanieflanders/2011/04/gdp_slow_but_not_stagnant.html

  • Andrew Suffield 28th Apr '11 - 1:07am

    Gah, sorry. Totally pasted that into the wrong window.

  • Seeing politicians vigorously challenged is definitely a good thing.

    But shouting pretty pointless abuse aimed at individuals across the isle rather than actually questioning the arguments doesn’t qualify as the kind of voigorous challenge I at least would want to see.

    And that refers to the behaviour on either side in the Commons, but it’s always particularly bad when Cameron loses his cool.

  • Exactly, Maria – I have no problem with MPs vigorously challenging policies but personal put-downs filled with schoolboy ‘humour’ just make the whole parliamentary process look stupid and immature. FFS, even in America they manage to look a bit more serious in Congress (and they hardly have a consensual system!).

    I berate my friends and family for their universal contempt for politicians of all stripes, but when we have to watch PMQs where invariably half the house is hooting and braying like monkeys and whoever is actually ‘speaking’ is either struggling to make themselves heard or yelling out pointless abuse… I mean seriously, who shouts out ‘shame’ in real life?

  • What I find offensive about the ‘Calm down’ remark is that I don’t believe for a second he would have said it to a male MP. It was deeply patronising and to read an account of Danny Alexander defending it instead of challenging it really concerned me.

  • @Jedibeeftrix

    Old fashioned? Perhaps to those who value consensual politics, but I am quite happy to see politicians of all stripes vigorously challenged.

    The PM was being vigorously challenged, he chose to respond with patronising, gender specific, abuse, ie sexist, in retort, with the added bonus of his factual rebuttal being wrong.

    What’s up with Nick Clegg though? He doesn’t look ‘serious and potentially supportive’, he looks like a man who has played the devil at chess and lost.

  • “The reason why the remark is, quite rightly, causing a fuss is because it typifies the worst of Cameron’s dispatch box style: arrogant, bullying, petulant and rather old-fashioned.”

    Really? That’s a stretch. I thought a fuss had been caused by its supposed sexist nature. If it were just about arrogant, bullying and petulant behaviour, well, to add to Maria’s comment, that is something we see on both sides of the chamber – on its own Cameron acting so would not occasion any more comment than usual, so I think your explanation is wide of the mark.

    @Amy McLeod – So am I. It seems revisions are inevitable, and sometimes they can be quite significant, so I don’t know why politicians immediately jump all over the latest figures – which is probably why Osbourne’s first comments on them was fairly muted.

    @ Carrie According to the BBC Alexander says he thought Cameron ‘was’ referring to a male MP, namely Ed Balls. I don’t know if I believe that, but apparently Alexander disagrees with you and thinks Cameron would in fact make such a joke to a male MP. Given he told Balls to shut up the other week, I can believe Cameron would be more openly mocking at him than others though.

  • John Burcow should really step in over the Prime Minister’s behaivour at PMQs. Yes it is supposed to be confrontational, but telling people to “shut up” and making sexist remarks must be out of order.

    Not to mention the lists of untruths the PM reels off every PMQs now (eg Ed Milliband “predicting” a double-dip recession, when afterwards No.10 confirmed Milliband had only stated that govt polciies “risked” one).

  • I think Cameron is fortunate the vast majority of people don’t pay any attention to PMQ’s. He comes across as a nasty piece of work.

  • Why isnt more being made of Ian Swale’s excellent question?

  • Interesting viewpoint from Angela Eagles perspective..

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/apr/28/angela-eagle-david-cameron

    Seems she thinks Dave is Flashman as well 😉

  • Actually I’m suprised no-one started singing “Go Compare” and pointing at Nick and Dave

  • @ Kieran, I saw that too but have to say I thought the nicest interpretation of it was extremely naive.

    I don’t like Cameron’s style in general, I think it sets a poor example to young people about handling disagreements and professional conduct, but my expectation of any MP is that they should challenge a sexist remark as readily as a racist one.

    Somehow I like Flashman a lot more than Dave Cameron.

  • I hope that people will now appreciate the dignity and restraint with which Gordon Brown responded to Cameron’s totally inappropriate personal abuse at PMQs. Also Brown’s comprehensive mastery of detail. Yesterday it seemed that whatever question Flashman was asked his answer was invariably don’t trust Labour with the NHS in Wales. Even when the question had no connection with the NHS!

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